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What is the explanation for why some people live according to reason, and others don't?

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The Laws of Biology

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  1. Is there some rational explanation for why some people live according to reason, and others don't? Is it because those who live according to reason (and thus live according to objective reality and self-interest) are more intelligent, or have had a better education, or had early childhood attachment with caring adults, or something like that? If not something like that, what then is the rational explanation for the fact that some people live mainly according to reason while others live mainly according to unreason (mysticism, emotionalism, rage, dependency, mooching, etc.). 
  2. Just as a matter of comparison, in some varieties of Christianity, they have a theory of why people do bad things by offering the explanation that all sin is derived from the rebellion of Satan the Devil, a fallen angel who rebelled against God's divine right to rule over everyone and everything. This theory also connects all sin to the Fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. That fall created "Original Sin," that leads all people to be tempted to sin (to do unjust harm to other people or to themselves). I mention this Chrisitan theory of sin only to give an idea of what I mean by an explanation for the bad behavior that human beings do. 
  3. Sigmund Freud had yet another theory as to why people do bad things to other people and to themselves. As I understand Freud, he saw human beings as being only half-civilized animals, and so humans being, when put under external or internal pressures, often resort to animal-like aggression. Again, I mention this Freudian theory of misconduct only to give an idea of what I mean by a rational explanation for the bad behavior that human beings do. 
  4. So, what is the rational explanation given by Objectivism for why some people live largely according to reason (and according to objective reality and self-interest) while other people mainly live according to unreason. 
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  1. In the Catholic religion they have the phrase "the mystery of iniquity," which I think indicates that, to some extent, Catholic theologians think that the ultimate cause of evil conduct and motives remains a mystery to mere mortals in this world. 
  2. Speaking of the villain Iago, in the Shakespeare tragic play "Othello," one critic coined the phrase "motiveless malignity" to describe the inexplicable malice of Iago toward Othello.
  3. I believe Aristotle wrote that most or all bad conduct was a result of poor or insufficient education or formation in virtue and in philosophy. 
  4. In one of Plato's dialogues, Socrates is presented as teaching that all bad conduct is the result of ignorance. 
  5. In Scientology, they teach that all or most bad conduct is the result of "engrams" that were formed or planted into the "reactive mind" of human beings.
  6. In Marxism, all bad conduct of workers is ultimately the fault of oppression of workers by the Capitalist class. (I'm not sure how Marxism explains the bad conduct of Capitalists.)
  7. I present all those to convey the idea of what I am looking for in the philosophy of Objectivism. I am looking for a theory of the cause of bad conduct, of living by unreason instead of by reason.
  8. I know that Objectivism calls people to live according to reason, ethics, personal productivity, self-interest, objective reality, high ideals, and so on.
  9. I know that Objectivism condemns as evil the living of life as a mystic, moocher, thief, manipulator, misanthrope, cynic, pessimist, nihilist, relativist, and so on.
  10. But so far, in my very brief studies into the writings of Ayn Rand (mostly as found in wonderful book titled The Ayn Rand Lexicon), I have been unable to find a statement of the explanation for the phenomenon of people living according to unreason.  
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Consider the first six paragraphs of Chapter 3 of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology: Abstraction from Abstractions.

Therein lies an example of an objective method of reasoning. (Keep in context all of the chapters of the book leading up to it.) The crux, in my humble opinion is in the third sentence of that sixth paragraph wherein she wrote:

Some (a very small minority) proceed straight on, by the same method as before, i.e., by treating words as concepts, by requiring a clear, first-hand understanding (within the context of their knowledge) of the exact meaning of every word they learn, never allowing a break in the chain linking their concepts to the facts of reality.

(This was written with regard to the O.P.)

Edited by dream_weaver
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Galt's Speech contains this:

Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.”

But that leads me to wonder:

Why do some people live according to this "basic vice, the source of all his evils"? (quotation from above)

Why do other people live according to "man's only basic virtue"? (quotation from above)

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Galt's Speech contains this:

It is not any crime you have ever committed that infects your soul with permanent guilt, it is none of your failures, errors or flaws, but the blank-out by which you attempt to evade them—it is not any sort of Original Sin or unknown prenatal deficiency, but the knowledge and fact of your basic default, of suspending your mind, of refusing to think. Fear and guilt are your chronic emotions, they are real and you do deserve them, but they don’t come from the superficial reasons you invent to disguise their cause, not from your “selfishness,” weakness or ignorance, but from a real and basic threat to your existence: fear, because you have abandoned your weapon of survival, guilt, because you know you have done it volitionally.

