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Dr.Hazel E. Barnes, Ph.D is best known for translating Jean-Paul Sartre's "Being and Nothingness."  She also wrote several books about him and existentialism.  In one of her books, "An Existentialist Ethics," published in 1969, she has a chapter called "Egoistic Humanism: Ayn Rand's Objectivism," which compares Sartre's existentialism with Rand's Objectivism.  Although the chapter is much too long to copy word for word and post here, I will try to paraphrase the gist of that article in my own words:

Sartre's existentialism would seem the very opposite of Ayn Rand's Objectivism.  Not only is existentialism thought of as very subjective, not objective, but Sartre and de Beauvoir were Marxist socialists as opposed to Rand's conservative capitalistism (radicals for captalsm).  In "For the New Intellectual," Rand wrote, "The majority of those who posture as intellectuals today are frightened zombies, posturing in a vacuum of their own making, who admit their abdication from the realm of the intellect by embracing such doctrines as Existentialism and Zen Buddhism."  Leaving aside the differences between Existentialism and Zen Buddhism, there are common elements as well as differences between the philosophies of Rand and Sartre.  Both Rand and Sartre are atheistic and egoistic.  They are individualistic.  They are humanistic.  They are both opposed to forces which would dehumanize man, forces which would objectify him.  Both Rand and Sartre would agree that man needs ethics.  And, they would agree that choice is a way of making one's self.  The "I" speech from Rand's "Anthem" could have been written by Sartre.  It emphasizes individualism, independence, and freedom of choice.  So, what is the big difference which would make Rand speak disparagingly about the existentialists?  What makes Rand a capitalist and Sartre a Marxist?

To Rand, man's potential is a path already forged.  He just has to choose to take that path.  It is like the embryo of the oak tree which is already in the acorn.  The choice is to become a strong or weak oak tree.  Sartre would rather see man as facing an open field where the path must be forged by him, that being a man means deciding what a man will be.  Any hint of a pre-existing path that may be better than another is a threat to man's freedom and responsibility.  It keeps morality descriptive rather than allowing it to be prescriptive.  It keeps us from moving from "is" to "ought."  Where's the challenge, after all, in just determining the best path and taking it?  What happens when the field is open or all paths are the same or there is not enough information to weigh to determine the best pre-existing path?  Existentialism allows for man to create his own best path, even if it may go too far in ignoring facts of survival with which we all must deal.

Rand is a systematic philosopher in the tradition of Plato and Aristotle.  She believes in an essence prior to existence, that existence is identity.  The existentialist, however, opposes system-building and believes existence preceeds essence.  Rand does say that man becomes, but his task is to become rational.  His essence is Reason.  Sartre, on-the-other-hand, would say man is a being who is what he is not and is not what he is.  His essence is freedom itself to become what he will.  He makes the definition, itself, of what he will have been.

Is this existentialists' denial of pre-existing, external paths what Rand characterizes as "a vacuum of their own making..." "..their abdication from the realm of the intellect."?  The Sartrian existentialist would say Rand is leaning on crutches, relying on safety nets, not having the courage to face life without guidelines.  They would say she is substituting Reason for God.

In "Atlas Shrugged," Rand's fictional character explains objective Reason:

Rationality is the recognition of the fact that existence exists, that nothing can alter the truth and nothing can take precidence over that act of perceiving it, which is thinking--that the mind is one's only judge of values and one's only guide of action--that reason is an absolute that permits no compromise.
According to Rand, this conforms to reality, the ultimate standard, and she defines reality thus:

Reality is that which exists; the unreal does not exist; the unreal is merely that negation of existence which is the content of a human consciousness when it attempts to abandon reason.  Truth is the recognition of reality; reason, man's only means of knowledge, is his only standard of truth.
The very next paragraph explains that this reason belongs to each individual person.

The most depraved sentence you can now utter is to ask:  Whose reason?  The answer is: Yours.  No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it. ...It is only your own knowledge that you can claim to possess or ask others to consider.  Your mind is your only judge of truth--and if others dissent from your verdict, reality is the court of final appeal.

Well, not only are some people better able to reason than others, but some people have more information with which to reason than others.  It's fine to make reality the court of final appeal, but it can be exactly that reality which is in question.

Further, when the questions are about values, the disagreements seem much less capable of being resolved by reason and that which we perceive as reality.  However, Rand defines 'value' as that which man acts to gain and/or keep and 'virtue' as the action by which one gains and keeps it.  She is willing to say, as she does in the opening essay in "The Virtue of Selfishness," that "man chooses his values," but she goes on to classify these choosen values as rational or irrational.

