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My Ethical Theory and Rand's

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Boydstun

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My Ethical Theory and Rand’s

Perception of mind-independent existence is fundamental to human consciousness, though not the whole of what is fundamental in human consciousness. “Existence exists, we live.” The act of grasping that statement implies that things exist, including you and I conscious living selves, our consciousness being something alive and being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

No one understanding the statement “Existence exists,” whether uttered, signed, or written, has such an occasion of consciousness without co-referential history and ongoing context of his or her language and intellectual community. The reader is not without the writer, and the thinker addresses a standing audience of others, however unspecified, as well as self. Co-reference precedes the one-word stage of language acquisition, and ever after the acquisition of language, the standing suitability for co-reference attends every thought that something is the case. Co-referential potential of thought, and the mutual recognition of intentional being that requires, is a condition of one’s existence as a thinker in language. Indeed, pronominal other person is in and with oneself as existence is in and with oneself. In one’s conscious and subconscious existence is resonance with existence in general, resonance with living existence, and special of the latter, resonance with other person.

“Existence exists” is registration of existing among other existents. Further, the act of grasping the statement “Existence exists,” I observe, implies performance of and grasp of acts, not only acts of consciousness, but acts of living body. There are no acts of and grasps of consciousness without acts of and intentional grasps with one’s living body. There is no grasp of the externality of existence to subject without grasps of externality to one’s body. If one observes one’s consciousness, one is acquainted with one’s living body and one’s actions with it. Moreover, one knows in any episodes of post-linguistic observational consciousness others of one’s acting and conscious kind. Then too, one had always (in a practical sense of always) known Mother or other caregiver.

“Existence exists, we live.” The act of grasping that statement implies that things exist, including you and I conscious living selves, our consciousness being something alive and being the faculty of perceiving that which exists.

There is normativity in that most basic metaphysical frame (mine, not Rand’s). We are given, dedicated to grasping reality in awareness concerted with other and in coordinated acts with other. This is automatic animal engineering-performance-norm of operation. We are given, already loving truth, truth-getting, act, self, and other.

With later education, we learn that life ends, that it requires maintenance, and in our human case, that it requires production and education and social cooperative conventions. We learn that those means to life require a waking state and adequate sleep. Going beyond the original grasp of life in breath and cry and suckle, learning more of life and its requirements requires some focused effort. The plenty and exuberance of human life of today required individual creativity, initiative, and freedom coordinated at the large social scale by moral- and rights-constraints on treatments of others.

Human moral life arises in the milieu of learned character of life, all within and ever with the basic frame “Existence exists, we live.” In learning life beyond the basic knowing, we can grasp the concept of “alternative” mined by Ayn Rand: Only with advent of the ends-getting organized matter that is life do alternatives enter nature.

I observe, in addition: We say that when we've got the accelerator on, a given electron is either going to encounter a positron or not. That saying is true to nature, but it, unlike identity, is not something in nature independently of a striving mind. Either-Or, I wrote in "Existence, We", is based in identities in nature, but is only in nature where living systems are in nature facing nature. That is, the Law of Excluded Middle for thought rises as high-animal mind rises by organic evolutionary layers on vegetative neuronal control systems of animals. The electron will either encounter a positron or it will not, but the electron does not face an alternative of continued existence or not. We see the possibilities, but the electron, unlike a living cell, does not face them. We and all living things face the alternative of continued existence or not, and from that fundamental alternative, all alternative is born.

In moral life, we elect to keep life going, including to keep going life known in the basic frame. Once we have the developed powers, we elect to keep thinking, coordinating, creating, and producing. The moral virtue of truth-telling is rooted in the basic frame, constantly at hand. Life known in the basic frame is striving and growing, and doing so with other. Those were given; they are given engineering specs. Keeping such life operative in oneself is moral life. Striving and growing with other becomes joint thinking and production, and, as well, joint generative, out-flowing love of nature, the creation nature affords, and such love of such selves. Living selves.

Moral life is elected allowance of continued resonance of life among selves. Selves living ever under the alternative of cessation, which is death. The call of moral conduct is the call of life in its form that is living selves.

The preceding is my proposal for a biological basis of distinctly moral proprieties. As with Rand’s, in my proposal, biological operations as they resulted in the course of nature on earth resulted in such things as needs and functions coming into the world. It is upon the organization that is life and its character we have the fact upon which oughts can have objective ground. Functions had come into the world before humans emerged. We and our ancestors were each of us functioning, more and less well, at any stage of our existence.

