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Discussion with a Subjectivist

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[Mod's note: I have split some posts from here into a separate "Life and an Ultimate End" thread, as they were less about how to respond to this subjectivist. - sN]

Me and a subjectivist are having email conversations about objectivism. Does his reply make any sense to you? I used the term "living life as an end in itself." He asserts that there is no logical point in living. Is this because he doesnt understand that the choice to live (exist) is what constitutes all that follows (values... ect)

This is his response:

This “an end in itself” is a very convenient expression which allows you to fix meanings of everything else. “An end in itself” means that the purpose of X is X. In an ordinary situation, it would be: Y is the purpose of X. Put it in a form of function

Y = purpose(X);

“An end in itself” is:

X = purpose(X);

IF the equation above is valid, the “purpose” would have no meaning. It would simply be:

X = X;

Certain mathematical functions could actually return this result. If the function was:

function purpose(X) {

Y = X * X;

return Y;

}

you can then enter “1” as an argument, and the answer will be “1”, whereas “2” would return “4”.

The problem however with your use of the expression “an end in itself” is that you assume that you know when X = purpose(X) can happen and when it cannot. You say, in the case of “life”, it can be an end in itself, but in other cases it cannot. If I’m free to choose what can be an end in itself, any sort of argument can arbitrarily be settled by my choice. I could just as easily say, “Money is the meaning of life.” You ask, “But what is the point of money?” I then reply, “Money is an end in itself.” You can disagree and argue why money is not an end in itself, but I could also argue why life isn’t an end in itself.

o, “life as an end in itself” is not logical at all. I don’t see how this statement could logically satisfy the answer to the meaning of life.

The same goes for your use of the term “self-evident”. That’s a convenient word too. Whatever is “self-evident” is exempted from your logical investigation.

My position isn’t to assert that things don’t exist outside of our consciousness. My position is that no such proposition can be proven, and any attempt to prove it will necessarily lead to nonsense. You see my position to be “subjectivism” but I have no way of proving that either. The fact that you understand what I mean by “apple” does not prove “objectivism” nor “subjectivism”. For the sake of being practical, I could agree to accept your axioms and go on to discuss your model of the world, but at the same time, I could agree to accept the axioms set by the subjectivists and go on to discuss their model of the world too.

If you want to be ruled by logic, explain to me logically without using convenient expressions like “an end in itself” or “self-evident” to excuse yourself from having to explain something logically.

Edited by softwareNerd
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First off, the discussion is highly rationalistic, i.e. not tied to reality. This is shown by the example of a math function returning certain values for certain inputs, which has nothing to do with the referent with which we are concerned: life.

If you're going to continue the conversation, I'd suggest first defining your terms. Life is a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action. To say that life is an end in itself is to say that the purpose of that process is to continue the process itself. There is nothing illogical about it -- this simply points to a fact of reality. Look at a living being. What is it doing, to what end does its process of life lead? To the end of continuing that process. Or to put it negatively: look at a being who fails at the process of life. Which end did it fail to attain? The ability to continue the process of living.

For the full explanation of this, see The Objectivist Ethics in VOS.

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I think that the most important thing to do is clarify that you don't want to be "ruled by logic". You want to use logic to... now the question is, what? I work for a purpose -- in order to be able to buy food and keep warm. I buy food for a purpose -- in order to be able to eat. I eat for a purpose -- in order to stay alive. I use logic (not "pure" logic with no reference to reality) to integrate the various facts that I know to connect eating with staying alive: I know (because of my knowledge of anatomy and food) that if I don't eat, I will not stay alive. Thus I can logically validate my choice to eat in terms of my goal of staying alive.

The choice to stay alive -- to exist -- is the fundamental choice, one not justified by some other higher goal. You must first chose to exist; then that choice means, logically, that there are other things that you must do (like eat). So "end in itself" means your primary, something that is not justified by reference to something else.

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Ask him if he thinks it is objective to use reality as the standard of truth. Probably he will agree. Similarly, when you die, reality disappears for you. So using your own life as the standard of the good is the same as using reality as the standard, which is objective.

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Thanks for your insights, you guys are great. I have to work another double tonight so I will comment in the morning. This is his website http://www.dyske.com/ I questioned him on his essay about philosophy. He said that every thought and decision is caused by emotion, that it is the root cause of thought and action- the ONLY cause. Hes quite inconsistant in all his views, any essay you pick by him you will find absurd. I have to go to sleep now, talk to you all later. Thanks again.

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He said that every thought and decision is caused by emotion, that it is the root cause of thought and action- the ONLY cause.
That's just him being emotional. Tell, him you'll discuss things when he stops being emotional and wants to reason; else, it's really a futile exercise... you have your causeless emotions, he has his causeless ones. Discussion is impossible.
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Thanks for your insights, you guys are great. I have to work another double tonight so I will comment in the morning. This is his website http://www.dyske.com/ I questioned him on his essay about philosophy. He said that every thought and decision is caused by emotion, that it is the root cause of thought and action- the ONLY cause. Hes quite inconsistant in all his views, any essay you pick by him you will find absurd. I have to go to sleep now, talk to you all later. Thanks again.

Whew, are you right. I especially like this little gem in "The Meaning of Life 2005"

Meaning of life is an assumption we make in order to stabilize our lives. To deny the meaning of life is in itself an assumption that allows one to stabilize one’s life. The denial of the meaning of life is an assumption because it is not possible to prove the non-existence it any more than it is possible to prove the existence of it. If you were a truly rational person, you would not allow yourself to use rationality only when it is convenient for you. Both affirmation and negation are driven by our desire and need to stabilize our lives.

