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Gary Brenner

The Prudent Predator argument

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hmmm. we left off with him claiming that sucking his victim, just a little, kept his victim alive. I think I see a theme here.

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hunterrose wrote:

So... when you thrice said that you agree an irrational act is self-destructive regardless of its results, you actually meant that you think an irrational act is self-destructive depending on its results? Forgive me for misunderstanding you.

Perhaps my last post was a bit too technical. Allow me to break it down for you. In order for an action to qualify as self-destructive, that action would have to result in the destruction of the self. Otherwise A would be non-A.

Some behaviors carry a higher risk of self-destruction than others. Skydiving would be riskier than tennis. Risky behaviors are not by definition self-destructive; they merely increase the possibility of self-destruction.

One more clarification of “self-destructive”, if you will. Eddie paints fences. Mao knocks him unconscious in as a result of his envy of superior whitewashing skills. You think painting fences here was self-destructive?

I had an uncle who was electrocuted when he drilled into a wall to mount a picture and hit a live wire. Is drilling into a wall by definition self-destructive? No, millions perform this action every day with no ill effects. Is it a risky behavior? No. But in my uncle’s case, despite the odds, drilling certainly did cause his death.

By comparison, painting fences is not by definition self-destructive. But in certain cases death may come as a direct result of that activity. In certain cases, painting may be self-destructive. (See my first paragraph in this post.)

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So far I'm with you. I think the vocabulary is a little clumsy, but in general this seems correct. I'm a little hesitant about your deicison to make rationality something as distinct from what you call smartness, but let's see if it works.

To clarify, rationality is a subset of smartness, it's smartness with a proper focus.

I disagree with the dependant clause. Using your terminology, the criteria for what is proper does go back to the fundamental alternative. This is what Rand calls the standard of value. But the standard is universal.

Which of course is the problem. The fundamental alternative (existence or non-existence) pertains to individuals and the only reason an indiviual who has choosen his continued existence as his ultimate value can have for adopting a specific standard of value is because of its expected effect to promote his ultimate value. Thus, if a person chooses the qua man standard and later finds out that he can extend his survival in conflict with this standard, why should he abide a standard that is suboptimal in relation to his ultimate value? The conflict between the universal and the individual is very much still there.

So I can correct this. Rationality in Objectivism is the complete recognition of how smartness works to bring an end like survival to fruition. That integrated completeness is brought out in the standard of life, that is generalized survival, as it is true of all men.

Well, unless the method that is true of all men also is optimal for all men simultainously you still have the very problem we are discussing. If the looter can extend his life span with 20 years with some expensive medical treatment (that he can only get if he loots), then you still have not given him a reason to refrain from looting. His ultimate value is not to abide a suboptimal standard, his ultimate value is his survival.

Note, happiness or life, is not plain vanilla survival. Many actions will keep you alive. Only a subset of those action leads to what Rand means when she says life as the standard. Ethics helps define which are which.

I think that is a problem with Rands argument. If you end your meta ethical argument with saying that in the argument existence doesn't really mean existence, survival dosen't really mean survival, life doesn't really mean life and death dosn't really mean death, then you've said in effect that the argument dosn't really work.

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I think that is a problem with Rands argument. If you end your meta ethical argument with saying that in the argument existence doesn't really mean existence, survival dosen't really mean survival, life doesn't really mean life and death dosn't really mean death, then you've said in effect that the argument dosn't really work.

Hi Freddy,

That's an interesting characterization, but I would submit to you that this is not what I said. What I said is that life (or happiness) is a subset of survival. Just as your "reason" is a subset of smartness.

The conflict does arise, but it is not because the meta-ethics are in any way conflicted. The problem is that someone takes survival as their ultimate end, and I take life as my ultimate end, and those two could be in conflict. But then that is what meta-ethics is for isn't it. If you and I both take life as our ultimate ends, we are not conflicted. The confusion comes when someone says that Rand is saying both survival (as in David Odden's "morgue avoidance") and happiness are congruent ultimate ends. This is NOT what the standard / purpose distinction is claiming. As Tara Smith puts it, "it simply reflects that a person's ends are not the sole determinate of what is rational."

If ethics defines the standard and you opt for a different standard, then certainly I would expect people's ends to be in conflict, but then that is the same as saying that someone behaving ethically and someone is behaving unethically then they will sometimes be in conflict.

The fundamental question is: what basis is there for not taking plain vanilla survival as the standard of value? That is chapter 4 in Viable Values.

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Behaviors are not self-destructive; they merely [have chances] of self-destruction.
Hmm. I am starting to understand you, though I must admit that your standard of proof baffles me.

