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Ayn Rand was a smoker, so isnt this a irrational thing to be doing since it was damaging her health?

"Irrational" does not mean "ignorant of certain facts," nor does it mean "mistaken." Irrational means evading reality. If you have evidence that Ayn Rand evaded reality, please present it here.

I am 60 years old. I was born nearly 40 years after Ayn Rand. Still, in the culture in which I grew up, no one suggested to me that smoking was harmful to my long-term health. When I started smoking, at 18, I had no reason to even look into the matter.

I smoked heavily for six years. By the end of that time, I knew from my own personal experience and I suspect from what I was reading that smoking could be harmful. I stopped smoking. Twenty-five years later, a lung surgeon confirmed that I do have emphysema (a light case). Now, in 2005, with great studies available and -- according to testimony of supposed experts -- a chemical trail known, I am convinced that smoking is harmful.

Nowhere did I evade reality. But I was ignorant (as we all are of some subject or another) and I will pay a price for my ignorance.

I will turn the question around: Are you eating a perfect diet? If not, are you "irrational"?

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If I owned a restaurant I would not permit people to smoke in it. The majority of modern day smokers seem to be lower class, week-willed, unkempt bludgers who would not be able to afford the high qual

But it increased the enjoyment of her life.

I fully agree with this, yet when I've made similar arguments to explain why the use of drugs like MDMA can be perfectly moral, I've been met with replies along the lines of 'hedonism isnt a value' and 'feelings arent a means of cognition'. What is the difference?

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"Irrational" does not mean "ignorant of certain facts," nor does it mean "mistaken." Irrational means evading reality. If you have evidence that Ayn Rand evaded reality, please present it here. . .

Still, in the culture in which I grew up, no one suggested to me that smoking was harmful to my long-term health. When I started smoking, at 18, I had no reason to even look into the matter. . .

Nowhere did I evade reality. But I was ignorant (as we all are of some subject or another) and I will pay a price for my ignorance.

The U.S. Surgeon General's report on the dangers of smoking appeared in January of 1964. The report was based on over 7,000 scientific articles on the relationship between smoking and disease. Among its conclusions was that cigarette smoking is a probable cause of lung cancer in women. The findings were disseminated extensively in print and broadcast media. It was ranked among the top news stories of 1964. (See CDC link.) Yet Ayn Rand continued smoking for years afterwards.

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The findings were disseminated extensively in print and broadcast media.  It was ranked among the top news stories of 1964.  (See CDC link.)

Exactly how extensively is "extensively"?

Ranked by whom? Ranked how? Among which group of stories, and what groups of stories were included/ommitted from the ranking, and for what reason?

Is it at all conceivable that Ayn Rand still did not know, even in the face of this reporting?

I was not there in 1964 when this happened. Were you? Let's ask Burgess if he remembers and can give us a first-hand account of the reporting.

At any rate, my understanding is that Ayn Rand stopped smoking when she learned from her doctor(s) that her health was being affected. Unless the report contained objective evidence to its conclusions, she would have had every reason to dismiss it out of hand until she had some evidence to the contrary. Perhaps she thought it was needless fear mongering by then -- she had been smoking for 40 years at that point and to her knowledge she was perfectly fine.

But this is all pure speculation. You cannot know what she knew or didn't know, or what her entire set of knowledge and thinking on the subject was, and she's not around to ask her.

The real problem here is the premise of "If Ayn Rand did it, then it must be moral." Go rationalize someplace else. Ayn Rand was a human being, able to be ignorant and/or make mistakes. The fact of her discovery of Objectivism does not imply that she was infallible in any way. Whether or not Ayn Rand smoked knowing the hazards is irrelevant to whether it is immoral to do so.. it is. You know it, or this thread would not even exist. That is reality, and no man's actions to the contrary may alter it.

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Exactly how extensively is "extensively"?

Ranked by whom?  Ranked how?  Among which group of stories, and what groups of stories were included/ommitted from the ranking, and for what reason? 

Is it at all conceivable that Ayn Rand still did not know, even in the face of this reporting?

