A Theory of Value, a Neo-Objectivist's Ethics

NickOtani's picture
Submitted by NickOtani on Fri, 2007-08-24 18:53

Any concept of value presupposes an entity or process to which it can be applied. (Yes, Rand said this in her essay on Objectivist Ethics in the Virtue of Selfishness.) If something is valuable, it must be valuable to or for something. Terms "good" and "bad" are adjectives. There must be something there which they describe. They only become meaningful in such a context.

Indestructible things cannot have anything good or bad for them because they have nothing to gain or lose.(Rand also made this point in VOS.) Non-living things, in a materialistic frame of reference, can have their form altered, but they do not cease to exist. They do not change from something to nothing. When a book is burned, it changes from a book to ashes, energy, and other elements, but the matter is still around.

What about life? As color and form are characteristics that physical objects have, is life a characteristic or property that living things have? Can life itself, be a thing which has matter as its characteristic?

A certain combination of elements can produce the self-generating and self-sustaining process which we call life, and living things do seem to have something substantial which they can lose. Unless we adopt an extremely untenable belief in everlasting life, we must accept the inductive fact that living things die. Death is the point at which life changes from something into nothing. Death is when life ceases to exist.

It is because of this unique feature of life that the concept of value can be applied to it.(Rand,Ibid) On the assumption, for the moment, that existence is preferable to non-existence and the fullest flourishment of life is intrinsically good, good as an end in itself, then that which is for life can be said to be instrumentally good, and that which is against life can be said to be instrumentally bad. Except for the fullest flourishment of life, which must be good in itself, "good" can be defined as that which promotes and protects life, and "bad" can be defined as that which threatens or destroys life.

Is existence preferable to non-existence? An existing dollar, even in today's economy, seems preferable to a hundred thousand non-existent dollars. However, an existing vile sore is not usually preferable to a non-existing vile sore. There may be a case for suicide, and "To be, or not to be." is still a significant issue.

When we are talking about the existence of life for individual human beings, then I think even apparent cases of suicide are either one or a combination of three things, none of which conflict with the preferability of life to death. Suicide can be explained as a statement about the quality of life, a wish to experience a higher form of life, an irrational decision, or any combination of these. First, in statements about the quality of life, people may feel that they would rather go on living if conditions were different. They may feel that, under their circumstances, their only chance to confirm their existence is to end it. This could be seen behavoristically as death due to external causes rather than suicide. Even protests and attempts to make a point fall into this category. Second, some people may wish to live on in a higher existence. They may believe in heaven and everlasting life. Third, some people may simply not think through their actions, or they may be deceived.

From our empirical observations of living organisms, we can generalize that life seems to reach out for a certain fulfillment. Trees, for example, appear to make full use of their equipment to gather whatever they need from the available soil, water, and air. They do not normally act against their own survival. They do not turn their leaves away from the sun, and their roots do not strive to avoid the available soil which would be of most benefit to them. Most plants, animals, and insects have predictable behavior patterns and survival reactions, and it seems that life, for most individual organisms, even when it only coincides with reproduction, is valued.

We may be wrong. There may be exceptions which cannot be passed off as freaks of nature, and biologists and other scientists may only be seeing what they want to see. Life may not be a universal value; but if it is, then we may have a solid, scientific base upon which to rest the study of ethics. We can't get to "oughts" yet without "free-will", but life for each individual organism would always be the intrinsic value. Instrumental values may differ for different organisms, but life would always be the common factor.

I wonder if we would still need to qualify life. Would we still need to stipulate that it is a flourishing life which we mean rather than just any state of life? Could we say that life either does or does not exist, and instrumental values can make it flourish?

I wonder, also, what could be said to the wiseacre who says that because life eventually leads to death, then life, itself, must be instrumentally bad. Even "bad" can be considered "good" because it is instrumental to "good".

The opposite, that "good" is instrumental to "bad" can also be said. It could be that "good" and "bad" are something like the yin and yang of Oriental philosophy. Perhaps they are like two sides of the same coin.
I could stipulate that life is a standard and, as such, cannot be measured against itself. This may serve to keep the distinction between good and bad, but it may also be a cop-out.

If life is a standard which cannot be measured against itself, then can it be measured against anything else? How can we know enough about life to determine what is good and bad for it?