Famously, for part of Rand’s ethical base, she characterized life in complete generality as self-generating and self-maintaining. This she took from standard biology along with the findings that all organismic life is cellular the findings of ontogeny and of evolution from Darwin to the present. It is quite true that self-generation and self-maintenance are features of any life. Even if we humans become creators of life from inanimate matter, our success will mean that we created means for the appearance of matter organized such that it is self-generating and self-maintaining. We are relying on that character when we plant, water, and fertilize crops, even if we only dimly notice that the crops do the growing themselves and possess various ranges of adaptability themselves under changes in surrounding conditions.

That living things have functions in their subsystems to the preservation and replication of the whole organism and that living things have powers of self-generation and self-maintenance might better have some elements such as growth drawn out more, but I’ll stay with Rand’s broad meanings of self-generation and self-maintenance. Notice that these steps are not necessarily only suited for a ladder to ethical egoism.

To be a fair characterization of life in general, we must understand “self” in self-generating and self-maintaining in a broad and indeed rather shifty way. Overwhelmingly, life gets started from life. Other life. Self as individual organism and self as its species work back and forth for continuation of those two selves. An individual life can be just a quickly disposable trial tool in the function of preserving the species, although overall, the species requires individual organisms. Of course.

I stress that functions are operating in each one of us in all one's ontogeny. Rand noted that the pleasure-pain mechanism of the body is the progenitor of what is joy and suffering in organic elaboration and that all of those are indicators for good or evil for life of and proper functioning in the individual animal, including humans. I stress that it is not only other animals in which all of that is part of its overall individual control system. Our high-level, socially instructed conscious control system in maturity remains tied to the automatic one still running.

Rand centered on a choice to live in the case of human life. I think that element is better characterized as a choice to continue living. And that means continuing to pursue the facts and the coordination with others in that pursuit. Rand has it that rationality is our overarching method for getting the facts and making good uses of them. That is fine, but I contest the picture in which one was just going along alone rationally pursuing the facts and how to use them and then as it were noticed, secondarily, that the existence of other people is enjoyable, knowledge-boosting, and economically advantageous.

The higher intelligence of humans does indeed have launchings spontaneously in individuals. Young children will spontaneously seriate a group of rods according to their lengths; none of our closest primate pals do that. But we have been in intelligent human company all along our individual active existence, from precautions and playing to learning common nouns, proper names, verbs, classification, and predication. Rationality is profoundly social in one from the get-go, even as its acquisition by each person consists in individual facility in its operation independently of direction from others and self-direction in seeking information or in seeking specialized skills from others.

Rationality is seen by Rand as the basic moral virtue because it is the necessary general operation needed for the human form of life. She takes the other virtues in her ethical system to be salient strands of rationality aimed at individual survival. I say, rather, that rationality is the given proper being of a human and the proper responsiveness to persons, other and self. Rationality is the grand means of human survival, as Rand held, but that is not the whole of its story.

Rand had proposed that the virtue of rationality is not only virtue in a social setting, but virtue—main moral virtue—for a castaway on a deserted island. This is because in the isolated setting rationality is necessary to the individual’s survival. That is so, however, I say that enabling survival is not the only source of the goodness of rationality. There is a person on that island: the castaway. Rationality is proper responsiveness to and continuation of his self. It is call of life in that life form that is his personal self that is the distinctively moral in the virtue of rationality for a castaway.

Though the castaway carries along other in foundational frame, he is now the only human present. He is an end-in-himself with much rightness to continue himself. (A pet might go a ways for fulfilling the need to love and interact with another human self.) Returned to society, an individual remains an end-in-himself rightly making his life, a fully human life with interactions and mutual values and interactions with the other ends-in-themselves that are human selves at centers of making lives.

Ayn Rand offered an ethical egoism in which rationality took its place as central overall virtue for a person due to the need for rationality in making one’s reality-according individual human life. She tried to weave the prima facie virtue of truth-telling to others as a derivative of the need to be honest with oneself about the facts. That is not plausibly the basic reason one wants to and should want to be honest with others. Rand’s account of honesty is inadequate by reliance on a purely egoistic basis. Ethical egoism, a genuine one such as hers, one attempting to derive all its moral virtues purely from self-interest, is false. It rests on an inadequate view of what is the constitution of the human self.

