Dr. Andrew Bernstein: The Nature of the Good

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Submitted by Kasper on Sun, 2010-01-10 05:41

The Nature of the Good as it appears in the Capitalist Manifesto by Andrew Bernstein, published by University Press of America, appears by permission of the publisher

The history of capitalism provides ample evidence from which to induce the moral and philosophical principles that form the intellectual foundation of the system.

Here is the meaning of the achievements of the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution and the Inventive Period: If and when the advancement of human life on earth is held to be the ruling concern, men are superbly able to accomplish it. The attainments of those centuries show that the reasoning mind is the principal means by which such advancement is gained. They indicate that productiveness is a major moral virtue. Finally, to the surprise of some, they show that egoism – the theory urging a man’s pursuit of his rational self-interest – is an unsurpassed force for good.

The explication and validation of these principles will be the task of the next three chapters. [Only one chapter will be posted here]

The Conventional Moral Code

These principles have often, even generally, been opposed by modern intellectuals. Most of the leading philosophers of the past two centuries did not critique or even question the deeply entrenched ethical beliefs of mankind. They were content to accept the principle that a man must live for his brothers (altruism) – and that its political corollaries: that society as a whole is pre-eminent over the individual, who owes it unremitting service (collectivism) – and that the government must be granted the legal power to enforce an individual’s social obligations (statism).

Typical of the post-Kantian history of moral philosophy is a relentless assault on the theory that a man should properly be the beneficiary of his own actions (egoism) – and on its political corollaries, the creed that a man has an inalienable right to his own life and is not the slave of society (individualism) – and that the government’s sole legitimate function is to protect an individual’s rights (capitalism). Indeed, the altruist-collectivist-statist axis utterly dominates moral and political theory of the past 200 years.

The profoundly influential German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, was so extreme an advocate of duty, of renunciation of self-interest as the criterion of virtuous action, he claimed that if a man desired to perform the action commanded by duty, he could never be certain that his action was morally pure, i.e., that it was not selfish, hence immoral. To be certain of the moral worth of his act, it must be performed in defiance of his personal desires. This was true even of a duty to preserve one’s own life. “But if adversities and hopeless sorrow completely take away the relish for life, if an unfortunate man…wishes for death, and yet preserves his life without loving it and from neither inclination [desire] nor fear but from duty – then his maxim has a moral import,” i.e., his motivation is morally pure.

Though subsequent thinkers disagreed with Kant on a thousand specifics, they generally agreed that virtue required a full divorce of morality and self-interest. “The absence of all egoistic motivation is, therefore, the criterion of an action of moral worth,” taught German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. 1

The American philosopher, John Dewey, admired the moral code of the Soviet Union (which he visited in 1928), especially its effect on education. Unlike American educators, Dewey believed, their Soviet counterparts were not hampered in the quest for social change by “the egoistic and private ideals and methods inculcated by the institution of private property, profit and acquisitive possession.”

Dewey’s colleague, the Progressive educator, George Counts, also visited the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Counts similarly bemoaned the individualism and selfishness of American society and admired Soviet teaching methods. Activity in Soviet schools, he enthused, “is activity with a strongly collective bias,” and: “individual success is completely subordinated to the ideal of serving the state and through the state the working class.” 2

Nor was devotion to altruism and collectivism limited to moral philosophers and educators. The eminent American historian, Charles Beard, in his essay, “The Myth of Rugged Individualism,” wrote in the Depression year of 1931: “The cold truth is that the individualist creed… is principally responsible for the distress in which Western civilization finds itself.” Beard, arguing in support of socialism, stated: “The task before us, then, is not to furbish up an old slogan, but to get rid of it, to discover how much planning is necessary, by whom it can best be done.”3

The logic of the anti-capitalist thesis is clear. If, in his personal life, a man has unchosen obligations to others – indeed, if the essence of virtue is to provide selfless service for those others – then, in the consideration of social issues, the needs of the public as a whole (others on a grand scale) take precedence over an individual’s own values, and it is morally imperative that the government be legally empowered to coerce those recalcitrant individuals too selfish to discharge their social responsibilities.

For decades now, even centuries, Western man has been inundated with an intellectual onslaught railing against self-interested action and individualism. The extent to which most professional intellectuals of the past century have embraced the altruist-collectivist-statist axis in philosophy is unimaginable to the average American, who shares none of these premises. For example, in a recent interview, Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes, two American historians who have written carefully researched accounts of the involvement by American Communists in Soviet espionage, were asked regarding the denial of Communism’s horrific crimes by many anti-capitalist historians. Their answer revealed a remarkable depth of insight:

"Many of those you speak of live in a different reality from that of the rest of us. Psychologically, they do not see what you see. They see the present and the past through a special lens. What is overwhelmingly clear to them is an imagined future collectivist utopia where antagonisms of class and race have been eliminated… poverty does not exist and social justice reigns…and an economy planned by people like themselves have produced economic abundance...You look at Soviet history and see the Gulag, the executions of the Terror, the pervasive oppression… Psychologically, the leftists you speak of see little of that. They see a Communist state that articulated their vision of the future and which sought to destroy the societies and institutions they hated. They cannot see the horror that communism actually created."4

Nor, on such moral premises, can they see the life-giving abundance that capitalism actually created.

Until the 20th century, these premises were not challenged by any thinker able to provide a systematic rational alternative. Nietzsche, for example, originated sharp, effective criticism of altruism, which he termed the “slave morality,” but he was an enemy of reason and beyond his often brilliant polemic had little positive moral guidance to offer men.

But at the same time, by the 20th century, a vast amount of historical data had accumulated regarding both the mind’s role in human life and the contrasting practical effects of the two opposing moral-political systems – egoism-individualism-capitalism and altruist-collectivism-statism.

The Fundamentals of Ethics

The exponents of capitalism wrought the extensive progress in freedom and living standards described above. The anti-individualist, collectivist backlash against the revolutionary individualism and freedom of the 19th century originated in post-Kantain Germany, let by the philosophers, G.W.F. Hegel and Karl Marx. In the 20th century, followers of their theories created the two most virulent statist regimes of history – Communist Russia and National Socialist Germany. The extreme to which individuals were compelled to sacrifice for the state in these two societies made them exact antitheses of the United States. The inevitable results of these dictatorships were enslavement, genocide and war. Both of these regimes denied men the right to their own lives and their own minds, and consequently were no match for the capitalist West. One succumbed, the other collapsed – and the truth regarding collectivism was revealed. The historical evidence necessary to identify the role of the mind in man’s life, and man’s necessity of freedom, was now fully available, if there could only arise a mind great enough to comprehend its meaning.

Such a mind did arise. It belonged to Ayn Rand.

Not surprisingly, Ayn Rand (1905-1982), born in Czarist Russia, was educated under the Communists but chose to live under the capitalists. She defected to the United States in 1926, where she lived the rest of her life. It took an individual (real name, Alisa Rosenbaum) born under one form of statism, raised under another, and who was an American by conscious choice and conviction, to finally identify the revolutionary moral and philosophical principles validating the intellectual foundations of capitalism. To do so, she went to the fundamental issues of moral philosophy.

Ayn Rand re-conceived the foundations of morality in light of the achievements of the Industrial and American Revolutions.

The field of morality – or ethics – deals with questions of right and wrong, good and bad, what men should and should not do. But what makes some action or individual good or evil? Similarly, what makes a political-economic system just or unjust? If capitalism – or any other element of human life – is to be morally judged, to be evaluated as good or evil, then men need to identify what constitutes virtue or vice, right or wrong. They need a criterion or yardstick by means of which to assess such qualities. For example, if a man held that working hard and supporting himself by honest effort was good, most human beings would doubtless agree. But what makes it good? Is it God’s will – or society’s judgement – or each individual’s belief for himself? Alternatively, is there some immutable fact of reality, some law of nature, that requires productive work of men – some fact, not the will or whim of some being or group of them?

The question regards a possible fundamental fact of reality that underlies and gives rise to men’s concepts of good and evil – it involves the relationship between facts and values, i.e., between facts and that which men consider valuable, right, proper, good.