My question for you is why are you wasting your time with this guy. He is obviously stuck in whatever subjective dreamworld his postmodern assumptions allow him to be. He's not worth the time you spend on him. My guess is he'll jsut repond with some other sort of absurd argument and claim you're still wrong.

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Does his reply make any sense to you?
Not a lot...

I could just as easily say, “Money is the meaning of life.” You ask, “But what is the point of money?” I then reply, “Money is an end in itself.”

Explain to me logically without using convenient expressions like “an end in itself” or “self-evident” to excuse yourself from having to explain something logically.

Does the subjectivist realize that "life is an end in itself" is not held to be self-evident, that there actually is an argument for it? His reply doesn't seem to address whether life truly is an end in itself, but rather he merely says that ends-in-themselves are not self-evidently so... which everyone already agrees with?

The same goes for your use of the term “self-evident”. That’s a convenient word too. Whatever is “self-evident” is exempted from your logical investigation.
Ask the subjectivist if there is anything that is self-evident to him :)

He said that every thought and decision is caused by emotion.
That's just him being emotional.
:)
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Eating is a very bizarre ultimate goal. If that is really your ultimate goal, I don't know how to argue with you rationally, but I suspect you will be dead very soon.

Heh, on a lighter side to this topic- after I read this I realized that your name is I-fat... Just a funny coincidence. Certainly you would be if eating is your ultimate goal.

Back on topic.... this is an excerpt from one of our email conversations

HIM(dyske) ....(one of his reasons for emotions being the root) Say, I feel guilty about something that I did, but I can?t find any reason why I should feel guilty about it. So, I spend days thinking about why I?m feeling guilty, and finally I discover the reason. In this case, my emotion was the one which told me something about reality. My thoughts/reason only came after. If it wasn?t for my emotion being in touch with reality, I would have missed it entirely. Emotions can tell you a lot about reality that our thoughts are not capable of grasping.

ME - I had fun thinking about this. If emotions rule, then guilt is an impossible emotion. Guilt implies a contridiction in your actions agaisnt beliefs or "knowing better". The guilt you felt didnt tell you anything about reality, it told you about some subconcious premise you held. If emotions rule, then anything we do cannot bring about guilt. If your emotions lead you to cheating on your wife, then that is all the justification you need for doing it. If she gets upset, she is equally justified and both of you are right. Subjectivity sucks doesnt it.

HIM(dyske) - Here, you simply assume that "guilt implies a contradiction in your action against beliefs or knowing better." You don't question the legitimacy of this assumption and you based everything else on this as the indisputable truth. Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment" deals with this issue directly. It is a story of Raskolnikov who thought he understood himself and the world correctly. He kills a lady thinking that he was doing something good, because he considered her as evil. He thought he had the perfect plan and the reasons for killing her. The only thing he was unable to foresee was his sense of guilt. Dostoevsky shows that our conscience is beyond our thoughts, beliefs, and knowledge. He shows that, no matter how smart we think we are, ultimately our own conscience will determine what is right and wrong, and that we cannot escape it.

In other words, guilt is not a contradiction between your action and your knowledge. It is a contradiction between your action and your conscience, which is in fact something beyond/separate from you. Conscience is not something we acquire through culture. More knowledge or education does not make your conscience stronger. Raskolnikov "believed" that killing the lady was good, and he was certain that he "knew better", yet his feelings of guilt contradicted him.

Now, you could argue that my assertion about guilt is false. True. You could. There is no way to prove this logically or scientifically. All that I'm trying to show you is that your argument is based on a mere assumption; it is not a proven concept.

You say, "If emotions rule, then anything we do cannot bring about guilt." Emotions are not products of logic as you seem to assume. Emotions don't necessarily make sense. Every day, we face all sorts of conflicting emotions. It's not like emotions come out of a single entity which is making sure that all of them have consistent reasons. So, it's the opposite of what you state above. Emotions could rule us and bring about all sorts of guilt.

As for the concept of existence: since you are referring me to Ayn Rand, I will refer you to Ludwig Wittgenstein who had very similar ideas in his first book, Tractatus, but later changed his mind and explained why he was wrong (particularly in "Philosophical Investigations"). This is the reason why I was never interested in Rand. Wittgenstein clearly shows why that type of thinking is misguided.

"Ontologically it says, essential to every valid concept is the fact of existence."

The first few pages of Tractatus explains this concept. The problem here is that it assumes that we all agree about what a "valid concept" is. She is assuming that "concepts" function like mathematics. No concept, especially philosophical concepts, could be proven to be "valid" in that way.

I say, "This is a chair." It sounds perfectly "valid", but as soon as someone like you come along and say, "No, it's not," the validity is in question. What I considered as a valid concept of "philosophy" is on a shaky ground with your assertion that my 18 month old daughter has a "philosophy". There is no accounting for validity.

As I explained before, there is no need to prove this validity in order for us to function every day. Without this "validity" we use our language and get things done fine. The assumption of the philosophers before Wittgenstein was that if there was no objectively verifiable validity, we would not be able to function. This is shown in his books to be false.

Best,

-D

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HIM(dyske) ....(one of his reasons for emotions being the root)

He's committing a classic error here. His argument is based on reason as to why you should accept that emotions rule. Tell him to make his argument strictly with emotions and without the use of reason as a basis for understanding the emotion. This is similar to Christians using reason as to why one should have faith. LOL

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