Question: How do you prove that a person with values X ought (or ought not) do behavior Y?

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If the looter can extend his life span with 20 years with some expensive medical treatment (that he can only get if he loots), then you still have not given him a reason to refrain from looting. His ultimate value is not to abide a suboptimal standard, his ultimate value is his survival.

If you could extend your life by 20 years with some expensive medical treatment which you could get only by becoming a male prostitute, or a certain billionaire's virtual sex slave, would you do it? If your answer is no, as i expect, then you do understand what survival "qua man" means and why you should never substitute this with just survival "qua" morgue avoidance (Odden) - which is survival qua animal.

What argument can you give to convince a man who chooses to "survive" as a sex slave that he is wrong? I say there is no argument, especially not from Objectivism, because Objectivism is a philosophy for men: those who choose to live as men, not to exist as mere animals. A person who is willing to live as an animal needs no philosophy (because animals need no philosophy!).

The man who would not (at least intellectually) prefer to lead a productive life to a thief's life is someone you can not help either. In short, there are certain assumptions you must make about a man's mind before you can give him (moral) philosophy. One is that he wants to live with self esteem, and two, that he understands that self esteem can not come from just any life one chooses to lead. Self esteem can not come from being a sex toy or a sex slave, willing or not, for example. Whoever can argue that he can get self esteem even from such a "job" (as long as he makes money, or "survives") is one who can not be argued with. Whoever can say that you need to "prove" that you need self esteem (to be happy) in life is one you can not argue with. Whoever can say that you can only know if any particular sex slave is happy or not by asking him is one you can not argue with.

When i joined this debate, i told Brenner that if he would not accept that a kid who succeeds by working hard in school will be happier than the one who "succeeds" by copying his test answers from other (productive) kids, then i would not know where to begin with him. I now see that my intuition was correct, and the explanation above is the only one i can think of. It is pointless to argue with someone who does not accept certain basic things that all MEN must accept. He is willing to survive as an animal; philosophy is not for animals.

To those who continue debate with Brenner, i can only sincerely say, good luck!

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That's an interesting characterization, but I would submit to you that this is not what I said. What I said is that life (or happiness) is a subset of survival. Just as your "reason" is a subset of smartness.

The problem is that to first assert that there is some kind of fundamental alternative between existence and non-existence, and then go on to assert that we therefore ought to choose a standard of value that sometimes promote existence and sometimes not. It's rather obvious that unless you start to taint the definitions in Rands meta-ethical argument (existence, survival, life, death), then your desired conclusion will not follow. And when you start to taint the defintions the obvious question is what your standard for this tainting is and why this standard is not arbitrary. An altrusit could with equal authority redefine the same concepts as to make his desired conclusions follow eg, you're not really living, surviving, existing unless you're promoting other peoples happiness besides your own.

The conflict does arise, but it is not because the meta-ethics are in any way conflicted. The problem is that someone takes survival as their ultimate end, and I take life as my ultimate end, and those two could be in conflict. But then that is what meta-ethics is for isn't it. If you and I both take life as our ultimate ends, we are not conflicted.

I agree that if you let "life" as an ultimate end by definition encompass the respect for rights, then there will be no conflict because rights do not generally conflict (this is true for systems encompassing positive rights as well). But unless this respect ties back to the fundamental alternative, I still don't see how you make it all fit together. You can call any universal code of values "life".

If ethics defines the standard and you opt for a different standard, then certainly I would expect people's ends to be in conflict, but then that is the same as saying that someone behaving ethically and someone is behaving unethically then they will sometimes be in conflict.

I would like to pursue a different line of thought here. You agree that someone who has choosen survival as his ultimate value can have a conflict with someone who has choosen "life" as his ultimate value. Given that the Objectivist imperatives are hypothetical, that is, they tie back to a fundamental choice, then how can the survivor act unethically? If he acts consistently with his basic choice to "live as long as possible", then the hypothetical imperatives pertaining to the choice to "live (as an Objectivist)" doesn't apply to him.

The fundamental question is: what basis is there for not taking plain vanilla survival as the standard of value?

Because it's absurd, and that is for me that is proof enough that values don't derive from a fundamental alternative of existence or non-existence.

