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Is Objectivist Ethics Fundamentally Flawed?

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Dionysus
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I will have to paraphrase as I don't have any of the material at hand. My understanding of objectivist ethics is that it is based on the idea that the principle drive of organisms is for their own survival. Is this a reasonable understanding of the objectivist stance? I don't think you would find a single evolutionary biologist or ecologist who would agree with this assertion. The principle drive of organisms is for reproduction. Self protection and survival are necessary in order to reproduce but when the two clash in the natural world, reproduction wins out over self protection every time, indicating that it is the fundamental drive. Salmon could stay in the ocean living many more healthy years but instead they make the one way trip up river to spawn and die. For many male spiders reproduction often results in their death at the fangs of their female conspecifics. They also could live longer and healthier lives if they stayed away from the females but they do not. There is a universal trade off between reproduction and longevity and it is only the extinct organisms that have taken the path of self protection and longevity.

Does this imply a fundamental flaw right at the base of objecivist ethics? Are objectivists evolutionary and biological dead ends? If not, why not?

Edited by Dionysus
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I believed that one, too, once. And it gave me a lot of headache. :thumbsup:

But this problem is caused by confusing mere survival with living in the Objectivist sense. The latter means that an organism has a specific nature according to which it can function. It has specific needs which derive from the nature of the organism. For animals, including humans, this means that part of this "functioning according to nature" includes sex. At the basis of the Objectivist Ethics stands the premise that a living being exists with a specific nature and that living - to that organism - means living according to that very nature.

This would mean that the often cited example of the male mantis, which is eaten right after procreation, simply means that this is part of the nature of that species.

The question then becomes: What is the nature of man and which specific needs arise from that? One of the answers is that man needs a code of ethics to provide him concious knowledge of his values as these don't come to him automatically since he possesses free will.

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My understanding of objectivist ethics is that it is based on the idea that the principle drive of organisms is for their own survival.

Well, Felix answered your question fairly well, but I'd like to specifically point out what is wrong with the above statement. Objectivism says nothing about "organisms", it makes a statement about "man", a very specific and unique organism. Leave all those lower lifeforms out of it, and ask yourself what is man's purpose?

Aside from that, there are plenty of humans out there who live happy, productive lives seeking to achieve their own individual goals which do NOT include procreation. Aren't they throwing a wrench in the evolutionary biologist's machine?

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I will have to paraphrase as I don't have any of the material at hand. My understanding of objectivist ethics is that it is based on the idea that the principle drive of organisms is for their own survival. Is this a reasonable understanding of the objectivist stance? I don't think you would find a single evolutionary biologist or ecologist who would agree with this assertion. The principle drive of organisms is for reproduction. Self protection and survival are necessary in order to reproduce but when the two clash in the natural world, reproduction wins out over self protection every time, indicating that it is the fundamental drive. Salmon could stay in the ocean living many more healthy years but instead they make the one way trip up river to spawn and die. For many male spiders reproduction often results in their death at the fangs of their female conspecifics. They also could live longer and healthier lives if they stayed away from the females but they do not. There is a universal trade off between reproduction and longevity and it is only the extinct organisms that have taken the path of self protection and longevity.

Does this imply a fundamental flaw right at the base of objecivist ethics? Are objectivists evolutionary and biological dead ends? If not, why not?

Dear Dionysus,

My understanding is that neither an "organism's" survival nor reproduction,but maintenance and increase in the copy number of each gene in the gene pool is the essential criterion.If the method of reproduction yeilds better results that is preferred.I recommend you to read 'The Selfish gene" by Richard Dawkins.

There is also a very inetersting case of "Wolbachia" that lives as a parasite inside other organisms and since it can propagate in females,it can make the sisters in the host organism eat up their brothers!!...Miriad ways in which it plays around with its hosts's sex-ratio and various other espectes.Turns out its genes have managed to make sure of their propagation and the host's behaviour is not tuned to its survival or reproduction.

Coming to human beings.Although we are not exempt from the principles of nature,we have the capacity to understand and manipulate our environment.But for our brains and a few special unique features,we are no match with say the venom of snakes or of the speed of a leapord.And that can give us a choice of understanding that we live our lives, thats all.No matter even if a few of us are at the dead-end evolutionarily,their inividual lives pre se can have high quality.This is what they as oppose to nature can decide.

Infact I believe that objective understanding of facts being also an important feature of science, actually has helped us to overcome the evolutionary challenges, that without our intellect we may not have much chance at.

Edited by Saraswathi
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My understanding of objectivist ethics is that it is based on the idea that the principle drive of organisms is for their own survival.

