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Is Objectivist Ethics Fundamentally Flawed?

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Dionysus
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I have not read this thread, but I was just going to mention that the ideas we spread have much more influence on us as a species than our genes (which are irrelevant in a civilized society) so if you really want to “successfully reproduce,” you should focus on intellectual activism. You can start by supporting this website.

(And by the way, evolution is ultimately directed by the perpetuation of genes themselves, not the living entities they encode.)

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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 hope this is what u are getting at?

Dear Saraswathi,

Thank you. You appear to be the first person who has actually addressed my question. Given the misunderstanding has been almost universal, it seems likely that the problem is with my communication of my question rather than with everybody else. For this, I apologise. I agree with all that you say but I suppose the thing that I like most about Rand's work was the claim that we could objectively determine what was right and wrong. I liked the idea that this might be so but was unconvinced by the thought process that led to this conclusion. This has been the essence of my question, an attempt to get one of the adherents of Objectivism here to explain what appears to me to be a logic gap between "existence exists" and the idea that my life is my ultimate value.

Felix kindly pointed me to the lecture by Peikoff. I haven't listened to whole thing yet but I think I've listened to the relevant section where, once again, he appears to link biological imperatives of organisms in general to the concluded ultimate goal of humanity.

The fact that man is a living being who has to act in a certain way in order to keep himself alive….. Animals don’t need ethics because they have no choice, no free will. They’re automatically programmed to support themselves and keep themselves alive. Man is not, as witnessed by the state of the world…. So if he is to remain alive he has to have man’s life as his standard and then figure out all of the means objectively required by the nature of reality in order to achieve this goal. Which leads us to the question, well how does man achieve this…

Felix,

I don't think you have answered my question because my question is one about philosophy and about the logic of Rand's Objectivist ethics, not one of applying her philosophy but one of understanding it's root arguments and assumptions. My real question is illustrated by my version of Rand's words where I substitute "successful reproduction" for life. The essence of my question is: what, objectively, makes Rand's version correct and mine incorrect? If there is no way to determine this then objectivist ethics loses it's claim to objectivity.

I've just read back over the thread and, while I confess that my first post was far from clear, my subsequent posts seem to spell out my question quite clearly. I'm no longer convinced that the fault of the miscommunication here lies with me. Perhaps it is rather that these discussion boards are mainly about discussing how to implement the teachings of Rand ie discussions about Objectivism rather than actual discussion of Objectivism. Does that make sense and would it be a reasonable suggestion? I was alarmed quite early in Peikoff's book by his open claim that he was not a collaborator with Rand but merely a chronicler. The way he spoke about this was very similar to the way that chronicler's of religious profits describe their roles. No input and no critical thought was involved and, indeed, it would have been blasphemous to have even contemplated such. I suspect, based on this, that Peikoff is not of the calibre of Rand and that, perhaps, he is even the antithesis. He parrots rands words about using the mind and the senses to reach your own conclusions with no indication that he does this himself.

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.

Definitions ad nauseum do not answer the question I am asking. How do we get from "existence exists" to the ultimate value being man's life? Every single instance where this is explained by Rand and Peikoff that I've been able to find (or that I've been pointed to) runs through the logic that sustaining life is the fundamental goal of all organisms and then leads on to man needing to choose to do this. Somehow, the fact that other organisms do this instinctually but that man must do it by choice, leads the discussion on to the suggestion that man should do this by choice and that this is, in fact, the ultimate value. The discussion follows this path but lacks the bridges between each step necessary to explain why this path is taken or to justify it. Your explanation of how rand uses the word life is actually much further along the entire process and is, as far as I can tell, irrelevant to the orgins of Objective ethics. It is certainly relevant to the implentation and understanding of objectivist ethics but not to the origins.

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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”.

An organism must eat in order to be alive. Does this "heirarchy" mean that eating is more important than being alive? A necessity heirarchy does not necessarily reflect a heirarchy of cause and effect or of importance. Reproduction must have occurred for an organism to be alive. We can play chicken and egg all you like but it's not going to answer the question.

