Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Gary Brenner

The Prudent Predator argument

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

Inspector wrote:

See, you\'re the one who has made a positive claim: that reason dictates that it is in your interest to loot.

Not quite. My argument is that “The Objectivist Ethics” is flawed in its claim that looting means the destruction of the looter (see post number one). In order to prove my argument, I need submit only one example of that not being the case. This I have done. I do not have to argue that looting is a good general ethical principle. In fact, to make my argument, I do not have to submit an alternate theory of ethics at all.

Please present an unbroken chain of reasoning that starts at life and reason and ends at looting.

a.) X’s life/survival is a good.

b.) Maintaining X’s life requires the expenditure of labor (among other things).

c.) Reducing X’s labor and increasing X’s leisure is another good.

d.) The involuntary transfer of wealth from Y to X would accomplish b.).

e.) X can accomplish the transfer with a low probability of repercussions.

f.) X’s looting of Y is good.

Note: I offer this not as a general ethical principle but only as an example of the process of reasoning behind one example of looting.

Excepting tumors, then, emotions are caused by our reasoning or irrationality, correct?

Yes, emotions are caused by one of the following: 1) reasoning, 2) irrationality, or 3) items that do not fall under 1) or 2).

And since you have accepted that you will be using unbreached reason, we can reject for the purposes of this thread any emotion caused by irrationality, right?

Right.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
To practice egoism one does not have to convert others to the idea.

Oh, but in a sense it does. The practice of an ethical code implicitly states, "This, what I do, is right. I am right, and the code I practice is what all men should do." We already agreed that ethics were to be derived from the facts of life and reason: thus, ethics are to be derived from the universal nature of man.

Besides, only government looters have to bamboozle their subjects into thinking that (tax) looting is good for them. And for that they can safely rely on the public school system, which spends about ½ billion dollars each year on that and other forms of miseducation.

But history has been proven that people with slave-ethics do not produce. Only reason produces, and reason is incompatible with the acceptance of slavery. Presently, the poorest American enjoys luxuries unknown to the richest despot of antiquity because we free the mind of man (mostly).

I see that you have also not answered my question of emotions. [edit, oh, you have]

Edited by Inspector

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, emotions are caused by one of the following: 1) reasoning, 2) irrationality, or 3) items that do not fall under 1) or 2).

Right.

Since ethical codes are for normal men, not men with tumors that make them insane, then can we also exclude, for the sake of this discussion, anything that falls under "3?"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Not quite. My argument is that “The Objectivist Ethics” is flawed in its claim that looting means the destruction of the looter (see post number one). In order to prove my argument, I need submit only one example of that not being the case. This I have done. I do not have to argue that looting is a good general ethical principle. In fact, to make my argument, I do not have to submit an alternate theory of ethics at all.

I see. Well, that is a bit off from our exercise, where you were going to explain to me how rationality led to looting. But if you want to stick to the topic title, then you can. But you haven't really given an example of it not being the case, since the destruction being referenced is that of the looter's rational faculty, not necessarily of his physical being.

Actually, that last point is so critical that I am going to skip the critique of your chain. Suffice to say, it was not what I was looking for.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
hunterrose wrote:

Ah, then you still don’t understand. Something like random bomb-defusing is fundamentally different from something that is risky like a run in Pamplona. You have to grasp that before you will understand any argument against looting.

Running the bulls is pretty risky, sure. But the means to go about such an endeavor at least has rational basis. You could actually prepare for something like this. Get in physical shape. Watch how (and how fast) bulls move. Learn the contours of the streets. Carry an emergency firearm (heh.) I don’t know, wear armor and not wear red. While daredevilish, it’s not inherently irrational...

...like defusing a bomb by cutting random wires. The MO a person accepts in such an act (life-or-death through random action) is objectively self-destructive, regardless of whether it takes the form of random bomb-defusing or other idiocies, regardless of whether or not it results in physical harm in a particular application of the principle.

You’re saying that these two things are fundamentally the same, merely a difference of degree. You see these two actions as both having chances of peril, and without concern for why they’re perilous, begin running with philosophical scissors. You don’t understand that the “mere” act of accepting an irrational process is self-destructive, again, regardless of its results in one case or another.