Life does not seem to be a static thing. Records are being broken every day, and the optimum of life cannot be imagined. Like the concept of human nature, life is constantly in a process of becoming. Life determines its own nature, and science can only try to keep up.

If we use science to get a handle on life and use that handle as a standard for our morality, then neither science nor morality can be static. What was true and good yesterday may not be true and good today. We would need to continue to make surveys, arrive at statistical averages, and write our research papers. It would be on the basis of our most current and accurate findings that values and moral conditions of existence would be determined.

Is science up to the task? I see lots of conflicting studies. I remember studies on marijuana. When findings didn't conform to middle class standards, those findings were ignored. For every study that said one thing, there was another which said the opposite. Scientists may prove whatever they want to prove, and people are still free to accept or reject whatever they want.

Is our definition of life, then, ultimately something which is stipulated by the dominant social group? Is the standard for morality, the basis upon which we rest our study of ethics, the result of that which is haphazardly chosen by the group of people of whom we happen to be part? Is it like the axioms in our system of logic and the structure of our language? Is "good" and "bad" merely a matter of convention?

When lots of people believe the same way about something, then that belief is something with which to deal. Individuals who do not go along with the crowd often have problems. They may be ignored, they may leave messageboards in a huff, or they may end up in mental institutions or prisons.

However, some individuals manage to get on top of the crowd. After all, the crowd, the middle class, or the dominant social group had to get its view from someone. If each individual in a group waits to take the group's definition of life, then no definition of life can possibly emerge. That which we call "consensus" or "the collective view of the people" is usually the result of the influence of one or a few abnormal people. Socrates, Jesus, Gandhi, Karl Marx, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and Nick Otani (just kidding) are just a few of the outstanding people who dared to be different. (Most of these individuals have been identified as operating on level 3, stage 6 of Kohlberg's model.)

A deterministic, biological tendency for survival may be part of our nature, but we have not yet found all the answers. This means that we may still have room to grow, and we are still free to shop around and try different hypothesis. Perhaps this sense of freedom, itself, is instrumental to our proper survival. Perhaps it is good that we do not have all the answers.

Most living things, from what we can observe, do not need to wonder about their existence. Most organisms, in pursuing their own survival, automatically do that for which they are equipped. Changing conditions may help change equipment, but most living things do not behave unnecessarily in ways which are threatening and destructive to their lives. A tree, as I said before, does not turn its leaves away from the sun.

Morality is something which may be unique to creatures who are confused and free. It is not necessary to tell a tree that it ought to pursue life, but does "ought" become meaningful when applied to human beings?

On a superficial level, it is the pain-pleasure mechanism which allows man to perceive, to some extent, that which is for and that which is against him. Pain can be the signal for something bad, and pleasure can be confirmation of good. Without this mechanism, there would be no immediate way for man to know that it is not healthy for him to stick his hand in a flaming fire.

As physical pain and pleasure can sometimes guide one's choices and actions, emotional pain and pleasure may also serve as an indicator of certain values and evils. Fear, frustration, despair, sorrow, and other forms of emotional displeasure may be indication that something is wrong. Pleasure or happiness, which can be defined in a number of ways, may be indication of a flourishing state of existence.

A pain-pleasure mechanism augmented by reason confirms that primary values must be geared to realistic expectations. Without some combination of hedonism and reason, I would not be able to differentiate between the short term pleasure I receive from skipping classes to watch television and the long term pleasure I receive from continuing my education. Without some differentiation within pleasure and pain, I could not separate the pain of a tooth ache and the pain of a dentist's drill. Reason tells me that primary values must be geared to realistic expectations. The person who eats, drinks, and makes merry today is not considering what may happen if he is alive tomorrow, but efforts which aim beyond the grave are futile. A person feels much more of a sense of accomplishment after having achieved a long range goal than after experiencing a momentary thrill, but seeking goals which are much too high accompanies only frustration.

When one engages one's self in the pursuit of a long range goal, especially when the goal is so narrow as to cancel other opportunities, then one may wish to be very sure of one's self. One may wish to be prepared to face any consequence of one's decision and may wish to be fully aware of one's abilities and situation.