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For the love of Peikoff, not this argument again. Existence/non-existence is indeed the fundamental alternative, but to what does it pertain? Existence qua man means more than just physical existence (morgue avoidance) because there is more to man than just a body. It also includes, for man, the existence of his rational mind. You cannot destroy that mind AND achieve greater longevity, because longevity necessarily entails the existence of the mind. That fact is glossed over in insisting that existence of the body is sufficient to say that one exists. If the mind goes out of existence as a consequence of your scheme to continue to exist, you have NOT succeeded. You might as well be cremated and say that because your ashes exist, you still exist. The point being that you cannot analyze the question without focusing on what all is necessary for man to exist. When you notice that his needs include more than just physical needs, it should be apparent that your idea of man's survival is flawed. Survival of what? Of the ashes? No. Of the body? No. Of the body and the mind. Ah, there's the answer and the reason why the fundamental alternative leads directly to flourishing and not mere physical survival.

Of course, man must choose to live as man by choice. That choice is a primary. You may, if you choose, dismiss your mind and attempt to exist as an animal only - or as ashes, for that matter. There are no Kantian categorical imperatives here, nothing proving that you must choose to live as man. But then, you would have no need of ethics. Your inquiry would then be pointless, so it's kind of assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that in asking the question you see that you have already chosen survival qua man as your standard. I think that point should be clarified before proceeding further. If you hold survival qua man as your standard, then your inquiry is substantive, but there's your answer; if not, the inquiry is pointless anyway, so why press the matter?

Edited by Seeker

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Yeah, Seeker said it for me.

The idea that Rand presents the existence, and then modifies it is absurd. That is the little grammar lesson we had for Gary. The use of the idea of a standard comes in from the beginning.

Rand, VOS

No choice is open to an organism in this issue: that which is required for its survival is determined by its nature, by the kind of entity it is.

That is the standard. Man qua man. At least you have not tried to argue that there is no standard and this is arbitrary as Gary did. As I said, the discussion goes on at length in Ch. 4 of Viable Values. It's been discussed over and over and over here.

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I would like to pursue a different line of thought here. You agree that someone who has choosen survival as his ultimate value can have a conflict with someone who has choosen "life" as his ultimate value. Given that the Objectivist imperatives are hypothetical, that is, they tie back to a fundamental choice, then how can the survivor act unethically? If he acts consistently with his basic choice to "live as long as possible", then the hypothetical imperatives pertaining to the choice to "live (as an Objectivist)" doesn't apply to him.

Yes, and by the Objectivist ethics, that 1st code is unethical. Does the fact that you can choose any code of morality, any course of action make whatever you choice is ethical? No, that is subjectivism as it pertains to ends (rather than means). It implies that any ends are appropriate.

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Yes, and by the Objectivist ethics, that 1st code is unethical. Does the fact that you can choose any code of morality, any course of action make whatever you choice is ethical? No, that is subjectivism as it pertains to ends (rather than means). It implies that any ends are appropriate.

That can't be. If the ethics rests on a premoral choice it cannot extend to those who have not made this choice. Unless you state an categorical imperative requiring that you ought to choose your standard, then subjectivism is implied. The usual response is to say that if you do not choose to live then you have choosen suicide, but obviously that isn't true in this case since we are talking about a person who explicitly have choosen to live as long as possible.

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That can't be. If the ethics rests on a premoral choice it cannot extend to those who have not made this choice. Unless you state an categorical imperative requiring that you ought to choose your standard, then subjectivism is implied. The usual response is to say that if you do not choose to live then you have choosen suicide, but obviously that isn't true in this case since we are talking about a person who explicitly have choosen to live as long as possible.

Freddy,

I'm not sure of your language above. Ethics doesn't rest on a "pre-moral" choice, nor does Rand claim it does. Ironically, the quote I gave you specifically says that organisms don't have a choice in setting the standard of value. Man however, once that standard is set, must choose it. That is an ethical choice.

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My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these.

Our survivor accepts existence exists and his basic choice is captured by the single goal, to live as long as possible. The ethics is wholly dependent on this choice. Here's a wikipedia qoute fleshing it out a bit more:

For Rand, morality is a "code of values accepted by choice." According to Leonard Peikoff, Rand held that "man needs [morality] for one reason only: he needs it in order to survive. Moral laws, in this view, are principles that define how to nourish and sustain human life; they are no more than this and no less."[12] Objectivism does not claim that there is a moral requirement to choose to value one's life. As Allan Gotthelf points out, for Rand, "Morality rests on a fundamental, pre-moral choice:"[13] the moral agent's choice to live rather than die, so that the moral "ought" is always contextual and agent-relative.

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KendallJ wrote:

This is an equivocation on “survival” and “life”. As I said to Freddy.

If we replace survival with life in our discussion we must remember that Rand didn’t use “survival\" so when we start to use a meaning that is only related to survival, then we’re equivocating. So you also seem to have forgotten that Rand passage you so cling to.

