Quote of the Day: Distinctly unscientific beliefs

Richard Goode's picture
Submitted by Richard Goode on Sat, 2007-11-17 10:02

The first firebrand is lobbed into the audience by Edward Slingerland, an expert on ancient Chinese thought and human cognition at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "Religion is not going away," he announced. Even those of us who fancy ourselves rationalists and scientists, he said, rely on moral values - a set of distinctly unscientific beliefs.

Where, for instance, does our conviction that human rights are universal come from? "Humans' rights to me are as mysterious as the holy trinity," he told the audience at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "You can't do a CT scan to show where humans' rights are, you can't cut someone open and show us their human rights," he pointed out. "It's not an empirical thing, it's just something we strongly believe. It's a purely metaphysical entity."

New Scientist, 10 November 2007


( categories: )

Richard Goode

Leonid's picture

" If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist." - William Lane Craig

This quote needs small correction, and then it would be perfect -"If God does exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist." For what is objective about God?

Richard Goode

Leonid's picture

"You can't do a CT scan to show where humans' rights are, you can't cut someone open and show us their human rights,"

Don't you ever get tired from the bringing up such an idiotic quotations? Or you simply want to insult your own intelligence and credibility? If this is your intention you succeeded.

Quote of the Day

Richard Goode's picture

If God does not exist, then objective moral values and duties do not exist. - William Lane Craig

Of Course, But...

James S. Valliant's picture

In the absence of an argument -- and thank you for finally taking that up on another thread -- one strains a bit to find out what is being substituted for one.

You want room 12A

Richard Goode's picture

On another thread, you accused Linz and me of an ad hominem with the title, "The Case Against Hume." That is not an example of the fallacy, of course, but this is:

"'Really, any imbecile can see or find something wrong in most art works.'

"It's odd, then, that the opposite is the case when it comes to the works of Ayn Rand."

James, on another thread you referred to Monty Python's "The Argument Clinic" sketch. So you are quite familiar with the distinction between argument and abuse. My comments above do not constitute an argument, even a fallacious one, and were not intended as such.

Do you see philosophy as an

Newberry's picture

Do you see philosophy as an end in itself, or, as a tool?

"Quite often I get asked, what's the use of studying philosophy? To which I reply, philosophy isn't a means to an end, it's an end in itself. That sure gets them thinking. It gets them doing philosophy, actually."

Hi Richard,

Do you see how viewing philosophy as an end in itself or as a tool radically changes one's relationship to it? As well as changes one's conclusions?

I might have you at a disadvantage here, in the sense that I can comprehend both positions.

Michael

P.S. I was serious about learning philosophy from you if I took philosophy. But, I am not a philologist.

http://www.MichaelNewberry.com

Logic Class Open

James S. Valliant's picture

On another thread, you accused Linz and me of an ad hominem with the title, "The Case Against Hume." That is not an example of the fallacy, of course, but this is:

"'Really, any imbecile can see or find something wrong in most art works.'

"It's odd, then, that the opposite is the case when it comes to the works of Ayn Rand."

And this is not your first.

"Conviction" appears all over what you write -- in the sense that you mean: e.g., that "philosophy is an end in itself," a truly religious proposition -- and one presented with much certainty -- but without the slightest justification.

Objectivists do not equate dogma with conviction.

Radical skepticism and hysterical absolutism do seem to go hand in hand, though, don't they?

Really?

Richard Goode's picture

I meant that you were to blame for that. But, I am sure you knew that.

Really? You would be right to blame me for other people's unenlightenment, if other people's enlightenment were my responsibility. But other people's enlightment isn't my responsibility - it's theirs.

Do you see philosophy as an end in itself, or, as a tool?

Quite often I get asked, what's the use of studying philosophy? To which I reply, philosophy isn't a means to an end, it's an end in itself. That sure gets them thinking. It gets them doing philosophy, actually.

perhaps in philosophy "conviction" means something different than it does in life?

I mean "conviction" in the sense of dogmatically held belief.

Really, any imbecile can see or find something wrong in most art works

It's odd, then, that the opposite is the case when it comes to the works of Ayn Rand.

"You have no sense of me

Newberry's picture

Richard: "You have no sense of me enlightening anyone, and neither do I!"

Ummm, yes, I understand your flip--I meant that you were to blame for that. But, I am sure you knew that. Eye

"Is it because the teacher is no good?"

