Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Ought from Is

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

Cold, can you give an example of what you are talking about?

Essentially, the ultimate value of anything that can have values has to be the thing that makes the value possible (i.e. the valuer). Say my child is my ultimate value, and I only have enough money to keep one of us out of starvation. Logically, I cant let myself die, because then Im betraying my ultimate value; it is irrational to let myself die, it is logical to keep myself alive in order to provide for the ultimate value. However, in the situation where Id want to keep my child alive because my life without them wouldnt be worth living (Similar to the situation in Atlas, where Galt is tortured and threatened; hed rather die than live as a slave and betray the best in himself) Id provide for the child, serving my own ultimate value which is my life. Every value serves that which makes the value possible. Thats what a value is meant to maintain, the faculty of value.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

That is basically true, but I want to point out to you that it's more accurate to say that one's life is the fundamental standard of value because it is what makes value possible. This is slightly different than saying that it is the ultimate value, although that can be true too, depending on what "life" means in a given context.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 1 year later...

Sorry if I am repeating a topic -- which I am pretty sure I am. I remember someone talking about the point of life -- whether it is to reproduce or not, but I couldnt remember the name of the thread. So, if someone could direct me to that, it would be appreciated.

Otherwise, I was reading posts on www.politicsforum.org and came across a bunch of critiques on Objectivism. One led me to this website: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/...ht_From_Is.html which refutes the ought-is derivation in the following manner:

"There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence--and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. ... But a plant has no choice of action; ... : it acts automatically to further its life, it cannot act for its own destruction.

An animal ... . But so long as it lives, ... it is unable to ignore its own good, unable to decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer."

The claim here, quite clearly, is that living things other than human beings automatically act for their own survival. That claim is false. A male mantis, for example, mates, even though the final step of the process consists of being eaten by the female. Female mammals get pregnant, even though (especially in species where the male does not help support female and offspring) doing so substantially reduces their chances of survival. If one is going to ascribe values to non-human living things, the purpose of those values, on both empirical and theoretical grounds, is not survival but reproductive success.

Of course, survival is usually a means to reproductive success, so most living things most of the time are trying to survive. But a living being that put survival above everything else would not reproduce, so its descendants wouldn't be around for Rand to use as evidence in deriving oughts.

Some philosophies, I suppose, could dismiss all of this as irrelevant to metaphysical argument. But Objectivism claims to base its conclusions on the facts of reality--and the "fact" with which Rand starts her argument is false.

I could have sworn this was talked about here -- if nobody can find the thread, does anybody remember what the conclusion reached was? I am pretty sure somebody had been a biology student and arguing this...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I suppose the question is:

What is the primary end towards which living organisms act and towards which all other ends are subsidiary? Ayn Rand observed that living things constantly act towards the end of keeping themselves alive, and that it is this end which is most fundamental. Friedman argues that living things constantly act towards the end of reproduction, and that it is this end which is most fundamental.

But that question really doesn't matter, compared to this:

What is the primary end towards which you act, and towards which all other ends are subsidiary?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

As far as the end to which I act, I absolutely agree, and the ends of animals aren't really any concern to me, as far as I can see.

Still, he makes the point that Rand's whole system is based on a lie, or a misinterpretation --insomuch as Objectivism bases its conclusions on the facts of reality and this is an apparently incorrect fact. Can this be explained in another way?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

... he makes the point that Rand's whole system is based on a lie, or a misinterpretation --insomuch as Objectivism bases its conclusions on the facts of reality and this is an apparently incorrect fact.
Could you breifly state what this fundamental misconception is? Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry if I am repeating a topic -- which I am pretty sure I am. I remember someone talking about the point of life -- whether it is to reproduce or not, but I couldnt remember the name of the thread. So, if someone could direct me to that, it would be appreciated.

Otherwise, I was reading posts on www.politicsforum.org and came across a bunch of critiques on Objectivism. One led me to this website: http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Libertarian/...ht_From_Is.html which refutes the ought-is derivation in the following manner:

I could have sworn this was talked about here -- if nobody can find the thread, does anybody remember what the conclusion reached was? I am pretty sure somebody had been a biology student and arguing this...

Harry Binswanger has a good reply to this in The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. (an excellent book, btw. Highly recommended to people interested in biology.) In condensed form his argument is that animals owe their existence due to the actions of our parents, and since they are their genetic copies they will behave similar to them. Thus, if an offspring exist because its mother ate its father, then that offspring is going to repeat that pattern in order to ensure the existence of its own offsprings. Thus, this kind of "altruistic" behavior can be considered evolutionary payback for the service that provided its existence.

Of course, there are serious issues with this line of reasoning, but we need not delve into them right here. Suffice it to say that "survival" must be interpreted to mean TOTAL survival, which can be defined as total survival=individual survival+genetic survival. Individual survival is the "individualistic" component of survival, whereas genetic survival is the "altruistic" component. I use quotation marks because these are not philosophies, but rather behaviors. I have no better term for them at the moment. "Individualistic" can be defined as "an organism acting in the interest of its own physical self" whereas "altruistic" can be defined as "an organism acting in the interest of one or several other individuals than itself to the detriment of its own physical self."