One way to obtain awareness is to become involved with life. Empirical and mental experience can lead to knowledge. Many of the observations and generalizations about which I am writing have come from somebody's experience. The hedonist who has successfully avoided pain cannot really appreciate happiness. I cannot credibly say man ought to pursue long range values unless I have some experience with short term pleasure. I could not say that man ought to keep his fingers out of the fire unless I have had some experience with burnt fingers. I do not need to be hit by a truck, but I do need enough experience to make generalizations. Experience even tells me my son will not be convinced about the validity of my prescriptions until he behaves in ways exactly opposite to those I prescribe. To some extent, people ought to do what they ought not do. As long as they do not get hit by a truck, people can learn much from trial and error.

Experience, however, may still need some guidelines. Experiments need some rules and boundaries. Within Jeremy Bentham's discussion of utilitarianism is a conceptual device which may help me measure various different degrees of pleasure. It is a certain aspect of utilitarianism which allows me to define happiness in terms of intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity(nearness), fecundity(ability to flower or expand, leading into other pleasures), purity(without dangers or risks) and quality(to be discussed.). The best pleasures have high degrees of all of these. However, if there is a conflict between pleasures, the calculus may help to eliminate the conflict. Between coitus and conversation, conversation has the advantage. Sex wins easily on intensity and certainty, but conversation has the greatest duration, the least remoteness, and the greatest promise of things to come; not to mention purity. Certainly people get their noses bent out of shape with conversation, but I hear there are worse dangers with sex, protected or not.

All this means is that some pleasures are safer than others. It may be good to be aware of this, but if I wish always to be safe and secure, then I must resign myself to a dull life. I do not advocate safety. It is sometimes more productive to take risks. "Nothing ventured; nothing gained." It may not even be bad to face bad consequences. It's trial and error. If a person does not die of torment, that person may become stronger from it. So, let me go back and choose sex over conversation. However, there is one more criterion which may make all the difference.

Quality is an elusive concept. It escapes definition, but people seem to know what it means. It's what Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was about. Several people have sought it, but few people have ever found it. It was quality which Siddhartha Buddha found lacking in a life of material wealth. It was quality which Diogenes found when, while lying in a gutter, he told Alexander-the-Great to stop blocking the sun. Quality is what John Stuart Mill described when he said that he would rather be a dissatisfied Socrates than a fully satisfied fool.

I agree with Mill. I would rather be aware of all the morbid, miserable, and depressing facts of human existence than be blissful in my ignorance. I would rather be a human being, with all the problems of a human being, than a serene and healthy carrot. If the carrot is of another opinion, then it can only be because the carrot is only aware of his carrot world. The carrot cannot know what it is like to be a human being. A human being, however, can imagine what it is like to be a carrot and compare it to being a human. Greater awareness, then, helps one choose qualitative pleasures and is, itself, a qualitative value.

The idea that awareness is a qualitative value has its own protection against abuse. The person who is really aware is also aware that there is much of which he or she is not aware. Socrates, himself, preferred awareness of non-awareness to the self-deceptive non-awareness of non-awareness. The person who is uncertain is much closer to certainty than is the person who claims certainty. The intellectual who becomes an arrogant, ivory tower snob is not yet aware of this.

Finally, because there is much about which people cannot be aware, there are times when experience and conceptual devices are inadequate. It is at times like these that a person must simply make a decision. Such is what freedom is all about. Standards, guidelines, rules, and boundaries are only instruments which we can use. We should not allow these instruments to use us.

bis bald,

Nick


( categories: )

Philosophers and ethical norms

Xray's picture

All quotes in italics : John Donohue

"Ethics is a normative branch of philosophy"

Ethics is a branch of of philosophy dealing (among other isues) with the question of moral norms.

But ethics is not only normative. Descripitve ethics for example is not.

"It carries no implication that its principles be secured by force of law".

It can well happen that ethical norms are also enforced by law. Just think of the countries where e. g. homosexuality is regarded as a crime because it goes against the 'prevalent' ethical norm 'heterosexuality'.

"When a thinker says "Here is my best thinking on ethics. It is a system of behavior," they are saying "You SHOULD adopt it and live by it and here are the reasons you should."

I have often asked myself what would have happened if those thinkers had been in a positon of political executive power enabling them put their normative ideas into practice. I mostly shudder at the thought, and believe a lot of misery has been spared humankind because those philosophers for the most part did not have the political power.

"Any ethics or morality is normative and each and every human being is at choice to live by it or not."

What about one's own individual morality? In what way is e. g. the personal ethics of a vegetarian "normative"?

"He is saying "These are your norms, you should live with these as your normal principles."