Ayn Rand raised the questions: “Is the concept of value, of ‘good or evil’ an arbitrary human invention… unsupported by any facts of reality – or is it based on a metaphysical fact, on an unalterable condition of man’s existence?” Is ethics based solely in subjective whim – whether individual, social or divine – or is it grounded in hard objective fact? Is the field of morality merely a matter of taste, like dessert, varying from group to group or individual to individual – or is it, properly understood, a science, providing solid, fact-based principles to guide human behaviour? Asked simply: what is the relationship between values and facts? 5

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, in a famous passage, inquired if an “ought” proposition could be derived from an “is” proposition, i.e., if judgements of good and evil, of what men ought and ought not to do, could be based on matters of fact. His answer was an unqualified “no.” For example, Hume might argue that though it is true that man has a rational mind which education enhances, the claim “education is good” does not logically follow. Hume’s point is that although he can observe an individual studying, gaining knowledge, applying it, etc., he cannot observe the “good” or the “rightness” in any of these actions; neither can he observe the “bad” or the “wrongness” in the actions of those who abjure intellectual development. He concluded that there was no evidence upon which to assert a positive relationship between facts and values.

This has been a dominant form in which the question has been raised and answered. The majority of thinkers throughout history have held that there is no positive relationship between values and facts. These philosophers argued that matters of right and wrong are decided by somebody’s will – be it God’s, Society’s, or an individual’s for himself; that the laws and the facts of nature are irrelevant to the questions of good and evil.

Ayn Rand identified that most of the leading moral philosophers of history have construed ethics as a discipline dominated by irrational whim. One school, the religionists, held that “God’s will” was the standard of good and evil – while modern thinkers have generally offered nothing more than a secularized version of religion, arguing that the “will of the people” is the source of right and wrong. Others, recognizing the authoritarianism inherent in both the religious and social approaches, claimed that the good is what each individual wills for himself. But conspicuously absent in all three historical schools of ethics are facts, reason, logic. Ethics has been predominantly a matter of whims and arbitrary decrees. The ultimate question is: are values objective? Or phrased alternatively: is there a factual basis for moral judgements? 6

To answer this affirmatively, ethics must be examined from a fresh perspective. To sweep aside the errors of the past and to make a new start, it is necessary to begin at the beginning. In the field of morality, the first questions to be answered are: What are values? What role do they play in man’s life? Why do human beings need them? All subsequent quotes and paraphrasings in the philosophy section are from the work of Ayn Rand or that of her leading student, philosopher Leonard Peikoff.

Ayn Rand defined “value” as that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The existence of values presupposes a being that requires such things and is able to attain them – a being capable of pursuing specific ends in the face of an alternative. Where no alternatives exist, she wrote, no goals, no ends, no values are possible.

The essence of Ayn Rand’s revolutionary ethics lies in her identification of the relationship between values and the nature of living beings.

There is but one basic alternative in reality, she argued, and it applies only to living beings. Inanimate matter cannot be destroyed; it changes its forms, but it does not and cannot cease to exist. But life is not unconditional. Organisms face a constant alternative: the matter of life and death. Any organism must initiate and sustain an ongoing series of actions to remain alive. If it fails to find or grow food, build shelter, etc., it will die. Its chemical constituents remain in existence, but its life is irretrievable gone. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”7

The issue of good or evil arises in the world only because certain actions sustain the life of an organism – and others harm or kill it. For example, men can imagine a universe devoid of life forms, a world of rock and sun and sea, but no living beings. In such a universe, Ayn Rand argued, there would be no such thing as good or evil, no values or valuing – the phenomenon as such would not arise. For what could harm or benefit the wind? Or the tides? Or a rock or a grain of sand? What could be good for it – or ill? The rational answers to all such questions are: not applicable. There are no courses of action for such inanimate objects or processes to pursue that would improve their existence, and none that could undermine it.

But for a plant, an animal, a man, conditions are fundamentally different. It a plant fails to dig its roots into the soil by means of which to gain chemical nutrients – it dies. Similarly, if a lion cannot hunt to gain the meat it needs – or if human beings do not succeed in building shelter from winter and the elements – they will perish. Living beings – and only living beings – have to attain certain ends in order to sustain their existences. Consequently, it is a profound error to hold that a man being stabbed and the knife piercing his body are similar kinds of entities merely because each is a collection of atoms in motion. Put simply, one of these entities can loose his life; the other is incapable of it. In this sense, living beings are destructible – but matter as such is not. One of these two can become inanimate – but the other already is.8

The basis of Ayn Rand’s ethics is this fundamental, irreducible, factual distinction between living and non-living entities. To remain in – or to exist – the realm of existence is the fundamental alternative faced by all living beings and only by them. This alternative between existence and non-existence is the pre-condition of valuing as such. If a being did not face such an alternative, it could not pursue goals or values of any kind.9

To concretize her point, Ayn Rand introduced the idea of an immortal, indestructible robot, “which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed.” Such a creature, she argued, would be a value-less being; for it, nothing could be good or evil, because nothing could harm or promote its existence. “Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”10

Consequently, such a being is incapable of taking any course of action. It may be confronted by alternatives – but none lead it to purposeful action. There is no reason for it to choose one alternative as distinct from another, because the fundamental alternative that gives rise to values is absent. “There is no ‘to be or not to be’”. The need to take action applies only to a being who possesses two characteristics: the potential to be destroyed – and the ability to prevent it. The ultimate goal of preserving its life makes possible all other goals.

For example, without the constant alternative of life or death, the robot could not enjoy a good meal – for being indestructible, it has no need of nutrition. Nor could it relax by watching a movie. Relax from what? Relaxation is a necessity for beings who work to sustain their lives. But this being has no concern about the sustenance of its existence. Values exist solely to sustain life. Where there is no need to sustain life, there can be no values – no good and no evil.

“Only the alternative of live vs. death creates the context for value-oriented action, and it does so only if the entity’s end is to preserve its life. By the very nature of ‘value’, therefore, any code of values must hold life as the ultimate value.”11

Ayn Rand’s robot example was an illustration from a negative standpoint, showing the processes that an indestructible, inanimate being could not perform. It is possible to argue for the same conclusion from a positive standpoint, as well, by showing the processes that a destructible, animate being must perform (if it is to sustain its life). The existence of a bird, for example, though far simpler than that of a man, involves a series of activities it must successfully perform in order to remain alive. Externally, above all, it must learn to fly; it must hunt the worms or other food it requires; it must find the sticks or twigs it needs to build its nest; on the ground, it must be ceaselessly alert to elude cats or other predators; etc. Further, internally, its digestive, respiratory, circulatory systems, etc., must function without impairment. If any of these processes (or others) go awry, its life can be terminated. If, for example, it relaxes its vigilance for one moment as it hunts for worms, it can become the hunted and itself be killed. This is an example of merely one kind of living being from among thousands. Universally, the continuous series of actions that must be successfully performed for the purpose of sustaining life constitutes the sole basis for the existence of values.

No organism can choose the necessities of its survival. These are determined by reality – by the organism’s nature, by the essence of the kind of being that it is. In the case of any organism, the goals that it must attain and the processes that it must perform, are pre-set by nature: the requirements of its life are the fundamental fact that necessitate the ends it must reach and the steps it must take. What it is determines what it should do.

The maintenance of life requires a ceaseless process of self-sustaining action – whether to eat, to find or build shelter, to carry on involuntary life-support functions, etc. The goal of such activities, the ultimate value to be attained, is an organism’s own life.

An ultimate value is the final goal toward which all actions are but necessary steps or means. A final value provides the standard or criterion by reference to which any lesser goal is appraised. “An organism’s life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is evil.”12

This is the revolutionary identification that has finally, after 2500 years of the history of philosophy, tied values – and by that means, ethics – to facts. Morality is now a science, a field of objective, rational, fact-based analysis; it is no longer a matter of will or whim or desire – whether social or personal.

Ayn Rand’s answer to Hume and the other philosophers who argue that no positive relationship can be established between values and facts is that the nature of living beings necessitates the existence of values. Therefore, moral principles are established by reference to the facts of reality. “The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.” This represents a proper understanding of the relationship between “is” and “ought.”13

What, then, is the standard of moral value, the objective measuring rod by reference to which something may be evaluated as good or evil? The standard of value of Ayn Rand’s ethics – the standard by which one judges what is good and evil – is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man. “Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.”14

To express Ayn Rand’s point simply: all that which objectively promotes man’s life, the life of a rational being – whether a nutritious meal, an education, a love relationship, the construction of skyscrapers and cities, the invention of labour-saving devices, cures for diseases, etc. – is the good. All that which objectively harms or destroys human life – whether poison, a blow to the head, the physical destruction of skyscrapers and cities, the forcible prevention of education, religious-racial-or-political persecution, etc. – is the evil.

