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Questions about 'Objectivist Ethics'

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These are questions I had after reading the essay in 'Virtue of Selfishness' entitled 'The Objectivist Ethics.'

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"Morality or ethics is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions (these determine the purpose and course of his life)"

Does the word 'code' imply a systematic relationship between the values? As opposed to saying something like 'Morality or ethics determine the values that guide man's actions'?

 

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"The final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means and sets the standard by which they're evaluated... An organism's life is its standard of value"

An organism's life would include things that provide it physical pleasure even if they do not necessarily enhance biological life from a lifespan perspective, right? for example, surfing, skydiving or sex. These are exercise in some form, but my point is they're not necessarily being pursued for extending biological lifespan.

And how about things that provide physical pleasure but reduce it from a lifespan perspective, e.g., sweet food or cigarettes? If one is aware that consuming cigarettes is physically unhealthy but still chooses to smoke for his own pleasure, is he then immoral when using this standard of ethical evaluation? 

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...without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means...

Can there not be independent 'ultimate goals'? For example, having children. In what way does having children relate to the ultimate evaluating standard of 'life'?


Another thing I'm trying to get my head around here is even with an ultimate standard of 'life', if that includes everything that does not physically destroy your life, then that leaves a lot of open-ended, subjective options, right? e.g., if I think again of children, and chose to have them 'simply because I feel like it' while aware of the long-term commitment, I can if I can't make an argument as to why it would destroy my life. 

 

On the discussion of validation of value judgement:

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...the fact that a living entity is determines what it ought to do...

So a thing has a certain nature, and 'ought' (implying morality and choice) may or may not arise from that nature?

In the discussion on reason:

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No percepts and no “instincts” will tell him how to light a fire, how to weave cloth, how to forge tools, how to make a wheel, how to make an airplane, how to perform an appendectomy, how to produce an electric light bulb or an electronic tube or a cyclotron or a box of matches. Yet his life depends on such knowledge—and only a volitional act of his consciousness, a process of thought, can provide it. (pp. 23-24)

Here we go back to understand what is this standard of 'life,' because man doesn't "need" an airplane to live. He needs shelter, food and water, so something other than enhancing biological lifespan is being discussed. Could we more simply reformulate this principle as something like pursue what is pleasurable physically and emotionally as long as it doesn't physically harm your life?

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Man is the only living species that has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.

This is more a question of historical knowledge, than one specifically relating to philosophical knowledge, but hasn't man both acted as his own destroyed AND acted as a creator and innovator? I could tell someone that looking back over the last hundred years there was complete death & destruction, and wars, and massacres and genocides and man has committed terrible atrocities—all of this true; but at the same time it has also been a period of the most progress and innovation technically and enormous wealth creation. Man has the capacity for both, but I'm not sure how one evaluates which side is more dominant. If the side of destruction was more dominant, would we even still be here?

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Man cannot survive, like an animal, by acting on the range of the moment. An animal’s life consists of a series of separate cycles, repeated over and over again, such as the cycle of breeding its young, or of storing food for the winter; an animal’s consciousness cannot integrate its entire lifespan; it can carry just so far, then the animal has to begin the cycle all over again, with no connection to the past. Man’s life is a continuous whole: for good or evil, every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all the days behind him. He can alter his choices, he is free to change the direction of his course, he is even free, in many cases, to atone for the consequences of his past—but he is not free to escape them, nor to live his life with impunity on the range of the moment, like an animal, a playboy or a thug. If he is to succeed at the task of survival, if his actions are not to be aimed at his own destruction, man has to choose his course, his goals, his values in the context and terms of a lifetime.

Could it be said then that any habit we have that isn't that thought out or understood represents the subhuman in us, i.e., our animal nature? For example, if one randomly checks emails when bored and has found one has often tended to do so after the past year, that would represent something similar to the cycle of the animal since the action is not thought out?

When it's written that "every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all days behind him" is that saying that because we have lived, experienced, and stored memories, we will always have that information available to us ready to turn into wisdom or to use in evaluating what we do whereas an animal may not? But then is it correct to say that this is referring simply to our capacity, since so much of what happens during the day is not necessarily integrated into some wider sum or conceptualized in any way?

What is meant by the "context and terms of a lifetime?" is it literally 'until I die?' or is it thinking about the future? if I pickup some new hobby like rock climbing because I feel like it and just for fun, how does that goal fit into the 'context and terms of a lifetime?'

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Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep—virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it. The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics—the three values which, together, are the means to and the realization of one’s ultimate value, one’s own life—are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.

Why is 'reason' a value if it is a faculty that "that identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses"? I don't think she means it is a value simply because it is a powerful faculty? does it mean 'the use and exercise of reason' is a value?

 

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Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values.

This has probably been discussed elsewhere and can see how it opens up a whole discussion of its own. But I'm not clear how my job (or the things I work on) integrates with and relates to every relationship or romance I have, let alone determines their hierarchy. And it would get even more confusing with multiple productive pursuits, e.g,. if one is pursuing artistic projects, working a full-time job, and studying philosophy. What integrates what? How would one evaluate one's relationship to the other?

 

I'll stop here as I have many more questions and just wanting to test the waters here first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jonathan,

Concerning your first question, I think that “code” suggests an explicit set to be followed, which might or might not have so much development as to have a systematic relationship between its values. The set of moral rules alleged to follow from “love your neighbor as yourself” is a code, and if such derivation could be carried out (I don’t know if any Christian thinker ever actually executed that derivation), it might well have a systematic relationship among the rules in the set, such as not killing or bearing false witness. Rand’s code has a remarkable unity among its values and among its virtues. Her theory proceeds from sufficient altitude to be able to take up issues such as whether one should be objective in assessing your neighbor or yourself and whether it is possible to not love oneself. The Ten Commandments would be a code of values, at least a code of public values. The First seems to have a primacy over the other nine, and as things have developed, it has become an inner primary for all moral values whatever for those religions, however public and tribal it had been at its start. Rand’s code is a lot more systematic and questioning of fundamental starting places than those religious codes, and hers is drafted with a view to its competitors in the history of philosophy, not only the religious codes, ancient and contemporary. I don’t mean to insinuate that all this is news to you, only that it’s context worth noting.