In fine art classes there is a disgusting process, a formal critique, held a few times during the course. The idea is for the students to develop their critical faculties. 9 times out of 10, they simply tear into the presenter. Without fail, not a few of the victims would be tearing or crying by the end of it. I have never liked the process and never thought it did anyone any good.

I was required to have formal critiques in my classes, and to make it bearable I radically changed the format. The students could only pull out from the art work the things that worked in it. Really, any imbecile can see or find something wrong in most art works--"that little finger looks like a noodle!" Da Vinci said something along those lines about peasants finding fault with something he was working on. The problem, is that they do not know what the solution is.

I allowed that only the artist or myself could comment on what was wrong with the piece--even then, the way I asked was what they would change if they had more time. A couple of great things occurred: one was that it took as much or more critical faculty to analyse what worked. The second, is the atmosphere radically changed, from the terse defensiveness to one of goodwill.

I have always imagined philosophers as benevolent grandfatherly types. Smiling They should be wise. Of course, artists aren't like that, that is why we invented "artistic license".  

"Or is it because the students think that Ayn Rand had the last word when it comes to philosophy?"

I doubt I would be asking any students of objectivism questions about philosophy.

Our little exchange inspired this question: Do you see philosophy as an end in itself, or, as a tool?

"Objectivism is a prison of the mind. In the words of Malaclypse the Younger, convictions cause convicts."

Oh...um, perhaps in philosophy "conviction" means something different than it does in life?

Cheers,

Michael

http://www.MichaelNewberry.com

Ask questions!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Just don't say dumb things that mark you out as untutored. The cashing-in will be that the "untutored" will be shown to have wisdom, the Humean pomowankers to be pretentious, evil ignoramuses ... all by their own words.

I urge everyone to desist

Lance's picture

I urge everyone to desist from posting on the existing Hume threads at this point, and all folk on the periphery who don't really get the import of this stuff to desist from posting on the new one and getting in the way. Stand back, watch ... and learn!

Then may I suggest a peanut gallery thread to accompany it?

With a Horn Like a Unicorn?

James S. Valliant's picture

Any day now, Richard...

It might be nice for your empty accusations to have an ounce of substance attached to them, maybe... someday... Or, just to provide some way out, perhaps, of the mental prison in which you find yourself trapped...

Single thread ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... actually would have so many sub-threads already that I've decided on a different course. I'm going to post James' "single integrated case" as a new thread. I urge everyone to desist from posting on the existing Hume threads at this point, and all folk on the periphery who don't really get the import of this stuff to desist from posting on the new one and getting in the way. Stand back, watch ... and learn!

Linz

The argument

Richard Goode's picture

So this is your single, integrated case for the proposition that what a living being is determines what it ought to do.

That being the case, I was going to suggest that it would be appropriate for you start a new thread. Elsewhere, Linz has said he is "going to pull this into one super-thread soon, so the argument - which is really THE argument - can be focused onto it."

Meanwhile, I note that your first three central claims - that values are not a species of mythological beast, that "good" is a teleological concept, and that teleology is a phenomenon of biology - are all false. I look forward to arguing my case.

The philosopher is in

Richard Goode's picture

Thanks, Michael. Smiling

You have no sense of me enlightening anyone, and neither do I!

Is it because the teacher is no good? Or is it because the students think that Ayn Rand had the last word when it comes to philosophy?

Objectivism is a prison of the mind. In the words of Malaclypse the Younger, convictions cause convicts.

Richard, I have read a few

Newberry's picture

Richard,

I have read a few of your posts. I sincerely think you would be an excellent teacher to study philosophy with, if I wanted to study philosophy. But, here, I miss something important--I have no sense of you enlightening anyone. Of holding out some nugget of knowledge, which understood enhances one's values.

Michael

http://www.MichaelNewberry.com

Richard

James S. Valliant's picture

I was about to get irritated at having to repeat the single, integrated case that has been made here by me in directly addressing the Is-Ought Question, but then I remembered that you have a PhD is philosophy. (Not to worry, though, some of my best friends share the same plight.)

I will go slowly and use simple words. Smiling

Okay, let's summarize.

With all due respect to Hume, values are not a species of mythological beast, arbitrary, whimsical or some kind of religious invention. They are a fact about life itself.

"Good" is a teleological concept. It implies an answer to the questions: "Good to whom and for what?"

