KyaryPamyu Posted March 7 Report Share Posted March 7 (edited) Objectivism upholds the 'if/then' model of morality ('if you want X, do Y'). At first glance, this is completely incompatible with the Categorical Imperative, which simply demands you to 'do it', no matter the context or situation. However, in philosophical discussion, the restrictive CI is always connected to concepts such as freedom, autonomy and human dignity, so what gives? Since human freedom is a hot topic for Objectivism as well, perhaps we can extract some nuggets of truth from the CI's two most popular formulations (those of Kant and Fichte). After a brief presentation of both, I'll tackle the issue of human autonomy, as applicable to the Objectivist Ethics. ______ Kant and the CI Kant tackled morality as part of a wider project encompassing the human faculties: reason (theory), conscience (morality) and taste (aesthetics). In the first installment of his project (The Critique of Pure Reason), he argued that in conscious experience, when the world undergoes changes, it still remains the same world, and thus, you also remain the same self throughout. He then shows how certain relations, such as causality, enable this sameness-in-difference. But, although you can prove that such relations are necessay for preserving the sameness of the self, Kant claims that it's an unjustified leap to assume that the exact same relations operate beyond the senses (Prolegomena, § 28). Reason is extremely tempted to do that, but whenever it tries to make claims about what lies beyond experience, it short-circuits and ends up in antinomies, i.e. for a given metaphysical thesis, it can also prove its opposite, the antithesis. However, since we're endowed with certain faculties such as moral conscience, we can show that certain assumptions are justified, albeit not provable. For example, morality presupposes a belief in freedom, i.e., in the ability to cause an action of our own will, without being forced to cause it. This model can be formally expressed as 'just do it' (the Categorical Imperative). The CI's rival is the Hypothetical Imperative, which can be expressed as follows: 'Do X, but only if you want to attain Y'. According to Kant, since the CI is implicit in freedom of action, our concrete actions should be in harmony with that. For example, it's not possible to 'just lie', because lying depends on first building trust; this turns lying into a Hypothetical, rather than Categorical imperative. Kant also thought that human conscience is innately biased toward the CI, and that following the HI takes a toll on our dignity (in the latter, freedom is merely the 'freedom' to dutifully comply with everything nature asks you to do, like a good boy/girl). Since the phenomenal self is rooted in the noumenal self (outside of the senses), it's reasonable to assume that both selves are in harmony somehow, even if it looks as if maintaining the CI is sometimes impractical or useless. Fichte's Formulation Fichte believed that the proposition 'A exists' does not have universal truth, since 'A' could be a unicorn or a talking chinchilla. However, the proposition 'A = A' does have universal validity, and grounds all of logic. He wanted to track the source of this universal validity, and allegedly found it. He explained that, in self-consciousness, the self (as subject) relates itself to its own self (as object). Thus, in the proposition 'I = I', the mind opposes the two terms, then relates them (in ITOE-parlance, ‘differentiates and integrates’ them). While the truth of 'A exists' is conditional upon what 'A' stands for, the truth of 'A = A' is universal, since it points to an actual content, namely, the unity of subject and object. Theoretical Portion Thesis: I am I. Antithesis: However, I (the subject) am also not I (the object). Those two are distinct, opposed. Synthesis: The 'I' and 'Not-I' co-exist, each having some quantity relative to the other. As you can see, rational integration (synthesis) does not succeed in resolving the separation of subject and object, it merely makes them cohabit. To properly achieve the unification that theoretical reason failed at, we'll simply have to incorporate this 'Not-I' into ourselves, through practical reason. In other words, if our bodies can follow our wills, so can the rest of material nature. Needless to say, that's a daunting project (but doable). Science, technology, art etc. will become our tools for this project. Rand and the Choice To Live Nature blackmails us with endless conditions to fulfill, so at first glance, it looks as if we're only 'free' to dutifully obey whatever nature nags us to do. One of the things I find remarkable about Rand's ethics, is that the basic choice underlying the 'if/then' model is unconditional. More specifically, the choice to live is a pre-moral choice, a precondition for the possibility of morality. Unfortunately, I think OPAR kind of ruins this insight by phrasing things like some pious cleric: Quote ...however, there is nothing to do but grasp: it is—and then, if the fundamental alternative confronts one, bow one's head in a silent "amen," amounting to the words: "This is where I shall fight to stay. (pg. 212) No thanks. I'm not bowing my head to anything. Contrast this with Rand's own presentation: Quote In answer to a man who was telling her she's got to do something or other, a wise old Negro woman said: "Mister, there's nothing I've got to do except die." (Causality Versus Duty) That’s a big difference of emphasis. A free being does not pursue life because it's forced to do so by natural appetites, but rather: pursues life (with all of its appetites) as an act of freedom. Back to OPAR: Quote A man who would throw away his life without cause, who would reject the universe on principle and embrace a zero for its own sake—such a man, according to Objectivism, would belong on the lowest rung of hell. (pg. 248) After claiming that the choice to live is pre-moral, Peikoff tactlessly brings up the rungs of hell, suggesting moral condemnation for the sin of not 'accepting reality' (choosing life). Kelley made fun of this in one of his lectures. I just want to empathize how truly radical the 'pre-moral' idea is. Obviously, there's a stark difference between the CI and the Objectivist Ethics. The CI does not even allow people to take their own lives, because that would remove from existence an instrument of freedom. But Objectivism roots the fundamental choice in our absolute autonomy. Not in mechanical causality, not in nature's whims or in externally imposed edicts, but in us. When it comes to those philosophies that uphold 'freedom for it's own sake' (e.g. Fichte's system of ethics), it's tempting to retort: 'no, it's freedom for life's sake'. But the dignity of freedom is so important, that its absence can completely absolish a person's desire to live. As always, one needs to go beyond what's 'technically true' and see the living, breathing reality that faces us. Another example: it's perfectly valid to speak of one's body as a tool/machine for one's will. Rand herself does this in Galt's Speech (FTNI, pg. 130) without contradicting her thesis that a person is an indivisible entity. Likewise, for Fichte, the 'Absolute I' is merely the target; the 'real I' is always a mind-body trying to incorporate the rest of nature into its will. I think there's a grain of truth in the idea that the desire for freedom somehow underpins all of our actions. We strive for a perfect state of affairs that will finally satisfy us, yet the moment we find something that fits the bill, we're struck by its ghastly restrictiveness and incompleteness. The spirit revolts against limitation, all limitation. Perhaps, if Objectivist 'activists' focused on presenting reason as a tool for freedom, we'd see a spike in interest for the philosophy. Personally, I'm definitely not in the camp of people that consider that it's not necessary to 'sell' reason to the masses. No human being is interested in something, unless that something bears positively on his freedom. At least, that's what attracted me to The Fountainhead and VoS in the first place: the fact that Rand wrote about the autonomy of the human spirit. To this day, I still don't care about fawning over how cool Ancient Greece was, or about cringey polemics regarding alternative logics. This is another fact to consider: there might be Objectivists out there who don't care about most of the Objectivist memes, and maybe, *gasp*, they don't even enjoy Atlas Shrugged. All the more reason to focus on properly marketing the philosophy (forgive my blasphemous language), rather than struggling to pull in 500-1000 'rational newcomers' per year, of which at least a portion will be dogmatists who don't care to challenge their views, anyway. ______ Further Reading A brief, interesting overview of Kant's work Kant's weird list of 'duties' (notice the Christian influences) Stephen Boydstun's thorough coverage of Kant's moral theory in relation to Rand's A review of Michelle Kosch's book on Fichte's Ethics Edited March 7 by KyaryPamyu Boydstun 1 Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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