I think the Greek and Randian view that ethics is for making a whole fulfilling life needs more argument than it has received so far. (Aristotle would say it is not only for that purpose, but anyway, he and Plato would say that that was an important part of the overall purpose of ethics.) It seems to me, pretty sure, there are objectively right and objectively wrong things for humans to do before they entered the classical Greek (or other high) way of life and thinking about such things as making a whole life for self or community. There is a passage in the Old Testament that says: "Where there is no vision, the people perish, but they who keep the law will be happy." That might be pretty old, even older than writing perhaps, but what about humans even farther back, what about their thinking on what's good or bad to do? As I recall, the human brain reached its present level of evolution around 25,000 years ago. 

Concerning your second question, Jonathan, I’d say you are on the right track trying to fit pleasure of some sorts, not only longevity, into making a life taken as standard of value. Rand talked of happiness being concomitant of human goodness and as rooted, at least partly, in elementary signals of good or bad from pleasure or pain. Without joys there is no happiness. Rand did have a fictional character be without joy and happiness, but have purpose and desire for power and desire for spoiling other lives. That was Ellsworth [else worth] Toohey. I imagine the character would still have malicious joy, schadenfreude, but that joy might well be argued to be a joy not consonant with happiness or virtue in Rand’s ethical theory, at least not when it’s the only joy one’s got left. 

I should add to your examples of pleasures at some odds with longevity, the joy in risks. Success in some ambitions are much more risky than in others. Aiming for being a solo cellist playing concertos with major orchestras is more unlikely of success than aiming for being a cellist in a major orchestra, which is itself a long shot. Aiming to make a living by writing novels is more risky than aiming to make a living by doing engineering or plumbing. By individual nature we have different levels of embrace of or aversion to risk. It seems Rand’s ethics is general enough to apply across such variations and does not try to mess with changing them. Some people might want to take up the nature-undergirded project of making and raising a family, others to instead focus only on the nature-undergirded project of discovering new mathematics.

Concerning your third question, as you know Rand plunked for only one value that will do. But the hard wiring of the hierarchy of values (priorities in behaviors) in a simple nervous animal such as a snail is surprisingly complex, and both individual survival and reproduction are served by that hierarchy. Which makes sense, of course. In Rand’s theory, all good things for one to do have to be reducible to goodness for the individual life making a life. I challenge that. To reiterate, I'm pretty sure there are objectively right and objectively wrong things for humans to do before they entered the classical Greek way of life and thinking about such things as making a whole life for self or community. And it seems to me that humans, we modern ones anyway, have a little choice in what to rationally select as an ultimate value and even whether it will be only one or some small number of harmonious ones.

I don’t mean to have decided whether having children is reducible to pure egoism.

I don’t think using “does not destroy my life” is an adequate filter for right values in Rand’s system, rather “does not destroy my life or counter my making my life” is finer.

Rand took humans to have certain broad psychological needs such as self-esteem, and I notice that that can be fulfilled by a great range of challenging pursuits, but under her conception of self-esteem, not by every pursuit. So that would seem another constraint to consider in grasping her theory of the morally right and morally wrong.

Rand’s ethical theory is laid out in The Virtue of Selfishness, but other essays are part of it as well. In Philosophy: Who Needs It important ones in her ethical theory are “Selfishness without a Self” and “Causality versus Duty”. Concerning the need of an airplane you mentioned, a conception of humans having new needs arise upon greater success in satisfying old needs is touched on in the VOS essay by Nathaniel Branden titled “The Divine Right of Stagnation.”

Edited by Boydstun
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Posted (edited)

Thank you for the reply, Stephen!

Ok, that makes sense—code as an explicit set, e.g., a set of religious commandments, or a set of principles, and not necessarily systematically related.

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There is a passage in the Old Testament that says: "Where there is no vision, the people perish, but they who keep the law will be happy."

That's an interesting quote, so another ancient testament for moral codes.

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I should add to your examples of pleasures at some odds with longevity, the joy in risks. Success in some ambitions are much more risky than in others. Aiming for being a solo cellist playing concertos with major orchestras is more unlikely of success than aiming for being a cellist in a major orchestra, which is itself a long shot. Aiming to make a living by writing novels is more risky than aiming to make a living by doing engineering or plumbing. By individual nature we have different levels of embrace of or aversion to risk. It seems Rand’s ethics is general enough to apply across such variations and does not try to mess with changing them. Some people might want to take up the nature-undergirded project of making and raising a family, others to instead focus only on the nature-undergirded project of discovering new mathematics.

When you're citing these as possible examples of being at odds with longevity, like cigarettes or cake, do you mean in the abstract that one my run out of money and not afford food, or be unable to afford medical care? Because when I read these examples I just thought from one angle only which is that there's a less chance of succeeding and attaining those things given the time invested into them, but that the time is still not lost since a superior character is attained in the pursuit of them. But I would understand if one pursued something like free climbing (see Alex Hannold) then the choice would also be at odds with longevity.

