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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 9:02amSanction this postReply
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She isn't a straightforward realist who believes that ethical principles are evident in the world independently of human existence. This is what is implied by objectivity in, say, the natural sciences. If a principle of physics or chemistry is objective, that would mean that the principle is part of the world regardless of whether anyone knows it to be so. For Rand, ethical objectivism is not like this. The reason is that without human beings or some beings very much like them, there would be no principles of ethics or virtues.

This section confuses the matter and may not represent Rand's view. Obviously without objects there are no facts about those objects whether physical or human. And obviously (for non Platonists) without human beings, then there are no concepts whether it is about physical objects or human beings. It is not clear what you are getting at. The conclusion, “without human beings … there would be no principles of ethics or virtues” is trivial when it comes to our being the originators of knowledge and non-controversial when it comes to our being the objects of knowledge (if we assume ethics only applies to volition beings.) Rand means more than this and you explain this subsequently. You’re trying to say something about the context of living human beings and the conditional nature of ethical knowledge but this paragraph confuses the matter rather than intrigues the reader.




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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 11:24amSanction this postReply
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Rand held . . . that whether a person is bound by the principles of ethics is in the last analysis up to him, although the alternative would be annihilation, so effectively irrelevant. As she put the point:
"Life or death is man's only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. IF he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, natural will take its course."
( Philosophy: Who Needs it? [Bobbs-Merril, 1982], p. 118).
Question: Would Rand say that an Islamic terrorist, who chooses to blow himself up and everyone around him, is not bound by any principle of ethics, since he didn't choose to live? I don't think so. I think she would have said that if you have something to live for, which the terrorist certainly does (even if he doesn't recognize it), then you ought to choose life and ought not to choose death. Since there is no life after death, and since happiness is possible here on earth, it follows that one ought to choose the life proper to man, the kind of life that will enable one to achieve happiness.

Granted, ethics is conditional in the sense that there is no categorical imperative -- no duty to live independently of any value that life has to offer. One "ought" to choose life if and only if it offers one a value. But the fact is that, barring extreme and insurmountable suffering, life does offer one a value, namely, the potential for happiness. However, happiness can only be realized by satisfying one's needs as certain kind of living organism. The requirements of happiness are not, in this respect, optional or subjective; they are determined by one's nature. This, I think, is the essence of Rand's position, even though she was not as clear in her presentation of it as she could have been.

- Bill



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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 7:52pmSanction this postReply
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I think the terrorist is bound by an incorrect principle of ethics.  No questions on rational ethics can include a person's belief in an afterlife (and the Islamic terrorists--at least all the ones I've heard about--believe in one), because such a belief "short-circuits" the standard of life.  Given that belief, choosing to give up this life is not choosing death as we define it (including the termination of all consciousness), but choosing to live on in great splendor.




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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 8:12pmSanction this postReply
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Tibor asks:

Do people generally make a choice to live and think? Or are they pretty much living and thinking beings without any choice to be such, as of their birth?
Thinking is a choice we all make, because of our experiences. The reason that folks general choose to live and think is because they are rational beings capable of pleasure and pain. Try living without thinking for awhile, and you'll invariably find that your pain exceeds your pleasure. This is because a thoughtless life for humans doesn't "work" -- not only does thoughtlessness frustrate the achievement of aims/desires, it precludes the feeling of self-efficacy so necessary for humans to be at peace within reality.

If the latter, then it would seem that the principles of ethics are binding on them independently of any choice, as a necessary and not conditional aspect of their lives. Why would Rand think that this isn't the case?
As I said above, it's not that we think without choosing to -- but that we all choose to think (because experience invariably commands it from us). Note how this makes ethical principles necessarily binding, because of a "choice" made by all humans, without exception. If you're human, you'll invariably choose to think. If you -- as a human being -- invariably choose to think, then the objective ethical principles (of human life) apply to you.

Keep in mind that I'm of the flourishing camp, I'm not a mere survivalist. In my view, survivalists get too much mileage out of the quantitative length of life, overlooking the qualitative (ie. that every being capable of being happy -- ought to strive to be so).

