Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

different levels of objectivity?

Rate this topic


Onar Åm
 Share

Recommended Posts

One problem that keeps recurring to me is a seeming clash between various levels of objectivity. Suppose you have an advocate of socialism that has made honest mistakes. Given the facts available to him in combination with his own limited ability to reason he has drawn wrong conclusions. Such honest mistakes are compatible with objectivity. But if we were to evaluate this man we have to conclude that he is still advocating an evil doctrine because of its material consequences -- they lead to evil in the long run. So this is a case of a person who by objective means reaches a conclusion which objectively is evil.

Another example is the notion of gaining value. Suppose that a man is about to lose both arms and both legs for some reason. Then a businessman makes an offer to him which allows him to merely lose an arm and a leg. Objectively he has certainly *gained* from the trade since he is now better off than he otherwise would be. However, at the same time it is fairly obvious that losing an arm and a leg is not a value. Objectively, using optimal health as the standard, he has lost value.

I certainly don't see any contradiction in these various levels of objectivity, but at the same time I have not seen any systematic attempts to address this. How do we systematically deal with objectivity on different levels?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't understand the notion of level of objectivity.

Remember that a value is that which you act to gain or keep, so keeping arms and legs would be a value. You didn't explain the trade, so let's say the businessman offers the leg & arm man a drug that will allow him to at least keep one arm and one leg, but the price is that he must give up {his tongue and eyes, his summer home, a year's salary, his butterfly collection, his pant collection (pun for Onar)}. Leg man has to look at the facts of reality and determine which is the greater value. I know why I would rather lose both legs and arms rather than trade an arm and a leg for tongue and eyes, but that might be something about my life. If there really is a metaphysically immutable reason that the guy has to lose something, and that sombody has a way to ameliorate the loss, then you should trade the lesser value for the greater value, which in this case means "keeping more". "Optimal health" isn't a valid standard, since it's unreal -- what is real is losing limbs. The notion of level comes in in determining what is the greater value.

The advocate of socialism did not validate the conclusion of socialism by objective means. If we want to put the best spin possible on the situation for this person, it might be the case that he accepted the tenets of socialism without thinking and perhaps just because he was told that he should just accept it as a fact that was validated by his betters. This isn't an honest mistake, it is a fundamental character flaw, and it should be judged as such. However, moral evaluation isn't a two-state measure, so a person can be bad, evil, utterly evil, totally irredeemably evil etc. Being mentally lazy is not good, it is bad; but if you actively study socialism and its consequences and actively advocate the destruction of human life in that furnace, you are deserving of a even stronger negative moral evaluation. Just as there is a scale of certainty, there are degrees of evil, and it may be possible to get your non-thinking socialist friend to walk away from his evil beliefs, if they are not too strongly held.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Objectivity is a basic method of cognition, as opposed to the subjective and the intrinsicist methods, in other words, whim and worship (the three methods form the i-o-s trichotomy). Objectivity requires observation of reality and the application of logic to one's observations.

There are no "levels" of objectivity. At any given moment, one's thinking is objective or it is not; over the course of one's whole life, one sometimes thinks objectively and one sometimes does not; and regarding a complex idea, one may approach some aspects objectively and one may approach other aspects non-objectively.

Nobody has any sort of innately "limited" ability to reason, except those born retarded. A person who does not grasp the philosophical issues involved in discovering what kind of social, economic, and political system is the moral good, all the way from the concept of moral rights down to the concept of A is A, and all through the necessary implications of each system, and who has seen only the mixed economy but neither capitalism in full nor socialism in full, in all their concrete details, and yet advocates socialism because others have told him it is good and it makes him feel good and everyone else is doing it, is naive but is not evil. This is the kind of advocate of socialism you are talking about; such an advocate has not objectively come to the conclusion that socialism is good. He has accepted the ideas of others without thinking seriously about those ideas.

The second example is an interesting twist on: Suppose a businessman is bound by a contract to take an unexpected loss. Now suppose the other party to the contract allows some renegotiations and alleviates a portion of the loss. The remainder of the loss is a loss, yes, but it is a smaller loss. In any event, remember Ayn Rand's definition of value: to act to gain or keep. Our businessman is now able to keep the alleviated portion of the loss, and that money is indeed a value.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I don't understand the notion of level of objectivity.

Remember that a value is that which you act to gain or keep, so keeping arms and legs would be a value.