I used the word “survival” because I was responding to your statement “What he [the predator] refuses to recognize is that his victims survival is not advanced through the use of his own reason if he cannot actually keep the products of that reason for himself.”

So if you are now complaining about using words that Rand didn’t use, then physician heal thyself.

More importantly, you have not provided any reason why the predator should care about his victim’s “life,” “survival,” “well-being,” or anything else outside the recognition that to some extent the state of the victim affects the predator. You have not provided a rationale for the predator to abstain from looting, i.e. honoring the particular virtue you uphold.

Use in its proper meaning then, does taking $10,000 from any man further his life or threaten it? You admit youself that this is true, but “only in the most limited sense”. So then can I assume we’ve properly convinced you that whole-hog looting is “irrational”, and a whole-hog looter is evading a very obvious truism? Maybe you’re just stuck now on very limited parasitism, or looting, only in it’s most “limited sense”.

At this point I have to wonder if you are actually reading my responses. You have argued that the “victims survival is not advanced through the use of his own reason if he cannot actually keep the products of that reason for himself.” And so when I answered, that this is true “only in the most limited sense,” it was to acknowledge that not every act of looting is in the looter’s long-term self-interest. But that is something I have said from the very beginning of this thread. I have mentioned pick-pocketing a policeman, killing a gold miner before he has brought any nuggets out of the ground, and other foolish actions that would be very unlikely to benefit the looter. The essence of the prudent predator argument, in case you haven’t given it much thought, is that the predator must be prudent -- i.e. careful, exercising common sense, using good judgment -- if he is to achieve success.

So , yes, in case you hadn’t noticed before, the parasitism I’m talking about is limited – limited to those who are not fools.

Here is how Tara Smith deals with it.

So do you deny that the “rational” looter is denying this fact in his victim?

I do not deny that the looter is denying the victim a portion (or all) of the victim’s products. In fact, I have never denied it. The relevant point is why taking something away from another person should be of any concern to the looter as long as the looter can derive long-term benefit from the taking.

To whatever extent his infraction is to the victims productivity? If rationality is non-contradictory identification, specifically in this case of the fact that reason leads to survival through the products of that reason, then he must deny exact same principle in his victim to whatever extent his loots his victims productivity.

The looter has not performed a contradictory identification. He recognizes that people need a certain amount of freedom and reward in order to want to continue to produce. He recognizes that a well-fed golden goose produces more golden eggs than a starving or dead one.

If your point is that any act of looting, no matter how small, negatively affects the producer, then your point is acknowledged. But that presents no obstacle to the looter who says to himself, if my stealing 10% from my victim’s harvest results in a harvest that is 20% smaller next year, then that is satisfactory. A somewhat lower yield in plunder is still preferable to having to grow my own food.

True in any limited sense is still true, right?

Yes, if only a very limited number of men enjoy successful careers as jewel thieves, it is still true that some men do enjoy successful careers as jewel thieves.

By the way, I’m done here. I’ve not seen you budge and inch, spout the exact same issue you did at the beginning, and even when countered not really attempt to chew any of the ideas presented to you.

Yeah, I’ve enjoyed your variations on a theme as well.

I have to assume at this point that the subjectivism I thought was there originally, actually is, and you can’t get your head around anything that claims it could know what causes a flourishing life. At least not in any more sense that I know what does for me, but that doesn’t mean I can say what does for anyone else. With such a perspective, why are you even interested in ethics anyway?

I don’t doubt that there are thinkers who claim 100% metaphysical certainty for a single, absolute cause of a flourishing life. And I too will join them in that blessed certainty once they manage to present a convincing argument for it.

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hunterrose wrote:

Hmm. I am starting to understand you, though I must admit that your standard of proof baffles me.

Question: How do you prove that a person with values X ought (or ought not) do behavior Y?

By showing that Behavior Y increases (or decreases) the probability of Value(s) X.

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Hey Gary, I said in my last post to you that I was done debating you. Find somebody else who is interested enough to keep going.

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Our survivor accepts existence exists and his basic choice is captured by the single goal, to live as long as possible. The ethics is wholly dependent on this choice. Here's a wikipedia qoute fleshing it out a bit more:

OK Freddy, I have mispoken. You are correct. Unfortunately, discussion of the nature of this choice isn't until Ch 4 of the Tara Smith book I'm reading, and I haven't dissected it. Rand does posit that the choice exists, but I'm still not convinced your resulting argument correct represents the issue.

Let me see if I can understand your objection on this grounds, and I'll do some work and come back to you. You're suggesting that subjectivism is implied by a "pre-moral" choice to live or not? But since we are discussing someone who has chosen life that this subjectivism doesn't apply in this case?