Let’s stipulate all of the above. Now how does it apply to the topic of this thread? I don’t doubt that some looters (or would-be looters) act with absolute disregard for the risks involved. Consider the would-be assassin of Ronald Reagan, John Hinckley, Jr. Only pure chance kept him from being killed on the spot by Secret Service agents. We can agree that Hinckley’s degree of cunning and common sense was on par with that of a Russian roulette player. If Hinckley could serve as an example of all looters, then the case against looting would be open and shut.

Unfortunately, not everyone who makes a living by preying on others is so stupid/irrational/suicidal. Some looters “prepare,” “get in physical shape,” “watch how (and how fast)” their enemies move, and “learn the contours” of the territory where they prey. In short, some looters are successful because they use their brains. Look at Bill Clinton.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

After watching this discussion go round and round to the point of banality, I believe Mr. Brenner may be more of a skeptic than he gives himself credit for.

Gary, you've already state that while you think empirical evidence is needed, that short of an exhaustive count, that empirical evidence will not be enough. You've already challenged any general statement made by Objectivists as being unprovable, and mostly you've accepted the Pragmatist ethics in your requirement of proof, even after I told you that this is not acceptable.

So my question for you is what is your standard of proof? If you think that there are general statements that can be made about any topic with certainty, what is the method by which those things are proved? I'd like some examples of general statements that you hold to be true, for instance "All men are mortal." is that an absolutely true statement? And if so, how is it proven?

And what part of "Objectivist ethics is not a cost-benefit analysis" did you not understand that makes you continue to demand that as the standard of evaluation?

While my colleagues are free to continue the discussion however they please, I would suggest that it is a fool's errand to try to prove anything to someone who accepts a skeptics epistemology (whether they admit to it or not).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
mrocktor

Actually, the one advocating predatory Ethics gets to prove that the he is different from everyone else and thus deserves a predatory morality while everyone else works their ass off to provide for him.

Until you differentiate somehow, all \"rational animals\" are the same - in terms of their nature.

Let’s be clear. I am not advocating predatory ethics here. My argument is that “The Objectivist Ethics” is flawed in its claim that looting means the destruction of the looter. If I have offered such statements as “Perhaps we could say that the ethics of looting is derived from the ‘nature’ of the looter,” it is only to show that they are no more arbitrary than certain assertions made in “The Objectivist Ethics,” such as “Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are thinking and productive work.”

I do not have to build a sound case for predatory ethics in order to challenge the idea that the “nature” of man is being productive. If the advocate of that position cannot prove that “productive” is a requisite attribute to the creature called “man,” his attempt to form a system of ethics around that supposed essence goes nowhere.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
After watching this discussion go round and round to the point of banality, I believe Mr. Brenner may be more of a skeptic than he gives himself credit for.

//

While my colleagues are free to continue the discussion however they please, I would suggest that it is a fool's errand to try to prove anything to someone who accepts a skeptics epistemology (whether they admit to it or not).

I agree that this is an accurate statement of Gary Brenner's method of thinking as demonstrated on this blog. For instance, when he states that just one example of a "successful" looter is enough to disprove that looting is self-destructive, he clearly is employing a skeptic's (impossible) standard of proof. Such an argument is no more valid than to say that because a particular person ingests strychnine, but does not die, that strychnine is not poisonous.

I cannot prove something to a skeptic any more than I can "disprove" the belief of a religionist. In my posts and others on this thread, the case has been objectively made that looting is not in man's rational self-interest (even if not every single looter is "destroyed"). I retire from this fool's errand, unless something changes to make it no longer a fool's errand.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The fact that the lottery is not practical does not mean that one could not make a living at other games, such as blackjack or poker.
But...one can win the lottery, people do all the time. I'm surprised that you think it is impractical. Wouldn't a single exception to the impracticality prove that it's practical?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Galileo Blogs wrote:

The answer is that man survives through production. His values must be produced, and that requires reason. Reason is even required, indirectly, for the looter. The looter requires that some people using reason produce the values that he steals. That is why looting is a parasitical activity, and not a primary on its own.

