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Is Objectivist Ethics Fundamentally Flawed?

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Dionysus
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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.
What you're saying is that Rand said that organisms will keep life over everything else, and then you present the fact that some organisms don't keep life over everything else. The problem is that Rand didn't say what you are attributing to her.

As I understand things, Rand said that all animals and (rational) men act (i.e. attempt, are trying) to keep life over everything else, not that they do keep life over everything else. I think you've misinterpreted Rand's logic path.

It seems impossible to determine what a hard-wired animal is trying to do. I could just as easily say that every hard-wired animal's action is an attempt to (reproduce or) preserve Mother Earth but their hard-wiring only allows them to make the attempt in inefficient and sometimes detrimental ways. How could it be disproven? This may be an objective criticism, and should/seems to be part of your argument, but it's not a fundamental criticism. I'd hash out the Objectivist metaethics like this:

  1. [an entity values (acts to gain/keep things) if and only if it has an ultimate value]
  2. a value is an ultimate value if and only if it is the end of all of an entity's other values [and its essence is accepting the realm of reality]
  3. [self-preservation is the only value whose essence is accepting the realm of reality]
  4. the only ultimate value is self preservation
  5. an entity values if and only if it has the ultimate value of self-preservation

Bracketed premises are ones that weren't explicitly stated, but inferred by me.

I believe your criticism would be regarding "accepting the realm of reality." At any rate, Rand's point is not that animals value (attempt to gain) their life over other possible ultimate values, but that their life is the only possible ultimate value they can have and valuing requires having an ultimate value - thus any animal's ultimate value is, by definition, its own life. There's plenty to objectively criticize there, but the reproduction-tainted arguments you've given don't scratch that surface IMO.

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.
Well, for one reason, you say you're not explicitly endorsing reproduction as the ultimate value and have complained about it being conflated with your fundamental issue. But if it'll help get that distraction out of the way,
  • All organisms that reproduce don't do so at the expense of their lives. You don't mean reproductive action/valuing is at the expense of life, but the possesion of reproductive parts? Any organism that has reproductive parts bears this "expense" whether they act to reproduce or not.
  • I'm not sure what it would mean to reproduce in the generic sense, but, were it defined, I rather doubt you'd wish to defend that.

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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.

drewfactor,

Thanks for your reply and your comments about the clarity of my writing are understandable. I'm working on it. :lol:

As to the above question, are you suggesting that within "maintenance of the organism's life" we should include reproduction? This is neither explicit nor implied by any of the sources from Rand or Peikoff and i believe its inclusion would change the flow of the argument. For example, successful reproduction implies a fundamental concern for the welfare of your offspring, beyond your own lifespan (something I think the vast majority of parents experience). None of Rand or Peikoff's work that I've read or heard place importance on the future beyond the objectivist's own lifetime. Such an inclusion would change many fundamentals of objectivism I would have thought. But then, i've been wrong before.

Edited by Dionysus
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As I understand things, Rand said that all animals and (rational) men act (i.e. attempt, are trying) to keep life over everything else, not that they do keep life over everything else.

I understood it to be the former as well. But what's the difference? Both are false.

It seems impossible to determine what a hard-wired animal is trying to do. I could just as easily say that every hard-wired animal's action is an attempt to (reproduce or) preserve Mother Earth but their hard-wiring only allows them to make the attempt in inefficient and sometimes detrimental ways. How could it be disproven?

How could it be disproven? Personally I would use science. Ecology and evolutionary biology have taught us much about the focus of the effort of organisms. What are they attempting to do? Rand claims they are attempting to maintain their own lives. Evolutionary biology and ecology tell us they are attempting to reproduce which necessistates living long enough to achieve that goal, in a similar way that living necessitates eating to achieve that goal. These sciences clearly show us that longevity is subservient as a priority to reproduction. As I have stated elsewhere, where they clash, reproduction wins. It cannot be any other way because that is what evolution selects for. An organism which favours its own life over reproduction is an evolutionary dead end and so this not a trait which you will find widespread in nature. So, if we are to use priority heirarchies, reproduction is at the top, "the maintenance of the organism's life" comes out second. The only way around this is to argue as drewfactor did that the latter contains the former but, as I previously argued, I think doing so would fundamentally change the progression of the objectivists argument.