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

Marc,

You're right about the linguistic contradiction. I chose my words poorly but I think your argument here is semantic rather than constructive. To better explain my intention, the sentence perhaps should have been:

"Much of all organisms biological processes are dedicated to reproduction and these processes come at the cost of maintaining the organism's life."

That sentence more clearly spells out what I meant which I suspect you understood initially but I appreciate you forcing me to use more accurate and appropriate language.

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Life or death is for Man fundamentally a choice. One can choose to live or one can choose to nothing, vegetate and die. So once one has made the meta-ethical choice to live he can only do so according to his identity. His identity as man is that he is the rational animal and that the only way he can sustain his life is via thought and actions based on that thought that further his life.

Once this choice to live is made it REQUIRES a man to live in a certain way and do certain things to further his life. By choosing to live, LIFE has become his highest value, and all things that futher his life are therefore values and things that destroy his life are vices.

Since Man possesses no instincts and since the only way for a man to continue to live he must use his mind then HE MUST USE HIS MIND TO LIVE. He must use his mind to be productive to sustain his life. From all this it follows that he must use his mind to sustain his life in a certain way if he is going to be PRODUCTIVE, and he does this by seeking his own HAPPINESS in ways that sustain his life for the LONG-TERM and dont violate others similar rights to life and happiness.

Hope this helps a bit.

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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.

Lathanar,

You are discussing the consequences of a potential conclusion, not it's validity. I agree, the consequences of replacing "life" with "successful reproduction" are dramatic indeed. However, the consequences of a conclusion should not be a factor in determining whether or not a conclusion is correct should they?

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What you are talking about is a powerful example of how exactly humans are different from the other species we know. While some of those are basically forced by their nature to sacrifice themselves for their progeny, we have volition and can choose if we even want to have children, ever.

But what are you trying to argue? That reproduction (or the continuation of the species) should be the standard of value instead of life? I think it is very easily proven that this is not the case for humans, at the very least. I think one of the best ways to test a certain ethics is to look at what it amounts to in practice, and as far as I can tell the Objectivist ethics work, because they are true.

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However, the consequences of a conclusion should not be a factor in determining whether or not a conclusion is correct should they?

Hmm... I have just come to the "conclusion" that murder is in my self-interest to engage in sometimes. Since "consequences" of a conclusion can be ignored there then must not be anything wrong with working as a hitman now and then, huh?

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I have not read this thread, but I was just going to mention that the ideas we spread have much more influence on us as a species than our genes (which are irrelevant in a civilized society) so if you really want to “successfully reproduce,” you should focus on intellectual activism. You can start by supporting this website.

If we believe in our senses and in science then I think we can very confidently say that this statement is incorrect. I suppose it could depend on how you define "influence" but your definition would have to be fairly narrow. The nature of humans is that we are very versatile in language and culture but, ultimately, all the big picture things are pretty much hard-wired. There is an entire emerging field, evolutionary psychology, dealing with these issues and it would be impossible to summarise it here. Like all emerging fields of study, there's a lot of rubbish in it but if you filter your way through that to the core ideas, they are undeniable. We were produced by evolution and we have not been set free from it. In western society, we have removed many of the selective forces that acted upon our ancestors but the removal of selective pressure does not equate to the removal of the consequences of past selective pressure, only the relaxation of their enforcement. The enforcement has been relaxed for only the blink of an eye in evolutionary terms and there has therefore been little time for drift to have resulted in much change.

(And by the way, evolution is ultimately directed by the perpetuation of genes themselves, not the living entities they encode.)

The evolutionists chicken and egg argument. I personally don't believe there is a correct answer to this question any more than there is a correct answer to "which came first the chicken or the egg?" The action of the "selfish gene" is uneniable but the gene must have a vehicle (the body or the cell) and it is the vehicle that is the unit of selection. It is the package that the vehicle contains that receives life's pass or fail grade, not an individual gene. Anyway, as I said, this is one of those eternal debates which probably has no correct "answer" because the real dynamic certainly contains aspects of both sides of the debate rather than a black and white, one or the other.