But that leads me to wonder:

Why have some people done this "basic default" and "abandoned your weapon of survival"? (quotations from the passage above)

And why is that other people do not do this basic default and do not abandon their weapon of survival?

It seems like in a rational universe their ought to be some rational explanation for these two phenomena. 

It seems wrong or a failure to just say, "It's a mystery," or "It cannot be explained." Yet, those are the conclusions I am thinking I must reach and settle for. 

In some biological thinking, everything is determined by Natural Selection acting on Random Genetic Mutations. 

Oh, my brain or mind is getting tired.

Edited by The Laws of Biology
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The suffering King Lear, near the end of Shakespeare's play, asks this regarding his evil daughters Regan and Goneril:

"Is there any cause in nature that make these hard hearts?"

Hamlet's "To be or not to be," and other philosophical soliloquies might partly be his search for the cause of good and evil. This might account for Hamlet's delay in taking action in the play. Finally, near the of the play, Hamlet seems to give up and surrender to fatalism, as seen in this passage:

There is a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all. Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is ’t to leave betimes? Let be.


Edited by The Laws of Biology
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In seeking an answer to the question of this thread, I consulted these entries within The Ayn Rand Lexicon:




Free Will


In those entries, I did find much that was pertinent, good, and beautiful.

But I did not find the answer to the specific question I had (as seen in the title of this thread). 

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People have free will.  Each individual has the power to choose good or evil. Unfortunately, some choose evil, at least some of the time. 

The things you mention in point 1 of your O.P. can influence this choice, but do not determine it.  It ultimately comes down to the individual's choice.

Thanks to Christianity, and more recently to Kant, bad ideas have dominated Western civilization.  This makes it harder for people to make good choices and easier for them to make bad ones, both directly and because of the resulting conditions.


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On 1/25/2022 at 3:44 PM, The Laws of Biology said:

what then is the rational explanation for the fact that some people live mainly according to reason while others live mainly according to unreason (mysticism, emotionalism, rage, dependency, mooching, etc.). 

Check your premise. Rage, dependency, mooching, these aren't necessarily irrational--if your survival objectively requires rage, dependency or mooching. Mysticism and emotionalism, however, are most likely irrational because they are theories of knowledge that contradict the principle of reason. They seek knowledge from supernatural beings or personal feelings.

A person who lives mainly according to unreason can't live for long. Even an idiot mainly uses reason, otherwise he'd succumb to the elements within a few weeks, being too stupid to eat, drink and find shelter. He might be the most irrational fool when it comes to knowledge of little significance, but when it comes to the important things in life he needs to be rational most of the time. 

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On 1/26/2022 at 8:17 AM, Doug Morris said:

People have free will. 

Is it impossible, or unethical, to probe or investigate into the inner dynamics of the phenomenon that ancient philosophers and theologians first called "free will"?

If such probing or investigation is impossible or unethical, why is that so?

At one time, the concept of biological "species" was viewed by all or most scientists, philosophers, and theologians as an irreducible, unchangeable, stable concept and entity.

But now everyone (except for fundamentalists) knows that biological species are in constant flux, development, and evolution, with new species always coming into existence and other species becoming permanently extinct. 

At one time it was thought that the atom was the irreducible particle. But scientists kept probing and investigating and now we know a lot about the sub-atomic particles, and scientists even developed a means to split atoms apart. 

At one time it was thought that the elements (as found on the Periodic Table of Elements) were stable, irreducible units. But eventually it was discovered that elements actually can and do change into a completely different elements (e.g., uranium becomes lead; hydrogen becomes helium).

At one time it was considered unethical and immoral to dissect human bodies, and laws were passed to punish doctors and scientists who wanted to learn about the human body by cutting up cadavers. The human body was considered by both philosophers and theologians to be a sacred temple of God/divinity/soul, and so it was held to be blasphemous and sacrilegious to probe into the human body in a scientific manner, as if humans were just another animal to be dissected and studied. But once this philosophical and theological taboo was rejected by governmental lawmakers, great increases in our knowledge of the functioning of the human body were achieved. Much progress in medical healing was achieved.