To be exact, it's based on the idea that living things face a fundamental alternative: life or death. Nothing about "drives" there. And if by "drives" you mean unchosen, instinctual behavior, then ethics could not be based on them, seeing as ethics makes sense only when a choice is possible.

For a man, whose actions are the result of the choices he makes, the fundamental alternative of life or death entails making certain kinds of choices if he is to survive and flourish. It's these choices that ethics is concerned with, according to Objectivism.

Mark

Edited by mwickens
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My question to Dionysus is why you came to such a flawed conclusion of Objectivist ethics. Have you ever read The Virtue of Selfishness title essay and if not why not it is very short and explains O'ist ethics perfectly.

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Hi everybody, thanks for all your responses.

Perhaps a little background is required. My only exposure to objectivism so far is that I've read Atlas Shrugged and it prompted me to read Objectivism: the philosophy of Ayn Rand by Peikoff. I found objectivism immediately appealing because of the ambition of Rand to build a philosophy from the ground up based on reality and the senses and I particularly like Rand's epistemology. However, there were several points where I perceived jumps in logic, missing the necessary bridges to convince me the next conclusion was justified. This is perhaps the shortcoming of reading a work like Peikoff's which attempts to include so much material in one reasonably short volume. Your responses have convinced me that I misunderstood this particular aspect of objectivism but have not helped me replace my misunderstanding with anything concrete. Unfortunately I'm in no position to order further material from Amazon as was suggested and even if I could it would take weeks to arrive here if at all.

I went back to Peikoff's work and found the section that led to my previous conclusions. He spends a bit of time discussing how animals instinctively act towards the preservation of their own lives but how man must choose to do so. This, I suppose is how I got the impression that objectivism adopts the attitude that it is right to preserve one's life because it is natural to do so. Some quotes from the section below. Please forgive any typological misquotes, I have only an audio copy of the book.

Ayn Rand describes the alternative of life or death as fundamental. Fundamental means that upon which everything in a given context depends. There is, she writes, only one fundamental alternative in the universe, existence or non-existence and it pertains to a single class of entities, to living organisms.

….. [immortal robot example].....

Only an entity capable of being destroyed and able to prevent it has a need, an interest if the entity is conscious, a reason to act. The reason is precisely to prevent its destruction ie to remain in reality. It is this ultimate goal that makes all other goals possible. Goal directed entities do not exist in order to pursue values; they pursue values in order to exist. Only self-preservation can be an ultimate goal, which serves no end beyond itself. This follows from the unique nature of the goal. Philosophically speaking the essence of self preservation is accepting the realm of reality. Existence exists.

…..

The commitment to remain in the realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated because all debate and all validation takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment. About every concrete in the universe and every human validation of these one can demand proof.

That, in effect, is what plants and animals and rational men do. It is why they act and what they act for… Thus we reach the climax of Ayn Rand’s argument. Only the alternative of life versus death creates the context for value oriented action and it does so only if the entities end is to preserve its life. By the very nature of value therefore, any code of values must hold life as the ultimate value. All of the objectivist ethics and politics rests on this principle. An organism’s life is it’s standard of value. That which furthers it’s life is a good, that which threatens it is the evil. Without an ultimate goal or end, she continues, there can be no lesser goals or means.

……

Objectivism says that remaining alive is the goal of values and of all proper actions.

……

Man has to hold his life as a value, by choice.

....

Morality is a code of values accepted by choice.

An animal does not choose it’s goals, nature takes care of that so it can act on any impulse. Within the limits of the possible that impulse is pro-life.

I will try to spell out my confusion as clearly as possible - a difficult task given its nature. I accept the philosophical proposition that a fundamental choice exists to live or not to live. However, I do not see how this leads, necessarily, to the choice to preserve one's own life to be "good" and to supersede any other value. Similarly, choosing to die is not a rejection of reality. How do we take the logical step from acknowledging the choice between life and death to "Goal directed entities do not exist in order to pursue values; they pursue values in order to exist"?

I can see how we could conclude that the fundamental value is life but how are we able to limit it to the only value being our life as opposed to other life and how do we distinguish between our life and the lives of our potential descendants? Is there a concrete distinction between the two?

"Only self-preservation can be an ultimate goal, which serves no end beyond itself."

Why is this true? Could reproduction not be an ultimate goal which serves no goal beyond itself? Could self-preservation not serve this goal?

I will follow this post with some specific to some of your replies. Thanks again for taking the time to discuss this with me and help me get more clear about it.