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Dyonisus,

Reproduction is not necessary. Sure, my existence and yours is a consequence of our parents reproducing however this in no way determines our goals or values. Values are values to someone. The existence of a valuer is therefore a precondition to value judgments, no values are possible otherwise. Since the life of the valuer is necessary for the existence of any value, it is necessarily the ultimate standard of value. How that valuer came into existence is immaterial, the fact that he exists and must continue to exist is essential.

Value judgments are individual (group thought is not possible) and there is no exchange rate between values of different individuals. You cannot argue that the fact that reproducing creates more people and thus more valuers places it above the life of an individual. You can't do a "sum" of all people's values and conclude that such a situation is "better". Better for whom? Maybe for you, maybe for one of the offspring, certainly not for the guy you have sacrificed.

One can have values and not reproduce, one cannot have values if one is not alive. That is why life is the standard of value and not reproduction. Your line of reasoning is consistent with the flawed idea that "the species" or "the gene" is the relevant unit for ethical analysis when in truth the unit is a volitional being since only such a being can make choices.

Another possible source for your error is consequentialism (i.e. "what if no one reproduced?"). The fact that humanity would be extinguished if no one reproduced is irrelevant. In fact, no one reproduces "to further the species". People have children due to social pressure, due to religious commandment, for the rewards of raising a child (the only proper motive) or due to ignorance of how to avoid them (in their context either having kids "just happens" or is a necessary consequence of sex - in which case they are having kids in order to have the pleasure of sex).

In a post apocaliptic scenario where humanity's existence is at risk, furthering the species might become a strong motive to reproduce. Even then it would be a choice not a "biological imperative". People would *choose* to further the species because that would benefit *them*, not "the species".

mrocktor

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Lathanar,

You are discussing the consequences of a potential conclusion, not it's validity. I agree, the consequences of replacing "life" with "successful reproduction" are dramatic indeed. However, the consequences of a conclusion should not be a factor in determining whether or not a conclusion is correct should they?

Yes, I was having a little fun with that line of thought is all. But you must follow a logical conclussion out to all it's ramifications to make sure there is no room for a contradiction to occur within the system. If the conclussions drawn upon the fact that self preservation is greater than repoduction do not lead to any contradictions, then it is a well founded system. If the conclussion that reporduction is greater than self preservation leads to system with no contradictions then it would also be well founded. The two systems themselves may lie in opposition with each other, but that doesn't mean either is invalid. I have yet to see a system completely built on the idea that man's greatest goal is reproduction, so it is hard to debate and find the flaws in itself without refering to systems we know.

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This:

"Much of all organisms biological processes are dedicated to reproduction and these processes come at the cost of maintaining the organism's life."

Says the same thing as this:

Much of all organisms living processes are dedicated to reproduction and this comes at the cost of the maintenance of the organism's life.

And it isn’t just a semantic problem, it is the contradiction at the heart of your argument. You will have to recognize it in order to understand Objectivist ethics. You cannot speak of biological reproduction without first speaking of biology, of life.

An organism must eat in order to be alive. Does this "heirarchy" mean that eating is more important than being alive?

Is eating an end in itself? Why do we eat? It is a biological process and it serves the same end as every other biological process.

Determining an ultimate value leads to a hierarchy of value. Epistemologically speaking there is also a hierarchy of concepts. You cannot define biological reproduction without first defining life.

Reproduction must have occurred for an organism to be alive. We can play chicken and egg all you like but it's not going to answer the question.

An infinite regression of cause and effect does not exist. Arguing such leads to many errors such as the existence of God and the non existence of choice which of course is required if we are going to speak of ethics -- there is no ethics without choice.

Genetic determinism won’t get you anywhere either -- we all know where that leads when applied to ethics.

Please find threads on determinism and genetic determinism they are voluminous.

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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?
I think so, don't you?