Teleology is a phenomenon of biology: since only a living being acts in order to survive, only to such a being can something be "good for" it or "bad for" it. As all of our observations show, life is value-pursuit and only living things pursue values. A plant will act to reach the sunlight, but, if it cannot, it will die. For it, sunlight is good -- failing to reach it is bad. Life is the ultimate end of all of its value-pursuing, the only standard by which we can evaluate what is "good" or "bad" for the plant.

The same is true for people -- but only humans can and must choose the values they will pursue. We can act perversely -- in opposition to our health and life. We must select our values carefully. That's why only human beings have or need ethics.

It might be helpful to add something that was only before implicit. Rand believed that most ethical thinking started "in the middle." She believed that the question "What are the values that we should pursue?" could not be answered without first answering the questions, "What are values -- and why do we need values at all?"

Early on, I had written:

"If a value is the object of my action -- something I act to obtain or keep -- then they are very real, indeed. Every living organism I have ever observed pursues certain ends. Survival requires this. Even you have goals, I suspect.

"For human beings, who can and must choose the values they pursue, the only question is: are the values I am pursuing actually going to achieve my survival, health and prosperity. Humans, unfortunately, can act, and have acted, self-destructively.

"At the physical level, something is either nutritious for me to eat or it is not. It may even be poison. My nature dictates the range of healthy values open to me. IF I want to live, I must eat within this range of items. Period.

"Thus it is for all values.

"The 'good' is an aspect of reality in relation to human survival and well-being.

"My well-being cannot be achieved arbitrarily. As a human being, I must discover those principles, not just of proper nutrition, but of proper living in general.

"A wildfire in my neighborhood is bad thing by this standard. Running from one, if it got too close, would be a good thing by this standard. Such an evaluation is a purely factual one. IF I want to live, condition X is bad, action Y is good.

"The fact that I am alive and that my life has certain (very empirical) conditions attached to its continuation and prosperity is what makes this relationship a perfectly objective one.

"For example, I have already alluded to the virtue of rationality. As a human being, this is my most basic tool of survival. As such, let me suggest, its exercise is my most basic virtue.

"This relationship to reality exists for all objective virtues. There is only price that can buy the values of credibility and trust -- in reality -- and that is honesty. So, too, a life of initiating violence is dangerous and self-defeating and unproductive. Etc.

"That Hitler was evil is not subjective at all. It is as OBJECTIVE as math."

You questioned whether even cabbages pursued values. I answered:

"Not consciously, of course, Richard, but all living organisms pursue their values. Plants pursue sunlight through phototropism, absorb the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, etc. They do act in order to survive. Even a modest single-cell organism is a complex machine of value-pursuit, with an entire architecture for survival, thriving, and reproduction. In mobile animals, this pursuit has the added help of consciousness (indeed, that's the function of consciousness). In humans, this value-pursuit becomes self-conscious, a deliberate purpose. That is why only humans, who consciously select the values they pursue, have or need a science of ethics.

"Life can be defined as just that: the process of self-generated, self-sustaining activity."

I also wrote:

"Value-pursuit is simply a fact about living organisms. It makes life possible. The relationship of my subjective values to my actual survival is an objective one. Since this is ~ why ~ living organisms pursue values in the first place, this is what makes them objective or not. If one were to pursue the subjective values of, say, Nazism, this relationship between fact and value would be otherwise."

It is a matter of fact that Nazism (or poison) is bad for my survival and, indeed, for all human life. It is a matter of fact (see below) that freedom is good for my survival and, indeed, for all human life.

My objective values are the necessary (and very real and empirically determined) requirements and conditions of my life.

Thus, under any given set of circumstances, and assuming it has a choice of actions, what a living being is determines what it ought to do.

Reprise, reprise

Richard Goode's picture

Unless you are prepared to engage the argument that has been presented -- the one that was never purely deductive in the first place

There have been several arguments on this thread - far too many to keep up with - please reprise the argument.

you are hardly in a position to say that the "Is-Ought" Problem has been side-stepped. It was squarely addressed.

It was squarely addressed? Where, when and by whom? I must have missed it.

Richard

James S. Valliant's picture

Unless you are prepared to engage the argument that has been presented -- the one that was never purely deductive in the first place (and where did you get that?) -- you are hardly in a position to say that the "Is-Ought" Problem has been side-stepped. It was squarely addressed. It is your instant response which is doing all of the "side-stepping" here.

The Objectivist is well aware of Hume -- and all of his self-refuting, self-contradicted nonsense.