My understanding is that neither an "organism's" survival nor reproduction,but maintenance and increase in the copy number of each gene in the gene pool is the essential criterion.If the method of reproduction yeilds better results that is preferred.I recommend you to read 'The Selfish gene" by Richard Dawkins.

Dear Saraswathi,

Dawkins made some fantastic contributions to evolutionary biology, there is no doubt about that. We can have a long and in-depth discussion about units of selection if you like but at this point I'd just like to caution you about treating "the selfish gene" as some kind of evolutionists bible. In this instance we are discussing choices made by organisms. Selfish gene principles may be driving some of the choices being made but the the genes are not the units making the choices.

I don't see what the rest of what you wrote has to do with the discussion at hand. Perhaps I'm missing something.

Aside from that, there are plenty of humans out there who live happy, productive lives seeking to achieve their own individual goals which do NOT include procreation. Aren't they throwing a wrench in the evolutionary biologist's machine?

The answer to your question is, of course, yes. People that do not have children are evolutionary dead ends. Simple as that. I don't see how your question is relevant to the basis of ethics though. Perhaps you can explain that to me.

To throw the question back at you; aren't there lots of people out there living happy and productive lives who act according to altruistic motives? Don't they throw a spanner in the objectivist works?

But this problem is caused by confusing mere survival with living in the Objectivist sense. The latter means that an organism has a specific nature according to which it can function.

I feel like I'm missing everybody's point. This sounds like a circular self-referencing argument to me. Objectivism tells us that the fundamental value is to live in an objectivist sense and that we can derive this from first principles? Is that what you're saying? Do we need objectivism to explain objectivism and if so we are in real trouble.

The question then becomes: What is the nature of man and which specific needs arise from that? One of the answers is that man needs a code of ethics to provide him concious knowledge of his values as these don't come to him automatically since he possesses free will.

OK, I accept that. It seems to me that the true strength of humans is their versatility. We must choose our values, as Rand writes. Given that it's a choice, I still haven't seen where the logic comes from that our own lives are necessarily the logical choice for the primary value. It has instinctive appeal but that's not the same as logical support.

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For reference, here is the relevant passage from The Objectivist Ethics

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.

An organism’s life depends on two factors: the material or fuel which it needs from the outside, from its physical background, and the action of its own body, the action of using that fuel properly. What standard determines what is proper in this context? The standard is the organism’s life, or: that which is required for the organism’s survival. No choice is open to an organism in this issue: that which is required for its survival is determined by its nature, by the kind of entity it is. Many variations, many forms of adaptation to its background are possible to an organism, including the possibility of existing for a while in a crippled, disabled or diseased condition, but the fundamental alternative of its existence remains the same: if an organism fails in the basic functions required by its nature—if an amoeba’s protoplasm stops assimilating food, or if a man’s heart stops beating—the organism dies. In a fundamental sense, stillness is the antithesis of life. Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism’s life.

An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil

Without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means: a series of means going off into an infinite progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility. It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.

.

Edited by Hal
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People that do not have children are evolutionary dead ends.

When I'm dead, I can't see how this will make any significant difference to me, and it makes little to no difference to me now while I'm alive. I had a son so that I could have certain experiences now, while I'm alive. The world (or for that matter, the universe) will be dead when I am dead as far as I'm concerned. :worry: What purpose does reproduction serve me? Any desire I have is something that I can only experience while I'm alive. I'm not a worker bee fighting for the continuation of our species, I'm only fighting for a continuation of those things that provide lasting value to me WHILE I'm alive. This is what makes my life enjoyable and productive. After I'm dead I won't (or can't) care what happens because I can't experience anything anymore.

To throw the question back at you; aren't there lots of people out there living happy and productive lives who act according to altruistic motives? Don't they throw a spanner in the objectivist works?

The fundamental difference between my question to you, and your question to me is that my question refutes what you refer to as a "drive", something indicative of "instinct" or a built-in mechanism that superscedes choice in the species and requires them to behave a certain way. All of the examples you give of animals supports my interpretation of how you are using the term "drive". This is obviously NOT true in human beings because we have choice and WE choose the purpose of our life, it is not programmed into us. Salmon cannot choose to just continue living in the ocean. Spiders cannot choose to not engage in their fatal mating habits. So unless you reject free will, you can see that the "drive" of those organisms has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of the human being's life.