I'm not exactly sure of where you're coming from. If you're implying you find it hard to believe not only that Objectivist ethics are correct, but any objective ethics could be correct, I strongly disagree, even moreso with the objective (lowercase) ethics part.

E.g. if I were to seek objective ethics outside of Objectivism, I'd start small. Find something that everyone values, or all of a subset of beings value. I might start by looking at infants. They don't seem to value pain, and seem to value pleasure. As far as I can tell, this seems to be universal among babies (but I'm not a doctor.) Build up from that, etc, etc, but even at that point, objective ethics seems quite possible.

Now if you're pro-objective ethics but simply questioning Objectivist ethics, it'd help if you were proposing an alternative instead of just throwing spears.

Btw, even though you're technically not endorsing it, the reproduction argument sucks. You really couldn't switch "reproduction" with Rand's use of "life," if for no other reason than Rand says that only living (mortal) beings can act - questionable, but amusingly can't be proven false - on the other hand, "only (sexually) potent beings can act" is obviously false, as the number of impotent people obtaining values suggests.

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OK, I'm starting to get paranoid about my communication skills. So many words but nobody is discussing the question I'm trying to ask. I can see this could be partially my fault because I've responded to so many of the previous posts that weren't answering my question and thus have encouraged some of the distraction but surely we can do better. OK, here it is spelled out as simply and clearly as I can manage.

1. I do not think that reproduction is or should be the ultimate value. I would ask all those attacking or criticising me for holding this opinion or saying I am mistaken for having it to please read what I have written here.

2. In all of Rand and Peikoff's work, in explaining why life is the ulitmate value they follow through from the argument about the primary goal of all living organisms being the sustaining of its own life and go on to say while other organisms have insticts to do this, man must choose to do it. Somehow... here it is .... here's the essence of the issue..... this leads on to the suggestion (rather presented as fact) that this is what man must do and that this is the ultimate value. This is what is then built upon to form the entire argument for selfishness etc (and therefore seems rather fundamental to me).

Given that the assertion that the primary goal of living organisms is the sustaining of their own lives is clearly false, what does this mean for the way objectivist ethics is justified and explained by Rand and Peikoff? Some of you seem to have come close to addressing this but not quite gotten there, particularly mrocktor and I appreciate what you have written. There is much in your post I would like to reply to but will save it for now as I don't want to muddy the already murky waters. I'll just say, mrocktor, that the content of your post can be extrapolated to get us logically to "life" but it does not get us to "my life" (at least not exclusively) and it does not explain the meaning and the implication of Rand and Peikoff's words.

OK, how, in a line of reasoning, objectively speaking, can we go from "existence exists" to my life is my ultimate value, without going through the flawed assertion that the maintenance of its own life is every organisms primary goal? Do Rand and Peikoff take the argument through this path as I have suggested or am I mistaken? That's the question I'm hoping somebody will tackle, not what life is or what having reproduction as the ultimate value might mean or why life is a better choice than reproduction but rather a logically constructed argument for my life being the ultimate value and how such an argument relates to the comments made by Peikoff and Rand about organisms in general. Why do they bring this up in all of their works on this subject if you all seem to think it's not relevant?

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Marc,

I couldn't help myself, I just had to reply to this despite my determination not to follow side discussions not addressing the central point. :dough:

And it isn’t just a semantic problem, it is the contradiction at the heart of your argument. You will have to recognize it in order to understand Objectivist ethics. You cannot speak of biological reproduction without first speaking of biology, of life.

You have defined the question into absurdity. Of course you can't speak of biological reproduction without speaking of biology. Can you speak about mashed potato without speaking about potato? You, however, can talk about potato and about mashing without the other. Let's try this. What is life?

Life is an assemblage of self reproducing molecules with varying orders of complexity. Ooooh can we define life without using reproduction? Self replication in its various forms is, in fact, a defining feature of life is it not? What forms of life exist without it? Mortality, and therefore ethics, if we are to believe Rand, depends on reproduction. The mortal form without reproduction does not exist for long.