Imo here is where the rub lies: Handing others a laundry list of norms, arbitrarily declaring them as "theirs". Why not let them find their own personal standards of value? Imo setting up norms for others is a contradiction of individualism.
Even if the other person only "should" follow the norms, the idea alone of telling others (or being told) what is "right" for them/for me goes against my grain.

"Hundreds, thousands of thinkers have offered their Ethics to the world and campainged that people live by them."

People try to influence others all the time, sure.

"Like I said, the Ten Commandments were an ethical code, and no one is put in jail for violating any of them (unless they are also in violation of a proper political code)."

What happened if people violated the "ethical code", e. g. by committing adultery? They were stoned to death.
"Commandments" is "orders". How does an order mesh with a mere "you should"?
It would interest me if the original Hebrew term which is translated by "shalt/shall" in English isn't actually stronger in its prohibitive meaning.

"Please read The Virtue of Selfishness, at least the intro."

I have read the whole book.

Please read The Virtue of Selfishness, at least the intro

John Donohue's picture

Sorry XRay, you are dead in the water. Ethics is a normative branch of philosophy. It carries no implication that its principles be secured by force of law. The branch of philosophy that does that is Political Philosophy.

Any ethics or morality is normative and each and every human being is at choice to live by it or not. Completely voluntary. When a thinker says "Here is my best thinking on ethics. It is a system of behavior," they are saying "You SHOULD adopt it and live by it and here are the reasons you should." He is saying "These are your norms, you should live with these as your normal principles." Hundreds, thousands of thinkers have offered their Ethics to the world and campainged that people live by them.

Like I said, the Ten Commandments were an ethical code, and no one is put in jail for violating any of them (unless they are also in violation of a proper political code). The kicker with religion is that the normative ethics carries with it an imaginary enforcer who can cast you into hell for all eternity if you, for instance, do not live by the principle that God exists and you honor Him and have nothing else as your idol.

If you have been around Objectivism this long and have not yet caught onto the fact the ethics is a "Should" or "Ought", not a law the breaking of which is punishable by outside agency, then how can we seriously discuss Objectivist Ethics with you?

JD

Xray's picture

"Just to repeat: before any human being can volitionally choose secondary values to pursue, they cannot avoid the root choice: to be or not to be."(JD)

Which means that just because the circumstance of being alive exists, it does not mandate that John Doe value the circumstance.

"No. Ethics is normative; it posits a suggestion of what man SHOULD adopt as a code of behavior...." (JD)
Imo a mere "should", a mere "suggestion" are not normative, but they express a wish.

"Normative" makes me think of laws, where it is not merely "suggested" that one "should not" steal.

"Ought to" also goes to subjective preference, which in communication often mitigates a downright "I want you to".
"You ought to" (be more polite/ write Aunt Millie a thank you note/clean out the attic, etc.) - what else does "ought to" mean than "I want you to do this or that"?

You ask me if i can "prove and ought from an it." I give you my honest answer: I know not how to form and validate any moral choice unless based solely on the facts of reality, the sum total of all "it". (JD)

In case I made a typo - I meant to write "an ought from an is".
As for moral choice, every moral choice is based on "facts of reality".
For example, the moral demand in certain parts of the world that women have to be virgins until marriage reflects the fact of reality that there exist still more than enough patriarchal societies denying women the same rights as men.

With no reference to the

John Donohue's picture

With no reference to the specific contesters on this thread or this blog...

I am starting to gain a little insight into this issue of the obsession of some to feel a moral code cannot be grounded on what is (existence.)

Here is my speculation:

They have the mistaken opinion that an ethical code, if found/proven/asserted to be true, must enforce itself. This HAS to be a heritage from religion. Followers of various religions think God enforces his given moral code, by rewarding or condemning the soul after death.

So strip away God and who is the enforcer?

This is why Kant constructed his jalopy apparatus of the Categorical Imperative. The CA is nothing but the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." But Kant thought that did not have enough.....authority behind it. 'If this Age of Reason thing were to catch on and there is no personal God, geeze, how are we going to constrain bad people. That Golden Rule ain't going to stop them.' So he whipped up something so scary in its contrivance, complexity and high and mighty tone to pretty much sound like it is an Imperative From God as if God is Still Around Somewhere.