Hardly. By 1964 Ayn Rand was writing regularly on current events and their philosophical implications. Some of the topics she covered in The Objectivist Newsletter included FCC regulation of television, President Kennedy’s proposed consumer protection legislation and attempts to control steel prices, the fall of the stock market, the power of Washington lobbies, the death of Marilyn Monroe, the King-Anderson [medical welfare] Bill, and Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy – among many other things. In addition to her contributions to The Objectivist Newsletter, she also wrote a column for the Los Angeles Times. In her essays she frequently quoted from the daily newspapers. The suggestion that Ayn Rand somehow missed the announcement of the Surgeon General’s report in January, 1964, that she was oblivious to all discussions of it in the months and years since, and that she repeatedly failed to spot the warning labels that began to appear on all cigarette packages in 1965 is preposterous.

I was not there in 1964 when this happened.  Were you?  Let's ask Burgess if he remembers and can give us a first-hand account of the reporting.

I can give you a first-hand account myself. I was a high school sophomore in 1964 and remember vividly how teen smokers reacted. They were divided into two groups: those who took the report seriously and gave up cigarettes, and those who continued to smoke and rationalized it by saying that not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer.

At any rate, my understanding is that Ayn Rand stopped smoking when she learned from her doctor(s) that her health was being affected.  Unless the report contained objective evidence to its conclusions, she would have had every reason to dismiss it out of hand until she had some evidence to the contrary.  Perhaps she thought it was needless fear mongering by then -- she had been smoking for 40 years at that point and to her knowledge she was perfectly fine.

The report was based on thousands of scientific studies. But of course, if Rand, unlike most adult Americans, had managed never to hear of the Surgeon General’s report, she would have no reason to form an opinion about it.

But this is all pure speculation.  You cannot know what she knew or didn't know, or what her entire set of knowledge and thinking on the subject was, and she's not around to ask her.

Okay, feel free to believe that Ayn Rand did not discover the link between cigarettes and disease until she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974.

The real problem here is the premise of "If Ayn Rand did it, then it must be moral."  Go rationalize someplace else.

That certainly is not my premise, and I have no plans to do any rationalizing here or any place else.

Edited by Eric Mathis
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Fine. Then we agree. The fact of Ayn Rand smoking is irrelevant to the ethical question of whether it is moral to smoke. Why are we talking about it then, and why are you so hell-bent on showing what an immoral creature Ayn Rand was? Does this somehow make Objectivism less true?

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The U.S. Surgeon General's report on the dangers of smoking appeared in January of 1964.  The report was based on over 7,000 scientific articles on the relationship between smoking and disease.  Among its conclusions was that cigarette smoking is a probable cause of lung cancer in women.  The findings were disseminated extensively in print and broadcast media.  It was ranked among the top news stories of 1964.  (See CDC link.)  Yet Ayn Rand continued smoking for years afterwards.

So? Ayn Rand was very clear on this point: statistics aren't evidence and since no one had discovered a causal connection between smoking and cancer, the only question was, was there any evidence that smoking was impacting HER negatively? Once that evidence came to light, she immediately quit.

Don Watkins

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Fine.  Then we agree.  The fact of Ayn Rand smoking is irrelevant to the ethical question of whether it is moral to smoke.  Why are we talking about it then, and why are you so hell-bent on showing what an immoral creature Ayn Rand was?  Does this somehow make Objectivism less true?

We are talking about it because Geoff politely raised the question -- and because so far nobody with the power to do so has sent this thread to the trash can. In any case, I believe a contributor is permitted to stop posting at any time he wishes.

Now as for the accusation directed at me, precisely where did I state or imply that Rand was "an immoral creature"?

In my posts above I simply noted a) that the 1964 Surgeon General's report was widely publicized and would probably not have escaped Rand's notice, and B) that Rand continued to smoke after 1964.

My mother also remained a smoker after the report appeared. You will just have to take my word for it that I do not regard her as immoral.

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So? Ayn Rand was very clear on this point: statistics aren't evidence and since no one had discovered a causal connection between smoking and cancer, the only question was, was there any evidence that smoking was impacting HER negatively?  Once that evidence came to light, she immediately quit.

Don Watkins

One could say that statistics do not prove that we shouldn't walk alone at night in neighborhoods with high crime rates.

Edited by Eric Mathis
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We are talking about it because Geoff politely raised the question -- and because so far nobody with the power to do so has sent this thread to the trash can.  In any case, I believe a contributor is permitted to stop posting at any time he wishes.

Hold on just a second. What Geoff asked was:

Ayn Rand was a smoker, so isnt this a irrational thing to be doing since it was damaging her health?