Your question to me is only indicative of the idea that people are capable of making choices, good ones or bad ones, something entirely compatible with Objectivism. That they are happy or productive being altruistic is not indicative of whether they have achieved the highest level of happiness or productivity that they could have had they otherwise been rationally selfish. So no, there is no spanner thrown into the Objectivist works. Objectivism doesn't say that people who have some altrustic tendencies can't be happy or productive. However, it does say that if a person is ENTIRELY altrustic, they won't live very long. How long can a person last if they give all their property away, all their food and water away for the sake of someone else? What does that say about the happiness or productiveness of someone who seeks to speed up their demise? Is that really hapiness and productiveness? "Altruistic" people MUST engage in selfish acts in order to survive and be happy, they have no choice, the alternative is death. Rationally selfish people DO NOT have to engage in altrustic acts to survive and be happy.

However, I would further offer to you that many people who claim to be altruistic (and happy and productive) are really NOT altruistic. Altruism in the Objectivist sense refers to sacrificing greater value for a lesser value (or no value). For instance, take the parent that says they sacrifice for their kids, they live for their kids. When you see them interact with their kids, or hear them talk about their kids, you can tell that they derive an immense amount of value from their experience they share with their kids in exchange for the time, effort and money they expend. That really isn't sacrificing or being altruistic.

Can you logically reason out how it is better for someone to continually trade a greater value for a lesser value (or no value) versus a person who continually seeks to trade equal value for equal value (or greater value)?

Edited by RationalCop
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It has instinctive appeal but that's not the same as logical support.

That is correct. But you still see life in a too narrow sense. Perhaps the thing you would want to know is that Rand doesn't mean survival in the sense of just barely having a pulse no matter what even when she talks about survival and uses that very word. The answer to this has to do with the nature of value and the Objectivist concept of principles. Right now there is a free lecture available from the Ayn Rand Institute where Peikoff talks about this. You can sign up for free and listen to it online. It' in the member's area and it's about an hour long and it will clarify what exactly Rand means when talking about life and survival being important to man. This is a problem, because Objectivists often give words another meaning than it normally has. Altruism, for example, means sacrificing a higher value to a lower value to Objectivists, while people usually use that word to mean "being nice to people".

A similar thing is happening here. Survival means not just "not dying" but living as that certain animal. I agree with you that this includes procreation or for humans (who have invented condoms and the pill) sex. It's an important part of the life of every animal. But saying that doesn't contradict the idea of life being of fundamental value. It's just part of that value, an important sub-value if you want to call it that. It's a part of life.

Life being the fundamental standard means asking the question: Will this help me lead my life according to the needs of a human being? That's all. In fact this is meta-ethics, the question: why do we need ethics in the first place and what is its purpose? Normative ethics just have to take this meta-ethical foundation into consideration. Now you say that procreation is one of these values important for anyone holding life as a standard. You can propose that and discuss it. In fact, if you use the search-function on this forum, you may find old threads already dealing with these questions and maybe they can be of help to you. But you can't say that procreation opposes or substitutes life as the standard and fundamental value of ethics.

Edited by Felix
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I found objectivism immediately appealing because of the ambition of Rand to build a philosophy from the ground up based on reality and the senses.
That's quite understandable :worry: You seem pretty sharp, Dionysus. Good luck!

There are plenty of humans out there who live happy, productive lives seeking to achieve their own individual goals which do NOT include procreation. Aren't they throwing a wrench in the evolutionary biologist's machine?
The answer to your question is, of course, yes. People that do not have children are evolutionary dead ends. Simple as that. I don't see how your question is relevant to the basis of ethics though. Perhaps you can explain that to me.
IMO a beauty of Objectivism is its approach to objective philosophy. In the case of ethics, Objectivism seeks to find a value universal to all men. If there is such a thing, then is-ought is not a problem. If you find some X that is valued by everyone, there's no point in searching for a (contextless?) reason why everyone ought to value X - you can start with "everyone values X." The approach seems sound, regardless of whether or not such a universal value is ultimately found.

Not all organisms value reproduction over being alive, so if it were a philosophy's premise, it wouldn't objectively answer why organisms that don't value reproduction over being alive ought to value reproduction over being alive.

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For reference, here is the relevant passage from The Objectivist Ethics

Thanks Hal, I really appreciate you copying this here for me.

On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.

This is clearly and undoubtedly false. Much of all organisms living processes are dedicated to reproduction and this comes at the cost of the maintenance of the organism's life. It seems to me that the rest attempts to follow on and build on this flawed assumption. Is that right? If not here, where does the ultimate value argument actually begin?

When I'm dead, I can't see how this will make any significant difference to me, and it makes little to no difference to me now while I'm alive.