So, undefended by God's wrath, anyone today talking about morality is hyper sensitive to the fact that there is no enforcer. They have chosen to not put God back in charge, and they are vigilant against ANYONE claiming ANY truth to a morality other than, "What's true for you is only true for you, what's true for others is true for them. There are no moral absolutes." they are paranoid the person claiming certainty wants to become the enforcer.

Ayn Rand only made the claim that there is one absolute involved: man's life is his sine qua non, his foundational value. Beyond that, she considered ethics to be normative: an "ought".

Did Rand believe her subsequent identifications and integrations in morality were "best advice" for man qua man? You are damned right she did. So do I. That is one reason I love her thought.

But Rand always held that reality, not some ghost or some mob or some tyrant would prove her case.

My answer to your question is

John Donohue's picture

My answer to your question is the same as I've been saying all along: Objectivists do not NEED TO jump through the HumeHoop. It is only followers of that line of thought, the Plato/Hume/Kant/Popper line that have fits over this false dichotomy.

The default position for the human mind, in my opinion and, unless i have her wrong, in Ayn Rand's, is that the purpose of a code of value (a science of Ought) for a person is to secure their root value, their life. The "Oughts" such a person choses are his choices and the consequences are his. The choices are based on his "IS", his person, his mind. The process is seamless; there is no schism between Ought and Is.

You ask me if i can "prove and ought from an it." I give you my honest answer: I know not how to form and validate any moral choice unless based solely on the facts of reality, the sum total of all "it".

As to proving the Is/Ought

Xray's picture

As to proving the Is/Ought and proving a negative? Objectivists do not have to prove anything about this false dichotomy; it does not belong to us.
Can you prove an ought from an is or not? That's all I'm asking. While you demand of me that I prove my statement that one can't derive an ought from an is, you claim that you do not have to prove anything about a "false dichotomy"
Before we proceed: to clarify, would you please name that alleged "false dichotomy" and explain why you think it is false.

As to proving the Is/Ought

John Donohue's picture

As to proving the Is/Ought and proving a negative? Objectivists do not have to prove anything about this false dichotomy; it does not belong to us. We just go about our business actually basing our moral code on the facts of reality. It is only the Children Of Hume [COH] who are stuck in some dead end and cannot find the exit who keep shouting out their despair.

So, the agonized screaming of the COH is not a "proof" that one cannot base a moral code on the facts of reality, I'll grant that. It is more like Billy Graham testimony that a segment of the intellectual population cannot fight its way out of a paper bag. We hear your cries faintly, as if voices from purgatory "I can't ground my choices, I can't ground my choices, HELP!"

I just thought -- since you are asserting the negative as an absolute -- that if you could PROVE that you cannot get out of hell we could help you when you failed to do it.

No problem.

With regard to your middle matter, I am contesting "applies". Applies implies an applier. Please clarify.

What is the universal absolute at the root of any moral code? A man must be alive, in existence, to practice his chosen code. There are no exceptions inside the context; there are no humans for whom a proper moral code is grounded on the fact that they do not exist.

This universal absolute is, as Lindsay said earlier, "pre-moral." It is metaphysically given. Objectivist ethics is based on it.

Ayn Rand does suggest, as the first principle of her ethics (expressed in the obverse), that a moral code that works against supporting and furthering the life of he who adopts it is a contradiction.

1) name one thing you

Xray's picture

1) name one thing you consider absolute.
2) since you claim there is no such thing as deriving an ought from an is, prove it.

re point 2)
Since one does not prove a negative, the burden of proof that an "ought to" can be derived from an is rests on you.

From the other thread:
My flip answer is: "absolute" is that which radical skeptics with full awareness refer to when they say: "There are no absolutes". (JD)
Unless we define "absolute" first, we won't get anywhere. (Xray)

Let's give it a try:
The etymology of absolute:

[Middle English absolut, from Latin absoltus, unrestricted, past participle of absolvere, to absolve : ab-, away; see ab-1 + solvere, to loosen; see leu- in Indo-European roots.]

So there' the element "away from" contained in "absolute".
An absolute is something which applies under all circumstances, independent of context.
Would you agree on this as a basis for the discussion?

Example: The mortality of man is an absolute, applying under all circumstances. This is an answer to your question Nr. 1.
In the statement "Man is mortal", "man" refers to the category. Since this statement about a category applies to all members of the category, it is valid.

It does not alter the fact that there is indeed a universal absolute at the root. (JD)

What is is that "universal absolute"?