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Concerning your third question, as you know Rand plunked for only one value that will do. But the hard wiring of the hierarchy of values (priorities in behaviors) in a simple nervous animal such as a snail is surprisingly complex, and both individual survival and reproduction are served by that hierarchy. Which makes sense, of course. In Rand’s theory, all good things for one to do have to be reducible to goodness for the individual life making a life. I challenge that. To reiterate, I'm pretty sure there are objectively right and objectively wrong things for humans to do before they entered the classical Greek way of life and thinking about such things as making a whole life for self or community. And it seems to me that humans, we modern ones anyway, have a little choice in what to rationally select as an ultimate value and even whether it will be only one or some small number of harmonious ones.

I'm not familiar enough with what preceded Greek culture and the moral codes during Greek culture. Is there some debate in philosophy about there not being objectively right and wrong moral choices before Greek culture?

Ok, and so you're saying in your view that it is possible to have multiple ultimate goals? 

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I don’t think using “does not destroy my life” is an adequate filter for right values in Rand’s system, rather “does not destroy my life or counter my making my life” is finer.

Rand took humans to have certain broad psychological needs such as self-esteem, and I notice that that can be fulfilled by a great range of challenging pursuits, but under her conception of self-esteem, not by every pursuit. So that would seem another constraint to consider in grasping her theory of the morally right and morally wrong.

Rand’s ethical theory is laid out in The Virtue of Selfishness, but other essays are part of it as well. In Philosophy: Who Needs It important ones in her ethical theory are “Selfishness without a Self” and “Causality versus Duty”. Concerning the need of an airplane you mentioned, a conception of humans having new needs arise upon greater success in satisfying old needs is touched on in the VOS essay by Nathaniel Branden titled “The Divine Right of Stagnation.”

 

Great, I'll definitely get onto these soon.

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Jonathan, I got things blurred up when I began to talk about the joy of risk. My instances of different aims for the would-be cellist or for novels v. engineering/plumbing were only meant to illustrate different levels of risk aversions in people’s personalities, not that higher or lower level of risk aversion has some more or less likelihood of long life. For impact of risk-aversion level on longer life, we need to consider cases like the free-climbing one you mentioned. How much tradeoff of risk in hobbies or work (fireman, say, instead of personal trainer) seems be something for which Rand’s ethics does not prescribe one way or the other. At least within a moderate range of different levels of risk aversion (or conversely joy in risks).

The issue of whether there is ethics before there being such a thing for humans of thinking about making a whole life for oneself (such as was evident in Greek philosophers) is a question that has come up recently in the book The Perfectionist Turn (2016) by Rasmussen and Den Uyl. They want to say like Rand that moral values are the chosen values affecting the course of one’s whole life. And, as really is in Rand also, that the ultimate moral value is the life one is making as a whole life, a crafted whole. I incline to think what distinguishes moral values from other chosen values is something more immediately graspable and shorter time-framed than that. Although, whatever such simpler thing that might be, which I’d imagine to be in human life before such learned and aristocratic folks as Greek philosophers, it remains a possibility that for us lucky folks today, as for Aristotle, crafting a life as a whole is a fuller form of the moral-value distinction, and perhaps the one we should hold to for we moderns. Need more anthropological information to get further along in this.

I’m still undecided about multiple ultimate goals (harmonious with each other) for the human animal. Meaning I’m also undecided about the arguments for necessity of a single ultimate value. At any rate, we know what Rand thought on the issue. The way in which this issue has come up in past discussions is with propagation of the human species as human for the second ultimate alongside survival and well-being of the human individual as human. And that is clearly the way the hardwiring of such animals as that snail goes; each one of them is hardwired to serve both propagation and individual survival as ultimate values. With humans, however, there is so much specialization within communities, and our wiring for pleasure of sex and for progeny and raising them seems rather open to our creative elaborations in new ways. Yet, even taking that into account, the question remains open for me so far. Looking at the biological function of the human mind, it's clear that it is both to make for survival of the individual and the species, so maybe that's a lead.

By the way, as a detail, Rand did not employ the term ultimate value in presentation of her philosophy in AS; she began to talk that way only a little later in The Objectivist Ethics. Whatever the reason (unknown to me and to anyone apparently), I doubt starting to use it was of large conceptual significance.

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Jonathan, I got things blurred up when I began to talk about the joy of risk. My instances of different aims for the would-be cellist or for novels v. engineering/plumbing were only meant to illustrate different levels of risk aversions in people’s personalities, not that higher or lower level of risk aversion has some more or less likelihood of long life. For impact of risk-aversion level on longer life, we need to consider cases like the free-climbing one you mentioned. How much tradeoff of risk in hobbies or work (fireman, say, instead of personal trainer) seems be something for which Rand’s ethics does not prescribe one way or the other. At least within a moderate range of different levels of risk aversion (or conversely joy in risks).

Ok, got it. 

 

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The issue of whether there is ethics before there being such a thing for humans of thinking about making a whole life for oneself (such as was evident in Greek philosophers) is a question that has come up recently in the book The Perfectionist Turn (2016) by Rasmussen and Den Uyl. They want to say like Rand that moral values are the chosen values affecting the course of one’s whole life. And, as really is in Rand also, that the ultimate moral value is the life one is making as a whole life, a crafted whole. I incline to think what distinguishes moral values from other chosen values is something more immediately graspable and shorter time-framed than that. Although, whatever such simpler thing that might be, which I’d imagine to be in human life before such learned and aristocratic folks as Greek philosophers, it remains a possibility that for us lucky folks today, as for Aristotle, crafting a life as a whole is a fuller form of the moral-value distinction, and perhaps the one we should hold to for we moderns. Need more anthropological information to get further along in this.