But you claim to never have answered that question. The question calls for an evaluative answer, and you have not directly given one.

Do you mean to now tell me that you think its immoral to walk down a street at night in a high-crime area, but its not immoral to smoke knowing the risks of it?

There is a difference between evaluating a person in one specific context, and the person in general. Ayn Rand and your mother are both immoral in the specific context of smoking, knowing the high risk of severe consequences to their lives. That statement does not mean that they are overall, in general, immoral people. It means only in one specific context.

To evaluate a person overall means to sum up all of the individual, specific contexts in which they can be morally evaluated, with appropriate weight to each context. There are plenty of things about a person which are more important to another's evaluation of them than whether or not they smoke, such as whether or not they steal, or lie to others to get what they want. The smoking is generally only hurting themselves, so its of little consequence to your life or mine that Ayn Rand or your mother smoke(d), so I agree that both may overall be evaluated as "moral" by others and by themselves.

But the overall evaluation of "moral" does not wipe out the immorality of those specific contexts in which each person is immoral.

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One could say that statistics do not prove that we shouldn't walk alone at night in neighborhoods with high crime rates.

And they don't. Whether or not we should walk alone at night in a neighborhood with high crime rates depends on our purpose in doing so and our evaluation of the risks versus the benefits the fulfillment of that purpose entails.

Don Watkins

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I fully agree with this, yet when I've made similar arguments to explain why the use of drugs like MDMA can be perfectly moral, I've been met with replies along the lines of 'hedonism isnt a value' and 'feelings arent a means of cognition'. What is the difference?

I don't see whats wrong with it. I mean, its all about why you do the drugs or smoke or drink caffeine or whatnot.

If t is a means to escape the reality of your situation in a bid to "get away from it all" and to drown yourself into a "reality" created by the use of drugs, then that isnt a value I would subscirbe to

However, if you feel this is beneficial to your life based on a cost-benefit analysis, like "It is more beneficial to me to get a good feeling, even though I run the risk of dying", I dont see whats wrong. You own yourself, no? Then you can do whatever you want and put whatever you want into your system to increase the enjoyment of your life.

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Hold on just a second.  What Geoff asked was:

But you claim to never have answered that question. The question calls for an evaluative answer, and you have not directly given one.

I can’t answer it because I’m not Ayn Rand. I tried smoking -- twice. I felt deathly ill both times. However, I have the testimony of friends who enjoy tobacco enormously. Some smokers have told me that nicotine improves powers of concentration. I'm even willing to consider the possibility that smoking helped Rand write Atlas Shrugged. But I can draw no definitive conclusion. Since I do not inhabit the body of one who enjoys cigarettes, I have no way of knowing whether the cost/benefit ratio is worth it.

Do you mean to now tell me that you think its immoral to walk down a street at night in a high-crime area, but its not immoral to smoke knowing the risks of it?

How did you arrive at that conclusion? I brought up walking in a dangerous neighborhood to counter the suggestion that a high incidence of lung cancer among smokers should not be of concern to a smoker. Obviously, it should be -- if the individual aspires to a life beyond 60.

There is a difference between evaluating a person in one specific context, and the person in general.  Ayn Rand and your mother are both immoral in the specific context of smoking, knowing the high risk of severe consequences to their lives.  That statement does not mean that they are overall, in general, immoral people.  It means only in one specific context.

I reject the idea that one who smokes despite knowing the risks is acting immorally even in a specific context. I will acknowledge, however, that one could derive such a conclusion from the principles of Objectivism. And I understand why someone new to Objectivism like Geoff would raise the question.

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I can’t answer it because I’m not Ayn Rand.
If you can't answer the question, then why offer a reply to the question?

Some smokers have told me that nicotine improves powers of concentration.

They lie and rationalize, and you know it. They may find it hard to concentrate if they go without once they are addicted, but that is not the same thing as gaining an increased focus over what one would have if one had never smoked. I smoked for twelve years (I quit immediately upon integrating Objectivism) so I can tell you first-hand that is the only way.

I'm even willing to consider the possibility that smoking helped Rand write Atlas Shrugged.

Unfathomable. There is no causal relationship between smoking and cognition, and no reason to suspect that there is. It is wholly arbitrary.

I reject the idea that one who smokes despite knowing the risks is acting immorally even in a specific context.