Happiness is not open to our choice (it's an ultimate goal for all of us). We are "hard-wired" to want it. It is an objective value.

Ed




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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 8:33pmSanction this postReply
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Then you must be considering thinking as different from reasoning- as to reason is a learnedness, which few do beyond dire necessity, as they've never beern given the notion of its value on a continual basis, only for 'necessary' conditions [is why so many parties consider thinking to be something to be put on the shelf, not continued if desiring fun]....



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Wednesday, November 29, 2006 - 9:34pmSanction this postReply
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Rev',

I do make a distinction of thinking from a fully-integrating and completely noncontradictory reasoning. All attempts at reason are "thought" -- but not all thought is fully-integrating, noncontradictory reasoning.

You do make a good point, which indirectly confirms my own, that when folks become aware that they need to think -- they think. The other side of your coin is that many only ever retain awareness of this "need" when it is immediately and obviously expedient. I don't think that this sober assessment of "the many" really detracts from the logic of my reasoning, however.

Morality is normative, not statistical.

Ed



Post 6

Friday, December 1, 2006 - 7:34amSanction this postReply
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Tibor,

 

I was delighted to see the announcement of the conference to which you contributed in this area last month at Bowling Green. I think some other readers here would also be pleased to know that such a conference was held, so I will display some of the presenters and their topics in a subsequent post to this thread.

 

Within your note here, you posed the question of whether humans are “pretty much living and thinking beings without any choice to be such.” You remarked that if this were so, “then it would seem that the principles of ethics are binding on them independently of any choice, as a necessary and not conditional aspect of their lives.” You then asked,   “Why would Rand think that this isn't the case?”

 

I assume you are also asking (i) why Rand did not and should not think that principles of ethics are binding on us independently of some sort of choice to live and think and (ii) what sound reasons there are—not only for Rand, but for anyone—to think that principles of ethics are not binding on us independently of some sort of choice to live and think.

 

You then write:

Before answering that question, it bears noting that conditional principles can be every bit as objective as unconditional ones. For example, let us take it that the principle of gravitation is unconditional, necessary (although in some very broad metaphysical sense it might well be—if no objects with mass existed, there would be no gravitation). Let us also take it that the principles of mechanical engineering are conditional—unless people wanted to build things, there would be no such principles (only potentially).

 

The last proposition incorrect. Physical principles of engineering are not more conditional on the existence of humans wanting to build things than are scientific laws conditional on the existence of humans wanting to build things.

 

Usefulness of a physical principle does not make it more conditional. The Law of the Lever is not more conditional than Hawking’s Evaporative Radiation Law for Black Holes. In addition the fact that a physical entity or system is a human invention does not mean that its principles are more conditional on human intelligence than would be a naturally occurring entity or system. The Fullerene molecule was a human invention of the early 90s. We later discovered that it also occurs naturally.





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Friday, December 1, 2006 - 7:53amSanction this postReply
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The title of the conference was Objectivism, Subjectivism, and Relativism in Ethics. The scheduled presentations included the following:

 

Tibor Machan – “Why Moral Judgments Can Be Objective”

 

Tara Smith – “The Importance of the Subject in Objective Morality: Distinguishing Objective from Intrinsic Value”

 

Douglas Rasmussen – “How Not to Argue for Moral Knowledge”

 

Darryl Wright – “Ethical Objectivity in Ayn Rand”

 

Michael Huemer – “Revisionary Intuitionism”





Post 8

Friday, December 1, 2006 - 9:01amSanction this postReply
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Stephen,
There was also a conference at Pitt in September entitled "Concepts and Objectivity".  It had Onkar Ghate of ARI, Allan Gotthelf and James Lennox of Pitt, and Darryl Wright of Harvey Mudd College as speakers, as well as Tara Smith and Harry Binswanger as commentator and session chair, respectively.  In addition there were academics from outside the Objectivist circle, like Nicholas Rescher and A. P. Martinich, in attendance.