I am not disputing this. In fact, I stated it explicitly. However, while it is obvious that being able to keep an arm and a leg is a value gained, it is also equally obvious that losing the other arm and leg is a loss of value. So you have one loss of value (2 arms and 2 legs) simultaneously with one gain of value (1 arm and 1 leg) adding up to a net loss (1 arm and 1 leg).

You face the same problem of level of objectivity in defining optimal health. On the one hand we are faced with the fact that we are mortal and that we age. This is natural, it is in our nature. Using our biology as a standard then we can make the claim that a 70 year old is in good health, even though he clearly is much less healthy than a 25 year old. So then if you use *peak health* as the standard you have optimum health around 20-25 years and then gradually decline in health. You may argue that this kind of optimal health is not real, aging is real, not an unrealistic peak health. But how then do you compare the health of a 25 year old with a 70 year old? Would you say that both are in good health even though the 70-year old is clearly in a much worse physical state?

You didn't explain the trade,
For the sake of the argument you can assume it is free.

The advocate of socialism did not validate the conclusion of socialism by objective means.

Really? No socialist can exist without being non-objective? As I understand it, objective does not require omniscience. But in any case, my point was not to argue that socialists can be honest, only to juxtapose the notion of someone doing objective evil due to honest mistakes. How is this resolved? I still haven't got a good answer.

This isn't an honest mistake, it is a fundamental character flaw, and it should be judged as such.

But objectivity is not an innate idea. We are not born with it, we learn it or invent it. How is a person supposed to know that he should be objective? Intuition?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am not disputing this. In fact, I stated it explicitly. However, while it is obvious that being able to keep an arm and a leg is a value gained, it is also equally obvious that losing the other arm and leg is a loss of value. So you have one loss of value (2 arms and 2 legs) simultaneously with one gain of value (1 arm and 1 leg) adding up to a net loss (1 arm and 1 leg).

You face the same problem of level of objectivity in defining optimal health. On the one hand we are faced with the fact that we are mortal and that we age. This is natural, it is in our nature. Using our biology as a standard then we can make the claim that a 70 year old is in good health, even though he clearly is much less healthy than a 25 year old. So then if you use *peak health* as the standard you have optimum health around 20-25 years and then gradually decline in health. You may argue that this kind of optimal health is not real, aging is real, not an unrealistic peak health. But how then do you compare the health of a 25 year old with a 70 year old? Would you say that both are in good health even though the 70-year old is clearly in a much worse physical state?

Optimal is a contextual word. It presupposes the answer to, optimal to who and under what circumstances? The objectivity of the particulars do not change.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Optimal is a contextual word. It presupposes the answer to, optimal to who and under what circumstances? The objectivity of the particulars do not change.

Yes, completely agreed. Now apply the same logic to "objectivity" rather than "optimal."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yes, completely agreed. Now apply the same logic to "objectivity" rather than "optimal."

It doesn't work that way. Being Objective means you REALLY understand and interpret reality correctly, or you don't. Objectivity is not contextual in that for one person and different for another. The properly functioning traffic light is green or it's red, it's not green for one guy but red for another.

Objectivity is like pregnancy. There are not levels (not to be confused with stages) of pregnancy. You either are, or you are not.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Objectivity is a description of how knowledge is attained. There is no such thing as objective to whom? because objectivity is a universal method applying to all knowledge and to all people. There is no such thing as under what circumstances?, again, because either one observes reality in order to attain knowledge or one doesn't, whatever kind of knowledge it is and under whatever circumstances it is. The answers to those questions are always: to everybody under all circumstances.

Optimality of a value is optimality of some value. The question of value itself presupposes the answer to, to whom and under what circumstances? An optimal life is one thing to a person hellbent on serving others, and is another thing to a person who loves his own life.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Optimality of a value is optimality of some value. The question of value itself presupposes the answer to, to whom and under what circumstances? An optimal life is one thing to a person hellbent on serving others, and is another thing to a person who loves his own life.

I don't think so. What is optimal, is objective regardless of the oppinion of the noun being described. Their oppinion does not alter what is optimal for them. When you say optimal human health, in general, without any other qualifiers, then there is an objective answer- 25 years old, resting heart rate of 55, BMI of... But that isnt a useful description to a seventy year old. They would be more interested in the optimal health of a 70 year old human. All throughout, objectivity is absolute in any particular context.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So you have one loss of value (2 arms and 2 legs) simultaneously with one gain of value (1 arm and 1 leg) adding up to a net loss (1 arm and 1 leg).
You're not trying to engage in value-math, are you? In this scenario of yours, you aren't faced with the loss of two arms and legs, only one each, because of the benefactor who is going to do something whereby what happens is that you lose an arm and a leg. If you're talking about imaginary scenarios, you have to add all sorts of arbitrary combinations, like a broken spine or leprosy or scurvy. All of these are things that "might happen".