Me: .....His life "is." His

John Donohue's picture

Me: .....His life "is." His ethics helps him keep and further the "is" so he "ought" to follow it. His 'ought' is integrated with his 'is.' " (JD)

XRay: "His life?" An individual's life? OK, who chooses how he is going to live it? Life goes with lifestyle and ongoing choices. Again, what is the "ought" if not presuming to make choices for someone else?

Okay, this gets to the heart of it. You think an "Ought" is an imperative. Not only that, but an imperative that somehow 'enforces itself'. If we pursue this line, I'll be interested to get your take on the methodology of an "ought" imposing itself on everyone, and if that then becomes politics and involves force.

Meanwhile: here is your big reveal: Ayn Rand did not consider her ideal ethical code to be an imperative. She did not expect it to enforce itself. She did not expect it to get taken up by the police and enforced as a political system.

Rand said basically this: [paraphrase] 'People should honor the universally unavoidable absolute that their life is their sine qua non, that which without there is no existence. Therefore I suggest a code of thought and action for a man that supports and sustains and furthers his life. His life and not another's. No co-dependance. No sacrifice. No going after power over others. No purposelessness. Instead, choice of values, thought and action to achieve, sharing and love for others with those values. I'll call it "Rational Self Interest."' [end paraphrase]

She never gave the slightest hint this should be a sky hook imperative nor a politically enforced behavior. She said: take my suggestion or not. Reality will be the judge for you if acting in your own rational self-interest advances your life.

Quote: ".....His life "is."

Xray's picture

Quote:
".....His life "is." His ethics helps him keep and further the "is" so he "ought" to follow it. His 'ought' is integrated with his 'is.' " (JD)

"His life?" An individual's life? OK, who chooses how he is going to live it? Life goes with lifestyle and ongoing choices. Again, what is the "ought" if not presuming to make choices for someone else?

The only kind of people

John Donohue's picture

The only kind of people talking with swagger like that are total skeptics/nihilists who believe there are no absolutes. Therefore you have nothing worth discusing.

Wait...let's try this on "where do we go from here"

1) name one thing you consider absolute.
2) since you claim there is no such thing as deriving an ought from an is, prove it.

John Donohue wrote: "XRay,

Xray's picture

John Donohue wrote:
"XRay, not knowing how much you know about Objectivism, you are either stomping on our position vis-a-vis IsOught or if you are not informed, here it is: Objectivist ethics rests on Rand's metaphysics and epistemology." (JD)

I know. Ever since thoughts have been put down in writing, every belief/thought system/ideology which has acquired a substantial amount of followers rests on something written down believed to be true by the followers.
Which is why Christians will quote from the Bible, Marxists will quote from "Capital", Muslims will quote from the Koran, Kantians will quote from his works, and Objectvists will quote from Rand's work. As if quoting from those sources qualified as proof of the allegations in there being true.

But where it ends for the followers is where it starts for the examiner: checking the premises of the thought system.
"Check your premises" is a most valuable advice given by Rand. It involves of course checking her own premises as well.
Do they stand up to scrutiny? Let's examine it.

"For an Objectivist anyone posing a gulf between is and ought has a defect in their thinking." (JD)

Anyone can arbitrarily claim "defect in thinking" on the grounds of whatever suits them.
For a fundamentalist believer in a religion, anyone challenging the religion's ideology is claimed to have "a defect in thinking" as well.
For those people are caught up in the illusion of "objective value" as well.
Every belief in "objective value" naturally leads to all other values being devalued as "non-objective".

So where do we take it from there?
Where do you think is the "defect in a person's thinking" who rejects the claim that an "is" leads to an "ought to" ?

ought comes from is

John Donohue's picture

XRay, not knowing how much you know about Objectivism, you are either stomping on our position vis-a-vis IsOught or if you are not informed, here it is: Objectivist ethics rests on Rand's metaphysics and epistemology. It does not reference the "usual" Hume/Kant dichotomies. It does not need to. For an Objectivist anyone posing a gulf between is and ought has a defect in their thinking. Why do you put up with it?

Second, Objectivism does not seek to "demand" that others follow it, or like Kant pull some giant sky hook from the clouds that magically forces people to follow it as an imperative. No. Ethics is normative; it posits a suggestion of what man SHOULD adopt as a code of behavior. There have been many suggestions in history! An ethics, one would hope, would be esteemed and followed based on its success at achieving values. Ayn Rand said it should be 'normal' for a man to have a moral code which helps him secure and nurture his highest and deepest value: his life. His life "is." His ethics helps him keep and further the "is" so he "ought" to follow it. His 'ought' is integrated with his 'is.'

