Ayn Rand/Objectivism Sightings
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Toward a Paradigm for a Free Society
Because ultimately the truth is one, there is an essential interconnection between objective ideas. It is thus possible to integrate truths gleaned from thinkers of the various periods of time. We could say that the universe of all true knowledge in all of its diversity has a unity whereby its different parts illuminate each other. It follows that political and economic thought draws upon nearly every phase of human knowledge. Some political and economic ideas have changed and developed over time and many have stayed essentially the same. There has been a rich tradition of political and economic discourse with respect to the nature and fundamental properties of reality and regarding the political arrangements that are indispensable to attain a free society. A wide variety of political and economic philosophies can be found to be related, mutually illuminating, and mutually relevant. Each thinker has basic assumptions and beliefs regarding the nature of man and there is a close connection between one’s concept of the nature of man and his political and economic philosophy.
During the long course of western political thought several basic ideas have played an important role. These include, but are not limited to, the existence of natural moral law and natural rights, the moral and rational character of man, the limited nature of the state, the superiority of democratic rule and constitutional government, and the desirability of subsidiarity. Such ideas emphasize a certain unity in political and economic thought which connects us with ancient times.
A paradigm that appeals to and reflects reality as an independent ontological order will help people to understand the world and to survive and flourish in it. A proper political and economic philosophy must be based on the nature of man and the universe. Once this knowledge is gained, then we can ascertain the role the state should have. Necessary prescriptions are embedded in the nature of things and they are discoverable through observation, logic, and a rational epistemology. What is required is philosophical realism in the natural law tradition. Natural law can provide man with general and universal principles. This will permit the construction of the best political regime based on the framework of the naturality of human society. Our goal is to have a paradigm in which the views of reality, human nature, knowledge, values, action, and society make up an integrated whole.
A proper political and economic philosophy demands an account of man’s nature as determined by reason. Man is a rational agent with a free and self-determinative will who is capable of deliberation and choice. A human being has metaphysical liberty and can therefore initiate, by his mental activity, much of what he does in life. Thinking is not automatic, but human beings can use their free will to focus, to think, and to initiate. If follows that human beings can make choices about right and wrong, that they are self-responsible to do the right thing, and that they require a private domain that others must respect. The idea of metaphysical freedom is connected to responsibility and with the related notions of virtues, vices, and human flourishing. It follows that mutual non-interference is primary regarding both freedom and the demands of moral virtues. Mutual non-interference is a required condition for both a free society and for a virtuous society.
Natural rights are metanormative principles that regulate the conditions under which moral conduct and human flourishing can take place. The individual right to liberty secures the possibility of self-direction in a social context. To secure individuals’ natural rights, men must seek to establish the structural political conditions that protect that possibility. Each person must be accorded a secure moral space over which he has freedom to act and to pursue his personal flourishing. Individual human flourishing is the standard underpinning the assessment that a goal is rational and should be sought. People are moral agents whose project it is to excel at being the particular human being that one is.
Human flourishing must be achieved through a person’s own efforts. Each person has reason and free will and the capacity to initiate conduct that will enhance or inhibit his flourishing. Rationality, the cardinal virtue for human flourishing, can only gain expression which a man has responsibility for his own choices. A person’s flourishing depends upon his cognition at a conceptual level. Individuals must be free to discern, select, and pursue their own goals and to form their own groups and associations. Each person must be free to choose to initiate the mental processes of focusing and thinking on becoming the best person he can be as the context of his own existence.
Natural rights are universal, are good for human beings in general, and are based on the common attributes of human beings. As political principles, they are general and uniform and establish proper rules of social interaction. Once they are secured, what is good for the life of each man in his individual instantiation becomes a possibility—the notions of morality and human flourishing apply only to individual human beings whose telos it is to develop their virtues and potentialities in accordance with their facticity.