The fact that man requires values which are produced using reason is an objective fact of man\'s nature. You can claim disagreement with it, but that does not change its validity.

I dealt with this objection in Post #4: “No one would dispute that productive work is essential to the continuation of human life on earth. But we cannot leap from that datum to the moral conclusion that every (able, adult) human being should engage in productive work. Over the millennia men have survived and even prospered by forcibly exploiting the productivity of others. If the crux of Rand’s case is that looting from productive men does not make you a ‘man’ as Rand defines it, then it is not much of an argument. I could assert with equal authority that the good life is that of a gentleman, and a gentleman simply does not work.”

As for looting being “a parasitical activity, and not a primary on its own,” how does this observation lead to a particular code of conduct? Where is it established that proper behavior must be primary and not parasitical? That production is essential for the survival of homo sapiens in general does not serve as a mandate for production in the case of any particular human being – unless that being lives completely isolated from his fellow humans.

Looting is not practical as a social principle. The only way for large-scale production to occur is if property rights are protected and looting is forbidden. For anyone who wants to enjoy the benefits of abundant production, he will want to live in a capitalist society governed by strict protection of individual rights. That means he will choose out of self-interest to live in a society where looting is forbidden by law.

softwareNerd raised this same point in Post #64. And I answered him this way in Post #76:

1) A looter may agree that a system of capitalism and private property produces far more wealth and scientific progress than any other political arrangement. So if the looter thinks, “I favor the prohibition of force for Thee but not for Me,” how can we respond? As long as most people are respecting rights and producing goods, the looter can still benefit quite handsomely from his crimes.

2) Even under socialism, looters in high places can still live lavishly while millions in the provinces starve. To a ruthless egoist, it might not matter how miserable everyone else is, as long as he can enjoy his compliant female interns and the latest Western-made gadgets.

If you want to live on a pirate island, or in a gang’s lair, or in fear in your own home over when your scam or crime will be uncovered and you will be arrested, or if you want to live on the run or in hiding, be a looter.

Do all looters live in this fashion? Surely the lawyers in the Justice Dept.’s Anti-Trust Division don’t inhabit a “gang’s lair.” Nor am I aware that IRS agents “live on the run or in hiding.” But let’s confine our examples to activities prohibited by law. From the beginning of this thread I have acknowledged that looting entails risk. But there are many productive occupations that are fraught with danger as well: soldiering, firefighting, mountain climbing, etc. Doesn’t your alarm about the well being of the looter apply to productive risk takers as well?

Or, if you want to try to be dictator of a country and hope that you are the \"lucky\" one who gets to rule for a while, not one of the many thousands who try and end up in jail or dead trying to take over, go ahead.

It\'s your choice, your personal choice, Gary Brenner. You can choose to be a looter, but you cannot argue that it is in man\'s rational self-interest to be one.

Because one might be caught or killed? In that case would it violate the Objectivist ethics for one to serve as a CIA spy in Iran?

An analogy would be to say that food is an objective requirement of man\'s survival. You can choose to eat poison, or even eat food that sometimes contains poison. You may even say you like it. That does not change the fact that you are threatening your well-being. It is contrary to your rational self-interest to ingest poison or even risk ingesting it. The same applies to looting, a parasitical activity that subjects you to serious risk of death and suffering.

A few months ago, when a number of people died from eating spinach, I stopped eating that vegetable. Now that the poisoning seems to have been contained, I’ve resumed ingesting the product. What are my risks of spinach poisoning at present? One in a million? One in 100,000? I do not know, but I am sufficiently confident of my chances to risk putting the stuff in my mouth.

On this thread I have already submitted the story of a wealthy acquaintance from whom I could have stolen thousands of dollars in coins with very little risk of ever being caught. I estimate my chances of being caught then were even less than they are now of getting sick from a spinach salad.

What does the Objectivist ethics say about looting when the risk is tiny or virtually non-existent? If the answer is that when the possibility of any risk exists, one should avoid the action, then Objectivism would also have to rule out the eating of spinach. Or riding motorcycles. Or hang-gliding.