I never said it would or that it should, I just answered a question. The rest of your post on this subject is all directed at addressing points I've never made and opinions I've never had. I don't know where you got them from but it wasn't from me. My questions were about the origins of Ayn Rand's ethics, not about the origins of human drive. Sorry if my communication in my original post was poor. Rand appears to build from generalisations about organisms up to specifics about man. That seems to be the way Peikoff's work reads and also the way that section quoted by Hal reads. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Your points about altruism are well taken and I agree with them for the most part. The question was somewhat tongue in cheek.

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IMO a beauty of Objectivism is its approach to objective philosophy. In the case of ethics, Objectivism seeks to find a value universal to all men. If there is such a thing, then is-ought is not a problem. If you find some X that is valued by everyone, there's no point in searching for a (contextless?) reason why everyone ought to value X - you can start with "everyone values X." The approach seems sound, regardless of whether or not such a universal value is ultimately found.

Hunter,

Finding something everybody values is not the same as finding an ultimate value though is it? Is water the ultimate value? It seems like everybody values it. There are innumerable other examples of course. Could we ever really find something valued by everyone? Some people end their own lives and you could certainly find some people who claim they do not value their life and act accordingly.

Not all organisms value reproduction over being alive, so if it were a philosophy's premise, it wouldn't objectively answer why organisms that don't value reproduction over being alive ought to value reproduction over being alive.

No, actually all organisms value reproduction over being alive (in a metabolic sense). The existence of reproductive organs and reproductive hormones is at the cost of the maintenance and fitness of the body.

By the way, I am not actually saying that I think reproduction is the ulitimate value, I just don't see how, logically and definitively, you can conclude that the preservation of your own life is when there are alternatives, such as reproduction. This is all within the context of Rand's claims that we can determine objectively what is good and and what is evil. Yes, values have to be chosen but Rand appears to claim that there is an objective way to determine which ones should be chosen. I like the idea and I follow some of the reasoning but this issue remains unresolved for me. How do I go from "existence exists" to "my life is the ultimate value" without going through Rand's flawed general assertions about biological organisms?

Edited by Dionysus
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Right now there is a free lecture available from the Ayn Rand Institute where Peikoff talks about this.

Felix,

Thanks again, I'll definitly check it out.

A similar thing is happening here. Survival means not just "not dying" but living as that certain animal. I agree with you that this includes procreation or for humans (who have invented condoms and the pill) sex. It's an important part of the life of every animal. But saying that doesn't contradict the idea of life being of fundamental value. It's just part of that value, an important sub-value if you want to call it that. It's a part of life.

I take your point but how can we objectively say that you have it the right way around and that, in fact, life is not just a part of reproduction?

Now you say that procreation is one of these values important for anyone holding life as a standard. You can propose that and discuss it.

It's not my opinion that procreation is the ultimate value, I was merely pointing out that I cannot see an objective way to rule it out as the ultimate value particularly given that procreation (even if you do not procreate yourself) opposes the maintenance or prolonging of one's own life whether one is a human or a dung beetle. This fact appears to undermine the basis on which Rand reaches her conclusion about the ulitimate value. I say it appears to because neither in the Peikoff book nor in the section Hal quoted is the flow of thought very clear (well, not to me anyway).

But you can't say that procreation opposes or substitutes life as the standard and fundamental value of ethics.

Why not?

When I'm dead, I can't see how this will make any significant difference to me, and it makes little to no difference to me now while I'm alive. I had a son so that I could have certain experiences now, while I'm alive. The world (or for that matter, the universe) will be dead when I am dead as far as I'm concerned. :) What purpose does reproduction serve me? Any desire I have is something that I can only experience while I'm alive.

As an aside, just wanted to pick up on something here.

If somebody were to tell you that they were going to kill your son immediately after you die but you could prevent this by posting a letter requesting that it not be done (and for some reason all of that was actually credible) would you post the letter and prevent your son's death? It would mean taking time from furthering your own ends to prevent something occurring after you're gone so, assuming nobody else knew about the threat, I assume you would not post the letter. Is that a reasonable conclusion?

I'm not a worker bee fighting for the continuation of our species, I'm only fighting for a continuation of those things that provide lasting value to me WHILE I'm alive.