Thank you for added context. Some questions (not all are exactly completely on topic, so not holding you to a reply):
(1) What is it that distinguishes a "whole" life from a non-whole life? 
(2) In what way do moral values affect the "course of one's whole life" that is different from values affecting the course of one's life?
(3) If I understand correctly, you've said that what differentiates moral values from values is the level of abstract, i.e., non-moral values are "more immediately graspable and shorter time-framed"?
(4) What did you mean by "fuller form" of the moral-value distinction? As in a 'higher', more 'superior' morality in the sense of it bringing more happiness when compared to less developed codes of values?

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I’m still undecided about multiple ultimate goals (harmonious with each other) for the human animal. Meaning I’m also undecided about the arguments for necessity of a single ultimate value. At any rate, we know what Rand thought on the issue. The way in which this issue has come up in past discussions is with propagation of the human species as human for the second ultimate alongside survival and well-being of the human individual as human. And that is clearly the way the hardwiring of such animals as that snail goes; each one of them is hardwired to serve both propagation and individual survival as ultimate values. With humans, however, there is so much specialization within communities, and our wiring for pleasure of sex and for progeny and raising them seems rather open to our creative elaborations in new ways. Yet, even taking that into account, the question remains open for me so far. Looking at the biological function of the human mind, it's clear that it is both to make for survival of the individual and the species, so maybe that's a lead.

Ok, got it. What you're saying makes sense. It just occurred to me to that there's a discussion about diet that relates to this question, i.e., of biology and 'ultimate value':

'Ancestral diets, e.g., paleo, may help you reach reproductive age and successfully have offspring, but they don't necessarily mitigate age-related disease after your reproductive prime is over. It's possible we need a different eating strategy to maximize each of these periods. It may be there is a trade-off between how we live during our younger years and how rapidly we age when we are older.'
...
'If we consider these general phases of life - pre-reproductive age, reproductive prime, and post-reproductive prime - it's likely that biological priorities and needs change over time. It may be true that the types of diet and activity critically important to maximize reproduction earlier in life are different than the ones we need later in life, when reproductive prime is behind us.'

(Sourced from "The Healthspan Solution" by Ray Cronise, not direct quotes)

Thank you very much for the replies, Stephen.

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“Man’s life is a continuous whole: for good or evil, every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all the days behind him. He can alter his choices, he is free to change the direction of his course, he is even free, in many cases, to atone for the consequences of his past . . . . If he is to succeed at the task of survival [as man qua man], if his actions are not to be aimed at his own destruction, man has to choose his course, his goals, his values in the context and terms of a lifetime.” --from “The Objectivist Ethics” by Ayn Rand

We are aware of our mortality. In concern for some family or other loved persons or organizations that could likely live beyond oneself, one may buy life insurance. One is aware not only that one is on a living course requiring maintenance, but that it comes to an end. That foreseeability to however-far-off seems to me to be inherent in the mentality of humans for some time now, and certainly for contemporary ones. I’ve noticed how eager I became, as an adult, for diagnostic information concerning possible terminal defects in my health (most of us are in situations of dying most likely from endogenous failures, rather than accident or homicide), because it is important for shifting course in one’s priorities, in one’s projects, according to the prospect of how much productive time remains.

Charles Larmore has a much-noticed essay dissenting (not by way of subjectivism) from “The Idea of a Life Plan.” It is the final chapter of his book The Autonomy of Morality, if one cannot find it elsewhere. It would be a good ethical-theory project to analyze whether Rand’s theory falls under the broad class of what he isolates as life-plan theories.

Jonathan, concerning 3: For Rand what distinguishes moral values from non-moral ones (say, my dislike of paisley or my choice of whether I'll water the grass I planted yesterday when I go out in a few minutes), however gradual might be the distinction, is that moral values are the values affecting the long-term course of one’s concrete life. There is a contemporary alternative to that way of distinguishing moral values from other ones, and that is the way put forth by Robert Nozick in Philosophical Explanations. He took the specifically moral to be in one’s treatment of value-seeking selves as that. One could do that without fully knowing one was doing that, it seems to me, even among people before, say, the advent of agriculture (maybe 10K years ago). However, one can’t be making choices aimed at best course of one’s whole life—Rand’s criterion of the moral arena—without grasping the idea of choices affecting a whole life course, and that seems pretty advanced in human mental development over the history of the species.

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3 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Jonathan, concerning 3: For Rand what distinguishes moral values from non-moral ones (say, my dislike of paisley or my choice of whether I'll water the grass I planted yesterday when I go out in a few minutes), however gradual might be the distinction, is that moral values are the values affecting the long-term course of one’s concrete life.

I don't think Rand would think that though. She does place significant emphasis on the idea of lifespan as opposed to what she calls living "range of the moment,"  but I think she's differentiating two patterns of living, not two types of values, moral and non-moral. Of her standard of value, in VOS 26 she says it applies to "all those aspects of existence which are open to his [man's] choice." That doesn't seem like your dislike of paisley is a non-moral value, then. That seems like she thinks your dislike of paisley is a part of the constellation of values requisite to your lifespan, part of what makes you you.

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2046,

Rand should not count my aversion to paisley as a moral value since, so far as we know, it is not a chosen value. Within the realm of chosen values, she took ethical ones to be those “choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of [one’s] life.” (5th paragraph of OE.) My choice to water this morning the grass I planted yesterday was a choice, though not a moral choice in the view of ethics set out by Rand. For whether I watered it or not this morning would in no way determine the purpose and course of my life.

Also, as far as parts of what makes a human self a self, my dislike of paisley and my dislike of men in drag are such trivial parts of me, it is not plausible that they are requisites of the life I’ve cobbled (or of its duration) or of the me in cobbling that life. There are things particular to me that are essential to me being this particular self (such as certain creativities and kinds of thinking), but not such small particularities as preferences about fabric or wallpaper design or shows for me to avoid.