For my argument more fully stated, I refer you back to my post #23. Those arguments still stand.

And I refer you to my rejoinder in post #24.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Uh, I will retire from this debate with the points I have already made. In the meantime, Gary, I will post your photo with my doorman and keep you away from my coin collection! Someone who thinks looting :pirate: is a rational choice is someone I will do my best to stay away from. <_<

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What does the Objectivist ethics say about looting when the risk is tiny or virtually non-existent? If the answer is that when the possibility of any risk exists, one should avoid the action, then Objectivism would also have to rule out the eating of spinach. Or riding motorcycles. Or hang-gliding.

Only if Objectivism in any way said that the answer should come from a risk-benefit analysis, which it does not.

Objectivism says looting is wrong, regardless of the risk of getting caught.

Again, the implied assumption is that the Objectivist ethics is based on cost benefit. That is pragmatism. Your point above is does not follow...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh, but in a sense it does. The practice of an ethical code implicitly states, “This, what I do, is right. I am right, and the code I practice is what all men should do.”

While I acknowledge that many ethical systems are universal, there is no rule that a system has to be. In Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, for example, an absolute ruler is entitled to more rights than his subjects. Why does what is permitted to X have to equal what is permitted to Y?

We already agreed that ethics were to be derived from the facts of life and reason: thus, ethics are to be derived from the universal nature of man.

The facts for one man are not the facts for another. I remain skeptical of most claims about the “universal nature of man,” particularly those regarding his behavior in the company of other men.

But history has been proven that people with slave-ethics do not produce.

So how were the pyramids constructed?

Only reason produces, and reason is incompatible with the acceptance of slavery. Presently, the poorest American enjoys luxuries unknown to the richest despot of antiquity because we free the mind of man (mostly).

While the second sentence is true, it does not argue against the looting egoist, who may prefer a free society over a dictatorship precisely because the former will offer greater riches for taking.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
KendallJ wrote:

After watching this discussion go round and round to the point of banality, I believe Mr. Brenner may be more of a skeptic than he gives himself credit for.

Gary, you’ve already state that while you think empirical evidence is needed, that short of an exhaustive count, that empirical evidence will not be enough. You’ve already challenged any general statement made by Objectivists as being unprovable, and mostly you’ve accepted the Pragmatist ethics in your requirement of proof, even after I told you that this is not acceptable.

I do not think assigning me a label is an adequate response. The issue is not whether I am a pragmatist (I am not), but whether any of my criticisms have validity.

So my question for you is what is your standard of proof? If you think that there are general statements that can be made about any topic with certainty, what is the method by which those things are proved? I’d like some examples of general statements that you hold to be true, for instance “All men are mortal.” is that an absolutely true statement? And if so, how is it proven?

It is true because, as Bertrand Russell puts it, “in the first place, there is no known instance of men living beyond a certain age, and in the second place because there seem to be physiological grounds for thinking that an organism such as a man\'s body must sooner or later wear out.” I do not state that it is absolutely true, for such a declaration would rule out the immortality of men presently living and I have no way of proving that science will not permit certain exceptions to our general rule. However, as Russell explains, in the case of “two and two are four,” we “can know the general proposition without inferring it from instances, although some instance is usually necessary to make clear to us what the general proposition means.”

The problem with the Objectivist ethics is that

1) It attempts to describe a universal from an artificially limited set of particulars: the nature of man in general from the set of productive men. But how valid can a statement about the “nature” of man be if it describes some men and not all?

2) Even if we were to stipulate that the looter is acting contrary to “his”(!) nature, we would still require that a logical case be made for one acting in accord with this supposed universal nature. That case has not been made.

And what part of “Objectivist ethics is not a cost-benefit analysis” did you not understand that makes you continue to demand that as the standard of evaluation?

Perhaps you missed my response in Post #52: “Early in ‘The Objectivist Ethics’ Ayn Rand states, ‘An organism\'s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.’ How is judging what furthers one’s life to be good not a cost-benefit analysis?”