If the taboo about investigating "free will" is lifted, and if scientists are allowed to investigate the phenomenon of "free will," is it not possible or likely that they will achieve great strides in understanding the inner dynamics of this phenomenon? And if the results of such scientific investigations are accepted as legitimate knowledge, is it not possible that the ancient philosophical and theological concept of "free will" will no longer be regarded (except by fundamentalists) as something irreducible and non-investigable?

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  • 4 months later...

Perhaps it is as basic an issue as the following.


Observe the ability to "think" rather than merely "feel" or "intuit" or impulsively "decide" requires a particular mode of mental function which, is similar to any physical muscle or capability, in that:

1.  it requires some training and discipline to strengthen and develop, current capacity being dependent upon of past practice or exercise, and

2.  when used, is subjectively felt as effort (and correctly so).

Choosing to think is like choosing to act (also, mental labor is an analogue for physical labor) and if the activity is beyond a person's current capacity and even if it only requires a substantial portion thereof it will be "difficult" to do.


The answer to:

Why don't some unfit people exercise? 

is arguably the same as

Why don't some habitually unthinking people, avoid rational thought?

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At the core of the ethics of thinking, it's about "how best to make choices".

The act  of thinking is in this particular context has to be spelled out completely.

For the caveman, it was "I better figure a better way or I'm dead".

That could be emotions and/or thought or some combination.

There is also the issue the automatic tendency to think. Like did the cave think "I will decide to think?" No, he thought. Perhaps a cat or dog does that too.

For a human, thinking is at the basis of wanting, desire, motivation. Thinking it to create an end that is wanted.

So the act or experience frequently ends up being: "I better determine the possibilities in my mind and pick the best one".

As an aside, there is also the issue of rumination that is not a good kind of thinking. As in, eternally going round and round figuring out "what is the sound of one hand clapping".

Thinking is an act of using one's mind in long term goal oriented way. It is unfair to accuse someone of not thinking simply because they missed a possibility that was available to be "thought of". Even a choice of question also has to be thought about. We have to strategize and omit some questions. You can't go around trying to answer every question that comes to mind. And sometimes you will be wrong. In general, I don't tell people to choose to think, I just ask them for answer to something.

The time that the case for reasoning is at it's highest relevance is at the time of "intense emotion". Like when there is intense anger, fear, disappointment or sexual desire. In most of those cases, you better think and in many cases, to do that, you have to back off, and let the emotional dust settle.

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A rational explanation for irrationality...  Why did I laugh when Ayn Rand said she liked the phrase "god bless you" even though she didn't literally believe in a god, she liked what the phrase means. When Ayn Rand said she never met her match in a debate, it seems like she was talking about the olympian exercise of developing her entire body of work.  The Galt speeches are her conscious human identity grappling with the parts of herself and the collective she had to push back to become more fully human.  

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  • 8 months later...

To reason takes effort and skill. Many people choose to go with the flow and conform because (A) it takes less effort and (B) conformity and going with the flow offer survival value in a society where parasites can live off those who do live according to reason.

These parasites doubt the efficacy of reason. So the next best means of survival is tribalism, hence conformity and going with the flow.

Negate B by removing guaranteed safety nets and other "parental" institutions and the consequences of people's actions are more immediate and direct—as opposed to being diluted and spread out across society—and A is thereby also negated because the effort involved with reason becomes unavoidable.

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On 2/1/2022 at 12:36 PM, The Laws of Biology said:

Is it impossible, or unethical, to probe or investigate into the inner dynamics of the phenomenon that ancient philosophers and theologians first called "free will"?

It is neither.  Ayn Rand first wrestled with this problem in print in "The Fountainhead" with the idea of the 'second-hander'.  For the second-hander the nature of reality is first and primarily other people.  That is a fundamental framework at the level of a metaphysical theory that shapes what kinds of concepts and strategies will occur to a person.  Only a psychological theory could explain why a person would cling to this throughout a lifetime, and even then that just pushes the question one level further on to "why do people cling to their psychological problems?"  So Rand went on a little further, arriving in "Atlas Shrugged" at the idea of "choosing to live" via "choosing to value".  

Some people just don't know how to value or to choose to live, others actively choose not to live.

The above is based upon Salmieri's "Ayn Rand's Conception of Valuing" which is about "Philosophically significant observations about valuing can be had by revisiting the fiction."  Relevant Rand quotes are there pulled together conveniently including one or two from her journals.  (The hand-out accompanying the course is no longer available.)


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