Caring for human life includes caring for rationality in human selves, indeed caring of the entire human psyche supporting its rationality. What good would be a person having all she desires but her rational mind? Distinctively moral caring is caring for human selves, notably in the great psyche-constituent and power of rationality—caring in the sense of concern and caring in the sense of tending.

The power of human rationality is discovery and utilization of nature, and it is also our fundamental human love, which is an originative, out-springing love for the natural world and, as well, for we humans in nature, for human selves and our attainments. It is the love of creation and production, the love of intelligent conversation and commerce. That rationality is the fundamental human virtue. One failing to have it is in human failure, including moral failure.

Although my account builds on a social nature of human individuals running deeper than social nature as characterized by Rand, I land in much agreement with Rand on general characterization of life as self-generated and self-maintaining action and as teleological action (even for vegetative actions such as gravitropic plant roots) and with life as the phenomenon among existents with which such things as function, needs, alternatives, problems, and solutions enter the world at all. All of those features are in stark contrast to inanimate matter in our ordinary experience and as in our modern science. In the case of human selves and lives, all of those glories are reached in coordination with others, living or long deceased, and humans have greater choice than other animals in shaping longer arcs in their lives. As with Rand's ethics, Rationality remains the overarching human virtue, although, into my reasons for that there is not only the instrumental value of rationality (solo and in cooperation) for successful continuation of life, but the inherent value of rationality to human self and life, including joint participation of rationality in lives and selves. Rationality is inherently self-directed, so independence in a social environment (in thought and in making a life) remains a virtue, as with Rand. Creativity and productivity and integrity and benevolence and voluntary association are also part and parcel of my broadened notion of rational human nature.

There is an additional distinctive feature in Rand's general characterization of life I'd like address: Life is an end in itself. I endorse that characterization also, although what constitutes individual human life is deeper in its connections to others, than in Rand's characterization of it, and that is so, even though in maturity choice is a factor in which relationships are instituted. Rand had the circumstance that life is an end in itself in a beautiful dual role in her ethics. (i) Directed to one's general moral conduct in all circumstances, it has one rightly treating oneself as an end in itself; self-interest is the ultimate criterion for any decisions or actions. (ii) Directed to one's conduct towards others, Rand adds that they too are ends in themselves and that conformance to individual rights correctly has each treated as an end in himself and makes possible each continuing self-direction all together in coordination.

The second (ii) is correct within my system. The first (i) is not, because self-interest (or other-interest) are inadequate moral criteria stemming from inadequate understanding of human nature.

Life known in my basic metaphysical frame is striving and growing, and doing so with other. Those were given; they are given engineering specifications. Keeping such life operative in oneself is moral life. Striving and growing with other becomes joint thinking and production, and, as well, joint generative, out-flowing love of nature, the creation nature affords, and such love of such selves. Living selves.

Moral life is elected allowance of continued resonance of life among selves. Selves living ever under the alternative of cessation, which is death. The call of moral conduct is the call of life in its form that is living selves.

Caring for human life includes caring for rationality in human selves, indeed caring of the entire human psyche supporting its rationality. What good would be a person having all she desires but her rational mind? Distinctively moral caring is caring for human selves, notably in the great psyche-constituent and power of rationality—caring in the sense of concern and caring in the sense of tending.

The power of human rationality is discovery and utilization of nature, and it is also our fundamental human love, which is an originative, out-springing love for the natural world and, as well, for we humans in nature, for human selves and our attainments. It is the love of creation and production, the love of intelligent conversation and commerce. That rationality is the fundamental human virtue.

AR '61.jpeg

Edited by Boydstun
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It is ~because of~ rational selfishness, that complete understanding that, guided by rationality, one's life is and has to be one's highest value, that one is able to regard and celebrate each/all others' life-value. Which exists generally in their own 'right' for themselves, too - not only those of direct/indirect benefit to oneself: the seed of individual rights. In respect to Rand, one would and realistically does place a specific "other's" happiness alongside one's own, but cannot - morally-practically - enshrine their ultimate, long term happiness higher than one's own. It would come as detrimental to the source and recognition of "self-value" which prompted and found the "other-value" in the first place.

Edited by whYNOT
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@Boydstun

I think you have implicitly identified (yet another) false dichotomy, a "you" - "us" dichotomy as the foundation for the "good".

I do not claim that you explicitly hold this as part of your philosophy, only that my understanding of it, points in this direction.