In my view Rands philosophy needs to be revised to accommodate the notion of total survival.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You guys are forgetting the fact that the Mantis does NOT KNOW that it will get eaten, it acts for the present and not in regard to the future, as most perceptual/sensational-bound animals do. And I heard that it is a very rare occurence that a female Mantis will eat the male and only does so if the food supply is scarce. So far as the mantis acts, it acts to sustain itself, just because it lacks the ability to avoid death after mating does not mean that it willfully acts toward its own destruction.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

sNerd,

If one is going to ascribe values to non-human living things, the purpose of those values, on both empirical and theoretical grounds, is not survival but reproductive success...Objectivism claims to base its conclusions on the facts of reality--and the "fact" with which Rand starts her argument is false.

I agree with IAm in that most [if not all?] animals other than humans act for the moment, and never willfully engage in their own destruction at that moment... perhaps it could be said that for those male species that get eaten after reproduction, this is simply their biological end, not a choice they have made, no more than it is a person's choice to die of old age --at the moment, that is. Is there any way to even tell if the animal "knows" it is going to die after reproduction?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry if I'm being dense here, but I don't want to be addressing the wrong question. So, if I understand it, you're saying that the fundamental misconception upon which the Objectivist ethics is built and upon which it relies is a certain assumption about non-humans? Is that a correct re-statement?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Okay then, the statement is untrue in its assumptions about the Objectivist ethics being based on non-human behavior.

Separately, the statement is also probably also untrue in it's interpretation of non-human behavior, but that's been answered above.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Friedman's error is to misunderstand Rand's argument, and then attack his misunderstanding of it. The argument is not (as he thinks) "animals act for their own survival therefore we should too." The argument is "Values are only possible in the face of an alternative. There is only one fundamental alternative: existence or non-existence. Therefore only life makes value possible."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Friedman's error is to misunderstand Rand's argument, and then attack his misunderstanding of it. The argument is not (as he thinks) "animals act for their own survival therefore we should too." The argument is "Values are only possible in the face of an alternative. There is only one fundamental alternative: existence or non-existence. Therefore only life makes value possible."

This is absolutely correct. Value is a fundamentally biological concept. However, Friedman does make valid arguments against rand. Even though value is a biological concept it is a far stretch from there to "life as man qua man." I'm not saying it is wrong, just that Rand makes such large leaps that it is easy for the likes of Friedman to jump in and point out the gap.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sorry if I am repeating a topic -- which I am pretty sure I am. I remember someone talking about the point of life -- whether it is to reproduce or not, but I couldnt remember the name of the thread. So, if someone could direct me to that, it would be appreciated.

...

I could have sworn this was talked about here -- if nobody can find the thread, does anybody remember what the conclusion reached was? I am pretty sure somebody had been a biology student and arguing this...

A biology student? Is it possible that she was also a handsome brunet? :)

If so, maybe it's this thread you're looking for.

But maybe it isn't. I remember reading threads which discussed the topic of reproduction vrs. survival much more directly than the thread I linked.

I also found this thread, and this thread, but it's still not the one I was looking for. The one I remember discussed the male mantis (or the male black widow spider), and something about "the survival of genes".

Edited by ifatart
Link to comment
Share on other sites

You guys are forgetting the fact that the Mantis does NOT KNOW that it will get eaten, it acts for the present and not in regard to the future, as most perceptual/sensational-bound animals do. And I heard that it is a very rare occurence that a female Mantis will eat the male and only does so if the food supply is scarce.

Whether the mantis knows he is going to get killed is not the issue here. A mantis dosn't know that eating will sustain its existence, so by this line of reasoning you would not be allowed to draw the conclusion that the mantis acts for its own survival either. The only things we can observe are actions and their outcomes, so any conclusion of what the ultimate end is must be based on such observations.

So far as the mantis acts, it acts to sustain itself, just because it lacks the ability to avoid death after mating does not mean that it willfully acts toward its own destruction.

The obvious question is, how do you know that? Rand seems to claim that she makes observations of the results of actions, from this she concludes that survival must be the ultimate end. But as Friedman points out, careful observation reveals that reproduction trumps existence, and this would make, according to the method Rand herself seems to use, reproduction a more ultimate end.

A plant must feed itself in order to live; the sunlight, the water, the chemicals it needs are the values its nature has set it to pursue; its life is the standard of value directing its actions. But a plant has no choice of action; there are alternatives in the conditions it encounters, but there is no alternative in its function: it acts automatically to further its life, it cannot act for its own destruction.

I take this to mean that Rand observes that since the plant act to obtain the objects needed for its continued existence this must be the plants final end. What Friedman says is that organisms also obtain the objects needed for reproductive success, and that this is more fundmental since it trumps survival. Evolution permits the existence of an animal that commits suicide in order to provide itself as food for its offspring if this action is conductive towards the end of spreading the genes of the parent. Such an animal dosn't currently exist, but altruistic behavior to lesser degees are norm in nature for evolutionary reasons.