Is eating an end in itself? Why do we eat? It is a biological process and it serves the same end as every other biological process.

And what end is that then? Is it the same one served by the production of sperm? Presumably also the production of eggs and milk? Is it that end? If not, which end do all those biological processes, and eating, serve?

An infinite regression of cause and effect does not exist.

I agree, let's go back as far as we can reasonably go. Presumably, in the shallows of some water body, the right conditions came about that a very strange molecule formed which had an odd binding habit. It would attract particles similar to those of which it was made and, when a full copy of itself was made, they would split apart. This would soon lead to a shortage of the rarest of the constituent parts of this molecule. A mistake in replication occurs at some point with one of the molecules and this part is replaced by another more common part, so we now have 2 forms of life. Mistakes in copying continue to occur occasionally, selected for if they increase the number of copies left behind, selected against if they do not and through this process a steady increase in complexity occurs until you have modern life including humans. That's as far back as I think we can realistically take it. Now, with that in mind, does your argument make any more sense? You would still not exist if not for reproduction. Reproduction is the defining characteristic of life, it's what sets life apart from other arrangements of molecules is it not?

While it is possible for you to not reproduce and still exist, it is not possible for you to exist with parents who did not reproduce. There is no infinite regression here, just a simple cause and effect. Life does not exist without reproduction. It was the incredible, unlikely event of the formation of a self replicating molecule that began life (as best as we can discern that is) and therefore, we can say that reproduction occurred where there was no life. Can we not? It was the advent of this reproduction that initiated life, before that there was just chemistry and physics..... well there still is..... you know what I mean.

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Given that the assertion that the primary goal of living organisms is the sustaining of their own lives is clearly false, what does this mean for the way objectivist ethics is justified and explained by Rand and Peikoff?

They are not talking about "an organism", they are talking about a rational volitional being. Preservation of life and consequently of rationality must be such a being's primary goal - it is a decision making entity who's existence is conditioned to making decisions to sustain it's life. No life - no values.

Some of you seem to have come close to addressing this but not quite gotten there, particularly mrocktor and I appreciate what you have written. There is much in your post I would like to reply to but will save it for now as I don't want to muddy the already murky waters. I'll just say, mrocktor, that the content of your post can be extrapolated to get us logically to "life" but it does not get us to "my life" (at least not exclusively) and it does not explain the meaning and the implication of Rand and Peikoff's words.

"Your life" comes from the fact that there is no collective thought. It is impossible to measure the "total value" existing in a group of people as it is impossible to collectively make choices. Since you must make choices individually, and you must judge values for yourself (and cannot judge the values of others) it is your life that is your standard of value.

mrocktor

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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. Is this a reasonable understanding of the objectivist stance?

Hi Dionysus

That's not an entirely correct understanding. The starting point is this: Ayn Rand's epistemology says that you can't just think up abstract ideas and have them be valid, just because you have imagined them. For example you can't just come up with this idea of "value" and have it be valid, you have to show where in reality you got it from.

Ayn Rand maintains that the only way to see value when looking at nature is when you see:

1. an entity that can act

2. acting after something

3. in the face of an alternative

What this means is that there has to be two possible outcomes: the entity gets the thing gives outcome 1, or it doesn't get it gives outcome 2. (e.g. a sea bird dives from the sky to spear a fish with it's beak. Outcome 1: it gets it and feeds, outcome 2: it misses and goes hungry) If getting it or not both result in the same outcome, then there is no way to judge whether the thing was good or bad - it simply made no difference.

So given that we have to get our ideas from reality, it is only alternatives (two possible outcomes) that make values possible. Now there are many alternatives that any given entity that can act faces. Why should I go to school? Because knowledge is important. Why is knowledge important? Because it lets you deal with the world. Why is dealing with the world important? Because it helps you prosper. Why is prospering important? and so on... For any act you can take, there is an endless chain of "why bother?" questions. There are no grounds for choosing one of the options over the other - unless - you ultimately face the fundamental alternative.