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7 hours ago, Boydstun said:

2046,

Rand should not count my aversion to paisley as a moral value since, so far as we know, it is not a chosen value. Within the realm of chosen values, she took ethical ones to be those “choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of [one’s] life.” (5th paragraph of OE.) My choice to water this morning the grass I planted yesterday was a choice, though not a moral choice in the view of ethics set out by Rand. For whether I watered it or not this morning would in no way determine the purpose and course of my life.

Also, as far as parts of what makes a human self a self, my dislike of paisley and my dislike of men in drag are such trivial parts of me, it is not plausible that they are requisites of the life I’ve cobbled (or of its duration) or of the me in cobbling that life. There are things particular to me that are essential to me being this particular self (such as certain creativities and kinds of thinking), but not such small particularities as preferences about fabric or wallpaper design or shows for me to avoid.

Ah well, now you see you've gotten into a bit of a pickle. We are discussing your dislike of paisley. Your dislike of paisley is a value-judgment, no? At least at this point in the conversation that is all that is implied by the terms "dislike of paisley." You might say, no it's an emotional state or disposition, and thus, not a choice.

In Rand's psychology, an emotion is an automatic subconscious response to a value-judgment. And a value-judgment is an act of measurement. Thus, you are not on the hook for your emotions per se, but you are for the value-judgments they are based on.

Next you say, ah well it's not a choice/action that determines "the purpose and course of [one’s] life," so not moral. But I don't know about that. She does say, once again, morality applies to "all those aspects of existence which are open to his [man's] choice" (VOS 26.) So either there's a blatant contradiction, or your interpretation is wrong, right? It can only be one of the two.

(And here's my argument for it being the latter.) It couldn't possibly be that simply classifying "watering grass" by its most conspicuous external trait ("grass got water, yea or nay") is only a surface level reading of the context within which such a choice or action takes place? That, a series of choices/actions that make up a whole life includes not just basic goods that would keep one alive for a certain natural lifespan, but also the virtues. And when we are speaking of virtues we are speaking of what kind of person one is. And when we are speaking of a virtue like industry or productiveness, we speak of expending a certain amount of effort to do those things one actually values. Or when we speak of integrity, we speak of being the kind of person that actually does put into action those things one claims to value. And when we speak of rationality or independence (or practical wisdom in non-Randian virtue ethics), we speak of having the kind of excellence at weighting and balancing those values in life that are worth expending energy on to us as the kind of person we are and want to be.

Additionally, we we speak of a lifespan, we speak of the here and now as much as the future encompassed by the natural length of said lifespan. And one needs excellence at weighting which possible values to expend energy on because whatever one does, no matter how seemingly small or insignificant, constitutes a slice of that temporary life. We only get a fixed amount of this life, so spending it well is important to being the kind of person we want to be and making the kind of overall life we want to have. Even a small misplay of time and effort constitutes a drain on a limited account. 

Thus, as best I can argue, Rand does in fact mean "all" when she says all, and there is no such class as "non-moral values" in her axiology. Further, cutting the grass is important inasmuch as it is an action and thus the kind of person one is who takes that action (and thus the virtues) is brought to bear on it. And finally, even a small portion of one's lifespan is important to the whole lifespan because of its limited nature.

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2046,

I personally don't get into nearly so many choices of being industrious or not as choices of this industry or one of the fifty others calling to be tackled. I think such things as my love of purpose and industry are patterns of my personality and conduct that were established in childhood and adolescence. (I'm with Montessori's "All work is noble" and, like my folks, I don't much care for people who don't love getting know-how and getting their hands dirty -- my folks were from self-sufficient farms.) My parents had their set of values to try to encourage in the development of their children, and I'm doubtful such early choices made by me leading to the adult proclivities such as these should be seen as autonomous choices. Or take my horror at the idea of taking recreational drugs because I treasured my mind and life: there really was no temptation. (I was never exposed to drug takers until college.) Of course all those things get reassessed and argued with others, but I don't think that makes them any more or any less chosen in adult life, unless I change my mind on them.

The distinction of Arnold between feelings and emotions seems right to me. I doubt I'd agree entirely with the Rand/Branden picture of emotions as they had it in the '50's and '60's. I'd have to dig into my psy and phi books on emotions containing research and analysis since then to make a current assessment of their old ideas on that. There is no proof of value judgment underlying my dislike of paisley; so far as I can see, there are only statements reporting that internal state of dislike upon the stimulus. Saying that subconsciously people are making judgments (or inferences in the case of Peirce concerning perception) or subconsciously seeing themselves (Branden’s visibility principle) is conjecture, still waiting for testing so far as I know.

I shouldn't be surprised but what Rand held and vacillated over some contradictions in her own vistas. I don't think there is any such thing as a philosophy that does not end up with no important problems within it, signaled sometimes by contradictions (in that signal, it's unlike problems at the development-front of pure mathematics, though like some problems at the development-front of empirical science). Philosophic thought, like all thought, is limited throughout each thinker’s lifetime engagement in how far it can roll back the thinker’s ignorance in the vicinity.

However, I don’t find this particular contradiction. Rand did not write (not in this presentation anyway) that morality applies to “all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice” tout court, but in a prefaced context: “‘Man’s life qua man’ [her standard of moral value] means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice.” That John Galt might have a choice on which way, if any, he parts his hair is not among choices required for his survival as a rational being, hence not a moral choice in Rand's ethical theory.

Do you see Rand's writings as holding esthetic values as a type of moral values or as having some other relation to moral values?

I'm rather more with the Nozick's demarcation of moral values from other sorts of values, by the way, though I reset his value-basis in organic unity within the field of physical life and its instrumentation and control systems. I no longer expect to reach writing serious papers on theory of value, due to so much work in theoretical philosophy stemming from my fundamental framework (appearing next summer in JARS most likely) remaining to be done in remainder of productive life.