The worker bee is not fighting for the continuation of its species either. It's just doing what comes naturally to it. All of the things that the majority of humans find pleasurable have obvious evolutionary origins, from sweet and fatty foods to music, sex etc etc so, by doing things you enjoy you are doing precisely what the worker bee is doing. The difference, as I see it, is that you can choose not to do them. Many of the things that were evolutionarily useful in our past are maladaptive to modern western society (such as our love of fatty foods) and many others no longer serve their purpose effectively. Sex being pleasureable in our past was enough to ensure reproduction but technological and medical achievements mean that we are able to dissociate sex from reproduction. However, this still means that the reason you find sex pleasureable is because, in the past, people who found pleasure in sex ended up leaving more descendents than those who did not, just as those who liked fatty foods and ate as much of it as they could on the rare occasions it was available left more descendents than those that did not. Of course, there are enough humans that any generalisation you can make has exceptions. I don't particularly know what this has to do with the discussion at hand but I just thought your comment about the worker bee was off the mark.

Edited by Dionysus
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But saying that doesn't contradict the idea of life being of fundamental value. It's just part of that value, an important sub-value if you want to call it that. It's a part of life.

Why not?

In fact, I just answered that right below the part you've quoted. :dough:

Life being the fundamental standard means asking the question: Will this help me lead my life according to the needs of a human being? That's all.

Taking life as your standard just means accepting that you are a biological being and seeing that there is really no way around it. You still see "life" in too narrow a sense. :confused:

It seems to me that you just challenge the use of the word "life" for that when you think that "reproduction" is more appropriate. But we as humans don't value reproduction itself even though we value being alive. I think that was the point RationalCop was trying to make.

We like sex, yes, but the sales of condoms and the pill, not to forget abortions, would suggest that we don't put much value on reproduction, at least not as much to support your claim that one could substitute "life" with "reproduction". What we like about sex is the feeling attached to it. One could say that our genes "want" (genes are just chemicals and have no wishes, they just do what they have to do via the laws of chemistry) us to procreate. They "do that" by making sex very pleasurable. But man, valuing his life over procreation, screwed his own genes by having sex without having the kids.

Having your cake and eating it, too. :(

Edited by Felix
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In fact, I just answered that right below the part you've quoted. :D

Felix, I still don't think you've answered it at all.

Taking life as your standard just means accepting that you are a biological being and seeing that there is really no way around it. You still see "life" in too narrow a sense. ;)

I think you're reading my question in too a narrow a sense. :) I'll explain below.

It seems to me that you just challenge the use of the word "life" for that when you think that "reproduction" is more appropriate.

No, I don't. For maybe the third or fourth time, I don't think reproduction is a better fundamental value than life or that it's more appropriate, I just cannot see how, objectively, one can arrive at the conclusion that life is the logical ultimate value when equally valid alternatives, such as reproduction (which also appears more logically defensible), are available. I only brought reproduction into this whole debate because of Rand and Peikoff's erroneous claims that all organisms have sustaining their own lives as their ultimate objective. The simple fact is that the whole of an organisms ecology is based around maximising successful reproduction (meaning the production of successful offspring) and managing the tradeoffs between reproduction and self preservation such that lifetime reproductive output will be maximised. This makes it very clear, that if you were to make generalisation about the fundamental "objective" for want of a better term of living organisms, it would be reproduction because all else is traded off to achieve this objective.

Let me butcher the Rand quote that Hal provided in order to illustrate my point. My changes to Rand's words are in bold.

Only a living entity can have goals or can originate them. And it is only a living organism that has the capacity for self-generated, goal-directed action. On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: successful reproduction.

Successful reproduction depends on two factors: the material or fuel which it needs from the outside, from its physical background, and the action of its own body, the action of using that fuel properly. What standard determines what is proper in this context? The standard is the organism’s progeny, or: that which is required for the organism’s successful reproduction. No choice is open to an organism in this issue: that which is required for its successful reproduction is determined by its nature, by the kind of entity it is. Many variations, many forms of adaptation to its background are possible to an organism, including the possibility of existing for a while in a crippled, disabled or diseased condition, but the fundamental alternative of its existence remains the same: if an organism fails in the basic functions required by its nature—if an amoeba’s protoplasm stops assimilating food, or if a man’s heart stops beating—the organism will not successfully reproduce. In a fundamental sense, stillness is the antithesis of successful reproduction. successful reproduction can only occur through a constant process of targetted action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is successful reproduction.

An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism’s successful reproduction is its standard of value: that which furthers its successful reproduction is the good, that which threatens it is the evil

Without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means: a series of means going off into an infinite progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility. It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, successful reproduction is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “successful reproduction” To speak of “value” as apart from “successful reproduction” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘successful reproduction’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.

What this does is correct the obviously incorrect first paragraph of Rand's work and then follow the logic onward. Now, as I said in a previous post, the logic does not follow all that clearly but nor does it, imo, in the original text or in Peikoff's work. So, again, the reason for bringing up reproduction on this thread is not because I believe it is a more appropriate ultimate value or that I personally value it more than my life, but rather because it seems a natural conclusion after correcting a mistake in Rand's work and following on from the consequences of correcting that mistake.