There is only one alternative that can terminate this chain: the fundamental alternative. When outcome 1 is life and outcome 2 is death. Why is this so important? Because from the entity's perspective the it is the alternative of "existence or non-existence." But there is no non-existence. It's not another type of reality - some kind of black void with rules of it's own, it is nothing, it isn't. There is nothing to compare and contrast. There is only what is - and the fact you just simply have to accept it.

This is rationality: accepting the fact of reality. There are two aspects to this commitment. One aspect is in epistemology where you accept data from reality as the ultimate proof of any argument. Another aspect of this acceptance is in ethics, where you accept reality as such as the end of your ethical chain.

So the fact that entities act for their own survival, or for reproduction is not too important. The important thing is that their actions allow us to form the concept "value" from reality, and to notice that it is alternatives that make it possible.

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They are not talking about "an organism", they are talking about a rational volitional being.

Mrocktor,

I'm getting a bit tired of this. Did you read the thread? Have you read Rand and/or Peikoff? Here are some quotes from earlier in the thread. I'll even put some parts in bold to help you focus on what I'm talking about.

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.

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.

Now, please explain to me how, when Rand writes "in the single cell of an ameoba" she is talking only about a "rational volitional being".

Cheers,

D

Edited by Dionysus
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But it's not given that it's clearly false.

OK, perhaps I have been assuming a level of knowledge it is not safe to assume. I believe you would struggle to find a single biologist on the face fo the planet who would agree with:

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.

Now, you can hold onto your agreement with Rand over the opinions of biologists (of which I am one, so I have some educational and professional credibility here, certainly much more than I have with philosophy). That's clearly your choice. I would, however, say that by doing so you are not dealing with reality. If you would really like, I can provide some evidence that the above statement by Rand is false (we could start a separate thread on it if you like to save distraction from this one). However, it seems to me to be so obvious that I haven't as yet thought it was necessary and I would have thought that the few examples given earlier in this thread are enough to start the thought processes that would readily lead to this conclusion.

The simple fact is that all organisms that reproduce do so at the expense of their own lives and all organisms reproduce (in the generic sense rather than the individual sense). Many organisms directly sacrifice their own lives in order to reproduce. How can it then be claimed that all of their physical functions are directed towards a single goal and that goal is the maintenance of their lives? It is as demonstrably false as the idea that the world is flat and that is why I used the words I did when discussing it. The only alternative is that I have somehow misunderstood the intention of Rand's words. This, however, does not seem likely as it appears to be written quite clearly (unlike a lot of my own writing. :) )

Ian,

Thank you for your reply. It is well written and certainly answers a significant part of my question. It has given me much to think about. I really appreciate it. I will give it the thought and consideration it deserves before responding fully.

D

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C'mon Dionysus, you're detracting from your point. You keep saying your point is not reproduction, but you keep putting up deliciously refutable statements such as

The simple fact is that all organisms that reproduce do so at the expense of their own lives and all organisms reproduce (in the generic sense rather than the individual sense).
It seems like you have already received some agreement regarding the premise that all actions are done for the sake of maintainence of the entity's life. Some others don't think it matters, as your argument seems to be more evidence that nonhumans don't always pursue the ultimate value of their own life than evidence that life itself is not the ultimate value. When and to the extent that Rand is wrong on something, I have no problem acknowledging it, but you seem to be tackling the ultimate value question from a rather tangential angle.

If you really, really, really must discuss this, you should ask, if every nonhuman's (animal for brevity) life is its highest value, then what animal action would not be a means to that end, particularly if suicidal reproduction is considered a means to the individual animal's life.

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I believe you would struggle to find a single biologist on the face fo the planet who would agree with:

I'm not interested in any "argument from authority" regardless of your credentials as a biologist. Neither credentials nor consensus establish reality.

I think you are conflating (or more accurately confusing) the "physical level functions" of an organism with the "purpose" of an organism's life. Read the quote that you have provided several times now, and consider the following;

Would a biologist agree or disagree with the following?