Polarized concepts such as "the one" and "the group" dominate the discussion of ethics.  On the one hand selfishness, on the other collectivism (or a sort of arithmetical utilitarianism).  When pushed to recognize the issues with such a choice, the response is often a sort of "through one approach ... the concern of the other is answered" and we thus have the claims of "other people being a value to a selfish person" as well as "the individual plays a pivotal role in the collective", and that although both benefit, really seeing only through one lens has importance or primacy.  But the stark sense of a binary and forced choice is kept. 

The concept of the good traditionally is either based on the good for "You" or for "Us".

 

I find in your writings a different nexus for the good, neither wholly in "you" or "us" but in the recognition that the ultimate good IS in both, and that (perhaps ironically for you) NO sacrifice need be made from either to the other.  Ironically also Rand touched on an economic version of this in the trader principle and the concept of building wealth, i.e. a win-win between atomistic agents... but this did not carry over to any direct win-win relationship between an individual and society or others.

What I am hearing is that You (and We) can go forward recognizing that every moral choice (by groups and individuals) can be aimed at the flourishing of both, and that the responsibility being centred around each individual and society at large, not only is the "one"  and the "many" protected in every sense, so too is the "one" and the "many" responsible for the other.  The relationship of the "You" and the "Us" flourishes as a result of both individuals and society flourishing.  [I note, this does not negate the alternative of life versus death, without individuals a society dies and without society, others, loved ones the individual cannot flourish.  Also, implies no sacrifice of any individual and no sacrificing of the group or others.  As such, predation on any one or the many is immoral.]

 

It seems that in every moral consideration, it cannot be just about me or just about others, and so it can never not be about me or not be about others.

 

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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On 5/7/2024 at 9:17 AM, Boydstun said:

. . .

The second (ii) is correct within my system. The first (i) is not, because self-interest (or other-interest) are inadequate moral criteria stemming from inadequate understanding of human nature.

. . .

More completely:

Quote

The second (ii) is correct within my system. The first (i) is not, after the semicolon, because self-interest (or other-interest) are inadequate moral criteria stemming from inadequate understanding of human nature. Treating oneself as an end in itself must carry always what that self fully is, including carriage within the fundamental frame.

 

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Posted (edited)

Let me elaborate that paragraph even further.

Quote

The second (ii) is correct within my system. The first (i) is not, after the semicolon, because self-interest (or other-interest) are inadequate moral criteria stemming from inadequate understanding of human nature. Treating oneself as an end in itself must carry always what that self fully is, including carriage within the fundamental frame. When Rand says that “man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake”, she means that each man alone and only as alone exists for his own sake (the supposition necessary for authentic egoism), and that is false. A biological function of human rationality truly is preservation of the life of the individual possessor of rationality. But that is not its only biological function. The power of human rationality functions also to preserve one’s fellows and indeed the human species for the sake of the species. Moreover, the power of human rationality functions not only for preservations, but for joint intentionality and joint participations more generally. To repeat: Treating oneself as an end in itself must carry always what that self fully is, including carriage within the fundamental frame.

 

Edited by Boydstun
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"Man", one would think, is entirely the rational animal, which constitutes both his biological and volitional cognitive nature. I.e., there cannot be any contradiction and split between "human nature" and "man's nature", unless one is allowed.

Indeed, ""man--every man--is an end in himself..."" according to AR. And all life as well.

Therefore, the identical, shared, "end in itself" which she observed every life form to possess in common, whether insentient or sentient.

"End", to mean an independent 'closed system', I suggest; the self-generating *life force* which self-perpetuates and self-maintains an organism's survival mode.

Except - for man in particular, biological survival isn't a sufficient purpose, and his 'mode' is non-automatic. 

I feel that "end-in-itself" is the metaphysical recognition, preceding epistemology and ethics. O'ist ethics rests upon it.

I will be interested in more, Stephen. On how "the power of human rationality functions to preserve one's fellows and indeed the human species for the sake of the species"? How can this be achieved by a person? I don't believe you mean it as one's selfless duty to others, but it seems to me you say this preservation of others/the species might be primary, rather than being the valuable effects of one's self-serving actions which are often/sometimes of benefit to some others--also. They are the same species as one, with their life values, and ends in themselves as well.

Pleasure - too - would be derived from seeing such beneficial outcomes to lives of others.

Partaking in joint enterprises to the mutual advantage of all, as one example. Intellectual expounding, creating artworks, a few more. Here too, I don't find a contradiction and/or conflict with rational egoism. 