But we as humans don't value reproduction itself even though we value being alive.

Isn't the whole point of objectivist ethics that we have to choose our values and that we can derive the appropriate choices through rational and logical analyses? That there is an objective ethics? You appear to be arguing that we value life and therefore it's the value. This doesn't seem very objective.

We like sex, yes, but the sales of condoms and the pill, not to forget abortions, would suggest that we don't put much value on reproduction, at least not as much to support your claim that one could substitute "life" with "reproduction".

Suicide, war, extreme sports etc etc would suggest we don't put much value on life. Is that argument really any diferent from yours?

What we like about sex is the feeling attached to it. One could say that our genes "want" (genes are just chemicals and have no wishes, they just do what they have to do via the laws of chemistry) us to procreate. They "do that" by making sex very pleasurable. But man, valuing his life over procreation, screwed his own genes by having sex without having the kids.

Indeed, we are maladapted, in an evolutionary sense, to modern western society. I think it's extremely likely we will go extinct because of this very phenomenon (no value judgement whatsoever involved there, I don't particularly care if humans go extinct, it's just a prediction).

Edited by Dionysus
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When Ayn Rand speaks of life in regard to man life she means life as mans life qua man or man's life as a proper man could and ought to live NOT simple existence. You ever studied cognitive therapy? At the root the concept used in that therapy are the same as meant here.

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If somebody were to tell you that they were going to kill your son

I would secure a warrant for them for threatening bodily harm assuming my son was willing to prosecute. ;) Past that, come up with a realistic scenario with realistic context and I may play your game. I'm one of the folks on here that does not put a lot of value in unrealistic hypotheticals which lack sufficient context to make a realistic decision.

The worker bee is not fighting for the continuation of its species either.
I was using the term "worker bee" in a generic sense, not in the specific sense of an actual worker bee, but with the idea in mind of what you describe, mindless activity.

All of the things that the majority of humans find pleasurable have obvious evolutionary origins, from sweet and fatty foods to music, sex etc etc so, by doing things you enjoy you are doing precisely what the worker bee is doing.

No, I'm doing what I choose to do and for specific reasons. The worker bee, as you noted, does not have a choice in it's actions. The fact that throughout history other people have taken some of the same actions or had the same likes or dislikes that I have (for whatever reason) is immaterial as to whether these actions are purposeful in sustaining my life or allowing me to flourish now.

given that procreation (even if you do not procreate yourself) opposes the maintenance or prolonging of one's own life whether one is a human or a dung beetle.
Aside from the fact that I would ask you to offer evidence to support this statement (as I question that it is true), it identifies exactly what Felix has pointed out to you regarding my statements. Your view of "life" is not consistent with the Objectivist's view of "life". "Life" is not "morgue avoidance". I, for one, have no desire to live a thousand joyless years versus 70 happy ones. While certain activities MAY shorten the chronological length of my life, they by all means add to the value that is my life and make it worth living.

I don't particularly know what this has to do with the discussion at hand

I explained that before. Your comparisons of animals versus humans in this discussion are irrelevant. The life of a human is not the life of an animal.

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Felix, I still don't think you've answered it at all.

...

The simple fact is that the whole of an organisms ecology is based around maximising successful reproduction (meaning the production of successful offspring) and managing the tradeoffs between reproduction and self preservation such that lifetime reproductive output will be maximised.

How does this go against the notion that a being has to live according to its nature, which is, as I have stated repeatedly, too :) , what is meant by "life" being the standard.

If this doesn't answer your question, then I have to admit that I don't see your problem. Then, you'll have to do some more explaining so that I can finally understand it. If this is the case, I apologize for my ignorance. ;)

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Finding something everybody values is not the same as finding an ultimate value though is it?
Nah, but it's a sound start. Deductions from having a value apply to having an ultimate value. As the only way to prove (whether something ought to be) a value is to see whether it corresponds with a greater value, the only way to prove an ultimate value would be to see whether it corresponded with a by definition nonexistent greater value. Plus, just as the only thing that can prove a value is another value, there's no basis to argue that an organism that (hypothetically) has no values ought to value anything.