There's just no point going on to induction if you are unwilling to confront the issue at hand, sir.

Hume 1, Rand 0

Richard Goode's picture

You're looking for a deduction, Richard. What James was offering was an induction.

It's by induction that we derive knowledge from concrete facts -- and it's also how we identify which facts do have value, and which facts don't.

Ah, so it's induction, not deduction! Good to see you've given up trying to deduce an ought from an is. As Hume says, it's altogether inconceivable.

Unfortunately, induction is altogether irrational. You've side-stepped the Is-Ought Problem, now you must confront the Problem of Induction.

The Meaning of Life

James S. Valliant's picture

As we have already observed, there is no value-pursuit, and there can be no "values," apart from living organisms. That is to say, there are no ends, no goals, and no purposes apart from the specific ends, goals or purposes of a living being. Life is the only objective end of all other ends -- and only life is an end in itself.

According to Rand, life is the pursuit of values, and happiness is the emotional state that proceeds from successful value-pursuit. Thus, the struggle to live and the quest for happiness, she argued, are two sides of the same coin.

One of the still-persistent man-on-the-street questions of philosophy asks: "What is the purpose of the universe?" Or, in a slightly different form: "What is the meaning of life?"

Atheists have long pointed out that such questions already assume that the universe, or life, has an overarching (teleological) "meaning," end or purpose. And, as an atheist, the Objectivist agrees that the universe as a whole lacks such "meaning."

But the Objectivist has more sophisticated answer: it is the phenomenon of life which generates all of the "meaning" and all of the purposes to be found in the universe. Life is the meaning of life -- and the quest for my own life and happiness is an end in itself.

Rand puts this point most poetically in chapter XI of Anthem:

"I am. I think. I will.

"My hands. . . My spirit. . . My sky. . . My forest. . . This earth of mine. . . .

"What must I say besides? These are the words. This is the answer.

"I stand here on the summit of the mountain. I lift my head and spread my arms. This, my body and spirit, this is the end of the quest. I wished to know the meaning of things. I am the meaning. I wished to find a warrant for being. I need no warrant for being, and no word of sanction upon my being. I am the warrant and the sanction.

"It is my eyes which see, and the sight of my eyes grants beauty to the earth. It is my ears which hear, and the hearing of my ears gives its song to the world. It is my mind which thinks, and the judgment of my mind is the only searchlight that can find the truth. It is my will which chooses, and the choice of my will is the only edict I must respect.

. . .

"I know not if this earth on which I stand is the core of the universe or if it is but a speck of dust lost in eternity. I know not and I care not. For I know what happiness is possible to me on earth. And my happiness needs no higher aim to vindicate it. My happiness is not the means to any end. It is the end. It is its own goal. It is its own purpose."

[btw: Rand understood the fundamental differences, but rejected any dichotomy between poetry and science.]

Reed

James S. Valliant's picture

It's hard to understand you, Reed.

"Beliefs" come in two varieties: the true and the false. (We'll ignore for now a third possible category that Rand recognized, "arbitrary," a status worse than false, in a sense.)

This, and the other threads you have been pointed, to indicate the proof that life is the only objective standard of moral evaluation, that this is true.

Consider the subject -- using all of the facts -- and you will see that setting up a moral standard like "German life" won't even secure that. Indeed, Hitler posed a grave danger to "Germanic" life -- indeed, all life -- whatever his claims and the number of suckers who believed them.

Induction does start with "facts" and end in "beliefs." I hope that the facts are the basis of all of your beliefs. If done properly, induction ends in true beliefs (as opposed, say, to the use of Ouija board), and only one's own scrupulousness stands between each of us and error.

Are you saying that induction as such isn't valid?

Well, such concerns are precisely why Rand believed epistemological questions to be more fundamental than ethics.

In ethics -- just as in physics -- the "final authority" is reality itself. Each of us has only his or her own reason to rely upon in the determination of truth.

You ask about "human rights."

Here's Rand from "Man's Rights," in The Virtue of Selfishness:

"'Rights' are a moral concept--the concept that provides a logical transition from the principles guiding an individual's actions to the principles guiding his relationship with others--the concept that preserves and protects individual morality in a social context--the link between the moral code of a man and the legal code of a society, between ethics and politics. Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

...