What has been so far established is that values – and, consequently, all judgements of good and evil – come into existence only because living beings need to reach certain goals in order to sustain their lives; and that without life – its nature and its requirements – the concepts of “value” and of “good and evil” would have no rational meaning. Since values exist only to serve life, the objective requirements of life are the standard by means of which all existents are evaluated.

The Validation of Egoism

A second critical moral principle follows logically: if values come into existence only to sustain life, then living beings must achieve values. Each one of them should, properly, seek those values its nature requires for the advancement of its own life. This provides a rational answer to one of the major questions of moral philosophy: who should be the beneficiary of values? The question is generally stated: who should be the beneficiary of an individual’s actions? There are essentially two possible answers – the individual himself – or others.

Ayn Rand’s answer is a straightforward derivation from her fundamentals: an individual himself should benefit from his actions. Egoism – each individual’s pursuit of his own self-interest – is the only proper moral code.

Several points must be made to establish egoism. The first can be stated simply: if values come into existence only to sustain life, who or what is alive? Only particular things exist in general, and only individuals live. This is abundantly clear at the non-human level of life. A plant digs its roots into the soil and turns its leaves toward the sun to gain the chemical nutrients and sunlight it needs to sustain its life. A bird must fly to further its survival. A plant or an animal: “as a living entity, each necessarily acts for its own sake; each is the beneficiary of its own actions.” These organisms necessarily, automatically and non-volitionally pursue the values that their lives require. 15

In The Fountainhead, the novel’s hero, Howard Roark, makes this point clearly: “We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred.” Just as there is no collective stomach engaged in digestion – only many individual ones – so there is no collective organism whose survival depends on value achievement; there are only many individual ones, and the life of each one is sustained only be reaching those goals its nature stipulates.16

Properly understood, egoism is a corollary of man’s life as the standard of moral value: since values exist solely to promote life, each living being must pursue and gain the values its sustenance demands. Plants and animals have no choice regarding their pursuit of values. They do so automatically by a pre-programming hard-wired into their nature. “Plants and animals do not have to decide who is to be the beneficiary of their actions.” They often fail in their pursuit of values and die – but they are incapable of repudiating the quest for values that their lives depend on. Humans are the sole beings who must pursue values by choice.17

Human beings can choose between, for example, nutrition food and poison, between education and ignorance, between medical care and neglect of an ailment, etc. They can make the fundamental choice between life and death – and, similarly, the choice between policies that promote life and those that promote death. Indeed, throughout history and to this day, men have often chosen self-destructive, suicidal courses of action. Because of this, “man must choose to accept the essence of life. He must choose to make self-sustenance into the fundamental rule of his voluntary behaviour. The man who makes this choice is an ‘egotist’.

“’Egoistic,’ in the Objectivist view, means self-sustaining by an act of choice and as a matter of principle.”18

According to Objectivism, to be an egoist in the proper and highest sense of that term is a significant achievement. It involves a consistent and unbreached commitment to the values upon which a man’s life as a reasoning being depends. Because life requires the attainment of values, because good and evil come into existence only because of this fundamental fact, it follows that the essence of moral virtue is value achievement, i.e., it involves the attempt of each individual to further his own life. Virtue is egoistic.

The heroes of the Enlightenment and the Inventive Period are perfect examples of egoism. The issue goes far deeper than that James Watt, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, et al, made well-deserved fortunes from their creative work. It is even more than that they pursued the work they loved and, consequently, lived passionately and joyously. These are important and legitimate aspects of egoism. But the fundamental point is that – at least at an implicit level – they recognized that their advances were in accordance with the survival requirements of man’s life and dedicated themselves to their full development. They lived the rationally creative lives proper to men. This is the essence of egoism.

Properly conceived and implemented, egoism is profoundly and uniquely benevolent force in human life – and the great heroes of capitalism make the clearest examples. It is only because Watt, Edison, Bell, et al., fulfilled their dreams that the rest of mankind benefited. If the great creators surrendered, betrayed or sacrificed the goals so dear to them, then their life-giving work would not have been brought to fruition. They would have suffered because of abandoning their values, and the lives of millions of others would not have been enriched.

Since egoism is the striving by a man for the ends that factually promote his life as a human being, a secondary but important consequence is that other human beings are benefited by his attainment of his values, not by his sacrifice of them.

The Code of Self-Sacrifice

It has been tragically rare that the nature of egoism has been recognised in human history. The most influential moral codes taught mankind have abjured egoism or selfishness in favour of self-sacrifice in some form.

Any version of the code of self-sacrifice undercuts morality at its base. “Life requires that man gain values, not lose them. It requires assertive action, achievement, success, not abnegation, renunciation, surrender. It requires self-tending – in other words, the exact opposite of sacrifice.”19

Ayn Rand defines “sacrifice” as the surrender of a higher value for a lesser value or a non-value. For example, if a man values a new car more than anything else – if its purchase would give him more joy than any other use of his money – but he spends it instead to provide for his sick brother out of a sense of guilt, an action that brings him little or no joy, but only a drab sense of a duty discharged, then this is a sacrifice. On the other hand, if parents value their child’s education more than a new car – as most do – then the expenditures on his/her schooling is not a sacrifice. Sacrifice is the betrayal of values – and the higher the value, the worse the betrayal. Nor is it a sacrifice to pursue an exhausting course of action in support of another human being who is an enormous value, e.g., one’s husband, wife, child or dearest friend.

The lives of the great men of the Scottish Enlightenment and British Industrial Revolution provide vivid examples. Thomas Telford, John Rennie, George Stephenson, et al., came from families vastly more deprived than what would currently be described in America as “disadvantaged.” Each one endured unimaginable hardships to achieve his education and his success. Men such as these, to navigate the distance between the depths where they started and the heights they attained, necessarily scrimped and scrounged, went without, shivered with cold in unheated attics because their pennies were devoted to books, not to fuel. Conventionally, such heroic deeds are described as “sacrifices,” because they chose to do without food or winter clothing.

Ayn Rand’s analysis is much more accurate. These men were uncompromising valuers, egoists in the truest sense. Their education, their career, and their long-term success were far more important to them than the lesser values they temporarily denied themselves. It was only because they fixated on the shining goals before them that they were bale to overcome every obstacle in their path. It was these grand-scale shining goals that they refused to surrender. These were men who would not compromise with themselves nor sacrifice what was dearest. Their unbreached commitment to values gave them the strength to wage and win their personal struggles.

Values come into existence only to sustain man’s life – and because of this, it is exactly values that must not be sacrificed. In principle, man cannot live by the abandonment of his values; by this policy, he can only die. To attain values is the code of life. To sacrifice them is the code of death.

For example, human beings must strive to achieve an education, a productive career, a comfortable home, a fulfilling love relationship and/or family, a circle of intimate friends, etc. It is these values that enable a man to lead an active, flourishing, happy life. But in myriad forms the code of sacrifice dictates the surrender of these things – whether of your money to the poor – or of the man or women you love to your disapproving family – or of your mind to a Nazi, Communist or Islamist dictator, etc. Without his values, a man’s life loses all meaning; indeed, without his values, he cannot survive at all.

The nature of reality, of life, of morality demand that a man be egoistic. This is the only code of healthy, flourishing, joyous life.

Cynical Exploitativeness

But in the history of moral philosophy, egoism has often been interpreted as a code of callous victimization. It is generally believed that to be selfish means to victimize other human beings, to ignore their goals and their rights, to violate and abuse them. Is this the actual nature of egoism? Is this the code endorsed by Ayn Rand?

Egoism must be distinguished from the code that can best be described as cynical exploitativeness, the theory that human life is indistinguishable from a jungle struggle, that others are a man’s natural prey, and that they exist solely for him to use and victimize. This is the code of the liar, the cheat, the criminal, of any man who seeks gain by duplicitous, dishonest and/or coercive means. The exploiter is not interested in working for what he wants; he doesn’t seek to earn values, merely to get them.

