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Submitted by James S. Valliant on Sun, 2009-05-10 18:08
This is a paragraph from the ethics section of Wikipedia's article "Objectivism."
It's so very bad that it provides beginning students of Rand's thought with a (simple) exercise: how many misstatements of Rand's ideas can you detect?
"In The Virtue of Selfishness [Rand] attempted to derive ethical egoism from first principles. Value is relative: something can only be valuable for a particular being, and it can only be valuable if that being has a choice. Only living things are able to choose, therefore values only exist for living things, and whatever a living thing acts to gain or keep is a value for that thing. Every living thing maintains its life for its own sake, and - according to Rand - for any living thing, only its own life is valuable for its own sake. On the assumption that every living thing should do or ought to do whatever is valuable for itself, it follows that it should do whatever promotes its own life. But people can only live if they are rational. Since reason is man's means of knowledge, it is also his greatest value, and its exercise his greatest virtue. 'Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive he must act and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch––or build a cyclotron––without a knowledge of his aim and the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think.' Therefore everyone ought to be rational."
1. Values require choice? Not according to Rand, who said that only conceptual consciousness is volitional. Or, is it that values require an "alternative" according to Rand? (For example, a living organism can adapt [either modifying its behavior within its own life-span or through mutation and natural selection]. Such adaptation is a kind of value pursuit that does not necessarily imply a volitional choice.)
2. Values are "relative"? Does this mean that values imply "of value to whom and for what?" That's certainly true, but it also here seems to require a state of consciousness.
3. Values are that which are pursued, sure, but, are values then subjective, i.e., "whatever" happens to be pursued?
4. Get this: "Every living thing maintains its life for its own sake"? IF ONLY!
5. Does Rand "assume" that "every living thing" should do "what is valuable for itself"? Is this idea any part of Rand's case? Isn't this precisely a circle Rand avoids -- and answers? (Talk about upside down and inside out.)
6. "People can only live if they are rational"? Say what?! As Rand knew and dramatically depicted, irrational people survive all the time -- but even for them, reason is their basic tool of survival, of course.
7. Finally, my favorite, the last "therefore" -- as if Rand's argument had just been recounted!
I've said it before and will say it again: Criticism, rational criticism, is a good thing. It sharpens that tool of survival to its finest edge. But the two sorts of criticisms which have unfortunately marred most of Rand scholarship are: 1. ad hominem, i.e., the Branden and Rothbard based lies and distractions about Rand herself, and 2. gross misstatements of what Objectivism says, i.e., the Nyquist, Whittaker Chambers, Robert Nozick, and, now, the Wikipedia, stuff.
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