This may be an objective criticism, and should/seems to be part of your argument, but it's not a fundamental criticism. I'd hash out the Objectivist metaethics like this:
  1. [an entity values (acts to gain/keep things) if and only if it has an ultimate value]
  2. a value is an ultimate value if and only if it is the end of all of an entity's other values [and its essence is accepting the realm of reality]
  3. [self-preservation is the only value whose essence is accepting the realm of reality]
  4. the only ultimate value is self preservation
  5. an entity values if and only if it has the ultimate value of self-preservation

Bracketed premises are ones that weren't explicitly stated, but inferred by me.

This doesn't seem to me be any kind of logical progression or explanation, just a list of unrelated and unsupported assertions.

Point 1 appears to have no justification. Why can you not have a handful of basic values? What is it that fundamentally tells us we must have an ultimate value?

Point 2. Your bracketed addition appears to only deal with humans which appear to be the only species on the planet capable of accepting or rejecting the realm of reality. This being the case, does it imply no other species have values? This is certainly not the opinion of Rand is it? Without adding it, we could still say that reproduction is the ultimate value.

Point 3 relies on your addition to point 2

Point 4 is a statement without support from, or reliance on, the previous points

Point 5 is also an isolated point without support and does not follow logically from the previous points.

I believe your criticism would be regarding "accepting the realm of reality." At any rate, Rand's point is not that animals value (attempt to gain) their life over other possible ultimate values, but that their life is the only possible ultimate value they can have and valuing requires having an ultimate value - thus any animal's ultimate value is, by definition, its own life. There's plenty to objectively criticize there, but the reproduction-tainted arguments you've given don't scratch that surface IMO.

I understood all of this, my question is about Rand's logical progresstion to the argument that an organism's life is the only possible ultimate value. You seem to be using the conclusion I am questioning the basis of to justify reaching this conclusion.

Well, for one reason, you say you're not explicitly endorsing reproduction as the ultimate value and have complained about it being conflated with your fundamental issue. But if it'll help get that distraction out of the way,
  • All organisms that reproduce don't do so at the expense of their lives. You don't mean reproductive action/valuing is at the expense of life, but the possesion of reproductive parts? Any organism that has reproductive parts bears this "expense" whether they act to reproduce or not.
  • I'm not sure what it would mean to reproduce in the generic sense, but, were it defined, I rather doubt you'd wish to defend that.

I'm afraid I don't understand what you're saying here. Not just that I don't understand your point but I literally do not understand the sentences in bold. I've read it several times and I just can't get what you're talking about. If you are claiming that I would not wish to defend the existence of costs of reproductive organs, even in the absence of reproduction, yes I would. Actual reproduction adds additional costs. Reproductive hormones in humans are costly to our health and to our longevity even if we have perfect nutrition and good hygeine and health care. Of that, there is no doubt. That is the sort of claim I am willing to defend. Are we on the same page or not? I can't tell.

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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.

While I'm still mulling over the rest of your last response, I wanted to point out that you did at least infer what you deny here, if not outright say it. Let me quote you:

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.

What this does is correct the obviously incorrect first paragraph of Rand's work and then follow the logic onward.

You have in essence said about reproduction what you are arguing against Ayn Rand / Peikoff said about life. Does this explain to you why I did not make an irrational leap in logic when I started refuting a claim you did actually make, or at least appeared to be making?

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You have in essence said about reproduction what you are arguing against Ayn Rand / Peikoff said about life. Does this explain to you why I did not make an irrational leap in logic when I started refuting a claim you did actually make, or at least appeared to be making?