To a significant degree, the ancien regime embodied the exploitative code. Lines of hereditary aristocrats were generally founded by conquest. The serfs were force into labour, virtually enslaved, and conscripted into the nobles’ armies to fight and die in their interminable wars seeking power and plunder. The commoners more broadly were subjugated and forced into obedience. Economic restrictions were imposed. Taxes were levied. Freethinking was proscribed. Dissenters were imprisoned. The aristocrats, whose trade was warfare, did not work, but grew rich by impoverishing the commoners, who did. It was a system of institutionalized oppression: the lords claimed innate superiority by virtue of bloodlines and thereby rightful dominion over the “inferior” masses. In a word, the commoners had no rights, but existed to serve their masters, who ruled by force.

The egoist, on the other hand, recognizes that egoism is a principle, that it applies universally, that all human beings must unobstructedly pursue their values and happiness – and that this same principle that protects him from others, protects others from him. Men must work hard and earn their values and their happiness, not seek them by victimizing innocent others. On the egoistic code of Ayn Rand, none may be granted the license to impede the quest for values undertaken by another.

Egoism is a requirement of human life; consequently, every individual needs to act in accordance with his own thinking in pursuit of his own values. The clearest expression of this aspect of the Objectivist ethics is the oath taken by the hero of Atlas Shrugged: “I swear – by my life and my love of it – that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” The theme emphasized by this oath is the evil of human sacrifice – in all of its forms, regardless of who is the victim and who the beneficiary. Ever human being is an end in himself. Ayn Rand advocated a non-sacrificial way of life – a mode of conduct that eschews both altruism and cynical exploitativeness, both the sacrifice of self to others and the sacrifice of others to self. 20

Although, historically, altruism and exploitativeness have postured as opposites, Ayn Rand pointed out that they differ only as variations on a theme. Neither have outgrown the primitive call for human sacrifice. They differ merely regarding the question of who is to be sacrificed to whom. The altruist claims that self should be sacrificed to others; the cynical exploiter claims that others should be sacrificed to self. But they agree that a non-sacrificial mode of life is neither possible nor desirable. This is why Ayn Rand categorized the two together, calling the combination: the cannibal morality.

If a man rejects the principle of egoism, it makes no moral difference which school of oppression he advocates. Whether he holds that others should be sacrificed to self – or self to others – he claims that martyrdom and victimization are inherent, ineradicable features of human life. The only question then is: a man’s life for the sake of others – or theirs for his? “This question does not represent a dispute about a moral principle. It is nothing but haggling over victims by two camps who share the same principle”. 21

Philosopher Leonard Peikoff points out that Ayn Rand emphatically rejected this viewpoint. Objectivism holds that the requirements of human life are not consonant with sacrifice in any of its forms, regardless of who is sacrificed to whom. In The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand argued that a moral individual repudiates sadism and masochism, domination and submission, the receiving of sacrifices or the making of them. What such a man stands for is “a self-sufficient ego,” i.e., an individual who thinks and lives by his own mind and effort in pursuit of his own happiness. 22

To some degree, the ethics of egoism was embraced during the Enlightenment. Thomas Jefferson wrote, after all, that men had the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” At least implicitly, the doctrine of the Rights of Man upheld the moral principle that men had the right to their own lives. The political expression of this theme was explicit: men must be liberated from the tyrannical grip of the ancien regime, freed to pursue their own goals, to seek their own profit and happiness. Though the code of egoism was neither grounded in an objective basis nor fully articulated until the work of Ayn Rand, even in its mitigated 18th century form it promoted the dramatic results described above.

Just as there is no such thing as too much health, too much intelligence or too much justice, so there is no such thing as too much egoism – for that would mean: to much pursuit of values. Properly conceived and fully implemented, it is a moral force that will transfigure the world to an even greater degree than was achieved by its causal role in the original Industrial and American Revolutions.

The Third Fundamental Moral Question

Ethics deals with three fundamental, interrelated questions. These are: What is the source of values – or the good? Who should be the beneficiary of values? By what means do human beings gain values? The answers to these questions identify the ultimate value, the specific beneficiary and the principle virtue supported by a moral system. So far answers have been provided for the first two questions. The objective requirements of life form the source of values. Each individual should strive to earn the values his own life requires. The answer to the third question remains to be discussed.

But the great creators of the Inventive Period already taught men the answer. By what means did George Washington Carver revolutionize agricultural science? How did John Roebling improve the design of suspension bridges and create his masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge? What instrument did George Eastman employ to utterly transform the field of photography? In all of these cases and in many others, the answer is: the reasoning mind. The great achievements of science, technology, industry, as well as those of philosophy, literature and the arts, that uplift men and carry them from the caves to the skyscrapers, are the province of genius, of superlative thinking, of rationality.

Man’s mind – his rational faculty – as the primary means by which he promotes his life is the subject of the next chapter.

Summary

The leading philosophers and thinkers of modern culture have generally held a moral code of self-sacrifice bitterly antithetical to capitalism’s essence.

Ayn Rand identified and validated the fundamental principles of a rational ethics that establish capitalism’s rectitude and explain its life-promoting success. The requirements of human life form the standard by which good and evil are judged. That which promotes the life of a rational being is the good; that which harms or destroys it is the evil. It follows from this that an individual should pursue a course of action that furthers his own life, i.e., that he should be egoistic.

The next logical question is: By what means will men gain the values their lives depend on?

This material is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute or reprint.


Not to worry :-)

Chris Cathcart's picture

My time is quite limited as it is, so if I'm not getting a sense that it's high priority to respond, I'll act accordingly.

Goode Luck, Mr C.

James S. Valliant's picture

Gosh, I hope I did not "open us up to the false alternative of either committing a naturalistic fallacy or of resorting to Moorean intuition by which we observe some act and simply 'see' that the act is good or bad."

I have a vast context with Dr. Goode, Chris, and as much as I wish you well, I doubt that your calm, rational argumentation will have any impact on getting him to understand your interpretation of Rand, or, at least, to acknowledge an understanding of it. Even when you get to the epistemic base and think that you are merely pointing.

I would love to be proven wrong.

Oughts

Chris Cathcart's picture

I should also throw into all this the issue of how you derive an "ought." An ought is an imperative, and to say that someone ought to do something is to say that they have a reason to do something. This is where Kant can be useful. His model of practical reason is a reaction to David Hume's. Hume, the empiricist, doesn't observe any "oughts," just that we have these passions (Kant called them inclinations) and reason is merely in a subservient role of discovering the causal means (putting aside for the moment the Humean problem that "cause" is merely a habit of thought) by which our passions can be satisfied. So the hypothetical-imperative you get from this - "If you want X, do Y" is empty, morally speaking. It speaks not at all to the rightness of X, even as it purports to give us a reason to do Y. So it's not an "ought" that informs us morally, and, operating on the Humean level, we're still without a concept of "ought," morally speaking, that avoids the naturalistic fallacy. Kant, transcending the rationalist-empiricist dichotomy in his own way, says that we can make sense of moral "ought" but not by pointing to this or that concrete object or fact and saying, "There it is, an ought!" Rather, the role of reason as a conceptual faculty is essential to making sense of a moral ought-claim. The thing with Kant is that he takes the form of reasoning to be the seat of "ought," since our being embodied, needs-having beings - crucial to an Aristotelian ethics - is taken to be an empirical and contingent fact that only gives us hypothetical imperatives. A moral imperative has to have a necessity, a "must" about it, that is independent of what contingently is or what contingently is sought. On that, Kant is right. The form of reason that we bring to experience is essential to grounding a moral ought-claim. Rand's task was to cast "form of reason" and "experience" in (neo-)Aristotelian terms. But you need to look at her epistemology in ITOE to get the specifics.

Richard

Chris Cathcart's picture

You write:

Hume said you can't deduce an "ought" from an "is". Rand never said you could. Rand said you can nonetheless derive an "ought" from an "is" non-deductively. Hume (contra Bernstein) never said you couldn't. So much for the case against Hume.