The function of the digestive system is to (indirectly) maintain the organism's life? The function of the circulatory system is to (indirectly) maintain an organism's life? The function of the brain is to (indirectly) maintain an organism's life? Etc., etc. I use the term "indirectly" because each of this functions has a more specific individual purpose (allowing the intake of nutrition; discarding the waste, allowing blood to flow, allowing thought, etc.) that serves a larger goal, that goal being maintaining the organism's life.

Now let's look at those examples slightly changed from what you are presenting as the biologist's point of view;

The function of the digestive system is to (indirectly) maintain the organism's ability to reproduce? The function of the circulatory system is to (indirectly) maintain the organism's ability to reproduce? The function of the brain is to (indirectly) maintain the organism's ability to reproduce?

These revised statements do not make as much sense as the previous statements.

See, I think I can hold on to my view that Rand is correct AND be consistent with reality.

The simple fact is that all organisms that reproduce do so at the expense of their own lives and all organisms reproduce (in the generic sense rather than the individual sense).

No, this is patently false when it comes to man unless your definition of "life" is strictly limited to "avoiding the morgue", physically staying alive and ignoring the many other needs required of man's life. Given that you appear to be somewhat educated, even if your view here is somewhat mistaken, I would presume that you have NOT ignored these needs to which I refer regarding man's life. Otherwise you would just be clubbing your "dates" and dragging them back to the cave where you would shun fire and eat the raw meat of whatever you could catch that day. You would be living the life of an animal, not the life of a human. The fact that you came here to seek a better understanding of this topic is evidence that you accept that man's life is MORE than just "avoiding death".

At the risk of pointing out to you again, many people (myself included) find that children (among other values) ADD to their life as human beings (when life is properly defined as it relates to man). I could care less whether or not reproduction takes away from the "physical" lives of organisms other than man. That's their problem, and hardly the concern of a philosophy befitting man.

Edited by RationalCop
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C'mon Dionysus, you're detracting from your point. You keep saying your point is not reproduction, but you keep putting up deliciously refutable statements such asIt seems like you have already received some agreement regarding the premise that all actions are done for the sake of maintainence of the entity's life. Some others don't think it matters, as your argument seems to be more evidence that nonhumans don't always pursue the ultimate value of their own life than evidence that life itself is not the ultimate value. When and to the extent that Rand is wrong on something, I have no problem acknowledging it, but you seem to be tackling the ultimate value question from a rather tangential angle.

If you really, really, really must discuss this, you should ask, if every nonhuman's (animal for brevity) life is its highest value, then what animal action would not be a means to that end, particularly if suicidal reproduction is considered a means to the individual animal's life.

You've still missed the entire point. This is not about what I believe or what I think it's about what Rand and Peikoff wrote and said and how they use that as part of the flow of thought and logic that underpins objectivist ethics. I'm beginning to regret that I ever mentioned the whole reproduction thing.

As I said, I was not actually suggesting we replace life with reproduction as the ultimate value, I was just saying that it was a more natural conclusion to draw from Rand's line of thought once you corrected her mistake about the ultimate goal of living organisms. All I was doing was trying to see what the consequences of her line of thinking were if you correct the error and then continue. It seems to me that if you do this, you would more naturally lead to reproduction as the ultimate value than to life. That's not to say it is or should be, just that it seems to be the natural conclusion for that exercise. As I also spelled out, and again, not a single person addressed it, this is all based on the rather fuzzy logic in both Rand and Peikoff's work bridging between existence exists, going through their comments about life in general and then onto man's life as the ultimate value. To some extent, in my exercise of correcting the mistake and following the logic onwards with the correction taken into account, I have to guess a little because Rand and Peikoff do not make their line of thinking particularaly clear in the works I've read and heard. However, in all three cases they do take the argument through the (despite what rationalcop might say) erroneous claims about all organisms. Peikoff even goes on to say what is suggested in other works that all of Objectivist ethics and politics rests on this.