Rationalcop,

Well, I can sort of see how this confusion could occur but only if you ignored about half of what I've written. The idea of that mangling of the Rand quote was to ask how you could say one version was true (Rand's) and the other was not (mine) ie to point out that Rand's version was not the only possible version. I think my version is defensible because you could argue that all processes, including the maintenance of the organism's life are dedicated to reproduction (because life must be maintained in order for reproduction to occur but life is often sacrificed, risked or compromised for reproduction). However you cannot defend the claim that processes dedicated to reproduction are also dedicated to the maintenance of the organism's life. This is clearly not the case.

So, you pointing out a few biological processes dedicated to maintaining life neither support Rand's position (what I thought you were trying to do), nor refute my hypothetical alternative position (what you now tell me you were trying to do).

D

Edited by Dionysus
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Evolutionary biology and ecology tell us [organisms] are attempting to reproduce... These sciences clearly show us that longevity is subservient as a priority to reproduction.
If a bull decides to continue eating grass instead of reproducing with an available heifer... what does this say according to your position? That eating is a higher value than reproduction? You can't objectively determine what every organism is attempting to do (valuing) by what it succeeds in doing (science.)
Point 1 appears to have no justification. Why can you not have a handful of basic values? What is it that fundamentally tells us we must have an ultimate value?
Now see, these would be fundamental criticisms :lol: I don't have a lot of time right now, but I will note that, at the least, a hierarchy of values is necessary, which would lead to whether ultimate values, or at least ends-in-themselves, are requisite.
Point 2. Your bracketed addition appears to only deal with humans which appear to be the only species on the planet capable of accepting or rejecting the realm of reality.

Without [the accepting the realm of reality clause,]we could still say that reproduction is the ultimate value.

Which would mean that the "bracketed addition" is necessary to the argument, agreed?

Why would you say that humans are the only ones capable of accepting/rejecting reality? If the essence of a certain value(s) is accepting the realm of reality, then any organism that had that value would thus be capable of accepting the realm of reality - regardless of whether the specific organism chose its values or they were determined.

BTW I don't claim to have personally "added" the bracketed part; it's moreso what I got from the OPAR ethics intros.

Point 4 is a statement without support from, or reliance on, the previous points
4 relies on 2 and 3. Specifically, if 2 and 3 are true, then the only thing that can be an ultimate value is self-preservation.

Point 5 is also an isolated point without support and does not follow logically from the previous points.
I can understand asking for support for 1, 2, and 3, but if they are true, then would it not logically follow that 5 is true?
I'm afraid I don't understand what you're saying here.
1) How does reproductive action (particularly among species that don't eat their mates) come at the expense of their lives? 2) What does "reproduce in the generic sense" mean??
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However you cannot defend the claim that processes dedicated to reproduction are also dedicated to the maintenance of the organism's life.

Actually, I think I can defend that, but not based on "life" in the strictly physical sense (as opposed to "life" in the Objectivist sense). I don't think you can successfully divorce man's "physical" life from man's "psychological" or "philosophical" life.

I have not yet conceded that you have successfully refuted Rand's statement, but even if I did, I would add that I don't think the Objectivist philosophy hinges on whether or not all the physical processes of say a grasshopper (as ONE example) support it's life or it's ability to reproduce. The question that the philosophy might rest on is whether or not man's life has properly been defined by Objectivism (beyond mere physical existence), and in what way MAN'S biological processes support him as a distinctly different entity from other animals. As I have said before, I could care less about lesser life forms as they don't need a philosophy to live by, only man does.

Here is a footnote to the specific quote in dispute that I found on my research CD (it is also in my printing of VOS pg. 18);

* When applied to physical phenomena, such as the automatic functions of an organism, the term "goal-directed" is not to be taken to mean "purposive" (a concept applicable only to the actions of a consciousness) and is not to imply the existence of any teleological principle operating in insentient nature. I use the term "goal-directed," in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism's life.
I think this may change the context of the quote in a manner that may affect this debate, but I await your response to see if you agree. I think it may bring into question whether or not she was even referring to reproductive processes as part of the "automatic functions". It certainly appears to refute that she was referring to all possible processes of organisms as being life-sustaining.

