The Ethics of Emergencies

Rick Giles's picture
Submitted by Rick Giles on Sat, 2006-03-25 05:38

I don't actually consider any of my views as being dissenting of Objectivism. But this forum is so lonely...


I'm all about Objectivism. However, one serious point of departure I have with philosopher Ayn Rand springs from her essay 'The Ethics of Emergencies.'

We've a Universe of challange to cope with by the instrument of our philosophy. A Universe, I say. It is no mere summer holiday in peace time or well-supplied wintering season for which we must prepare ourselves but a Universe!

Predicate your philosophy on a Universe of peace and calm without factoring in hell and chaos? These are the times that test and prove philosophy, they tell you your wisdom is fit for a Universe and not some calm spot therein!

My philosophy is made to last, not to be surrendered in times of accident and emergency. I'm ready for peace AND I'm ready for war. My principles last longer than the next emergency and all the emergencies yet to come. It is only because it is a Universe of Reason that makes such a philosophy possible, desirable, necesssary.

And you fair-weather philosophers who confine your scope to the best of times would call my philosophy contingent!? Give me a break!

First posted on NZB3


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Hi Rick,

krishna2's picture

So there is nothing that you would disagree with me.Ok!...smiling...

Well that shut you up

Rick Giles's picture

there is one reality and one correct metaphysics of reason!

Yeah. Good.

But according to you the first axiom of the universe which is Existence Exists is not valid!

Not at all. I'm very much at home with that one.

Hi Rick,

krishna2's picture

I have tried you!

And there is one reality and one correct metaphysics of reason!

But according to you the first axiom of the universe which is Existence Exists is not valid!

So what according to you is the first axiom of the universe?...smiling...

Hi Krishna2

Rick Giles's picture

You may or may not be interested in this - But there is no one superior to me on this earth in this universe!...smiling...

Try me.

You really want the complete answer to every possible questions in this Universe?

All things are contained in philosophy, all men in the philosopher. Don't fob it off to some book or some message board- answer for yourself, and with superiority. Is there or is there not one reality and is there or is there not one metaphysic of reason?

Um, ok....

JoeM's picture

"Observe that there are loads of memories locked in our
subconsciousness from our many past births.
But the more profound and important fact is that my consciousness is exactly one and the same in any of mine past,
present and future births though my body is different."

You pulling my leg here, Krishnad?

Hi Rick Giles,

krishna2's picture

Even when I read Ayn Rand for the first time at 17, I never thought that she was superior to me!

Because she is not! You may or may not be interested in this - But there is no one superior to me

on this earth in this universe!...smiling...

  You really want the complete answer to every possible questions in this Universe?

 Then go here and read everything on this message board -

   http://aynrand.meetup.com/boards

Reality intersecting reason

Rick Giles's picture

Hey.

"Rand specified that life is "impossible" in an emergency"
perhaps you could explain why "Ethics of Emergencies" is contradictory to Objectivism"

This essay apportions a domain of reality beyond the powers of man- that is the contradiction. A major tennet of Objectivism is that, with the right philosophy, man is fit to live in this universe; to apprehend reality.

If it is true that we are subject to the full consequences of reality yet that only portions of reality are subject to our comprehension then Objectivism fails.

"We assume that it is possible to survive by normal means in this universe.
In our experience, it almost always is.
We very rarely come close to death, and usually things happen in a predictable way.

"Assume" survival is "possible?" "Normal means" (vs supernatural means?). "Almost always possible" to live in this universe? Reality is "usually predictable?" Listen to yourself echo this essay.

That isn't good enough.
Survival MUST BE possible. Reality MUST BE (if not predicted) predictable. Normal application to philosophy MUST function unless the premise is that the philosophy does not fulfil its function.

"If life was hellish, and the universe unpredictable - all the time - then how could Objectivism help you?"

I consider that a hypothetical question. Why don't you?

Answer: It couldn't. Ayn Rand's philosophy would, but for this essay, be bunk.

"A principle must be generalised from reality.

Yes, reality. All of reality though- of which chaos and strife and emergency are as much a part as peace and normalcy.

"You should act in completely different ways in peace and in war
because the situations are so different."

Not in principle. In principle it's all the same, only the applications change.

There's nothing in my philosophy that doesn't hold up to hell or high water. If Objectivism is no use to us at those times then what good is Objectivism now?

Hi,

krishna2's picture

 Damn this picture!...smiling... Andrew,gone to sleep?...smiling... 

"What is immoral in one context might be moral in another given context"

  Sure, you are right there!