 

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Sure, a lot of Rand's psychology, and philosophy in general, is underdetermined. And certainly we ought to follow wherever the argument and evidence takes us. But the guy didn't ask "what's Boystun's theory on this," he wants to understand "The Objectivist Ethics," right? So I think it's fair to say non-moral choices don't exist for Rand, and she thinks value-judgments are chosen and automatized into emotions, such that the "sources" of our emotions are discoverable (eg., VOS 27.)

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You didn't actually account for

A.) "all those aspects of existence which are open to his [man's] choice"

B.) Ways in which choices express the virtues

C.) Ways in which your life is limited and thus even a small mismanagement of values do effect the course of your life

A is hard counterexample to your interpretation. Your minor premise is that there are choices that don't in fact effect the course of your life, so maintaining that premise requires dealing with B and C in some way.

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2046, I did indeed account for A. Once that dependent clause is quoted in the full context of its sentence, it is displayed as lying only within the limiting ambit of the preceding part of the sentence you omitted. It is Rand's position that there are choices not affecting the main courses of one's life, such as ethical choices do, and it is her writings that must be looked to for cashing that out. She certainly does cash B in her novels. C is a concern only for those holding to the view that Rand does not hold, and though I do not entirely agree with her way of demarcating why choices such as how Galt does his hair are not moral choices, I do not saddle her with a slippery slope position or a patently absurd, easy-to-knock-a-tall-man-down stretched representation of her position. The fact that she has a challenge of dealing with a gradation of chosen values from the moral to the nonmoral (such as hairstyle or esthetic values) would be for her only the challenge of the gradations and varieties of value in reality.

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3 hours ago, Boydstun said:

It is Rand's position that there are choices not affecting the main courses of one's life, such as ethical choices do, and it is her writings that must be looked to for cashing that out.

But where does she demonstrate that position? I'm not going to rehash 2046's argument, so I would like to know any other passage from any other book she wrote that she said or suggested that there are some choices that don't affect the course of your life. I noticed you added the word "main", but that wasn't in the quotes mentioned so far.

3 hours ago, Boydstun said:

nonmoral (such as hairstyle or esthetic values)

How come you wouldn't say that Rand portrays aesthetic values as moral values? I think of how Dagny in Atlas Shrugged had a particular way of dressing, somewhat feminine but not in any traditional way. A woman who was essentially the CEO of a multinational corporation in the 50s is anything but traditional. Not only does her aesthetic choice reflect the style she happens to like, but it affects the course of her life, including enhancing psychological visibility of who she wants to be, self-esteem of declaring her body to be worth something, and to actively have herself think about how to show her values concretely. If you were to look at Dagny, you'd get a pretty decent idea of what she stood for. 

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The "gradation of chosen values" (S Boydstun) is critical here. I refer to pps 40, 44, 45,, 58 in VOS.

The value-hierarchy.

"Remember further that all of man's values exist in a hierarchy; he values some things more than others; and to the extent that he is rational, the hierarchical order of his values is rational: that is, he values things in proportion to their importance in serving his life and well-being. That which is inimical to his life ... he DISvalues". Etc.

(All values by the measure of "man's life").

So personal 'esthetics' and appearance enter - at some lower order - variable and proportionate to the individual, his intentions and purpose. The while, knowing that his/her outer appearance briefly matters to those who look for the same qualities in others he looks for, and that integrity of style and function counts to a point. Over all, "Handsome is as handsome does" is a much more crucial and rational credo than appearances.

(The "esthetic values" re: Rand and romanticist art, are another area entirely, artworks and literature by artists that display (or don't) the virtues-in- action. It is the characters' and subjects' inner morality (esp. volition) which are of importance to the viewer's own moral aspirations. The essence of the subject, represented by stylized outer appearance and actions, signifying his mind, matters far more in art).

Also there's the subconscious. Many values(/non-values), borrowed/imitated values, and unexamined authority-given-values take root - pre-conceptually and subconsciously - mostly, when younger or very young. Often by wrongful and superficial associations made between existents. Some will be counter-rational and defeating of one's well-being, and need conscious re-addressing. Emotions felt are a good indicator of wrongful and right-full value-judgments. Many don't need revisiting or correcting. You simply don't like the look of paisley - could be it was worn by an uncle you could not stand, long ago - hardly worth your time and attention to burrow to the bottom of.

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Eiuol,

Normative abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is good? Esthetic abstractions are formed by the criterion of: what is important?” (from “Art and Sense of Life” by Rand)

“‘Important’ . . . is a metaphysical term” in Rand’s esthetics theory. Answers to “what is important?” are what Rand called “metaphysical value-judgments,” which she took to be not ethical value-judgments, but some of the base of ethics. So not all value-judgments are ethical value-judgments. (from “Philosophy and Sense of Life” by Rand) 

Then too, Rand allowed there were errors of knowledge that are not defects of morals. Then not all standards are moral standards.

“Moral values are a subcategory of values, defined by two conditions. ‘Moral values are chosen values, and are of a fundamental nature. They are ‘fundamental’ in the sense that they shape a man’s character and life course. Other kinds of value, by contrast, are specialized—e.g., a man’s estimates in regard to government or art, which constitute not his moral, but his political or esthetic values.” (Peikoff in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand)

“Moral values are distinguished by their being . . . , (as opposed to values reflecting a person’s end in some narrow field, such as music or attire).” (from T. Smith’s Viable Values, a meta-ethical study of Rand’s ethical theory)

Where I used “main courses” Eiuol, in representing Rand’s conception of moral values, Objectivist writers have used “fundamental” and I think theirs is the more leading term, the better term. For the moral values in Rand’s scheme are crafted for all humans to realize in their own particular ways and never right to be crossed in any choices. 