So, you pointing out a few biological processes dedicated to maintaining life

Just so you understand, I only pointed out a "few biological processes" to provide them as examples, not an exhaustive list of all the possible processes of all possible organisms, something I have no desire nor ability to do. The ones I pointed out are consistent with what I interpret her to mean regarding the "automatic functions" as clarified above.

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I do not understand the argument sticking to man's survival, as in staying alive, being the highest goal instead of reproduction. Is it not that man's self interest that is the highest goal?

Rand merely states that the standard of value for ethical purposes is man's life -- man's survival qua man. The only value a man's life has is derived from rational reasoning. Man should place his life, not necessarily his survival near the top of the list because without life, there is no value to obtain, but even Rand stated there are ideas and values which even she would give up her life for.

In the playboy interview she outlines it:

In Atlas Shrugged I explain that a man has to live for, and when necessary, fight for, his values -- because the whole process of living consists of the achievement of values. Man does not survive automatically. He must live like a rational being and accept nothing less. He cannot survive as a brute. Even the simplest value, such as food, has to be created by man, has to be planted, has to be produced. The same is true of his more interesting, more important achievements. All values have to be gained and kept by man, and, if they are threatened, he has to be willing to fight and die, if necessary, for his right to live like a rational being. You ask me, would I be willing to die for Objectivism? I would. But what is more important, I am willing to live for it -- which is much more difficult.

Biological life is not the highest standard, life as a man is. Ethics is not being derived off any biological process whether the instinct to survive or reproduce. It is based off reasoning and rational thought.

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Dionysus,

I think you have a valid point at the heart of your argument; the synthesis of life is a precondition for ethics (as only living beings have ethics, and they must be created). This is true, and at present, biological reproduction is the only way to achieve this synthesis.

But, there are other requirements for ethics - such as a choice in the face of an alternative. One of the requirements that your statements seem to neglect is that of a reasoning mind - I reference the fact that you cite all living organisms as support, regardless of the fact that many (almost all) do not fulfill this requirement.

So here we are; it is a fact that some how we must come to be in the first place - there is no alternative in this regard. But how can this very fact be used to reject the idea that life is the standard of value?

There are requirements involved in creating life, --leap-- therefore life is not the standard of value. How do you make this leap?

If reproduction is the standard of value, how do you interpret organisms that continue to survive well past the point of reproductive viability? if you are not saying that reproduction is the ethical standard of value, then what are you saying? If you are making no claim one way or the other please reiterate, as I am still confused in this regard.

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Dionysus,

You are right. Ayn Rand is saying that the praying mantis is not concerned about his future children when he mates. He is only concerned about his own life.

I know this goes against all accepted scientific theories, but once you start to consider it, it makes a lot of sense.

It could be that species and groups exist for the individual organisms, and not the other way around.

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Dionysus,

You are right. Ayn Rand is saying that the praying mantis is not concerned about his future children when he mates. He is only concerned about his own life.

I know this goes against all accepted scientific theories, but once you start to consider it, it makes a lot of sense.

It could be that species and groups exist for the individual organisms, and not the other way around.

To apply the mantis argument, you'd also have to show I think that the male mantis knows and realizes the consequences of what will happen if he mates. He doesn't he is just following instinct, so you can't use them as an example to apply to man.

[Edit - Content Correction per OP - RC]

Edited by RationalCop
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As to the above question, are you suggesting that within "maintenance of the organism's life" we should include reproduction? This is neither explicit nor implied by any of the sources from Rand or Peikoff and i believe its inclusion would change the flow of the argument. For example, successful reproduction implies a fundamental concern for the welfare of *your* offspring, beyond your own lifespan (something I think the vast majority of parents experience). None of Rand or Peikoff's work that I've read or heard place importance on the future beyond the objectivist's own lifetime. Such an inclusion would change many fundamentals of objectivism I would have thought. But then, i've been wrong before. [bold and emphasis added]

Again, I think you are reiterating an unnecessary dichotomy. In the context of human life, concern for the welfare of your offspring ought to be rooted in the egoistic premise that your children are of profound value to you . Having children, and being concerned with their welfare beyond your own lifetime is an entirely selfish emotion.