I didn't know about either of these conferences.  Is there somewhere on the web where they are advertised or announced?
Thanks,
Glenn




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Friday, December 1, 2006 - 9:33amSanction this postReply
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I can't help noticing that when academic prestige is in the offing, ARI loyalists like Smith or Wright aren't so sniffy about consorting with the enemy.

Peter




Post 10

Friday, December 1, 2006 - 11:28amSanction this postReply
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James Lennox used to be to the board of the Institute for Objectivist Studies. He wrote a review of Chris Matthew Sciabarra's book Russian Radical for the IOS Journal.




Post 11

Friday, December 1, 2006 - 11:46amSanction this postReply
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Perhaps my example was ill chosen and I should have picked something like a sport or game in which, while the thing (baseball or bridge) need not have existed at all, but once it does, there are principles or standards of conduct that are conditionally necessary. Say, in bridge or baseball, if one wants to get something done, there are certain ways one must go about doing them, no alternatives available. Sure, one can change the game but that's like saying if human nature changed, ethics could well do so also.



Post 12

Saturday, December 2, 2006 - 7:21amSanction this postReply
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Glenn, I don't think there is any place on the web that compiles all conferences in which scholars of Rand's philosophy are giving papers.

The good news is that the papers from conferences at the Social Philosophy & Policy Center---papers such as Tibor's from the conference last month---are published a couple of years later in the journal Social Philosophy & Policy. Some readers here might like to subscribe to that journal. I began subscribing to it back in the early 80s, at its inception, and it is truly fine.

I have the announcement for the sessions at the Eastern Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association. So for readers in the DC area, I can mention some sessions that might be of interest to you at the APA meeting at the end of December, sessions in addition to the meeting of the Ayn Rand Society. You do not have to be a member of the APA to attend. The registration fee for non-members is $60, which you can pay at the lobby level of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel when you arrive to attend sessions. Be sure to allow time sooner or later to go shopping at the Book Exhibits.

Thursday 12/28
9:00-11:00 a.m.
"Jan Narveson's Respecting Persons in Theory and Practice" (Wilson B)
Irfan Khawaja
Carrie-Ann Biondi
Matt Zwolinski
Jan Narveson, reply

2:00-5:00 p.m.
Assoc. for Phi of Education - "Moral Reasoning" (McKinley)
John Doris, Gilbert Harman, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Liane Young, Michael Slote
Pamela Hieronymi, commentator

5:15-7:15 p.m.
Soc. for Machines and Mentality - "The Ontology of Software" (Virginia Suite A)
Amnon Eden - "Problems in Software Ontology"
Barry Smith - "Software and Other Cultural Artifacts"
Eric Steinhart - "The Existence of Software"

Friday 12/29
9:00-11:00 a.m.
James Moor "The Next Fifty Years of AI: Future Scientific Research vs. Past Philosophical Criticisms" (Virginia Suite C)

9:00-11:00 a.m.
Patrick Frierson "Environmental Ethics, Intrinsic Value, and Adam Smith" (Coolidge)
Thomas Hill, commentator

9:00-11:00 a.m.
Philip Kitcher "Darwin and Democracy" (Maryland Suite B)
Michael Weisberg, commentator

11:15 a.m.-1:15 p.m.
Otavio Bueno "Skepticsm and Perceptual Experience" (McKinley)
Berislav Marusic "How Should a Skeptic Live?"

1:30-4:30 p.m.
"Phenomenology and Perception" (B-1)
Hubert Dreyfus
John McDowell
John Haugeland, commentator

1:30-4:30 p.m.
"Tara Smith's Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist" (Harding)
Helen Cullyer
Lester Hunt
Christine Swanton
Tara Smith, reply

Saturday 12/30
11:15 a.m.-1:15 p.m.
"Moral Epistemology" (Delaware Suite A)
Michael Huemer
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong




Post 13

Monday, December 4, 2006 - 12:29pmSanction this postReply
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You can get e-copies of the APA Ayn Rand Society papers by becoming a contributor for $30/yr.  Go to http://www.aynrandsociety.org and click on Membership.