Only because you are open to the arbitrary rationalization of smokers.

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And they don't.  Whether or not we should walk alone at night in a neighborhood with high crime rates depends on our purpose in doing so and our evaluation of the risks versus the benefits the fulfillment of that purpose entails.

Don Watkins

So let's re-cap. "Statistics aren't evidence." Just because a large number of smokers contract lung cancer, it doesn't mean I'll get lung cancer. Just because a large number of Westerners have been kidnapped and killed in Iraq, it does not follow that I'll be kidnapped.

Whether or not I wish to smoke depends on my evaluation of the disease risks versus the pleasure benefits of nicotine. And whether or not I wish to walk unescorted outside the Green Zone depends on my evaluation of the terrorist risks versus the pleasure benefits of taking in the full moon rising over the Euphrates.

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Eric, do you think its immoral for a perfectly healthy individual with opportunity for happiness open to them to stab themselves in the heart with a 6-inch butcher knife?

Or will you be unable to judge them for it, because you never stabbed yourself in the heart? So-and-so did it and said it feels good. Who are you to judge? <sarcasm>How will you ever know if you can't do it yourself?</sarcasm>

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If you can't answer the question, then why offer a reply to the question?

I first entered a post on this thread to correct the suggestion by BurgessLau that Ayn Rand may not have been aware of the health risks of smoking in the decade prior to her finally quitting. I hope I have succeeded.

They lie and rationalize, and you know it.  They may find it hard to concentrate if they go without once they are addicted, but that is not the same thing as gaining an increased focus over what one would have if one had never smoked.  I smoked for twelve years (I quit immediately upon integrating Objectivism) so I can tell you first-hand that is the only way.

I congratulate you on quitting. That took Will Power. I know that tobacco is the most addictive legal drug. However, the fact remains that a large number of people each year continue to discover cigarettes and find them enjoyable; otherwise the smoker would never purchase her second pack, especially in view of tobacco’s artificially inflated price and well publicized health risks. I reject the idea that peer approval and “looking cool” is the ruling factor. Do you suppose Ayn Rand was ever concerned about “looking cool”? Nicotine is a drug and it has definite psychotropic effects. You and I have decided that those effects are not worth the risk. But the cost/benefit ratio may be quite different for other people. It obviously was for Ayn Rand.

Unfathomable.  There is no causal relationship between smoking and cognition, and no reason to suspect that there is.  It is wholly arbitrary.

. . . you are open to the arbitrary rationalization of smokers.

First of all, given that scientific studies deal in averages, I’m not willing to rule out the possibility that tobacco and smoking may have a positive mental effect on a certain minority of individuals -- for the same reason that peanuts and alcohol and shellfish affect people differently. Furthermore, by influence of the placebo effect, it may be that cigarettes are indeed responsible for self-perceived awareness, concentration, acuity, and confidence. In short, tobacco could by an admittedly circuitous route be credited for some admirable human achievements.

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So let's re-cap.  "Statistics aren't evidence." 

Statistics aren't evidence that something will happen in any particular case. That requires knowledge of causal factors, and statistics provides us only with evidence of correlations. That can be important, but the question is whether Rand was acting irrationally if she knew of the statistical correlations between smoking and cancer and yet continued to smoke.

Just because a large number of smokers contract lung cancer, it doesn't mean I'll get lung cancer.  Just because a large number of Westerners have been kidnapped and killed in Iraq, it does not follow that I'll be kidnapped.  
That's right.

Whether or not I wish to smoke depends on my evaluation of the disease risks versus the pleasure benefits of nicotine.  And whether or not I wish to walk unescorted outside the Green Zone depends on my evaluation of the terrorist risks versus the pleasure benefits of taking in the full moon rising over the Euphrates.

Or whatever the potential benefit is, yes. To take an even better example, we all know the dangers associated with driving, but engage in the activity when we conclude that doing so is an overall benefit to our life.

By the way, as an ex-smoker myself I happen to agree with TomL that the alleged benefits of smoking are illusionary, but that fact isn't obvious and represents, at most, an error of knowledge on Rand's part, not a moral breach.

Don Watkins

Edited by DPW
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Eric, do you think its immoral for a perfectly healthy individual with opportunity for happiness open to them to stab themselves in the heart with a 6-inch butcher knife?