While my colleagues are free to continue the discussion however they please, I would suggest that it is a fool’s errand to try to prove anything to someone who accepts a skeptics epistemology (whether they admit to it or not).

In fact, I accept the tenets of Ayn Rand’s epistemology. This is a discussion about ethics.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

grr ... accidentally deleted

a.) X’s life/survival is a good.

b.) Maintaining X’s life requires the expenditure of labor (among other things).

c.) Reducing X’s labor and increasing X’s leisure is another good.

d.) The involuntary transfer of wealth from Y to X would accomplish b.).

e.) X can accomplish the transfer with a low probability of repercussions.

f.) X’s looting of Y is good.

C doesn't follow from B

"Reducing X’s labor increasing X’s leisure is another good" where does this come from? good intrinsically?

Is "D" supposed to say "would accomplish C" ? makes no sense as is.

E contradicts A

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I do not think assigning me a label is an adequate response. The issue is not whether I am a pragmatist (I am not), but whether any of my criticisms have validity.

Not just that, but also if your epistemology even allows you to determine if valid responses are valid, which is what I'm trying to figure out. Assigning you such a label would certianly be adequate if any truly adequate response is to be dismissed out of hand by you.

It is true because, as Bertrand Russell puts it, “in the first place, there is no known instance of men living beyond a certain age, and in the second place because there seem to be physiological grounds for thinking that an organism such as a man\'s body must sooner or later wear out.” I do not state that it is absolutely true, for such a declaration would rule out the immortality of men presently living and I have no way of proving that science will not permit certain exceptions to our general rule. However, as Russell explains, in the case of “two and two are four,” we “can know the general proposition without inferring it from instances, although some instance is usually necessary to make clear to us what the general proposition means.”

The problem with the Objectivist ethics is that

1) It attempts to describe a universal from an artificially limited set of particulars: the nature of man in general from the set of productive men. But how valid can a statement about the “nature” of man be if it describes some men and not all?

And you see this was my point. If you have no ability to recognize that "All men are mortal" is a fact, then how can you expect me to provide you a generalization of all men in any other capacity without an exhaustive sample. The problem is not that Objectivism describe a universal from particulars of any sort, but that you don't recognize universal statements to be proven unless they take an exhaustive inventory. Any proof I offer you is true of 1). Why don't you just argue that universals are impossible to prove instead of leading us on with this goose chase of a debate?

Perhaps you missed my response in Post #52: “Early in ‘The Objectivist Ethics’ Ayn Rand states, ‘An organism\'s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.’ How is judging what furthers one’s life to be good not a cost-benefit analysis?”

Oh good grief. Perhaps you missed my answer to that issue in post #55. As SN said, "and so on and so forth." Cost benefit has a place in Objectivism, but it is not in determining values or virtues. Which is how you continue to use it, over and over and over and over... and yet you're uncomfortable being labeled a pragmatist?

In fact, I accept the tenets of Ayn Rand’s epistemology. This is a discussion about ethics.

If you accept the Russel statement above, then you may explicitly say you accept Rand's epistemology, but you most certainly are not practicing it. Without it, you'll continue to receive valid arguments from Objectivists that you will call invalid, and you'll just be wrong.

Edited by KendallJ

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I agree that this is an accurate statement of Gary Brenner\'s method of thinking as demonstrated on this blog. For instance, when he states that just one example of a \"successful\" looter is enough to disprove that looting is self-destructive, he clearly is employing a skeptic\'s (impossible) standard of proof. Such an argument is no more valid than to say that because a particular person ingests strychnine, but does not die, that strychnine is not poisonous.

Yet I have been told by Inspector that “The practice of an ethical code implicitly states, ‘This, what I do, is right. I am right, and the code I practice is what all men should do.’” (emphasis added) If that is so, then what is the argument for a predator, whose looting does not lead to self-destruction, to follow the ethics of the non-initiation of force? It is hardly a code for all men, if we have an exception to it.

