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'The Objectivist Ethics' Structural Outline

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An outline of the essay from 'Virtue of Selfishness.'
  • Morality or ethics is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions (these determine the purpose and course of his life). Ethics (as a science) deals with discovering and defining this code.
  • Prerequisite: why does man need a code of values?
  • History of Ethics
    • Historically moralists have regarded ethics as the province of feeling:
    • (1) the traditional mystic, religious morality where the "will of God" is the standard of value and validation of ethics;
    • (2) the neo-mystics who reject God and substitute it with "the good of society"
    • Moralities have been a battle between whose whim: one's own, society's, the dictator's or God's.
  • Defining Value
    • That which one acts to gain or keep
    • Presupposes answer to value to whom and for what and presupposes the fact of an alternative.
    • The valueless indestructible robot
  • Ultimate Value or Goal
    • An ultimate value or goal is the one to which all lesser goals are the means and sets the standard by which they're evaluated.
    • The fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which is the living entity's own life
  • Good and Evil, Pleasure and Pain
    • First awareness of "value" and "good and evil" is by means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain
    • The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in man's body, it is part of his nature, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will cause the physical pain or pleasure. The standard is his life.
  • The Role Of Consciousness
    • The physical sensations can perform the task of using fuel but cannot use it.
    • The higher organisms having more complex needs and a wider range of actions need consciousness to obtain fuel (for survival).
    • Description of the faculty of sensation
  • Perception
    • Perception is the faculty that retains sensations
  • Animals
    • Animals are guided by the immediately present perceptual concretes and they inherit an automatic code of values, i.e., they do not have a choice in the matter. They cannot chose not to perceive or chose to act as their own destroyer.
  • Man
    • The distinction between man and other animals is volitional consciousness, i.e., conceptual and non-automatic.
    • Man inherits no automatic code of survival and guide to action so must discover the answers to those questions himself. 
  • Conceptual Consciousness
    • The nature of concepts: the integration of sense data to percepts is automatic, but abstract and concept-formation is not.
    • Man needs a method of using his consciousness: identifying impressions in conceptual terms, integrating events and observations into a conceptual context, grasping relationships, differences, similarities in the perceptual material and abstracting them into new concepts, drawing inferences, making deductions, reaching conclusions, i.e., a method for asking new questions, discovering new answers and expanding knowledge into an ever-growing sum.
  • Reason
    • Reason is man's (volitional, fallible) faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses.
    • Psychologically to think or not is to focus or not; existentially it is to be conscious or not; metaphysically it is to live or die.
  • Objectivist Ethics
    • Guides man choices and actions; asks 'what are the right goals for man to pursue?' and 'what are the values his survival requires?'
    • The standard of value for Objectivist ethics is man's life, i.e., that which is required for man's survival qua man (proper to his nature as a man). 
    • A "standard is the abstract principle that serves as a measurement to guide or gauge man's choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose."
    • Everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind & produced by his own effort and so the two essentials proper to his survival qua man are thinking and productive work.
    • Discussion on men who survive by "imitation and repetition."
    • Discussion on men who survive by "brute force or fraud."
    • Compares the animal's life of separate, repeated cycles and man's life as a continuous, integrated whole that "holds the sum of all days behind him."
    • Animal's life consists of a series of separate cycles, repeated over & over , e.g., breeding, storing food for winter - it cannot integrate its entire lifespan; it goes just far enough to repeat 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.
  • Objectivist Values & Virtues
    • Value is that which one acts to gain or keep and virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it.
    • Three cardinal values: reason, purpose, self-esteem;
    • Three corresponding virtues: rationality, productiveness, pride.
    • Productive work as the central purpose and central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all other values; reason is the source of his productive work; and pride is the result.
    • The source of all virtues is rationality; the source of all evils is an unfocused mind.
    • Rationality
      • It is a commitment to:
      • Reason as the only source of knowledge and the rejection of any form of mysticism, i.e., claim to some nonsensory, nondefinable source of knowledge.
      • Full mental focus
      • Never placing any value or consideration above one's perception of reality
      • Basing, choosing and validating your convictions and values with thought
      • Independence: accepting the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind
      • Integrity: never sacrificing one's convictions to the opinions or wishes of others
      • Honesty: never attempting to fake reality in any manner
      • Justice: never seeking or granting the unearned or undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit.
      • Never desiring effects without causes and never enacting a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effect
      • Never acting like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one's own purposes and motives
      • Never making any decision, forming any conviction or seeking any value out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one's knowledge
    • Productiveness