The fundamentals of Objectivism and the ethics of rational egoism sweep aside the false dichotmy between concern for oneself vs. concern for others. Based on the premise that there is a natural harmony among men's interests, there is no dichotomy between concern for me during my lifetime and concern for others in the future. In fact, adherence to the principles outlined in Objectivist ethics -- such as the virtues of productivity, independance, rationality -- and their corollaries as applied to Capitalism, are the only way to ensure a bright future beyond an individual's lifetime.

To say that none of the Objectivist writings place importance on the future beyond one's own lifetime is such an abject falsehood, I don't know where to begin. For the sake of brevity, I will say that concern for the "future" can only properly exist as a consequence of one's own values, ie. the values of an individual. What is meant by "the future"? Does the "future" have some intrinsic value apart from and above an individual's own values?

I suggest a thorough reading (or re-reading) of OPAR, The Virtue of Selfishness, and ITOE.

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If a bull decides to continue eating grass instead of reproducing with an available heifer... what does this say according to your position? That eating is a higher value than reproduction? You can't objectively determine what every organism is attempting to do (valuing) by what it succeeds in doing (science.)Now see, these would be fundamental criticisms :thumbsup: I don't have a lot of time right now, but I will note that, at the least, a hierarchy of values is necessary, which would lead to whether ultimate values, or at least ends-in-themselves, are requisite.Which would mean that the "bracketed addition" is necessary to the argument, agreed?
I think we need an argument to justify attributing intentional states to animals in the first place. I'm not sure that it even makes sense to talk about cows 'knowing' or 'valuing' things, unless we're speaking metaphorically (ie, in the same sense that my computer 'remembers' my desktop settings, or that my tamagotchi 'values' being played with). Animals just do what they do, and what they do is presumably fully determined by their genetic makeup and their environment.

edit: I mean non-human animals obviously.

Edited by Hal
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  • 5 weeks later...
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

I have not followed this entire thread but I did want to mention in passing that I wrote a blog on this topic recently: <advertising link removed>

Recently I decided to define "genetic egoism" as the "rational self-interest of the genes".

Edited by softwareNerd
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Recently I decided to define "genetic egoism" as the "rational self-interest of the genes".

I have not read your blog so I'm not sure if you're being facetious or not but both of those terms are undefineable.

"Egoism" and "rational" are terms applicable to humans only.

I'm not sure that it even makes sense to talk about cows 'knowing' or 'valuing' things

To clarify: cows know nothing. They value but they do so automatically.

Editted to add quotation marks.

Edited by Marc K.
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From

After repeated questioning in a fashion after the Socratic Method

I do not think that the Socratic method is defined as not liking the logical non-contradicting answers given to a question and then asking the same question phrased as many different ways as possible. The only one that stated a contradiction in that discussion was you.

Edited by Lathanar
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I have not followed this entire thread but I did want to mention in passing that I wrote a blog on this topic recently:

"Why I Am a Neo-Objectivist"

Recently I decided to define "genetic egoism" as the "rational self-interest of the genes".

I read your essay on why you are a neo objectivist and wondered if you would mind defining what you mean by the phrase "instinctual knowledge"...?

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Interesting blog.

...I concluded that our love of life, i.e., survival of Man qua Man, was... not derived through a rational thought process.

...This love of life was a genetic predisposition shaped into us by evolution through the forces of natural selection.

But if love of life is a genetic predisposition, as opposed to being rationally derived, does this mean that people who don't love life are genetically predisposed differently from those that do love life?
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But if love of life is a genetic predisposition, as opposed to being rationally derived, does this mean that people who don't love life are genetically predisposed differently from those that do love life?

A predisposition doesn't have to determine your behavior. You can act against your predisposition. But it's harder.

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