"A 'right' is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all others are its consequence and corollaries): a man's right to his own life. Life is the process of self-sustaining and self-generated action; the right to life means the right to engage in self-sustaining and self-generated action--which means the freedom to take all the actions required by the nature of a rational being for the support, the furtherance, the fulfillment and the enjoyment of his own life. (Such is the meaning of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.)

"The concept of 'rights' pertains only to action, specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men.

"Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive--of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights."

And from Atlas Shrugged:

"The source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A--and man is man. Rights are a condition of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival."

No, no, no

reed's picture

Mark -
I'm not saying there is no absolute morality, I'll re-explain.

Hitlers false beliefs lead to a false morality.
If your beliefs are false they may lead to a false morality.
You don't know if your beliefs are true or false so they may lead to a false morality.

Without proof we judge based on our beliefs.

Cheers,

Reed

Seconded. No Objections?

Lance's picture

Seconded. No Objections? Motion passed.

Reed

Mark Hubbard's picture

This thread answers your query well, indeed, I'm simply going to post below the young genius, Callum McPetrie's post to that thread.

Callum said Morality isn't whatever we make it. A moral action-an action which is inherently good ought not to differ from person to person. Otherwise, all of the great man-made disasters throughout history, aka the holocaust, Soviet gulags, slavery etc, were all justified. Morality is determined, not by sentiment, but by man's interests on Earth-for instance, what will advance a man's life, as long as it doesn't harm another man's life.

Callum for President ... seconder please.

Beliefs, beliefs, beliefs...

reed's picture

James -
... if human life is the standard of moral evaluation...
What if Germanic life is the standard of moral evaluation? Hitler would not have been immoral if his beliefs were true.

Unless you have a proof of a moral standard, we judge Hitler as immoral based on our beliefs.

The Goode doctor may accept induction as proof but, as far as I can tell, the induction process may start with facts but ends in beliefs.

How do objectivists define the term "human rights"?

Cheers,

Reed.

James, so well said.

atlascott's picture

And so well said, in fact, that I want to print it out and hang it on my wall! Well done!

Scott DeSalvo

Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum viditur!

Link

James S. Valliant's picture

Perhaps there should be a link here to Richard's other, closely related thread.

Facts, Facts, Facts

James S. Valliant's picture

It is by induction that we first gleaned life itself to be the objective standard of value. Adding just a few more facts, I can easily infer that racism is ~ evil ~ by gauging its horrific danger to my life. But to determine this, I am afraid, the facts of reality are necessary all along the way.

An Objectivist rejects deontological ethics as such. That really is no better than religion. "Goodness" or "rightness" is not an intrinsic feature of the universe or something that exists apart from actual living organisms in their actual quest to survive. A respect for rights is good FOR something and racism is bad FOR something -- ultimately, life, the necessary end for all healthy value pursuit. The nature and consequences of racism -- the facts about it and its impact on human life -- are indispensable if we are to objectively evaluate it.

Racism is evil, if human life is the standard of moral evaluation -- because of all that it is and what its actual results are.

Induction, not deduction

Peter Cresswell's picture

You're looking for a deduction, Richard. What James was offering was an induction.

It's by induction that we derive knowledge from concrete facts -- and it's also how we identify which facts do have value, and which facts don't.

Resistance is futile

Richard Goode's picture

Concretize what racism has meant in real life. The danger it poses to each and every one of us. Consider its crude, stockyard view of a humanity to be distinguished as breeds, not as individual minds. It is precisely the individual capacity for reason that such a doctrine obliterates, the very essence of what makes us us. It is a barbaric form of collectivism with bloody results that we are all too familiar with. It is primordial evil that, today, only severe brain disease or having been raised by wolves could excuse.

I see that you proceed for some time in the ordinary ways of reasoning, and establish that racism is dangerous, crude and bloody, and observe that it is a barbaric form of collectivism; when all of a sudden I am surpriz'd to find, that instead of the usual empirical claims, I meet with the proposition that racism is primordial evil. This change is imperceptible; but is however, of the last consequence. For as this evil expresses some new relation or affirmation, 'tis necessary that it shou'd be observ'd and explain'd; and at the same time that a reason should be given; for what seems altogether inconceivable, how this new relation can be a deduction from others, which are entirely different from it.