Something tells me I'll get some clues in the sections entitled:

"How does a person choose life?"

"Is the choice of life justified?"

"Does the choice to live undermine the objectivity of value?"

OR

"Living without a life-based code"

If you can confirm my restatement above I'll commit to get back to you.

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For the love of Peikoff, not this argument again. Existence/non-existence is indeed the fundamental alternative, but to what does it pertain? Existence qua man means more than just physical existence (morgue avoidance) because there is more to man than just a body. It also includes, for man, the existence of his rational mind. You cannot destroy that mind AND achieve greater longevity, because longevity necessarily entails the existence of the mind.

If you are talking about braindead people or similar borderline cases then I can concede that, however in our previous debates your position have been that to exist is to exist as you ought to exist, that is you don't exist unless you're moral. And I have claimed that this is an absurd position which you havn't managed to be consistent with throughout your arguments. This position also makes the meta-ethical argument totally vacous: The ethics is resting on the fundamental alternative of to either exist as you ought to exist or to not exist as you ought to exist. That is no answer to the question how you ought to exist (or behave).

The point being that you cannot analyze the question without focusing on what all is necessary for man to exist.

In your world Mao did not exist beacuse he was not moral. Isn't that proof enough that you are simply using the wrong words? To exist dosn't mean to be moral.

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If you are talking about braindead people or similar borderline cases then I can concede that,

If you concede that, then you would agree that a man who trades an extra 500 years of biological life for the scooping out and destruction of his brain is not, in your definition, being egoistic?

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If you concede that, then you would agree that a man who trades an extra 500 years of biological life for the scooping out and destruction of his brain is not, in your definition, being egoistic?

Well, I don't have to make my point in terms of borderline cases, I concede that there is a fuzzy area where it is hard to determine whether a person is dead or alive. Those cases are totally beside the point. However, I offer this test as a criteria for when you are firmly within the realm of existence: If you can ask yourself the question whether you exist or not, then you exist.

The Objectivist ethics rests on a fundamental alternative of existence or non-existence, where the former option is supposed to define the good, that is, ethics is a guide for how to remain in existence. This quite obviously implies that if an action extends the existence of a person then this action is good for the person in question. Extending your life 20 years at someones elses expense would be perfectly moral. Now, this is not the conclusions Objectivists want and the way around is to rig the definition of existence. This raises two problems:

1) The argument will be absurd, with implications like: Mao did not exist in 1955.

2) The meta-ethical argument becomes non-responsive since the ethics is now defined into the relevant terms (life, death, survival, existence), that is, the conclusions are defined into the premisses. And this in turn raises the question where those conclusions come from? Why not define the values of an ordinary altruist into the concepts. That wouldn't enatail any contradiction. Then you could say stuff like, if you choose exist, then you ought to promote other peoples happiness, and if you don't, well then you don't really exist.

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The Objectivist ethics rests on a fundamental alternative of existence or non-existence, where the former option is supposed to define the good, that is, ethics is a guide for how to remain in existence.

I am asking a simple question: existence of what? If your body lives on for 500 years, but your brain has been run through a meat grinder, then have you chosen existence or non-existence? What is the "you" being referred to, in your opinion? If it's just the body and not the mind, then your response should be: fire up the blender!

Edited by Inspector

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I am asking a simple question: existence of what? If your body lives on for 500 years, but your brain has been run through a meat grinder, then have you chosen existence or non-existence? What is the "you" being referred to, in your opinion? If it's just the body and not the mind, then your response should be: fire up the blender!

I offered a test for existence : If you can ask yourself the question whether you exist or not, then you exist. Is that a controversial claim?

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I offered a test for existence : If you can ask yourself the question whether you exist or not, then you exist. Is that a controversial claim?

Depends on what you mean. It would be better to answer directly.

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Depends on what you mean.

No, it dosn't. If you meet an unknown person, then do you say to him: Since I don't know whether you practice the life style I see fit, I therefore don't know whether you exist or not? If you don't concede the absurdity of that statement, then I don't know how to proceed.

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Depends on what you mean.

No, it dosn't. If you meet an unknown person, then do you say to him: Since I don't know whether you practice the life style I see fit, I therefore don't know whether you exist or not? If you don't concede the absurdity of that statement, then I don't know how to proceed.

Maybe this will help tie it together for you. You have offered thinking as the criteria for man's existence. This is exactly congruent with the Objectivist ethics: all it requires is for you to think. Which is to say, the is (to think) and the ought (to think) dovetail precisely.

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