Value as a floating abstraction has no value. Value is only possible given a particular fundamental choice and goal. Arms and legs aren't intrinsically valuable, so losing them is in and of itself value-neutral. The loss of a limb has value (positive or negative) only in terms of the ultimate standard -- your life. When gangrenous, an arm is a serious disvalue and it is a net profit, in terms of the bottom line of life, to get rid of the arm. And none of this has anything to do with level of objectivity. An objective analysis -- a logical consideration of the facts of reality -- tells you that if you have a dead limb which is poisoning your body and threatening to kill you, you should have the limb cut off. And if you have an ugly tattoo on your arm, you should not have it cut off.

Really? No socialist can exist without being non-objective?
Let's focus on what I said -- "The advocate of socialism did not validate the conclusion of socialism by objective means". So, yes, I really meant that. I take it that you disagree for some reason, which would be...?
As I understand it, objective does not require omniscience. But in any case, my point was not to argue that socialists can be honest, only to juxtapose the notion of someone doing objective evil due to honest mistakes. How is this resolved? I still haven't got a good answer.
What's the honest mistake? To address the most typical and problematic case, the man who unthinkingly accepts a particular society's socialist assumptions has evaded reality, by refusing to think. I don't know in what way it is an honest mistake to switch off your mind, and in the modern context (the wonders of telecom and all) it's really impossible to argue that the man couldn't know better.
But objectivity is not an innate idea. We are not born with it, we learn it or invent it. How is a person supposed to know that he should be objective? Intuition?
Your question covers a lot more than just objectivity, so I'll answer the unasked question that includes your question about objectivity. Many ideas are physically inescapable, given the way man actually works and the nature of the world that we live in (and I'm excluding "broken units", the unfortunate examples of homo sapiens that lack certain human organs). You learn about falling by experience; you learn about pain and pleasure, hunger and satiation by learning; you learn that wishes are not effortlessly and automatically translated into reality by experience. You also learn from other people's experience, so you may learn from experience that a particular kind of animal comes to a certain lake at a certain time, and your friends and family can also pass on their experiences to you -- if they are being honest, you gain the benefit of their experience. Ultimately, you can learn about high level concepts from your personal experience or the combined experience of your friends.

Very abstract concepts such as morality, causality, mathematics and (systematic) logic do not get learned ex nihilo and rediscovered by each child. Living in a civilized society has as one of its benefits that there is a vast amount of "stored experience" that can be transmitted conceptually, and concepts of "rights" are some of the most complex concepts that man can and should learn. It is utterly unreasonable to expect that a child should discover, in a vaccuum, an entire philosophical system which leads to the realization that you sould not initiate force against other men. It took Rand a lifetime to construct a rational philosophical framework, and she had the benefit of millenia of previous foundational word -- the concept of "morality" already existed; the concept "should" already existed.

You learn objectivity the same place you learn other philosophical concepts -- by experience, either your experience, your friends' experiences, that of your parents, teachers, or strangers who lived hundreds of years ago, and encoded that knowledge conceptually.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Value as a floating abstraction has no value. Value is only possible given a particular fundamental choice and goal. Arms and legs aren't intrinsically valuable, so losing them is in and of itself value-neutral. The loss of a limb has value (positive or negative) only in terms of the ultimate standard -- your life. When gangrenous, an arm is a serious disvalue and it is a net profit, in terms of the bottom line of life, to get rid of the arm. And none of this has anything to do with level of objectivity. An objective analysis -- a logical consideration of the facts of reality -- tells you that if you have a dead limb which is poisoning your body and threatening to kill you, you should have the limb cut off. And if you have an ugly tattoo on your arm, you should not have it cut off.

The facts of the matter are:

1. in one moment you have two arms and two legs

2. some time later you have only one arm and one leg

Regardless of the cause of your loss of an arm or a leg you are objectively worse off in 2 than in 1. You may argue that you this is a floating abstraction because 2 is real whereas 1 is now only a faint memory with no reality. Nevertheless, I don't think the past is just a floating abstraction. It is real in the sense that it creates an objective context. For instance, if A murders B and then sometimes later A is convicted for the murder, is it legitimate to say that what is that the past is the past and convicting A of murder is therefore a violation of his rights? I absolutely don't think so. The past creates objective context for the present. This of course is not just true for the judgments of actions, but of any incident. I therefore think it is valid to say that one has objectivelt lost value when one loses an arm and a leg. Of course, one has also *gained* value by the trade that prevented one from losing two legs and two arms.