This is the CT scan which shows inallienable rights

Leonid's picture

Leonid
Unlike unanimated matter, living organisms are facing the constant alternative of existence or non-existence .Every living organism has to act to obtain things in order to sustain its life, which are, correspondingly, the only things of value to living entities. Therefore, the concept of values pertains to life and presupposes a living evaluator: “To speak of value as apart from life is worse than a contradiction in terms.”() Rand Objectivist Ethics Virtue of Selfishness ,5 ; Pb 15.)
Plants and animals have built-in mechanisms to evaluate objects and to obtain values but humans do not have such a capability. Instead we use the faculty of reason which is not automatic but volitional. We have to use our minds to evaluate objects and to act in order to obtain things of value. "A Value is an entity which one acts in order to gain and keep"(ibid ; 7Pb 17.) .But what kind of action is required to obtain values?
It is quite obvious that such an action cannot be random but must be purpose-guided. Purposeful action presupposes recognition of objective reality and the cause-effect connection - which is the law of identity applied to the action .This law does not allow contradictions. Non-contradictory identification is a way of logical, rational thinking. Thus, to obtain value man’s action should be based on his rational faculty -his mind’s independent rational judgment. His premises should pertain to reality. If one acts on the basis of arbitrary premises then sooner or later he will be faced irresolvable contradictions, not values."A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom to act within a social context (Rand: Man’s Rights, The Virtue of Selfishness, 124; Pb 93:1964).Only one fundamental right exists, namely the right to live. All other moral principles that qualify as rights are corollaries of this. To sustain, benefit and enjoy his life man has to obtain values.
All values-material and spiritual- have to be created by purposeful action or obtained via free and fair exchange.
Creation is a function of the mind. Since there is no such a thing as a collective mind all values are properties of the individual that created them. Therefore property rights are inalienable exactly as right to live.
Without freedom no creation is possible since the mind cannot function to its full capacity under coercion. Thus the right for freedom is essential for human life and inalienable as well. Man can obtain values only when he acts within his own rights, which means without coercion. There is no such thing as the right to violate the rights of other people. Using physical force or fraud to obtain valuable things will render the thing obtained, and indeed the person himself, valueless because he does not have a rightful claim on what he obtained.
In conclusion values can be obtained only by rational action while a person is acting within his own inalienable rights. Freedom is the precondition to such an action. Everything which one may obtain by any other means will render the thing valueless.

Couldn't Resist...

James S. Valliant's picture

I noticed your very strong evaluation of another chap on another thread for being a "racist," Richard.

Why get so upset over the purely "subjective" or "metaphysical" -- or a matter so "unscientific" and "religious" -- or any other question of "ethics"?

BTW: Rand and I share your moral evaluation of racism.

EDIT.: I've added this because racism is too a rich an example to pass up.

Concretize what racism has meant in real life. The danger it poses to each and every one of us. Consider its crude, stockyard view of a humanity to be distinguished as breeds, not as individual minds. It is precisely the individual capacity for reason that such a doctrine obliterates, the very essence of what makes us us. It is a barbaric form of collectivism with bloody results that we are all too familiar with. It is primordial evil that, today, only severe brain disease or having been raised by wolves could excuse.

Tell me that such an ethical evaluation as I have just offered is not "empirical" -- and that the values expressed are no more than a belief in unicorns, ghosts or Tarot Cards -- I dare you.

Values for Plants

Stephen Boydstun's picture

Richard writes, “Cabbages pursue values? Surely not.”

Check this out: Vegetative Robots and Value

(and check out the short but important discussion).

Richard

James S. Valliant's picture

Appreciating that my own efforts here have been far too brief to make the entire case, let me recommend some further reading:

1. 'The Virtue of Selfishness,' by Ayn Rand (1964, New American Library), especially chapter 1, "The Objectivist Ethics";

2. 'The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts,' by Harry Binswanger, PhD (1990, ARI Press);

3. 'Viable Values,' by Tara Smith, PhD (2000, Rowman & Littlefield);

4. 'Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: the Virtuous Egoist,' another by Professor Tara Smith (2006, Cambridge University Press);

5. 'Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,' by Leonard Peikoff, PhD (1991, Dutton).

This last is the single best and most comprehensive place to find Rand's whole argument.

For an outstanding "empirical" case for the morality of freedom, see:

6. 'The Capitalist Manifesto,' by Prof. Andrew Bernstein, PhD (2005, University Press of America).