Rand supposedly derives an "ought" from an "is" in the passages quoted below by Kasper (and by John). But if she doesn't do it deductively, how does she do it? Inductively? A good inductive argument differs from a good deductive argument in that the premises of the argument merely support rather than compel the conclusion. A good inductive argument resembles a good deductive argument in that it has clearly identifiable premises and a conclusion, and instantiates a recognisable argument schema.

What type of inductive argument is Rand's derivation? What are Rand's premises? What is Rand's conclusion? According to Rand, my life is my ultimate value, and the fact that I am determines what I ought to do. So, what ought I to do? Live? None of the answers to these questions is clear to me. Are they clear to you?

I have been uncomfortable with the use of the term "induction" to describe Rand's meta-ethical approach. Her meta-ethical approach has to do with identification, using reason as the faculty of identifying and integrating sense data. So it does, ultimately, come back to sensory observation and an integration of those observations into a hierarchy of conceptual knowledge. In that regard, yes, we can use the term "induction" but there also needs to be that hierarchy of conceptual knowledge into which these observations are integrated. So it thereby presupposes some conceptual knowledge as well as induction. Do you see, then, how she doesn't buy into either of the one-sided empiricist or rationalist approaches? With empiricism alone, as David Hume pointed out, you don't get inductive certainty. With rationalism, this conceptual hierarchy is floating, or resting at best on stilts (see: Bentham, "Nonsense on stilts").

So what is her approach, specifically? Via a process of reasoning based on observation, we identify value-laden facts. Hume is absolutely correct that you cannot derive normative conclusions from non-normative premises. But that is also not all that interesting an observation. The more interesting issue is how we come to identify some facts as already being value-laden and thereby supplying the normative premises from which we deduce normative conclusions. And it's more than a process of simply "looking and seeing" - opening us up to the false alternative of either committing a naturalistic fallacy or of resorting to Moorean intuition by which we observe some act and simply "see" that the act is good or bad.

Now, it would perhaps be of use if you refer to the chapter in ITOE where Rand goes through how the concept of "justice" is validated. I simply don't have the time or the inclination to go through it here. But we validate the concept of "goodness" in a similar fashion. We end up with a naturalistic understanding of goodness that avoids the naturalistic fallacy, accounts for all our so-called "moral intuitions," and is validated through a conceptual process. What is goodness in this account? Flourishing. A naturalistic description of flourishing: the proper functioning of a valuing, goal-seeking entity. The goal of ethics itself? As the goal of epistemology is knowledge (i.e., a process of validating our concepts), so the goal of ethics is happiness (i.e., a process of achieving that: virtue).

And Dewey Was Among the Best...

James S. Valliant's picture

DEWEY:

I am still at a loss in trying to formulate the exact importance of the communistic formulæ and the Bolshevist ideals in the present life of the country; but I am in-

[8]
clined to think that not only the present state of Communism (that of non-existence in any literal sense), but even its future is of less account than is the fact of this achieved revolution of heart and mind, this liberation of a people to consciousness of themselves as a determining power in the shaping of their ultimate fate.
Such a conclusion may seem absurd. It will certainly be as offensive to those to whom Marxian orthodoxy constitutes the whole significance of the Russian Revolution as to those who have imbibed the conventional notion of Bolshevist Russia. Yet with no desire to minimize the import of the fate of Bolshevist Marxianism for Russia and for the whole world, my conviction is unshaken that this phase of affairs is secondary in importance to something else that can only be termed a revolution. That the existing state of affairs is not Communism but a transition to it; that in the

[9]
dialectic of history the function of Bolshevism is to annul itself; that the dictatorship of the proletariat is but an aspect of class-war, the antithesis to the thesis of the dictatorship of bourgeois capitalism existing in other countries; that it is destined to disappear in a new synthesis, are things the Communists themselves tell us. The present state is one of transition; that fact is so obvious that one has no difficulty in accepting it. That it is necessarily a state of transition to the exact goal prescribed by the Marxian philosophy of history is a tenet that, in face of the new energies that have been aroused, smells of outworn absolutistic metaphysics and bygone theories of straight-line, one-way “evolution.” But there is one impression more vivid than this one. It is, of course, conceivable that Communism in some form may be the issue of the present “transition,” slight as are the evi-

[10]
dences of its present existence. But the feeling is forced upon one that, if it does finally emerge, it will not be because of the elaborate and now stereotyped formulæ of Marxian philosophy, but because something of that sort is congenial to a people that a revolution has awakened to themselves, and that it will emerge in a form dictated by their own desires. If it fails, it will fail because energies the Revolution has aroused are too spontaneous to accommodate themselves to formulæ framed on the basis of conditions that are irrelevant—except on the supposition of a single and necessary “law” of historical change.
In any case, Communism, if one judges from impressions that lie on the surface of Leningrad, lies in some remote future. It is not merely that even the leaders regard the present status as only an initial step, hardly complete even as a first step, but that the prevailing

[11]
economy is so distinctly a money economy to all outward appearances. [THAT'S THE PROBLEM, RIGHT...]
...

THIS IS SOME OF THE OPENING STUFF IN DEWEY'S REPORT ON SOVIET EDUCATION:

... This consideration is equivalent to saying that the import of all institutions is educational in the broad sense—that of their effects upon disposition and attitude. Their function is to create habits so that persons will act coöperatively and collectively as readily as now in capitalistic countries they act “individualistically.” The same consideration defines the importance and the purpose of the narrower educational agencies, the schools. They represent a direct and concentrated effort to obtain the effect which other institutions develop in a diffused and roundabout manner. The schools are, in current phrase, the “ideological arm of the Revolution.” In consequence, the activities of the schools dovetail in the most extraordinary way, both in administrative organization and in aim and spirit, into all other social agencies and interests.

And I imagine there are many who, while they are aware in a general way of the repressive and despotic character of the Tsar’s government, unconsciously form their appraisal of the present Russian system by putting it in contrast with an imaginary democratic system. * They forget that for the Russian millions the contrast is with the system of which alone they have had actual experience. The Russian system of government at the present time is like that to which the population has been accustomed for centuries, namely, a personal system; like the old system, it has many repressive traits. But viewed in the only way which the experience of the masses makes possible for them, it is one that has opened to them doors that were formerly shut and bolted; it is as

* Because the Czarist monarchy had a repressive and despotic character, that same character in the Soviet communists is familiar and unobjectionable to the people. – Editor.[!!!]
...

[68]
interested in giving them access to sources of happiness as the only other government with which they have any acquaintance was to keep them in misery. This fact, and not that of espionage and police restriction, however excessive the latter may be, explains the stability of the present government, in spite of the comparatively small number of communists in the country. It relegates to the realm of pure fantasy those policies for dealing with Russia that are based on the notion that the present government is bound to fall from internal causes if only it can be sufficiently boycotted and isolated externally. ...

I have become involved in a diversion,

[69]
though one naturally suggested by the marvelous development of progressive educational ideas and practices under the fostering care of the Bolshevist government—and I am speaking of what I have seen and not just been told about.
...

There are many elements of propaganda connected with this policy, and many of them obnoxious to me personally. But the broad effort to employ the education of the young as means of realizing

[82]
certain social purposes cannot be dismissed as propaganda without relegating to that category all endeavor at deliberate social control...

[He does say. almost at the conclusion:]

The phase of Bolshevism with which one

[131]
cannot feel sympathy is its emphasis upon the necessity of class war and of world revolution by violence. These features of Soviet Russia tend to recede into the background because of the pressure the authorities are under to do a vastly difficult constructive work in Russia itself. But the spirit that produces them is fed by the belief that the rest of the world are enemies of Soviet Russia; that it must be constantly on the defensive and that the best defense is aggressive attack. I do not think that free intercourse with the rest of the world would cause an immediate disappearance of the idea of stirring up civil war in capitalistic countries. But I am confident that such intercourse would gradually deprive the flame of its fuel and that it would die down. One derives the impression that the Third International is Russia’s own worst enemy, doing harm to it by alienating other peoples’ sympathy. Its

[132]
chief asset, however, is non-recognition. The withdrawal of recognition by Great Britain has done more than any other one thing to stimulate the extremists and fanatics of the Bolshevist faith, and to encourage militarism and hatred of bourgeois nations.

FEED THE BEAST, IT WON'T BITE!!