Thus, off the bat, you get two objective principles for objective (lowercase) ethics:

  • Entities that have no things they act to gain or keep are excluded from ethics
  • It can't be proven that an ultimate value ought to be an ultimate value (though it can be proven that a given value is someone's/everyone's ultimate value regardless of whether it contextlessly "ought" to be)

No, actually all organisms value reproduction over being alive (in a metabolic sense). The existence of reproductive organs and reproductive hormones is at the cost of the maintenance and fitness of the body.
Depends on your definition of value. Value qua acting to gain or keep something, not all organisms act to reproduce over being alive. To the extent that organisms don't act to create their own reproductive organs in the first place, it can't be said that the existence of reproductive parts evidences that all organisms value (act for the sake of) reproduction over being alive.

I actually agree with you on some of your points, but you still may be going about the idea of objective ethics wrong.

Isn't the whole point of objectivist ethics that we have to choose our values and that we can derive the appropriate choices through rational and logical analyses?
The whole point of objective/objectivist ethics is not that we have to choose our value (that presupposes more fundamental ethical premises.) Objective ethics doesn't require determining whether something that is an ultimate value ought to be (in some contextless way) an ultimate value. Objectivity only requires identifying values, and deriving objective conclusions from those existing values.
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Much of all organisms living processes are dedicated to reproduction and this comes at the cost of the maintenance of the organism's life.

This is a remarkable sentence for two reasons.

At once it acknowledges the hierarchy of the two concepts: life and reproduction (an organism must be alive in order to reproduce); “living processes are dedicated to reproduction”.

And it is self contradictory. Let me demonstrate editorially: “[An] organisms living processes [...] come at the cost of [...] the organism’s life.”

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On the physical level, the functions of all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex—from the nutritive function in the single cell of an amoeba to the blood circulation in the body of a man—are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism’s life.
This is clearly and undoubtedly false. Much of all organisms living processes are dedicated to reproduction and this comes at the cost of the maintenance of the organism's life. It seems to me that the rest attempts to follow on and build on this flawed assumption.

The key words in Rand's quote are on the physical level. (In fact, in the original essay, "physical" is italicized.)

Miss Rand is emphatically not advising that we take our cues about how to live from plants and animals.

Her point is that LIFE, biologically speaking, is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

It's this fact — about man — which forms the base of the Objectivist ethics.

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I think you're reading my question in too a narrow a sense. :) I'll explain below.

No, I don't. For maybe the third or fourth time, I don't think reproduction is a better fundamental value than life or that it's more appropriate, I just cannot see how, objectively, one can arrive at the conclusion that life is the logical ultimate value when equally valid alternatives, such as reproduction (which also appears more logically defensible), are available. I only brought reproduction into this whole debate because of Rand and Peikoff's erroneous claims that all organisms have sustaining their own lives as their ultimate objective. The simple fact is that the whole of an organisms ecology is based around maximising successful reproduction (meaning the production of successful offspring) and managing the tradeoffs between reproduction and self preservation such that lifetime reproductive output will be maximised. This makes it very clear, that if you were to make generalisation about the fundamental "objective" for want of a better term of living organisms, it would be reproduction because all else is traded off to achieve this objective.

Dear Dionyus,

I supose I have only now got your real question right..correct me if I am wrong,but u seem to actually want to point out that there can be valid arguments against some ideas that are a part of Ayn Rand's Objectivism,and that there might be generalizations and errors in what she said....

If that is so I agree with you competely and without offending anyone on the forum would assert that the best that I think I gained from Objectivism was the importance of using my independent judgement.....

I do not think that everything written by Ayn Rand or anybody else for that matter should be hailed as the "Correct"..for then soon enough dogmatism would set in..infact even all religions have some nice ideas about living and loving etc but when dogmatism sets in..well most of you here know how intellectual stagnation and rationalisations can occur...For myself I have learnt about Objectivity way back in my school science when I had not even heard of Ayn Rand and did believe that scientific thinking should be part of life in general..which is what I see in Ayn Rands' philosophy....But neither Ayn Rand/Darwin/Newton can give me definite answers to everything but there could still be sense in what they proposed..It is for us to chaff out what stands the test of time and what doesn't.....I hope this is what u are getting at?

Edited by Saraswathi
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If you take that reproduction is the primary goal of man, then collective ideas become the basis for rationality, that any ideas of individualism and self interest would be irrational. If reproduction is the primary goal then the welfare of the offspring becomes paramount, that is the object of all our labors. A person unable to find a mate to have children with would be a failed individual. A person unable medically to have children would also be a failure. As a race, population limits would soon be put to the test as everyone can only be a rational person if they have children. Since the self interest and self preservation are secondary to the children, the parents would end up having to voluntarily terminate in order for the population to survive. You'd have a very good sci-fi movie.

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