Yep

James S. Valliant's picture

Not consciously, of course, Richard, but all living organisms pursue their values. Plants pursue sunlight through phototropism, absorb the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, etc. They do act in order to survive. Even a modest single-cell organism is a complex machine of value-pursuit, with an entire architecture for survival, thriving, and reproduction. In mobile animals, this pursuit has the added help of consciousness (indeed, that's the function of consciousness). In humans, this value-pursuit becomes self-conscious, a deliberate purpose. That is why only humans, who consciously select the values they pursue, have or need a science of ethics.

Life can be defined as just that: the process of self-generated, self-sustaining activity.

I am curious about Linz's hint about the "objective" or "subjective."

I sure don't want to equivocate about the term "subjective" we've already been using, for instance. My personal, "subjective" belief can correspond to reality and be, simultaneously, "objective" in the other sense.

Jim

Richard Goode's picture

Cabbages pursue values? Surely not.

You can call me Richard.

And...

Olivia's picture

not just Young 'Uns. Smiling

Sir James ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I should break it to you that Mister Goode is Doctor Goode, PhD in ... philosophy. So this is not just nonsense you're dealing with, it's state-of-the-art nonsense! Smiling

I knew you'd spot the Hume-worship in five seconds.

Why don't you ask Doctor Goode to define "objective" and "subjective"? And ask him how my points two thru six misrepresent him? Smiling

I'll just watch. You have far more patience with this bullshit than I. And young 'uns will benefit enormously from the exchanges. Smiling

Mr. Goode

James S. Valliant's picture

You can call me Jim.

Value-pursuit is simply a fact about living organisms. It makes life possible. The relationship of my subjective values to my actual survival is an objective one. Since this is ~ why ~ living organisms pursue values in the first place, this is what makes them objective or not. If one were to pursue the subjective values of, say, Nazism, this relationship between fact and value would be otherwise.

Dr. Valliant

Richard Goode's picture

So, the idea that values are something not "observed" and, therefore, non-empirical is a gross non sequitur.

Indeed. But that is not my argument. I argue that objective values are not observable, nor are they the posits of any currently accepted scientific theory. Therefore, they are non-empirical.

The fact that you are alive and that your life has certain (very empirical) conditions attached to its continuation and prosperity makes the relationship between your subjective values and your well-being a perfectly objective one. But it doesn't make your subjective values objective.

Mr. Goode

James S. Valliant's picture

Before we could observe such things, molecules and atoms existed. We could infer their existence from what we could see. Belief in the world of the atom was an empirical one, even before high-powered microscopes. Further, relationships -- real, existing and empirically inferred things -- also cannot be "observed." To say, for example, that freedom and prosperity are "correlated," as you just did, is to point to something I cannot see and could never see in any one eye-load.

So, the idea that values are something not "observed" and, therefore, non-empirical is a gross non sequitur.

Indeed, your assertion that "[t]here is no place for objective moral values in a scientific world view" is a total assertion of faith -- a "leap" for which there can be no evidence.

Causality exists, Mr. David Hume, just as surely as the equally "unseen" forces of nature operate by principles we can infer from what we do see.

Now, as to values. If a value is the object of my action -- something I act to obtain or keep -- then they are very real, indeed. Every living organism I have ever observed pursues certain ends. Survival requires this. Even you have goals, I suspect.

For human beings, who can and must choose the values they pursue, the only question is: are the values I am pursuing actually going to achieve my survival, health and prosperity. Humans, unfortunately, can act, and have acted, self-destructively.

At the physical level, something is either nutritious for me to eat or it is not. It may even be poison. My nature dictates the range of healthy values open to me. IF I want to live, I must eat within this range of items. Period.

Thus it is for all values.

The "good" is an aspect of reality in relation to human survival and well-being.

My well-being cannot be achieved arbitrarily. As a human being, I must discover those principles, not just of proper nutrition, but of proper living in general.

A wildfire in my neighborhood is bad thing by this standard. Running from one, if it got too close, would be a good thing by this standard. Such an evaluation is a purely factual one. IF I want to live, condition X is bad, action Y is good.

The fact that I am alive and that my life has certain (very empirical) conditions attached to its continuation and prosperity is what makes this relationship a perfectly objective one.

For example, I have already alluded to the virtue of rationality. As a human being, this is my most basic tool of survival. As such, let me suggest, its exercise is my most basic virtue.

This relationship to reality exists for all objective virtues. There is only price that can buy the values of credibility and trust -- in reality -- and that is honesty. So, too, a life of initiating violence is dangerous and self-defeating and unproductive. Etc.