Yes, as I have already said, people can choose to kill themselves. They don't have to "consider or not consider" their life as their highest value, it remains fundamental, still the sine qua non. If they wish to focus on sacrifice or death, so be it, but they cannot perform that focus if they are dead. Up until the moment they die, their life is still primary. [It would be amusing to hear you debate a Buddhist on the value of life!]

Just to repeat: before any human being can volitionally choose secondary values to pursue, they cannot avoid the root choice: to be or not to be. This is metaphysically given. There is a purpose to Rand's insistence on this floor: throughout history "suggestions" have been made that people act out of selflessness. This is immediately contrary to the root. This contradiction has led to much misery. When it drifts into the next normative science over, politics, it leads to slavery and totalitarianism.

John Donohue: "No, just

Xray's picture

John Donohue:
"No, just because a given individual does not consciously or consistently champion the enrichment of his life does not diminish the fact that life is the fundamental, universal value. " (JD)

Whoever postulates an "ought to" from an "is", commits the error of demanding that others should value one's own subjective preferences. This applies to everything which "is".
Can I claim, given the fact that e. g. pineapple exists and that I like it, that others "ought to" value it as well?
The same goes for life. Life exists. Whether one attributes value to this fact or not is an individual decision.

There exist ideologies and religions (nihilism, buddhism) where life is disvalued.
Within natural capacity, humans can choose to end their life.

"the person is alive and existing, correct? Even if he kills himself tomorrow, today he still holds life as his fundamental value, even if he is working against it." (JD)

Not every person alive considers it as his/her fundamental value.

It's an either/or situation: either no thing has value unless and until some volitional entity attributes value to it; or value is inherent in the thing itself.

As for "life as a standard of value", standards are also the result of a subjective choice. There exist no 'objective' standards.
No matter what the verbiage, "life" (of whatever) has no value unless and until value is attributed.

"Good" or "bad", means 'suited or unsuited to purpose' in respect of a subjective chosen goal. And no goal exists independently of any individual choosing.

If for example, the end desired is peace and harmony, then non-initiation of force and non-coercion is the means; no "objective value" required.

The human brain is highly developed enough to enable us to reflect on existence. The conclusions we draw naturally vary when it comes to 'sense' (or non-sense), depending on individual choice. Which is why any "ought to" contradicts the idea of individualism.

No, just because a given

John Donohue's picture

No, just because a given individual does not consciously or consistently champion the enrichment of his life does not diminish the fact that life is the fundamental, universal value. the person is alive and existing, correct? Even if he kills himself tomorrow, today he still holds life as his fundamental value, even if he is working against it.

You can't start talking about what a person chooses to value in the world until the foundation is established. As always, something foundational is that to which there is no alternative: life. Thereafter, as Miss Rand has pointed out, all subsequent values are measured by their contribution to furthering that basic reality.

"People on the outside WAY

Xray's picture

"People on the outside WAY underestimate the fundamentalism of Ayn Rand. Karl Popper himself could find 500 supposed examples of sacrifice, gradual suicide, group subservience to death and all sorts of general taking one for the gipper, but that would not falsify or even remotely touch the idea that Life is a Universal Value. Without it, no other values are possible...................................because you do not exist." (J. Donohue).

If life were an universal value, then everyone would value it. Since this is clearly not the case, it exposes the premise of "life as an universal value" as wrong.

This is the void of the

John Donohue's picture

This is the void of the essay:

"Life may not be a universal value; but if it is, then we may have a solid, scientific base upon which to rest the study of ethics. "

Just prior to which he performs a Popperian quest to falsify.

Sorry, if you want to falsify life as a universal value your deductive test must not be "hey, today we are out in the field looking for examples of living things that seek their own destruction." Nope. You must say this "Hey today we are out in the field looking for living things that don't exist."

People on the outside WAY underestimate the fundamentalism of Ayn Rand. Karl Popper himself could find 500 supposed examples of sacrifice, gradual suicide, group subservience to death and all sorts of general taking one for the gipper, but that would not falsify or even remotely touch the idea that Life is a Universal Value. Without it, no other values are possible...................................because you do not exist.