Slavish, I guess, is in the eye of the beholder.

We report, you decide.

Obviously, Dr. Goode...

James S. Valliant's picture

Those involved in the use, or lack of use, of your mind.

Labels? Really? Sorry, no dice. No formulae, symbols or diagrams, either. You can do it, I'm confident.

James

Richard Goode's picture

there will always be those individuals, like you, who give free will a bad name.

Which actual choices of mine did you have in mind?

Any chance of a link to where you presented Rand's derivation of an "ought" from an "is" formally (i.e., with clearly labeled premises and a clearly labeled conclusion)?

Doctor Bernstein misquoats

William Scott Scherk's picture

I knew that a proper Objectivist will abhor Dewey, and so was not surprised to see Doctor B tell us about the man here:

The American philosopher, John Dewey, admired the moral
code of the Soviet Union (which he visited in 1928),
especially its effect on education. Unlike American
educators, Dewey believed, their Soviet counterparts
were not hampered in the quest for social change by
“the egoistic and private ideals and methods inculcated
by the institution of private property, profit and
acquisitive possession.”

In the dim, distant reaches of my unregulated mind, I seemed to recall that Dewey wasn't quite a full-on Commie, though dire as dire gets as a 20th century Comprachico. So I wondered why Bernstein didn't include the parts of the quote where Dewey spelled out his admiration for the moral code.

I looked up the text of Dewey's reports (published in New Republic and in book form) of Dewey's tour of the Soviet Union in 1928. What I found was that Bernstein had actually quoated poorly -- Dewey was reporting on what a Soviet educrat believed, the quoat was actually the words of the other man. Sloppy Bernstein, I thought. Why not just quote Dewey slavishly praising the Soviet educational system?

Well, because he didn't slavishly praise the Soviet educational system in the chapter cited by Bernstein, as I found out by reading the whole dang thing.

Is Bernstein known for this kind of quoating of the Enemy?

In any case, the rest of the essay had a funny clang to it. I took a stab at random to follow up on another statements. I picked the line about the great Scottish engineers Rennie, Stephenson and Telford. Each had "endured unimaginable hardships to achieve his education and his success," according to the good Doctor.

But, on examination, nope, there was no unimaginable hardship for each man. Their achievements were remarkable, and their use in an argument for egoism is good practice, but the exaggeration clangs.

A disappointment. I had though he was one of the fair shooters of the ARIans.

WSS

There is no derivation of an

Richard Wiig's picture

There is no derivation of an "ought" from an "is" in the paragraphs above.

Only if you don't consider your life to be a value.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

I'm trying to keep this discussion focused on Rand's derivation of an "ought" from an "is", supposedly contained in the paragraphs below.

It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of "value" is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of "life." To speak of "value" as apart from "life" is worse than a contradiction in terms. "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible."

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought."

My position is that Rand didn't derive an "ought" from an "is". That's a pretty big point of disagreement with Rand, obviously.

There is no derivation of an "ought" from an "is" in the paragraphs above.

Why should James do such a thing?....

Kasper's picture

....When you haven't even come out and described your position or your point of disagreement with Rand? In light of your total lack of input in this discussion why should anyone continue to explain or point you in the right direction of ethical theory at all?

James

Richard Goode's picture

I Have Done That

You have? I must have missed it. Please provide a link to where you presented Rand's derivation of an "ought" from an "is" formally, with clearly labeled premises and a clearly labeled conclusion.

I Have Done That

James S. Valliant's picture

So has Rand. So has Prof. Tara Smith.

But you don't seem able to recognize the observable facts at the base of this inductive inference. Yes, the argument can also be stated deductively, as well. But if you insist that the sun still moves about the earth even after the evidence is presented to you, turned upside down, reconsidered from sixteen vantage-points, then the problem is yours, and no one else's.

The good is an aspect of reality in relation to human life. In this sense, earthquakes are bad. It is not a mystical command from on high, a Platonic Form of unattainable perfection, not a social construct, not an emotional preference, but the pressing and urgent human need for survival and, ultimately, happiness, plus the fact of human choice. Success in pursuing our values cannot be achieved randomly, and such success is the important condition for happiness. Thus, these two issues are inseparable.

This means that the theoretically "good" and the real-world practical are on the same side, wholly and completely. And this understanding of what ethics is all about has direct implications as to how I should act. Since my self-interest is in fact only achieved by reason, not evasion, by production, not looting, by a respect for the equal right of everyone else to pursue his or her own happiness rather than the life of a parasite or thug, this understanding of ethics manifests itself in a necessary program of action: rationality, honesty, productiveness, integrity, justice, independence and a firm respect for the rights of other individuals.

But go ahead, deny that human beings need reason to achieve their ends, and tell yourself that you can rely on some mystical alternative instead -- that consistent honesty doesn't increase your well-being -- that respecting the rights of others doesn't make you safer and your society much more prosperous. The disaster, pain, misery and death that will surely follow, as it follows any such approach or alternative program, and always will, cannot and will not make its point known to you by osmosis or revelation if you refuse to consider the evidence before your eyes.

An argument can be fool proof, but, as Rand said, it can never be "damn fool proof." We do indeed each possess volition, and, so, there will always be those individuals, like you, who give free will a bad name.

"A good inductive argument

John Donohue's picture

"A good inductive argument differs from a good deductive argument in that the premises of the argument merely support rather than compel the conclusion."

This line illuminates that you have your finger on the issue but also that you are not "of" the solution. It also feels as if you are looking at reason through Popper's eyes.

The long answer is: 'the entire scope of Objectivist epistemology." Really, that is the answer. This is an ongoing exploration; Dr. Leonard Peikoff is currently authoring a significant work on it. This is not by way of suggesting one "swallow it whole," but rather that there is a doorway one goes through to arrive in a room where it is wholly satisfactory to accept that all investigation requires a setting of context, an acceptance of the 'inside set' of applicability for the project. In this room the validation and truth test revolves around the identification of the existents that will be called out in subsequent deductions, through the induction engine that science deploys but that never has gotten the press it deserves, and which Ayn Rand explicitly championed.

The philosophic world has gone centuries with the fait accompli of Hume's denial of induction in its pocket. If I may be so bold to say, Ayn Rand simply rejected the rejection.

Goode

Kasper's picture

You're so concrete bound that you've failed to grasp the context of the discussion at hand to see further below where my post resides requesting for you to front up with your discription of where you stand and what your point of disagreement with Rand is.

It is visible to anyone looking at this thread that you haven't come up with a counter argument to Rands, that you haven't answered the questions put to you and that you have continued with your bad faith tactics.

Bernstein has answered the questions concerning Rand's premises and he also has come up with the substantiated link between the is and the ought concerning the appropriate morality for human beings.

Also what you fail to understand is that Hume originated the sceptical approach toward ethical conclusions being derived from an is.... The cautious (skeptical) approach of deriving an ought from an is, is a problem that originated with him. This is/ought phenomena has been considered a problem, and even a dichotomy, in modern times since. Any idiot could grasp this.

Humes actual ethical theory disputed that reason was capable of formulating an objective ethical theory and argued that ethics were emotionally or culturally derived.... The conclucion that anyone else (not Hume) would have to make is that ethics, whether it be of religious or cultural practices, are arbitrary as 'good' or 'bad' cannot be demonstrably proven to be necessary either way. "because someone says so doesn't cut it"....

Rand in stark contrast didn't just "say so" she argued, demonstrated and proved that "life being the standard of value," is the necessary standard by which good or bad should be derived by identifying the nature of man as per Bernstein's description above.

James

Richard Goode's picture

You're one of the world's top Objectivist scholars. Can you help, by presenting Rand's derivation of an "ought" from an "is" formally, with clearly labeled premises and a clearly labeled conclusion? Can you lay bare, as it were, the flesh and bones of Rand's derivation? I look forward to your response.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

I'm still waiting!

For what?

Rand's derivation of an "ought" from an "is"

Richard Goode's picture

Hume said you can't deduce an "ought" from an "is". Rand never said you could. Rand said you can nonetheless derive an "ought" from an "is" non-deductively. Hume (contra Bernstein) never said you couldn't. So much for the case against Hume.