But I think that you can keep teaching Ayn Rand and objectivism to people for the next 5 billion years on this earth and they will still not agree with you because they don't want to!Do they really

want to see Roark and what he does all the time?...laughing...

They want a world where each one of them wants to think that he is the most superior guy.

Like the attempt of Jesus in Europe when the highest man did not show up there!...smiling...

The entry of Galt or Krishna spoils the fun for them,the fun which mostly consists of bloodshed

mixed with boredom!

   So I think [and as Ayn thought], it all really comes down to A is A! And will always remain so!

And according to this supreme law of reality, the final say on this earth is always had by the highest

Man!

       Any objections, anyone here?...smiling...

I disagree

Phil Howison's picture

Rick,
Thanks Phil. But your commentary doesn't give me any perspective I lacked. I find that this essay contradicts the rest of the philosophy.

I disagree. But I don't understand your argument. In fact, what IS your argument? Your first post is, consciously I suppose, pure emotive rhetoric (well, and an amusing cartoon). I don't have anything against emotive rhetoric, but perhaps you could explain why "Ethics of Emergencies" is contradictory to Objectivism - after all, the burden of proof is on you, the dissenter.

Predicate your philosophy on a Universe of peace and calm without factoring in hell and chaos? These are the times that test and prove philosophy, they tell you your wisdom is fit for a Universe and not some calm spot therein!
My philosophy is made to last, not to be surrendered in times of accident and emergency.

What about the benevolent universe premise? We assume that it is possible to survive by normal means in this universe. In our experience, it almost always is. We very rarely come close to death, and usually things happen in a predictable way. Objectivist principles are based on a benevolent universe - one where life is possible, and where you can make long-term decisions. If life was hellish, and the universe unpredictable - all the time - then how could Objectivism help you? Objectivism assumes predictablity, and it assumes that life is worth living.

Thats why Rand specified that life is "impossible" in an emergency. She also didn't say - as you seem to imply - that philosophy does not apply. Only certain moral principles. And that makes sense. What's a principle? I know you're not using the same definition as me. A principle must be generalised from reality. You should act in completely different ways in peace and in war, because the situations are so different. It doesn't mean you've abandoned philosophy or morality, just that you have accepted reality.

Yeah, "Only in an emergency should one volunteer to help strangers" Ayn Rand writes. This also I find prima facie ridiculous.

Apply a bit of context. What example did Ayn Rand use? What sort of help did she mean? Does it seem so ridiculous keeping that in mind?

Things that make you go "Mmmm"

Rick Giles's picture

Thanks Phil. But your commentary doesn't give me any perspective I lacked. I find that this essay contradicts the rest of the philosophy.

Nor is it immoral to help strangers

Yeah, "Only in an emergency should one volunteer to help strangers" Ayn Rand writes. This also I find prima facie ridiculous.

Never the less, I've yet to find an Objectivist who didn't swallow this essay whole, polylogical metaphysics and all.

Excerpt

Phil Howison's picture

This is from an article I drafted but never completed last year.

According to Ayn Rand, it is not immoral, in an emergency, to kill or steal to survive. Nor is it immoral to help strangers. In fact, normal morality does not apply at all in an emergency - defined in "The Ethics of Emergencies" as "an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible".

Obviously, Rand does not mean that death is inevitable in an emergency. However, survival by normal means is impossible. This is because an emergency presents an entirely different context to our everyday existence. There may be a disharmony of interests, or it may be impossible to maintain your life by your own effort, for example. The Objectivist ethics apply to situations where there is a fundamental harmony of interests between rational men, so they would be counterproductive in some emergency situations. Rand explains that for men hit by an emergency, "their only task is to return to those conditions under which their lives can continue".

This also means that helping strangers who are victims of emergencies is not altruistic - rather, it stems from the general benevolence that Objectivists should have towards all humans, "in the name of their human potential". Rand also suggests that if you must steal in order to survive, then once life has returned to normal, you should make restitution to the owner.

Rand also discussed this issue in a radio interview in the 1960s. The question put to her was whether a man, held at gunpoint and ordered to kill another man, should be considered guilty of murder. Rand concluded that "No exact, objective morality can be prescribed for an issue where a man's life is endangered". The man in question cannot be held morally responsible, no matter what he chooses to do.

These questions about emergency situations shed light on an important issue - the way in which moral principles are abstracted from reality. Objective morality, unlike subjective or intrinsic morality, is related to reality, and therefore dependent on context. What would be an immoral act in one context is moral in another context. Following moral principles is not valuable in itself, but only to the extent that it furthers your life. We follow principles because they make our decisions easier, not as a substitute for the need to make decisions.

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