Harry Binswanger has a good reply to this in The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. (an excellent book, btw. Highly recommended to people interested in biology

The problem with Binswagers account is that he introduces a chicken and egg problem where non exist. If we take reproductive sucess as the final end of action, then this explains the observations made in nature,

Now, Binswanger wants survival to be the ultimate end which forces him to bizarre claims such that suicide (in the case of the organism I mentioned above) is a survival value to the very organism that commits suicide. He also says that it is a value to the organism to have been born, which is also absurd becuase to the organism this is not an alternative (the very question presupposses an exising organism) so it cannot be a value. Survival value, contrary to Binswagners claim, is a value to a currently existing individual to the end of its own continued existence.

The argument is "Values are only possible in the face of an alternative. There is only one fundamental alternative: existence or non-existence. Therefore only life makes value possible.

Values presupposes life, no one will claim otherwise. The problem is that this by no means imply that existence/non existence is a fundemental alternative in a value signinficant sense. Rand seeks support for this argument by observing the result of actions performed by organism, but observations in nature dosn't support her account becuase evolution tells us that reproductive success is more important than existence from a value perspective. Organisms act to gain or keep reproductive success at the expense of their survival.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This is absolutely correct. Value is a fundamentally biological concept.
Could you explain what you mean when you say that value is fundamentally a "biological concept". I do not disagree; I just don't know what sense you mean it.

Ifat, thanks for linking to those other threads on this topic.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My point was not about the Mantis KNOWINGLY doing anything, only that, in so far as it acts, its actions are directed at furthering its life, reporduction being a part of that, regardless of the outcome of the act, or if it endangers its life. All of that is secondary of course, since Rand's argument does not rest on animals' automatic actions, but on man's need of morality, which is not automatic.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

[...]in so far as it acts, its actions are directed at furthering its life, reporduction being a part of that, regardless of the outcome of the act, or if it endangers its life.

And how do you conclude that, is it a conclusion based on observations? This is disputed becuase organism invest great energy in their offspring at the expense of their own survival, and this is what we expect becuase if they didn't there wouldn't be any organisms for us to study. An organism that invested all its energy in its own survival wouldn't produce any offspring. Why is reproduction part of furthering the life of the organism even if this process is killing the organism? That sounds like a contradiction.

And to take a different approach, if reproduction did trump life, then the female Mantis would NOT eat the male as he is very important to the survival of the species as a reproductive agent.

He might be more important as nutrition. Take another example, the neutered tomcat, isn't he more likely to survive? I'm no expert on cats but I assume that the neutering will lessen the cats interst in reproductive behaviour, including deadly fights with other males. If this is true, the reproductive behaviour of the tomcat trumps his survival.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Take another example, the neutered tomcat, isn't he more likely to survive? I'm no expert on cats but I assume that the neutering will lessen the cats interst in reproductive behaviour, including deadly fights with other males. If this is true, the reproductive behaviour of the tomcat trumps his survival.
I have no idea what this means. Presumably the cat purposely neuter itself, so what point are you making: that automatized behavior that causes an animal to reproduce has a higher probability of being inherited than behavior that causes it not to reproduce? Is this a separate topic, that we need to split as a separate discussion for the Biology sub-forum, or does this have some relevance to Ethics?
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have no idea what this means. Presumably the cat purposely neuter itself, so what point are you making: that automatized behavior that causes an animal to reproduce has a higher probability of being inherited than behavior that causes it not to reproduce? Is this a separate topic, that we need to split as a separate discussion for the Biology sub-forum, or does this have some relevance to Ethics?

No, it was just evidence to the effect that reproductive behaviuor often trumps survival. The point is that the ultimate goal if reproductive sucess explains why the tom cat sustain its existence by eating and why it engages in deadly fights as part of its reproductive behaviour, while the ultimate goal of survival only explains the former, thus the ultimate goal of the tom cat is reproductive success. Do you agree?

Now, I'm not sure what the significance of this is with respect to Rands argument becuase I have no idea what Rands argument actually is even though I have tried hard to understand it. One line of reasoning she uses seems to be that she oncludes from observations that survival is the final end of action for non-volitional organisms, but this dosn't seem to fit with evolution.

A plant must feed itself in order to live; the sunlight, the water, the chemicals it needs are the values its nature has set it to pursue; its life is the standard of value directing its actions. But a plant has no choice of action; there are alternatives in the conditions it encounters, but there is no alternative in its function: it acts automatically to further its life, it cannot act for its own destruction.

What does she say here? We have the factual claims that values presuppose existence, survival requires action and that animals act automatiacally. No one would argue against these claims, but how does she conclude that existence/non-exisence is fundamenetal from a value significant perspective? This is where I believe she looks for biological support for her conclusion by observing outcomes of the actions of organisms, but the biological facts points to reproductive success as the ultimate goal.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It doesn't. The reproductive behavior exists because it results in life.

Yes, but it dosn't result in survival for the individual organism acting to reproduce, which I take to be the central claim. I claimed before that evolution permits an animal that commits suicide in order to feed itself to its offspring. Do you claim that this action has survival value for the very organism that kills itself?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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...