What's the honest mistake?
Well, understanding reality is really, really hard work, and even the most brilliant minds often fail to do so properly. You yourself gave Ayn Rand as an example of someone who only by the sheer force of her intellect in combination with her moral convictions managed to create what brilliant minds prior to her failed for two millennia. I'd say there is room for honest mistake in there.

To address the most typical and problematic case, the man who unthinkingly accepts a particular society's socialist assumptions has evaded reality, by refusing to think.

But how do you *know* that it's wrong to refuse to think when no-one in society tells you otherwise? You can always discover it on their own, but as you say, not many people do.

I don't know in what way it is an honest mistake to switch off your mind,
What if you switch off your mind before you have experienced that this is a bad thing to do?

Ultimately, you can learn about high level concepts from your personal experience or the combined experience of your friends.

But how do you come to the conclusion that you should question authorities if no-one tells you that this is a good thing. In fact, what if you are told explicitly by the people who care about you NOT to question authority?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

1. in one moment you have two arms and two legs

2. some time later you have only one arm and one leg

Regardless of the cause of your loss of an arm or a leg you are objectively worse off in 2 than in 1.

This is fine.
I therefore think it is valid to say that one has objectivelt lost value when one loses an arm and a leg.
Sure: if you're just saying that the loss of an arm and a leg is a loss of value, that's true. I'm missing the connection to the "level of objectivity" point; various unrealised hypotheticals such as dying or loosing two arms and legs aren't relevant either, as far as I can tell.
But how do you *know* that it's wrong to refuse to think when no-one in society tells you otherwise? You can always discover it on their own, but as you say, not many people do.
You can live in a rational society where people tell you that you should think (and you can validate this conclusion youself); you might discover this fact on your own. If neither of those things happen, you will not know that it is wrong to not think (one reason being that you won't know the concept of "wrong"). Men aren't born knowing virtues, or anything, so if you don't know or learn this, you won't know it.
But how do you come to the conclusion that you should question authorities if no-one tells you that this is a good thing. In fact, what if you are told explicitly by the people who care about you NOT to question authority?
In fact, questioning authority is not a virtue, but adhering to the virtue of using reason may on some occasion lead you to question an authority. Take my word on that. In order to grasp the concept "should", you have to think, and use reason. Maybe those people around you are saying "You should... you should..." and you're not understanding what that means, but you've figured out that if you don't speak unless spoken to, you don't get yelled at. I've never met anybody who is like that, anyone so abject that they automatically and unthinking obey all orders; I suppose if such a person actually exists, and they are incapable of learning what it means to reason, then you simply will not come to the conclusion that sometimes you have to ask a question of an authority.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Making objective determinations about what happens being good or bad does not involve comparing one's actual situation against some hypothetical situation, no matter how vague nor how detailed.

Of course we can always imagine that somehow, through some unapparent event one determined that his best course of action was to intentionally lose an arm. The example of an arm riddled with gang green was used earlier. Similarly, we can at any time omit that event from our judgment (as Onar Am has done) and merely treat the loss as a bad event. But facts are what they are. If one was born with a number of arms that makes it inconvenient to function in a two-armed society, then there's no point in complaining. That's just how it is. If someone was attacked with a machete, then one is right to deem the loss of an arm as a bad thing. If someone contracted gang green and decided to amputate before it spread, then one is right to deem the loss as a good thing. I could go on. In fact, I could ask all kinds of questions about these three situations as well. Was the mother of the person born with one arm a drug addict? Did the person attacked with the machete attempt to rob his attacker? Did the person with gang green intentionally contract it because his insurance company demanded a legitimate reason to have his third arm amputated?

To possess one, or three, or one hundred arms is not the issue. What is the issue is why one came to possess the number of arms he possesses. It is bad not because the arm is gone, but because it forces one to rearrange everything he has built into his life and his skill-set. Actual human life - the life of a unique individual - is the precondition for concepts like "good" and bad", not idealized men dancing around in one's head living absurdly intricate, and infinitely maleable, stories one has invented.

- Grant

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 7 months later...

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...