A proper political and legal system is not totally separated from the realm of ethics based on the nature of man and the world. However, ethics are not all of one kind nor at the same level. Some directly prescribe moral conduct and others regulate the conditions under which moral conduct may occur. A political and legal system regulates such conditions and should be concerned only with rights as universal metanormative principles and not with the promotion of personal virtue, morality, or flourishing. Political life is properly concerned solely with peace and security. Such a distinction between politics and morality makes great sense. It follows that the minimal state is only concerned with justice in a metanormative sense—not as a personal virtue.
Ayn Rand has demonstrated that metaphysics and epistemology are inextricably connected. She explains that knowledge is based on the observation of reality and that, to gain objective knowledge, a person must use the methods of induction, deduction, and integration. Induction and deduction are complementary and go hand-in-hand. Because concepts refer to facts, knowledge has a base in reality and it is possible to derive valid concepts using the rules of logic—a person is able to define objective principles to guide his cognitive processes. It follows that conclusions reached through the proper application of reason are objective. Rand maintains that it is possible to gain objective knowledge of both facts and values. People have the capacity to determine what is in their own best interest and to act on such determination. Thinking is self-produced and human beings can will and initiate behavior.
Human beings can think but thinking is not automatic. A person must use his free will to focus and to use his rational consciousness. A man knows he has volition through the act of introspection—he can introspectively observe that he can choose to focus his consciousness or not. A man’s distinctiveness from other living species in his ability to initiate an act of consciousness. Free will is critical to human existence and human flourishing.
People value because they have needs as living, conditional entities. The predominant value theory among Austrian thinkers is Ludwig von Mises’ subjectivist approach. This approach takes personal values as given and assumes that individuals have different motivations and prefer different things. By contrast, some Austrians follow Carl Menger, the father of Austrian economics, in agreeing with Ayn Rand that the ultimate standard of value is the life of the valuer and that objective values support man’s life and originate in a relationship between man and his survival requirements. This approach sees value as a relational and objective quality dependent on the subject, the object, and the context involved. Objective values depend upon both a person’s humanity and his individuality. Each person has the potential to use his unique attributes and talents in his efforts to do well at living his own individual life. It is possible for a person to pursue objective values that are consonant with his own rational self-interest.
Production, the means to gaining one’s material values, metaphysically precedes their distribution, exchange, and consumption. To survive and flourish, people must produce what is required for their existence. Goods must be produced before they can be consumed. Consumption follows production and production (i.e., supply) is the source of consumption (i.e., demand). Productiveness is a virtue—individuals tend to be productive and to flourish when they practice the related virtues of rationality and self-interest.
Austrian praxeological economics (i.e., the study of human action has been used to make a value-free case for liberty. This economic science deals with abstract principles and general rules that must be applied if a society is to have optimal production and economic well-being. Misesian praxeology consists of a body of logically deduced, inexorable laws of economics beginning with the axiom that each person acts purposefully. Mises was off base with his neo-Kantian epistemology which views human action as a category of the human mind. Fortunately, Murray Rothbard demonstrated how the action axiom could be derived using induction and a natural law approach.
Although Misesian economists hold that values are subjective and Objectivists argue that values are objective, these claims are not incompatible because they are not really claims about the same things—they exist at different levels or spheres of analysis. The value-subjectivity of the Austrians complements the Randian sense of objectivity.
Austrian Economics is an excellent way of looking at methodological economics with respect to the appraisal of means but not of ends. Misesian praxeology therefore must be augmented. Its value-free economics is not sufficient to establish a total case for liberty. A systematic, reality-based ethical system must be discovered to firmly establish the argument for individual liberty. Natural law provides the groundwork for such a theory and both Objectivism and the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing are based on natural law ideas.
An ethical system must be developed and defended in order to establish the case for a free society. An Aristotelian ethics of naturalism states that moral matters are matters of fact and that morally good conduct is that which enables the individual agent to make the best possible progress toward achieving his self-perfection and happiness. According to Rand, happiness relates to a person’s success as a unique, rational human being possessing free will. We have free choice and the capacity to initiate our own conduct that enhances or hinders our flourishing as human beings.