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2 hours ago, whYNOT said:

 You simply don't like the look of paisley - could be it was worn by an uncle you could not stand, long ago - hardly worth your time and attention to burrow to the bottom of.

Merely one instance of many possible explanations - another objective, esthetic explanation is that a mind which holds high worth in clarity, and so to clear cut, definite, lines in design and man-made artifacts/ornaments, will find difficulty in appreciating myriad, swirly patterns and colors - altogether, too "busy" to the eye without signifying anything.

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I think Boydstun's "paisley" example evokes aesthetics which complicates the argument a bit. I can think of a simpler, non-aesthetic statement that doesn't seem to be loaded with a moral demarcation as follows: I hate the taste of carrots.

That statement is somewhat  a "choice", but also, seems to be determined by a preference that is a hard to define besides the fact that I simply highly dislike the taste of carrots. It's hard to find any moral connotation in my dislike of the taste of a certain vegetable. 

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1 hour ago, EC said:

: I hate the taste of carrots.

That statement is somewhat  a "choice", but also, seems to be determined by a preference that is a hard to define besides the fact that I simply highly dislike the taste of carrots. It's hard to find any moral connotation in my dislike of the taste of a certain vegetable. 

Ha. Did you go to boarding school, too? Joking. Carrots and me are the same way, (but harder to explain is why I really like carrot juice).

Seriously, it is indeed a choice. Because we start knowledge/evaluations with our sensations (pain/pleasure) and a "taste" is the taste buds encountering an existent, a foodstuff, there need be no automatic affinity with the taste and consistency of a food to one's particular taste buds. Then, it would be pretty irrational to force down something you gain no enjoyment from, not when there are so many tasty alternatives. Again, hierarchical, and carrots - and chocolate/or strawberry milkshakes- are very minor on one's dis-value scale.

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1 hour ago, EC said:

I hate the taste of carrots.

This makes me think of acquired tastes.

I hate the taste of wine. I don't want to take the time to get used to the flavor, learn about the fancy ways to describe wine, and the different foods to pair wine with. I choose not to grow to enjoy wine. I'm the same way with coffee, and beer. I've also heard that it's common to at first hate these things, but grow to like them.

I used to hate the taste of cilantro, but now I like it in some specific dishes. I used to dislike blueberries, but now I eat them all the time. 

The sensation you get cannot be chosen. Some people cannot help that cilantro taste like soap. That's a genetic thing. Food preferences have a lot to do with choice; bitter flavors become desirable, and that often seems to be a deliberate choice for them to ever become enjoyable. For all I know, even some people who think cilantro taste like soap enjoy that flavor, despite what most people would label as unpleasant. To take another example, you might really dislike a painting at first, but upon studying it, perhaps after reading a book by an art historian, you come to enjoy it. It's happened to me before.

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On 8/18/2020 at 1:58 PM, Boydstun said:

“Man’s life is a continuous whole: for good or evil, every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all the days behind him. He can alter his choices, he is free to change the direction of his course, he is even free, in many cases, to atone for the consequences of his past . . . . If he is to succeed at the task of survival [as man qua man], if his actions are not to be aimed at his own destruction, man has to choose his course, his goals, his values in the context and terms of a lifetime.” --from “The Objectivist Ethics” by Ayn Rand

We are aware of our mortality. In concern for some family or other loved persons or organizations that could likely live beyond oneself, one may buy life insurance. One is aware not only that one is on a living course requiring maintenance, but that it comes to an end. That foreseeability to however-far-off seems to me to be inherent in the mentality of humans for some time now, and certainly for contemporary ones. I’ve noticed how eager I became, as an adult, for diagnostic information concerning possible terminal defects in my health (most of us are in situations of dying most likely from endogenous failures, rather than accident or homicide), because it is important for shifting course in one’s priorities, in one’s projects, according to the prospect of how much productive time remains.

What I got from this is that one aspect of thinking about my values "in the context and terms of a lifetime" includes explicit recognition of my mortality. 

 


Interesting conversation, some of it getting at other questions I had.

From what I've understood there are primarily three issues being discussed:

(1) One criterion of morality (apart from being chosen values) is that the chosen value in question be "required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan," and whether or not "lifespan" refers to a specific time-frame.
(2) The source of emotions; a refinement including distinguishing emotions and feelings.
(3) The morality of aesthetic judgements;

(2) & (3), I'll add to in another post.

Regarding (1):
From what I've understood, @Boydstunis interpreting Ayn Rand's formulation of "choices and actions that determine the purpose and course of [one’s] life" as choices and actions that pertain only to the "long-term."

On 8/18/2020 at 1:58 PM, Boydstun said:

Jonathan, concerning 3: For Rand what distinguishes moral values from non-moral ones (say, my dislike of paisley or my choice of whether I'll water the grass I planted yesterday when I go out in a few minutes), however gradual might be the distinction, is that moral values are the [chosen] values affecting the long-term course of one’s concrete life. 

And @2046 is interpreting the formulation of "the course of one's life" or "lifespan" as including the present and shorter-term impact of chosen values, e.g., over the next week, day hour or even only in the present moment. I got this from: 

On 8/19/2020 at 4:21 AM, 2046 said:

 

Additionally, we we speak of a lifespan, we speak of the here and now as much as the future encompassed by the natural length of said lifespan. 

 

So this conversation is primarily about what "the course of one's life" and "lifespan" mean: does it include those values that affect the short-term course? and what kind of impact do chosen values have on our life?

@Boydstun, how are you determining and differentiating what constitutes long and short-term affect? is this a wider discussion in philosophy, i.e., determining the impact of a moral choice on a "whole" life? do you mean essential and non-essential? out of curiosity does anyone think that distinction applies to the affect of chosen values on the course of one's life?