Rand supposedly derives an "ought" from an "is" in the passages quoted below by Kasper (and by John). But if she doesn't do it deductively, how does she do it? Inductively? A good inductive argument differs from a good deductive argument in that the premises of the argument merely support rather than compel the conclusion. A good inductive argument resembles a good deductive argument in that it has clearly identifiable premises and a conclusion, and instantiates a recognisable argument schema.

What type of inductive argument is Rand's derivation? What are Rand's premises? What is Rand's conclusion? According to Rand, my life is my ultimate value, and the fact that I am determines what I ought to do. So, what ought I to do? Live? None of the answers to these questions is clear to me. Are they clear to you?

Why bother waiting, Kasper???

Richard Wiig's picture

Why bother waiting, Kasper???

Richard

Kasper's picture

I'm still waiting!

Re-respect

John Donohue's picture

I was not slighting or diminishing what you wrote; I meant actual respect! My intent was this: first let him refute the source quotation, and even if others writing about it are correct, he has to get by Rand first. That's all.

I was trying to point out that by going after you he was evading.

Meanwhile, even if he is obsessed with actual deductive syllogisms, that does not address the Rand foundational quote.

Good cheer.

Mr. D ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

I'm not sure whom you mean by "other writers on Objectivism" but since you were responding to a post by Goode in which he cited me I should make it clear that I don't posit a deductive link between is and ought any more than Rand does. To say something is derived from something else does not necessarily mean syllogistically derived. (In previous discussions Goode has been fixated on syllogisms.) In any event, Goode is simply attempting to play his adversaries off against each other - anything to evade the matters at hand - and I should avoid being similarly sidetracked if I were you.

Let us see if Dr. Goode responds directly to the Rand quote. The God in whom Goode believes (I think) knows (or would, if He existed) he (Goode, not God) has been given enough opportunity in the past. None of this is happening here for the first time, you know. Eye

Goode...

Robert's picture

According to Rand the life of a living rational being is a value unto itself.

But what on Earth makes you think that you qualify?

With all due respect to any

John Donohue's picture

With all due respect to any other writers on Objectivism, Rand simply demonstrates that this ghost of a problem, upon which so many depend to destroy objectivity in morality, is only a problem for Platonists, radical dualists and skeptics, etc., and/or any others who deny induction.

I repeat: Ayn Rand would never claim to have deducted the basis of a moral philosophy from the facts of existence. That formulation is null. Ethics is a normative science. Science can deduce what is or is not part of a particular moral code, but only after the base of that code has been found true by a means other than deduction.

So Miss Rand just ignores your noise. I'm sure you've had your nose pointed at the following quote many times, but the rejection of your objection resides in it and nothing else needed:

"It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”" -- Ayn Rand

[EDIT: Whoops! Already cited by Kasper below. ]

Dr. Goode

James S. Valliant's picture

Saying "I disagree," over and over, and providing nothing by way of substance, is pure evasion. You appear to be a stranger to any standards of intelligent discourse or engagement, reason or critical analysis. From what can be detected from your posts, you seem lack any capacity to think at all, only to make meaningless and useless noise. You have no more epistemological right to your opinions than does a reader of horoscopes and star charts, or some grunting primitive seeking to appease the gods by slaughtering animals.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Thanks for quoting the passages from Rand where she derives an "ought" from an "is".

According to Rand, my life is my ultimate value, and the fact that I am determines what I ought to do. So, what ought I to do? Live?

She did all of that, Goode ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... and you have no answer for any of it.

John

Richard Goode's picture

So what's your problem? Ayn Rand never said she could do it either.

But, John, I have it on good authority that

She disposed of the "is/ought" dichotomy—that you can't derive values from facts—by pointing out that an entity's actions are determined by that entity's nature and that a volitional, conceptual entity such as man can appropriately derive values, by thought and choice, only from facts.

Furthermore, she

busted the intrinsicist/subjectivist dichotomy... resolved the free will/determinism controversy... busted the rationalist/empiricist dichotomy... [and] busted Kant's noumenal/phenomenal dichotomy.

Phew!

Richard

Kasper's picture

you agreed to would enter this discussion on good faith grounds.

So, as I have asked many times before, describe your point of disagreement with Rand and describe your actual position.

--
It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.” VOS

... and Hume is correct. It

John Donohue's picture

... and Hume is correct. It is not possible to deduce (his usage) a moral philosophy from the facts of the metaphysically given objective reality.

So what's your problem? Ayn Rand never said she could do it either.

P.S. I think it hilarious that Hume has no quarrel with those who deduce the existence of God cited in that passage.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Let's agree to disagree about whether Rand based her moral system on reason, and what it even means to say that.

The Scottish philosopher, David Hume, in a famous passage, inquired if an "ought" proposition could be derived from an "is" proposition, i.e., if judgements of good and evil, of what men ought and ought not to do, could be based on matters of fact. His answer was an unqualified "no."

Wrong. Hume's famous passage, to which Bernstein refers, is here. Hume does not say that "ought" propositions cannot be derived from "is" propositions. He does not say that morality cannot be based on matters of fact.

With all the explanations of Rand’s moral philosophy that have been put forward making her case on how she derived her moral (ought) conclusions based on life as the standard of value (on an "is" ).

Please quote the actual passages from Rand where she derives an "ought" from an "is".

Richard

Kasper's picture

With all the explanations of Rand’s moral philosophy that have been put forward making her case on how she derived her moral (ought) conclusions based on life as the standard of value (on an "is" ). You have yet to demonstrate the flaw in her argument where her case would fall down. Her argument stands to reason and remains upheld. You have done nothing to undermine her argument or demonstrate an error despite having been asked several times to come up with your point of disagreement and to state your case.

You have simply said that you disagreed and have thrown some false syllogisms fraught with A-S dichotomies in the way. You have then proceeded to dismiss her argument out of hand. Quite frankly it is you that is found wanting rather than Rand at this point in time.

This dancing around the edges by withholding your actual case comes across as very wimpy Richard. It is an incredibly limp approach to discussing points of disagreement with an intellectual opponent. It really is of little wonder why you inherit so much abuse on this site.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

I have simply further explained what is meant when I, and others, say Rand based her morality on reason.

Yes. You've explained that when you say, "Rand based her morality on reason," you don't mean Rand based her morality on reason. You mean that Rand based her morality on something else, e.g., "man's life as the standard of value." Instead of saying something but meaning something else, why don't you just say what you mean, and mean what you say? You can't make 'reason' mean so many different things. (There's glory for you!)

Rand based her moral system on "man's life as the standard of value" and used (or, in Rand's cased, misused) reason to derive conclusions such as the NIOF principle. Rand is not unique in using reason to derive moral conclusions from moral premises. In fact, all moral philosophers use reason to derive moral conclusions from moral premises, even those whose moral premises are "cultural and mystical edicts".

No Richard

Kasper's picture

I have simply further explained what is meant when I, and others, say Rand based her morality on reason. I don't believe I've changed my position thus far. I can see you want to keep this focused thus omiting other things such as the A-S dichotomy and bakers. Fine.

In order to acheive this focus properly, I still need you to volunteer your point of disagreement in discriptive form with Rand.

Your position as to what you actually think on this subject matter of morality and its source.

Linz

Richard Goode's picture

If you can induce Goode to make a clear, coherent and complete statement as to where he stands, I'll buy you a case of your favourite red.

Kasper didn't ask me to make a clear statement as to where I stand. He asked me to make a clear statement as to where I disagree with where he stands.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Could you now please DESCRIBE your point of disagreement.

You said that Rand based a moral system on reason. I disagreed.

Now you say

She based her morality on identifying the essential requirements of man based on his nature. She did this using reason... Logic is an epistemological method. Put simply it is a method of reasoning - that's all... So it is still my position that Rand... based a moral system on reality by a process of reason... It is 'based' on reason in that it is derived using it...

so I guess you concede my point.

Let's focus on what you now say Rand based her morality on, viz., "the essential requirements of man based on his nature." What are these essential requirements? And what are the "essential characteristics" of man you refer to?

(BTW, I never said that freedom for bakers is no good. But let's leave that to one side for now.)

Kasper

Lindsay Perigo's picture

***Could you now please DESCRIBE your point of disagreement. Where does this all crumble for you? I can't read your mind so if you could make it all explicitly clear that would be helpful.