Or will you be unable to judge them for it, because you never stabbed yourself in the heart?  So-and-so did it and said it feels good.  Who are you to judge? <sarcasm>How will you ever know if you can't do it yourself?</sarcasm>

TomL: By "perfectly healthy individual" do you mean "physically healthy"? Please consider that schizophrenia, depression and other psychological disorders can produce such constant and acute mental pain that it is practically impossible for the subject to imagine himself in a process of further easeful living. The fact that you (or I) as a healthy individual would never consider suicide does not argue against the internal logic of ending one’s life.

Are you prepared, TomL, to declare that those in excruciating cancer pain should not end their existence? Are you prepared to stipulate that you should never be permitted the means to end your own life?

Now, to answer your question, if mental pain is constant and overwhelming, yes, suicide is a legitimate, moral option.

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Now, to answer your question, if mental pain is constant and overwhelming, yes, suicide is a legitimate, moral option.

You didn't answer his question. You added context in order to answer the question in a fashion you wanted. However, since you answered it in a conditional manner, that you can judge it to be a moral option or action, then you obviously can judge that there may be contexts in which that action would be immoral, despite you having not experienced a self-inflicted chest stab wound. That being the case, why couldn't you just answer his question directly?

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TomL: By "perfectly healthy individual" do you mean "physically healthy"?

No, I mean exactly what I said: perfectly healthy. Which means: not schizophrenic or any other psychological disorders which produce constant and acute mental pain. I even used the phrase "with opportunity for happiness open to them" to specifically avoid you using that as an excuse for not making a judgement.

The whole point of the question was to corner you into a making a moral judgement, and you tried to wiggle your way out of it again! But it won't work. I've got you now, you agnostic.

Are you prepared, TomL, to declare that those in excruciating cancer pain should not end their existence?  Are you prepared to stipulate that you should never be permitted the means to end your own life?

No, I'm not. Which is why I specified "perfectly healthy, with the possibility of happiness open to them".

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Statistics aren't evidence that something will happen in any particular case.  That requires knowledge of causal factors, and statistics provides us only with evidence of correlations.  That can be important, but the question is whether Rand was acting irrationally if she knew of the statistical correlations between smoking and cancer and yet continued to smoke.

I don’t think Rand was necessarily acting irrationally under any interpretation of the statistics. However, if one wants to avoid lung cancer, recognition of the high incidence of lung cancer among smokers might be in order. By the same measure, statistics of Americans kidnapped in Iraq are not evidence that other Americans will be kidnapped there in the future. Therefore, an American could rationally take a stroll outside the Green Zone without escorts, assured in the knowledge that past is not prologue. If he were taken captive by terrorists, he could always piously and ineffectually insist “Statistics aren't evidence that evidence that something will happen in any particular case.”

Or whatever the potential benefit is, yes.  To take an even better example, we all know the dangers associated with driving, but engage in the activity when we conclude that doing so is an overall benefit to our life.

and cancer and yet continued to smoke.

Good point. We all know the dangers associated with driving, tobacco smoking, cocaine snorting, heroin addiction, drug dealing, but engage in those activities when we conclude that doing so is an overall benefit to our life.

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No, I mean exactly what I said: perfectly healthy.  Which means: not schizophrenic or any other psychological disorders which produce constant and acute mental pain.  I even used the phrase "with opportunity for happiness open to them" to specifically avoid you using that as an excuse for not making a judgement.

Fine. Then I will declare an individual "healthy" and "moral" when he has submitted to me a certificate of perfect mental/physical health authenticated by psychologists and physicians of TomL's choosing.

The whole point of the question was to corner you into a making a moral judgement, and you tried to wiggle your way out of it again!  But it won't work.  I've got you now, you agnostic.

I'm not aware that you have presented any moral case against suicide -- much less one that I could wiggle out of.

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You didn't answer his question.  You added context in order to answer the question in a fashion you wanted.  However, since you answered it in a conditional manner, that you can judge it to be a moral option or action, then you obviously can judge that there may be contexts in which that action would be immoral, despite you having not experienced a self-inflicted chest stab wound.  That being the case, why couldn't you just answer his question directly?

Hmm, I suppose "adding context" would be an inappropriate thing to do on an Objectivist forum. Perhaps I should have just answered "yes." Or maybe "no." Perhaps either one would constitute an "objective" answer.

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