That Hitler was evil is not subjective at all. It is as OBJECTIVE as math.

I'm not sure

Richard Goode's picture

I'm not sure I can quantify the degree to which I have been misrepresented. Suffice it to say that Linz attributes to me views which are not mine!

There is no place for objective moral values in a scientific world view. No-one has ever observed objective moral values. Objective moral values are not posits of any currently accepted scientific theory. There is no such thing as a "rational, scientific, objective code of ethics". This, I believe, is Slingerland's view, and my own.

In order to countenance objective morality in one's world view, one must go beyond science - beyond the evidence - and take a step of faith. Either that, or take a giant leap of illogic (you could fool yourself that you've derived an "ought" from an "is", for example). Otherwise, one must forsake objective moral values.

That freedom is good is not an empirically observable fact, since no-one has ever observed the goodness of freedom. What has been observed - as you have illustrated - is simply that freedom and prosperity are correlated.

Mr. Goode

James S. Valliant's picture

May I ask, Mr. Goode, how precisely have you been misrepresented?

I am curious because the presented quotation above is simply a form of crude reductionism. "If you can't weigh something, it really doesn't exist" sort of nonsense. This obviously ignores vast areas of the very real and very empirical.

(1.) Freedom, argues Rand, works because of the (observed) nature of the human means of cognition - reason. We are neither ants nor bees. As an attribute of the individual, and one that requires individual effort, reason cannot work by force. Indeed, to impose force on an individual, to compel him to act in a way other than what his own judgment recommends, is to sever the link between his most fundamental tool of survival and his actions. Force can only neutralize reason.

Freedom is a necessary condition for reason's exercise. Vibrant culture abhors censorship and dries up to the extent it exists. Economic progress is historically and empirically linked with freedom of markets and the existence of the rule of law. The success of capitalism -- wherever and precisely to the extent that it has been applied -- is no accident. Creativity and intellectual progress require the ability to disagree, to swim the current, to buck the trend -- in short, they require freedom. Freedom maximizes the use of reason in society.

If human survival and well-being is the standard, then freedom is good -- and dictatorship and the initiation of violence are bad.

And this is an empirically observable fact -- and the very opposite of an article of faith.

(6.) Can you name a single admirer of Rand's work who thinks her "infallible"? None exist (empirically). None really could exist, since Rand held all humans to be fallible, and herself to be a human being. Rand also believed that contradiction was a confession of error. So...

Freedom is good

Richard Goode's picture

I stand by (1) and would be happy to be in the same room as (6).

On the remaining points, I'm afraid you misrepresent me.

Let's see what develops, as they say on talkback radio.

Ah, here we go! :-)

Lindsay Perigo's picture

This is the gentleman to whom I alluded in my comment on today's Quote of the Day thread.

Note that which he quotes approvingly:

Where, for instance, does our conviction that human rights are universal come from? "Humans' rights to me are as mysterious as the holy trinity," he told the audience at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. "You can't do a CT scan to show where humans' rights are, you can't cut someone open and show us their human rights," he pointed out. "It's not an empirical thing, it's just something we strongly believe. It's a purely metaphysical entity."

On the libertyloop, Richard's case has, under questioning, boiled down to:

1) The proposition that freedom is good is an article of faith.

2) The proposition that freedom is good is also objectively true because ... well, BECAUSE.

3) There can be no question of "Good, by what standard?" since the good is already there, independent of human beings and their questions. A universe without human beings would still contain "the good."

4) The good is ineffable. It cannot be defined.

5) Objective values can only exist without valuERS. Bring valuers into it and the values automatically become subjective, regardless of their proximity to reality.

6) Life as the standard of value is ridiculous, Ayn Rand is ridiculous and her followers think she's infallible.

7) Confronted with a murderous Saddam on the rampage, the best we can do according to this view is tell him he's evil, even though we can't specify why or define what we mean. And actually, this gentleman opposed the liberation of Iraq. Funny that.

And there's more. But this is enough to be going on with in chronicling the sick state of what passes as philosophy these days.

Linz

Oh, and - rights are a concept, drawn from metaphysical characteristics, i.e. from reality, but not in themselves metaphysical. (That's Objectivism now, not our fashionable "philosopher.") That's why you can't scan them or see them between your thumb and forefinger. The concept is entirely valid and good and crucial for humans but would disappear as soon as human beings did.

Thanks Richard!

Matty Orchard's picture

Good to see you blogging here!

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.