Edited by whYNOT
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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, whYNOT said:

. . .

I will be interested in more, Stephen. On how "the power of human rationality functions to preserve one's fellows and indeed the human species for the sake of the species"? How can this be achieved by a person? I don't believe you mean it as one's selfless duty to others, but it seems to me you say this preservation of others/the species might be primary, rather than being the valuable effects of one's self-serving actions which are often/sometimes of benefit to some others--also. They are the same species as one, with their life values, and ends in themselves as well.

. . .

Tony, I see that the part you are quoting is from my subsequent elaboration of a point in my essay, and that is why it cannot be found by searching the original post. That elaboration was:

Quote

Treating oneself as an end in itself must carry always what that self fully is, including carriage within the fundamental frame. When Rand says that “man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake”, she means that each man alone and only as alone exists for his own sake (the supposition necessary for authentic egoism), and that is false. A biological function of human rationality truly is preservation of the life of the individual possessor of rationality. But that is not its only biological function. The power of human rationality functions also to preserve one’s fellows and indeed the human species for the sake of the species. Moreover, the power of human rationality functions not only for preservations, but for joint intentionality and joint participations more generally. To repeat: Treating oneself as an end in itself must carry always what that self fully is, including carriage within the fundamental frame.

Where I speak of "a biological function of rationality", I am only stating a fact of nature. These are traits of individual humans in a statistical way of that species. They can be occasioned partly automatically as in breathing or sleeping or digesting or in reproducing. They can be incidents of occasions of fulfillments of objectives in chosen actions. Someone's post of a video showing how to replace the chain on my chainsaw can be directed to a general anonymous audience. That has been a benefit to me in particular, of benefit to this one particular of the kind Rational Animal. That knowledge goes to various sorts of my utilities, such as design value in the grounds, protection of people and the house from fallen dead timber, and getting wood for the fireplaces for use next winter; and I, like Rand, contend that all of them are auxiliaries of the continuation of human life, including this example of my particular life. 

But what is this self that is me or the man who made the video or the selves composing the social enterprise who produced this chainsaw? Contra Rand, I deny that we are selves without a pronominal other as part of our most elementary conscious selves. We naturally care for that whole self we are; just as when Aristotle says "all men by nature desire to know." By instruction one can train to block out part of that constitution, and one can be trained to not acknowledge that in one's psyche one is not in presence of other selves or in presence of physical existence—that those are in oneself and part of what makes up oneself. Most any deliberate behavior concerning others that I would commend under caring for rational selves under Resonant Existence, I imagine could be also seen as virtuous in an artificial way under the model (distortion) of oneself most fundamentally alone with reality. (You and I have countered on which is most true and right in an earlier exchange.)

Both Rand and Descartes take up that "lone-self-with-reality-beyond-self" picture in setting forth their fundamental metaphysics. (That failing in Descartes was noticed by my professor John Haugeland in one of his books; I should address explicitly sometime this failing in Rand that can arise specifically from writing large the picture in Anthem.) I deny such a picture contains all that is elementary to us. That incomplete picture at the ground floor lands one later in wrongly seeing some situations of choice as rightly decided by the criterion of self-alone utility or other-not in-elementary-self utility.

There are indeed situations in which one has to consider what course is in one's self-interest, such as when one receives a summons to report for a physical for induction into the army. But that is not the usual (and better) social situation in which one is living. More regularly, self-interest is part of what is enacted in being an independent thinker and in thinking things through. It is the nature of mature effective rationality to be independent in this sense. Fidelity to that nature is good; it is caring for rational selves, which need not appeal to a self-alone-versus-other and selection of self (e.g. Anthem, Fountainhead, Atlas). That is, independence is good and without taking rational self-alone-interest as one's systematic criterion of what is good. Giving up basic justification of the prima facie goodness of truth-telling to others as being on account that one will otherwise end in not sticking to reality in one's own mind—giving that up—is freeing oneself from a scissored picture of what is one's most fundamental conscious nature. It is better integration, better life of mind, better life of self with other.

(Tony, would it be alright with you if I share our exchange on Facebook? And alright that I mention your full name?)

The Song.jpeg

Edited by Boydstun
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17 hours ago, Boydstun said:

(Tony, would it be alright with you if I share our exchange on Facebook? And alright that I mention your full name?)

The Song.jpeg

Sure, you may!

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