The fundamental issue was about the claim by Rand that ethics could be objectively derived. So, to me, it's not good enough to say "well, she got that bit wrong but we'll just continue with her conclusion despite the flawed logic that led to it." If you cannot correct the mistake and rebuild the logical bridges then you can no longer claim the philosophy is objective. This was the exercise I was hoping we could collectively undertake but so far it has taken this long just to get a couple of people to see that there was a problem that needed addressing. As I said, I hold myself responsible for that as I must not have communicated it well. I also think, in retrospect, that my deliberately provocotive title to the thread might have got people off on the wrong foot (though nobody has yet demonstrated to me that objectivism is not fundamentally flawed - or even taken up my arguments really).

I could be totally wrong about this whole subject. It's possible that I have misunderstood Rand's logic path. However, nobody has even addressed this part of my question so at this point I'm assuming my thinking is correct on the flow of thought that leads to "my life" as the ultimate value. I can see some others are choosing to derive it another way but again, that is not my point. My point is about the work of Ayn Rand.

ps if my statement was so deliciously refutable, why didn't you refute it? I stand by it and am certainly willing to defend it until it is effectively refuted.

Edited by Dionysus
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Rationalcop,

You are mistaken and your entire latest post is flawed because you have made an irrational leap in your thought process about my argument.

Here, again, is the statement that I said was false:

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.

You seem to be attempting to refute a stance that I never held ie that no biological processes are dedicated to maintaining the organism's life. Now, it's important to see that doing what you set out to do (ie demonstrating there are biological processes that serve the purpose of maintaining the organisms life) does not prove the above statement by Rand correct. Instead of listing a small number of examples, you need to demonstrate that all biological processes are dedicated to the maintenance of the organism's life, as this is the claim made by Rand. I certainly believe there are biolgical processes that are dedicated to maintaining life and I have never claimed otherwise. What I am refuting is the notion that all of them are.

Explain to me the manner in which the biological process of sperm production serves to maintain the male organism's life. How about milk production? Do we need more examples? Can you see that all you need is a single exception and the above statement becomes false? This is not a pedantic argument either because in every instance in nature where successful reproduction clashes with the maintenance of the organism, reproduction wins out. It must, that's what evolution selects for. Now, of course you can come up with individual organism for whom this is not the case, that's one of the consequences of variation. However, all of these individuals still possess biological processes which have a metabolic cost and do not serve to maintain their lives.

Again, any argument about a rational being's life and the way that Rand mean's man qua man and all that stuff is irrelevant to this discussion because it is about the above statement and others like it which are not referring to man specifically but rather to all life.

I hope this and the above post make my position clearer.

D

Edited by Dionysus
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Dionysus,

Interesting thread; a critical analysis of the fundamentals of Objectivism is certainly important, but this thread is very confusing. Perhaps if people would sweep away some of the verbiage in their propositions it would be easier to understand. Also, Dionysus, I think it would help if you took some time to properly punctuate your sentences because it would facilitate comprehension of your arguments -- I find many sentances long and convoluted.

Have you considered reading some of (Objectivist) Harry Binswanger's material such as "The Biological Basis Teological Concepts" or "Life Based Teleology as the Foundation of Ethics"? Perhaps there are some answers contained in those materials. I've read the latter and found it to be very helpful in my understanding of Objectivist ethics. I read over Ian's response and it seems consistent with what I remember from Binswanger's material.

In your last post you reiterated that Rand's proposition -- that the self-generated processes of living organisms are directed to the single goal of maintaining life -- is false. You claim that, since many biological processes are not geared towards maintaining life but lead to other ends such as reproduction (among others), Rand's proposition is false and therefore upsets the foundation of Objectivist ethics?

My question is, are you creating a false split between life and other concepts that are hierarchically dependant life? For example, I would say that since species may have reproduction as their ultimate end, yet reproduction is dependant on the existence of living organisms, creating a dichotomy between reproduction and life as ultimate ends is a false dichotomy.

Cheers,

Andrew

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