 

On 8/19/2020 at 8:53 PM, 2046 said:

You didn't actually account for

A.) "all those aspects of existence which are open to his [man's] choice"

B.) Ways in which choices express the virtues

C.) Ways in which your life is limited and thus even a small mismanagement of values do effect the course of your life

A is hard counterexample to your interpretation. Your minor premise is that there are choices that don't in fact effect the course of your life, so maintaining that premise requires dealing with B and C in some way.

@2046, you're asking @Boydstun to prove that nothing follows from certain choices, right?

But if I understood him, he's talking about the significance of certain choices?

11 hours ago, whYNOT said:

The "gradation of chosen values" (S Boydstun) is critical here. I refer to pps 40, 44, 45,, 58 in VOS.

The value-hierarchy.

"Remember further that all of man's values exist in a hierarchy; he values some things more than others; and to the extent that he is rational, the hierarchical order of his values is rational: that is, he values things in proportion to their importance in serving his life and well-being. That which is inimical to his life ... he DISvalues". Etc.

(All values by the measure of "man's life").

So personal 'esthetics' and appearance enter - at some lower order - variable and proportionate to the individual, his intentions and purpose. The while, knowing that his/her outer appearance briefly matters to those who look for the same qualities in others he looks for, and that integrity of style and function counts to a point. Over all, "Handsome is as handsome does" is a much more crucial and rational credo than appearances.

Am not really following @Boydstun and "gradation of chosen values from the moral to the nonmoral (such as hairstyle or esthetic values) would be for her only the challenge of the gradations and varieties of value in reality." Gradation to me suggests a spectrum that goes from moral to non-moral with no clear demarcation, but maybe it's more clearer to say categories of chosen values? That's what I'm getting from your quotes (that it's categories as opposed to gradations) from this post:

10 hours ago, Boydstun said:

“Moral values are a subcategory of values, defined by two conditions. ‘Moral values are chosen values, and are of a fundamental nature. They are ‘fundamental’ in the sense that they shape a man’s character and life course. Other kinds of value, by contrast, are specialized—e.g., a man’s estimates in regard to government or art, which constitute not his moral, but his political or esthetic values.” (Peikoff in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand)

 

 

10 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Then too, Rand allowed there were errors of knowledge that are not defects of morals. Then not all standards are moral standards.

Errors of knowledge are not defects of morals, but are they not still the result of a moral process of thought? e.g., errors as moral, evasion is immoral?

 

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Jonathan, thanks for all the recaps and joining us to your impressions and interests.

I agree with 2046 that a view to the long-term and the larger arcs of one's life (and, I say, with death a certainty in view and to be aware of all along the way) cannot have no concern for the enjoyment of a day or night. I recall an evening in which my partner and I were on an autumn driving vacation in the Northeast (we lived in Chicago). We were rather lost somewhere in Pennsylvania, I think around Swarthmore, and we did not care. We just drove on the beautiful roads with the autumn leaves streaming down and Jessye Norman singing the Strauss Four Last Songs playing from our CD. I could never forget those moments. There is a scene in Atlas Shrugged in which Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart are on a road trip in the autumn in Wisconsin as I recall. They are enjoying it of itself within their relationship and in some release from their consuming commercial work which they love. If the driver of the car gets distracted from the road while lighting a cigarette and collides with a pedestrian as a result, that would be a moral failing. But the purpose of the drive and the value of it was not to satisfy that moral constraint. It was part of enjoying one's life, and Rand thought her ethics a guide to making and enjoying one's life. That goes for a week at work or a week on vacation and all the weeks composing what will hopefully be decades of life. I know that a lot of creation is painful. And my manual work is painful in a different way. But we have satisfactions in the results, and not only the results of a long hard creation or labor, but in the doing of it. Concern with only the long-term and the summation at the longest term would be nothing like having human life and happiness.

I have been unable to come up with a good example in the gradation I think Rand's theory of moral value must entail between the obviously (to common sense and to Rand I gather) non-moral choices and the clearly moral ones. Maybe I can still come up with one. There's a similar configuration in mental health. If some deep habit is interfering with your life, many would say only then do you have a mental problem, a psychological problem needing to be tackled. Whereas if you have a habit, even one annoying to oneself, and it doesn't interfere with your life (including social relationships), we'd think it doesn't rise to the level of a psychological illness. There too, I'd think there would likely be borderline cases in between, though I can't come up with one just now (past bedtime).

Turning to your last point, evasion in thought is a continual possibility for entry of moral failure in thought. But even without evasion, there is possibility of error in thought in Rand's view (and in mine). This is in contrast to Descartes who held that if only we did not let our will outrun our understanding, we would never err. Kant also at times fell back on that Cartesian view of error. That view of error is erroneous, and possibly entirely innocent of all moral failing. We cannot know what all pertinent things we do not know as we proceed in our thinking. And we better keep thinking best we can, all the same, going boldly forth.

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Jonathan, this is a minor gap filled, but I’ve now seen a borderline case between what could be taken as moral values and choices and nonmoral ones. That is simply the amount of diligence to be devoted to the reinforcement of good habits for safety, which can then come to the rescue when working on “automatic pilot” in some production and circumstance arises that without the good habitual good procedure would result in calamity. The sliding from moral to nonmoral would be along the degree of diligence in reinforcement. At some high level of diligence, the diligence could become ineffectual in significantly strengthening the good habit, so become a nonmoral choice. At some low enough level of diligence in reinforcement, the choice would be a moral failure. I don’t find this sort of choice a live problem in practice. It’s easy enough to just turn on the turn signal when changing lanes and not pause over how silly that seems on the face of it when one can see perfectly well that no other persons are in the vicinity. 

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