NikOtani wrote: "Any concept

Xray's picture

NikOtani wrote:
"Any concept of value presupposes an entity or process to which it can be applied. (Yes, Rand said this in her essay on Objectivist Ethics in the Virtue of Selfishness.) If something is valuable, it must be valuable to or for something."

The concept of "value" presupposes a valuer having the mental capacity to attribute value. Valuing is only possible in the face of an alternative.

Where no such alternative exists, no values are possible. Rand herself pointed this out.
From which it follows that plants can't seek values. Rand clearly contradicts her own words by alleging that a plant can do this.

"Terms "good" and "bad" are adjectives. There must be something there which they describe. They only become meaningful in such a context." (NickOtani)

"Good" and "bad' mean suited or unsuited to purpose with respect to a subjectively chosen goal.
Example : a bucket of water is emptied on a small wood fire which is esxtinguished as a result.
If the intent was to prevent the fire from burning subjectivlely valued items, the actions is called "good". (=suited to purpose)
If the intent had been was to cook a meal with the fire, the action is called "bad" (=not suited to purpose).
Same entites. Same action. Same end result. Different valuations.

From which it follows that there exits no absolute "good" or "bad".

"Indestructible things cannot have anything good or bad for them because they have nothing to gain or lose.(Rand also made this point in VOS.)" (NickOtani)

"Good" and "bad" are value judgements, and as such require a valuer. The action of using e. g. a stone can be valued as good or bad depending on an individual's goal.
Also, there exist no "indestructible" things.

"Non-living things, in a materialistic frame of reference, can have their form altered, but they do not cease to exist. They do not change from something to nothing. When a book is burned, it changes from a book to ashes, energy, and other elements, but the matter is still around." (NickOtani)

When a book is burned, it ceases to exist as an entity.
The same applies to a living entities. Plants, animals or human beings, when burned, cease to exist as entities, the matter being transformed to ashes and "still around".

Color and Colour, Judgment and Judgement

NickOtani's picture

got up to the third paragraph, then noticed you had misspelt the word "Colour"

The British have different ways of spelling certain words.

Darn, we still aren't talking about the substance of my article.

bis bald,

Nick

That's quite alright, wngreen.

NickOtani's picture

I don't need comments from people who don't read the articles, people who are willfully ignorant, or people, like Jameson, who only know how to make short statements of unsupported accusations and name-calling. I'm looking for more than quick opinions and insult contests.

I'm looking for people who can focus in on a proposition, summarize the evidence and reasoning for it, showing that they understand it, and then show, with evidence and reasoning, why it is inadequate or why something else is better. If my philosophy is wrong, I want someone to point out the flaws in it just as I have pointed out the flaws in Objectivism in my Alice series.

If all anyone can do here to deal with my writings is to take pot shots at them or ignore them, then you are not much better than those forum Nazies from other boards who ban me rather than debate with me. Objectivists are supposed to value reason and logic, not evasion and force. Are there any Objectivists here?

bis bald,

Nick

Attention?

You don't seem to like the comments you've got on other articles. I think I'll pass on giving you the attention you desire on this one. Objectivism is not an al-a-cart philosophy.

Wm

Great!

NickOtani's picture

You win a pony.

I'll take it. Maybe it'll give me some feedback on what I've written.

bis bald,

Nick

I

Elijah Lineberry's picture

got up to the third paragraph, then noticed you had misspelt the word "Colour" ...Eye

Nick

Erik Christensen's picture

You win a pony.

Gee,

NickOtani's picture

I write this long essay about value and ethics, and all anybody comments on is the title.

Did anybody read it?

bis bald,

Nick

It

Elijah Lineberry's picture

is always a bit suspicious when people invent rinky dink names for things using the prefix "Neo".

Never been able to ascertain what "Neo" is meant to mean, but it seems the fashionable "I-Attended-A-Wankfest-And-Now-I-Am-An-Intellectual-Everybody, So-There" prefix to attach to almost anything these days.

Cannot wait for the "Neo" One News and "Neo" Washing power, or even "Neo" Dinner washed down with a glass of "Neo" Cabernet Sauvignon, whilst sitting in a "Neo" Dining Room...(etc)

3000 post

NickOtani's picture

Do I get a prize?

Bis bald,

Nick

3000 post

And we have reached 3000. At Nick's current rate of posting we'll be at 4000 by Christmas!

Wm

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