Post 14

Thursday, June 7, 2007 - 4:15pmSanction this postReply
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Rand says in a quote that is quoted in this paper that:

One thing that has always eluded me about this quote is that it does not include a possibility of when one might not choose life, BUT choose a rational suicide instead (e.g. , let's say one is in the throes of some horribly painful and degrading terminal illness that leaves one's life as nothing anymore but the a constant, hell)... I wonder then what ethical principles might be able to guide one in the event that one had to make decisions of how to go about committing suicide  in a rational way if one was in such a hellish situation. (For example, honesty seems to me to be always a virtue no matter if one decides to die or not, and one will need this in order to decide HOW to die if one chooses death.)




Post 15

Thursday, June 7, 2007 - 7:39pmSanction this postReply
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Mr. Parker,

RE:

""Life or death is man's only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. IF he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course." ( Philosophy: Who Needs it? [Bobbs-Merril, 1982], p. 118)."

Ayn Rand allowed somewhere in her writings that a person can get into a situation where performing an action that very likely results in your death can be a rational one. For instance, acting against impossible risks to save the life of a loved one knowing that it would be impossible to live the rest of your life with any possibility of happiness knowing that you did not make the attempt. I think this allows room for the decision to commit suicide if the situation is hopeless, you are in great pain and your continuation is at great expense. That said, however, "Invictus" remains one of my favorite poems.

http://www.bartleby.com/103/7.html



Post 16

Sunday, April 13, 2008 - 11:56amSanction this postReply
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On 17 April 2008, at the Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, there will be a Symposium titled Libertarianism: For and Against.

 

Speakers

 

Tibor Machan, author of Libertarianism Defended (2006) and co-author of Libertarianism: For and Against (2005)

 

John Christman

 

Commentator

 
Tara Smith




Post 17

Sunday, April 13, 2008 - 1:37pmSanction this postReply
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Very good, Stephen - I assume this will be written up so can be read later?



Post 18

Monday, April 14, 2008 - 4:33pmSanction this postReply
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I have pondered at times the distinction between flourishing and survival, because this issue was confusing to me from the first time I read Ayn Rand. I think the distinction is not essential, because the values necessary to one's survival--values that most effectively promote the goal of one's personal safety, security, and longevity--are the same values that promote one's flourishing as a human being, including the uniquely personal needs, talents, and preferences that make one an individual human.  

This is true, because if one's goal is to "survive", then the logical implication of this choice is that one must seek to act always in ways consistent with this objective. But such consistency will optimize one's prospects for flourishing, even in the case of one who never consciously strives to flourish, but only strives to do the best possible job of securing his or her survival. In other words, there is no conflict between "survival" and "flourishing", because the second is an achievement that flows from excellence in the pursuit of the first.  

For example, to flourish, one must achieve a high level of self-confidence and self-respect in the varied challenges of living. One must learn to intereact with other people benevolently, without defensiveness, or habitual rancor, or neurotic behavior; one must learn to think clearly and master the discipline of acting in ways congruent with one's thinking, i.e. with integrity; one must cultivate the sense that one deserves to be happy; one must cultivate the feeling that one can trust one's ability to act appropriately in the face of challenge; and so forth. But all of these virtues are necessary to one's survival.

As Nathaniel Branden expressed it somewhere, "self esteem has survival value"; and as he expressed it somewhere else, "self-esteem is destiny".




Post 19

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 - 6:04amSanction this postReply
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Mark Humphrey wrote:
I have pondered at times the distinction between flourishing and survival, because this issue was confusing to me from the first time I read Ayn Rand. I think the distinction is not essential, because the values necessary to one's survival--values that most effectively promote the goal of one's personal safety, security, and longevity--are the same values that promote one's flourishing as a human being, including the uniquely personal needs, talents, and preferences that make one an individual human.
What if a person likes to hunt, and Dick Cheney happens to be in the area? :-)

More seriously, what if a person thinks flourishing includes skydiving or another similarly risky activity?  What about being a coal miner? Smoking?





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