A human being’s flourishing requires the rational use of his individual human potentialities, including his talents, abilities, and virtues in the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. An action is considered to be proper if it leads to the flourishing of the person performing the action. A person’s flourishing leads to his happiness. Each person is responsible for voluntarily choosing, creating, and entering relationships in civil society that contribute toward his flourishing. Civil society, a spontaneous order, is based on voluntary participation and is made up of natural and voluntary associations such as families, private business, voluntary unions, churches, clubs, charities, and so on. The related notions of subsidiarity and of a pluralistic society spring from the reality of human nature.
Virtues are the means to values and the virtues and values together enable human beings to attain their flourishing and happiness. Virtues must be applied, although differentially, by each individual in his task of human flourishing. The pursuit of one’s flourishing is driven by reason and reason requires the consistent practice of the virtues. Such a “virtue ethics” is agent-centered, agent-based, agent-relative, and contextual. Choosing and making the proper response in particular concrete circumstances is the concern of moral living. A person must identify and abide by rational principles if he is to flourish. The major virtues provide these rational principles.
Both economics and ethics are concerned with human choice and human action. Human action, the subject of both economics and morality, is the common denominator and the link between economic principles and moral principles. Both economic law and moral law are derived from natural law. Because truth is consistent, it follows that economics and morality are inextricably related parts of one indivisible body of knowledge. Because natural law regulates the affairs of men, it is the task of both economists and philosophers to discover the natural order and to adhere to it. There is an intimate connection between economic science and an objective, normative framework for understanding human life.
It follows that all of the disciplines of human action are interrelated and can be integrated into a paradigm of individual liberty based on the nature of man and the world. A study of human action grounded as a true anthropology of the human person provides insights into both economics and moral truths. Economic and moral principles are part of one inseparable body of thought.
It should not be surprising to find that the discoveries of a truth-based economics and of a moral philosophy based on the nature of man and the world are consistent with one another. There is one universe in which everything is interconnected metaphysically through the inescapable laws of cause and effect. True knowledge must also be a total in which every item of knowledge is interconnected. All objective knowledge is interrelated in some way thus reflecting the totality that is the universe.
Because no field is totally independent of any other field, there are really no discrete branches of knowledge. There is only cognition in which subjects are separated out for purpose of study. That is fine for purposes of specialization, but, in the end, we need to reintegrate by connecting one’s specialized knowledge back into the total knowledge of reality. We need to think systemically, look for the relationships and connections between components of knowledge, and aspire to understand the nature of knowledge and its unity. Ultimately, the truth is one. There is an essential interconnection between objective ideas. It follows that academicians should pay more attention to systems building rather than to the extreme specialization within a discipline.
Philosophy provides the conceptual framework necessary to understand man’s behavior. To survive a person must perceive the world, comprehend it, and act upon it. To survive and flourish, a man must recognize that nature has its own imperatives. He needs to have viable, sound, and proper conceptions of man’s nature, knowledge, values, and action. He must recognize that there is a natural law that derives from the nature of man and the world and that is discoverable through the use of reason.
A sound paradigm requires internal consistency among its components. By properly integrating insights gleaned throughout history we have the potential to reframe the argument for a free society and elucidate a theory of the best political regime on the basis of man, human action, and society. This natural-law-based paradigm would uphold each man’s sovereignty, moral space, and natural rights and accords each person a moral space, and natural rights. It would hold that men require a social and political structure that recognizes natural rights and accords each person a moral space over which he has freedom to act and pursue his personal flourishing. See the enclosed exhibit for an example diagram of what such a paradigm might look like. Specifically, it would consist of (1) an objective, realistic, natural-law-oriented metaphysics; (2) a natural rights theory based on the nature of man and the world; (3) an objective epistemology which describes essences or concepts as epistemologically contextual and relational rather than as metaphysical; (4) a biocentric theory of value; (5) praxeology as a tool for understanding how people cooperate and compete and for deducing universal principles of economics; and (6) an ethic of human flourishing based on reason, free will, and individuality.
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