      • It is recognition of the fact that productive work is the way man sustain his life and frees him from adjusting himself to his background, as animals do, and gives him the power to adjust his background to himself.
      • It is the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind in a consciously chosen pursuit.
    • Pride
      • It is recognition of the fact that just as man must produce the physical values needed to sustain his life, so he must produce the values of character that make it a life worth sustaining.
      • Earning the right to hold oneself as one's highest value is achieved by:
        • Never accepting an irrational values impossible to practice;
        • Never failing to practice the virtues one knows to be rational;
        • Never accepting unearned guilt and never leaving any unearned guilt uncorrected;
        • Never resigning passively to flaws in one's character;
        • Never placing any consideration of the moment above one's own self-esteem;
        • A rejection of any code of values preaching sacrifice as a moral virtue;
    • The Social Principle
      • Ever living human being is an end in himself and not the means to the ends or the welfare of others.
      • Man must not sacrifice himself to others nor sacrifice other to himself.
  • Emotions
    • In psychological terms the issue of survival is "happiness or suffering."
    • As the pleasure-pain mechanisms of the body is an automatic indicator of the body's welfare or injury so the emotional mechanism is an estimate of that which furthers man's life and that which threatens it by means of joy and suffering.
    • Emotions are an automatic result of man's value judgements integrated by his subconscious.
    • Unlike the pleasure-pain mechanism, the standard of value is not automatic but the products of either thinking or evasions, i.e., by a conscious process of thought or subconscious association.
    • Irrational values can switch man's emotional mechanism from the role of guardian to the role of destroyer.
    • Happiness
      • A state proceeding from the achievement of one's values. 
      • “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 does not work for your own destruction.... Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.” (John Galt)
      • To hold one's life as one's ultimate value and one's own happiness as one's highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement.
      • A happiness that can summed up in the words "this is worth living for" is an affirmation in emotional terms of the fact that life is an end in itself.
  • Hedonist & Altruist Ethics As Sadism or Masochism
    • To take "whatever makes one happy" as a guide to action means to be guided by emotional whims. Emotions are not tools of cognition.
    • Happiness can be the purpose of ethics, but not the standard: ethics defines value and gives the means to the achievement of happiness so to say that you should pursue "whatever makes you happy" is to say that proper value is whatever you value.
    • Philosophers that have attempted to devise a rational code of ethics produced only a choice of whims: "selfish" pursuit of one's own whims (Neitzsche) or "selfless" service to the whims of others (Bentham, Mill, Comte, etc.)
    • When "desire" is an ethical primary men have to fight one another because desires and interests necessarily clash and the ethical alternative is to be an ethical sadist or masochist.
  • Rational Selfishness
    • Objectivist ethics upholds rational selfishness which means values required for man's survival qua man.
    • Rational interests do not clash: there is no conflict of interest among men who do not desire the unearned, do not make or accept sacrifices and men who deal with one another by means of trading value for value.
  • Trade
    • The rational ethical principle guiding all human relationships is justice:
      • Earning what you get and not giving or taking the undeserved.
      • Not treating men as masters or slaves but independent equals.
      • Dealing with men by means of voluntary exchange.
      • Ascribing one's own failures to oneself and not to others and not holding oneself responsible for the failures of others.
    • The spiritual issues of justice are the same, but the currency is different: love, friendship, respect, admiration are an emotional response of one man to the virtues of another and a form of spiritual payment for the selfish pleasure derived from the virtue's of another man's character.
    • It is only on the basis of rational selfishness, on justice, that man can be fit to live together in a benevolent, rational society.
    • No society can be of value to man's life if the price is the surrender of his right to life, i.e., a society where man is treated as a sacrificial animal.
  • Political Principle
    • No man may initiate the use of physical force against others. 
    • The right to use physical force is only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use. 
    • The only moral purpose of government is the protection of man's rights, i.e., to protect man from physical violence, to protect his right to his own life, liberty, property and the pursuit of his own happiness. 
    • Without property rights, no other rights are possible.
    • Every political system is derived from a theory of ethics.
  • Alternative Ethics: Mystic, Social, Subjective
    • The barest essentials of the Objectivist ethics is outlined above to contrast it to three major schools of ethical theory: the mystic, the social, and the subjective.
    • These three alternatives different only in their method of approach, no in content: in content they are variants of altruism where the variation is over the question of who is to be sacrificed to whom.
    • The mystic theory of ethics, of which the dark and middle ages are existential monuments, sets the standard of value beyond the grave.
    • The social theory of ethics, of which Nazy Germany and Soviet Russia are existential monuments, substitutes society for God.
    • The subjectivist theory of ethics is the negation of ethics and sets man's whim as the moral standard.
Edited by Jonathan Weissberg
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Thanks! A comprehensive and accurate summation that took some effort to collate, I bet.

One minor correction, I believe that's "not leaving any ~earned~ guilt uncorrected".

Edited by whYNOT
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