Furthermore, I have given not one but myriad examples. Item: in the past century the U.S. government has developed a civil servant army of millions whose task it is to redistribute wealth from one class to another on a massive scale. Now where is the evidence that these looters, resting in their plush federal suites, are undergoing any form of self-destruction? They loot, marry, have kids, build big houses in the suburbs, buy SUVs and bass boats, take vacations in the Caribbean, grow old, live on tax-subsidized federal pensions, and at long last die, on average much later in life than their parents. Where is the self-destruction for this host of looters?

I cannot prove something to a skeptic any more than I can \"disprove\" the belief of a religionist. In my posts and others on this thread, the case has been objectively made that looting is not in man\'s rational self-interest (even if not every single looter is \"destroyed\"). I retire from this fool\'s errand, unless something changes to make it no longer a fool\'s errand.

“Looting is not in man\'s rational self-interest even if not every single looter is ‘destroyed’”? What can I say? If presenting real world examples where this is not the case does not constitute a disproof, then one can only suppose that it is an argument which cannot be tried by reference to objective reality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Gary, Sorry to ask this so late in the thread (maybe you've already indicated it), but have you read "Virtue of Selfishness" and "OPAR"? If you have, then I'd strongly suggest the "Understanding Objectivism" lectures, because they mainly deal with the issue of epistemological approaches. They are expensive, compared to a book, but if you think philosophy is a means of finding broad principles that will actually help in everyday life, the cost is insignificant.

From what I can tell, the place at which you differ from Objectivism is not merely in Ethics, nor even in an explicit theory of concepts (as one might find in ITOE), but in the basic epistemological approach. With that in mind, the UO lectures could make things clear to you in a way that casual forum posts never will.

Edited by softwareNerd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Inspector wrote:

Yes, emotions are caused by one of the following: 1) reasoning, 2) irrationality, or 3) items that do not fall under 1) or 2).

Right.

Since ethical codes are for normal men, not men with tumors that make them insane, then can we also exclude, for the sake of this discussion, anything that falls under “3?”

I have already mentioned that I have a slight fear of heights with an unknown cause (but not necessarily “unknowable” cause). Therefore I avoid patios on high rises, small airplanes, and trips across bridges like the Golden Gate. Considering that the phobia has been with me since very early childhood, I do not attribute it to tumors or any other “abnormal” medical condition. Nor am I willing to consign it either to category “1) reasoning” or “2) irrationality.” My emotion is, for lack of a better word, “arational.”

Edited by Gary Brenner

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
But...one can win the lottery, people do all the time.

And one can also practice the art of pick-pocketing exclusively on policemen – although I cannot say what its odds of success are compared with playing Powerball.

I’m surprised that you think it is impractical.

And where did I indicate that investing in a 1 in 80 million chance is practical?

Wouldn’t a single exception to the impracticality prove that it’s practical?

No. The odds for the winner are the same as for the loser. The fact that A won and Z lost does not prove that A had better odds than Z.

You have already acknowledged that certain criminal activities have higher success rates than others. You wrote in Post #80: “So, as a rule, drug-dealing and prostitution would be more reliable routes to material success than, say, bank robbery.”

So surely you are not now suggesting that playing the lottery offers a success rate the same as any and all acts of looting?

If I wanted to, I could get a part-time job with the IRS with virtually no risk to my life and fortune. Where is the danger in that act of looting?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Galileo Blogs wrote:Uh, I will retire from this debate with the points I have already made. In the meantime, Gary, I will post your photo with my doorman and keep you away from my coin collection! Someone who thinks looting :pirate: is a rational choice is someone I will do my best to stay away from. <_<

Very well, Galileo. I admire your intelligence and good humor.

Let me again emphasize that I am not a predator, nor do I advocate violating the life, liberty or property of others. My only interest is in fine tuning an ethics for a free society. If I have presented hypothetical arguments to the contrary, it is only to elicit a stronger case for individual rights.

Edited by Gary Brenner

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
And, E contradicts reality, in principle. (i.e. even though there was this one lady who stole $10,000 from Gary and got away with it)

How does one lady\'s lady\'s success in stealing from Gary contradict reality? Is your point that she did not really get away with it? How so?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest
This topic is now closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...