Goode luck with that! Eye

If you can induce Goode to make a clear, coherent and complete statement as to where he stands, I'll buy you a case of your favourite red.

RG

Kasper's picture

I do understand that. She based her morality on identifying the essential requirements of man based on his nature. She did this using reason which employs the system of logic being the "non-contradictory identification" of the material provided my man's senses. I'm not sure we can discuss this without addressing the A-S dichotomy but since you insist on this for now we can try.

Logic, like mathematics, is a system used to identify and integrate the information being provided into the brain by man's senses. You can use logic on its own jumping from abstraction to abstraction or mathematics on its own to 'create' things such as the concept infinity, however, the error would lye in the fact that you'd be operating from an abstraction rather than from reality. In other words to divorce the system of logic from reality and to use its own without reference to reality is to cut its utility at its root.

Logic is an epistemological method. Put simply it is a method of reasoning - that's all.

Now you asked me how one derives morality based on that? Well, I would have thought that to be quite simple. If you identify the essential characteristics and omit the non-essential ones when examining any entity whether it be man, or inanimate matter or life and further you understand that what you have identified corresponds demonstrably to reality then you have a valid concept. When you have multiple valid concepts the point is to integrate them and grow one's knowledge, surely.

The example you gave earlier that freedom for bakers is no good because people miss a nutrient they 'need' omits other essential data which demonstrates the necessity for freedom to begin with. To fold the principle of freedom for one individual by trumping it with the needs of other individuals shows a lacking understanding of freedom as such. In fact it makes freedom impossible because needs in every sphere of life other than just bakery could be used as an excuse for compulsion. The freedom of the baker is good for the baker. His freedom has no responsibility nor any debt to the well-being of his fellow man. The only way it is good for his fellow man is that he has the freedom and that it is defended for him, ensuring that his fellow man will also have his.

So it is still my position that Rand and Bernstein (who as you say regurgitated it) have based a moral system on reality by a process of reason... It is 'based' on reason in that it is derived using it as opposed to cultural or mystical edicts.

***Could you now please DESCRIBE your point of disagreement. Where does this all crumble for you? I can't read your mind so if you could make it all explicitly clear that would be helpful.

Callum

Richard Goode's picture

She never tried to base a moral system on logic alone.

I know that. But does Kasper?

Richard

Callum McPetrie's picture

Have you read Rand?

She never tried to base a moral system on logic alone.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Logic (according to Merriam Webster) is "a science that deals with the principles and criteria of validity of inference and demonstration : the science of the formal principles of reasoning." How do you base a moral system on that?

Richard

Kasper's picture

Yes.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

what is your point of disagreement?

I have multiple points of disagreement with Rand and her regurgitators.

You say that Rand based a moral system on reason. I disagree.

What do you mean by 'reason', Kasper? Logic?

(Let's leave the analytic-synthetic dichotomy to one side for now.)

RG

Kasper's picture

I'll read the Kant thing. In the mean time what is your point of disagreement? Here we're dealing with Rand who's based a moral system on reason, not Kant.
Do you agree that the analytic-synthetic dichotomy is a legitamate dichotomy or do you agree that Rand managed to disprove its validity?

OK

Richard Goode's picture

What do you mean by 'reason', Kasper? Logic?

Kant tried to base a moral system on reason, and failed.

Richard Goode

Kasper's picture

Will you take this up and will you commit to this:

"to an honest and good faith discourse... Put your photo up and proceed with your case of disagreement. Be clear also about whether your problem is that you find the conclusions unpalatable or with the actual epistemology." ??

What's in it for you?

Kasper's picture

Richard the summary of Bernstein’s chapter should already indicate what’s in it for you.

Basically enlightenment… If you are wrong, which I think you are, then you will be enlightened. If I am wrong then obviously the tables would turn on me.

What’s in it for you to know that ethics could be based on reason? The knowledge that ethical conduct and the discovery of it can be rational and therefore things can be said to be objectively wrong or right. Of course this would invalidate all claims that morality is totally arbitrary, that saying things such as “my religion says so” or “it’s my culture” or “it makes me feel good” or “someone simply said so (without verification)” an inadequate defence of their morality especially in light of a logical argument to the contrary.

What’s in it for you if Rand demolished the “is/ought” dichotomy? The discovery that the process undertaken to determine what is good for individuals and what is bad for them in the material sense is the same process used in the spiritual sense. That what you choose to grace your soul with can also be determined as good or bad.

If the view on metaphysics is that reality is what it is, indifferent to human consciousness, that reason is a valid form of epistemology able to apprehend reality correctly and that ethics can be based on reason making them rational, then you have a philosophy which is consistent and allows you to integrate intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and materially….. A stark contrast to the alternative philosophies of our day including religion that preaches a polarisation or renunciation of one sphere in order to gain fulfilment in another.

This of course leads to your intellectual confidence in your mind to deal with all things in life both ‘out there’ in reality and those matters of an introspective nature the ‘in here’.

Kasper

Richard Goode's picture

Come on, Richard, bring it on then... proceed with your case of disagreement.

What's in it for me?

Judging by the silence

Kasper's picture

... it appears RG may have gone feral after all. What's the matter Goode, don't want to play? Sticking out tongue

Now, you see...

Ross Elliot's picture

...Richard's gone feral.

Sounds a great read

gregster's picture

Thanks for the whole chapter Kasper.

RG

Kasper's picture

Come on, Richard, bring it on then... I'm happy to pick this debate up again as long as you commit to an honest and good faith discourse... Put your photo up and proceed with your case of disagreement.

Be clear also about whether your problem is that you find the conclusions unpalatable or with the actual epistemology.

Regurgitated Rand

Richard Goode's picture

It's still a steaming pile of sick, Kasper.

Excellent stuff!

Olivia's picture

Since egoism is the striving by a man for the ends that factually promote his life as a human being, a secondary but important consequence is that other human beings are benefited by his attainment of his values, not by his sacrifice of them.

So well put.

Great post Kasper.

Glenn

Kasper's picture

bought me the Capitalist Manifesto book for Christmas in 2006. It is a fantastic read. Bernstein's research is impeccable. The book discusses the historical, philosophical, polemical and economic spheres of capitalism. Bernstein's ability to simplify and put into layman's terms sometimes quite highly complicated ideas is impressive. The book flows with such simplicity that I found myself just smiling getting through it. It is so refreshing to read someone who actually gets Rand fully and has processed her philosophy with such intelligence and scope.

I highly recommend those that are interested to purchase a copy…The three chapters covering philosophy: The Nature of the Good, The Mind as Man’s Instrument of Survival and Capitalism as the Embodiment of Rational Philosophical Principles are remarkable. Smiling

Dong Wrong

John Donohue's picture

About that "special lens" that keeps lefties oblivious to the murderous results of their fantasy?

Yesterday on CSpan BookTV I caught part of a talk by an author of a book on the good that resulted from the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
http://www.c-spanvideo.org/pro...

This guy teaches at a college in North Carolina.

The evil perpetrated in those times by Mao etc., not just in outright killing but in displacement, cannot be grasped by a normal healthy mind. Mao had no less intention than to root out human rational self interest and burn it in the town square. That's why he humiliated his victims before blowing their brains out.

I could go on. I have rage on this.

I did not watch this (can I say asshole on this blog?) into the Q and A period. I hope someone reamed him a new one. Since the talk was at Berkeley the chance of that is less then likely.

Mr. Dong justifies the whole thing as "learning to work together."

I am telling you I could slap his face.

This is indeed a powerful

John Donohue's picture

This is indeed a powerful chapter. The explication of Rand's ethics in intelligent and clear simplicity, yet drawing a bead on Hume, takes response to the fatal IsOught construct into a realm that can be understood by any thinking person. Bernstein slides up and down the chain of logic from root to tip expertly and deftly. That sits well.

There's nothing like ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... a well-written manifesto to excite the moral passions. From what we see here, this one is brilliantly written.

Many of the points here were made by me and James to the unreachable Richard Goode in the course of his incoherent and bad-faith efforts to discredit Objectivism. Perhaps Bernstein will succeed with him where we failed. I won't hold my breath.

Glorious

Ross Elliot's picture

The clarity of that text is breathtaking, the equal of Rand herself.

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