So, if I decide today that some goal is in my self-interest and pursue that goal with all my reasoning ability, what if I change my mind?  Was my former goal the objective and rational one, or is it my present goal?  Whose reason is most objective and rational, and when are they thus?  But then, I'm not suppose to be depraved and ask such questions.  Rand brow beats me with arguments from intimidation.

Theists have God.  Aristotle had an Umoved Mover.  Nietzsche had his Superman.  Rand has John Galt.  Is John Galt enough to anchor her philosophy?  Sartre admits there are no absolutes.  There is no anchor, but, perhaps, that is his anchor.

Some people think Rand engages in naive, wishful thinking.  She says that if businessmen lived in a perfectly laissez-faire society and followed pure self-interest, there would never arise conflict among them.  Does it not seem like she yearned for the days when black was black and white was white, where there were no shades of gray?  In Rand's world, since there can be no compromise between good and evil, everything is 'either/or' and one side is right and the other is wrong.  Is life really so simple?

I can understand not compromising with, say, a mugger or an obvious psychotic who wants to chop off my arm.  It would be absurd to offer him a few fingers instead.  There are lines where 'either/or' is justified. 

And, Existentialists would not disagree with this in the area of Being.  Even if, after several examinations of an object, there is something left over, a transphenomenality of Being, a table is still a table, even if it could be something else also.  Stating that one never knows absolutely is not to deny all knowledge.  We can have certainty about many specific things even if absolute certainty is lacking.  However, are values and morals subject to the same rational appraisal as tables?  It would be nice if they were.  The Existentialist confronts freedom in anguish.  He must reflect on it, not just choose to think or not to think.  Some things, like what Hitler did, are, (according to my philosophy) obviously wrong.  A mugger or an obvious psychotic who wants to chop off my arm is, (again, according to NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism) wrong, but there are shades of gray and places where standards are still needed, where we may have to create them and take responsibility for them.  God has not been deposed so that nature or reason can take His place. According to atheistic existentialism, we have to take His place.

Rand's portrait of a "second-hander," a Peter Keating type character from "The Fountainhead," is much like Sartre's inauthentic person.  He lives for others rather than himself.  He has no self.  He is an object shaped by others.  Sartre also describes a man who lives in bad faith, who is deluded.  He may think, on one level, he is happy, but he is decieving himself.  His values are not his own.

Rand blames the doctrine of altruism for pushing the men of integrity down, making them feel guilty about being successful, calling them selfish.
Peter Keating, however, is not what we normally think of as an altruist.  Keating is not trying to win the approval of others for their benefit.  He is a self-seeker.  He just goes the wrong way.  Rand's use of terminology sometimes differs from conventional usage.

Rand also embraces the term "selfish."  To her, it's a compliment.  And, we understand this as living for ourselves.  It would not be conducive to a flourishing survival to determine what is not in one's rational self-interest and pursue it to avoid being selfish.  However, very few people actually do that.  Would they even be seccessful, since it would then be in their interest to avoid that which is in their interest?

It does get complicated, however, when Rand talks about sacrificing her own life to save a loved one and justifies that as a selfish act, because her interest would be the interest of someone else.  On page 1013 of "Atlas Shrugged" John Galt cautions Dagney Taggert not to let his opponents know what they mean to each other.  If Dagney were to be tortured to pressure Galt, then he would rather commit suicide, thus taking away her value as a barganing chip and not living by their standards.  So, he would rather die than be responsible for the suffering of another.  The distinction between altruism and selfishness seems to merge.

Both Rand and Sartre stress treating others as ends and not as means.  Rand stresses the being an end but recognizes the 'hands off' policy regarding others, so that they can be ends as well.  It's the old libertarian ideal of doing whatever one wants with the only condition of allowing others also to do what they want.  For Rand, this leads directly to laissez-faire capitalism.  People deal with each other on a mutually voluntary basis only, exchanging value for value.  All forms of physical force are not tolerated.

I don't think Sartre's Marxism is an extension of his existentialism.  One can be an existentialist like Sartre and still disagree with his political and economic views.  That's the difference between systematic philosophies and non-systematic philosophies.  Rand requires that we accept all of her views as a whole, but this is not a requirement with Sartre.

Sartre sees some of Rand's views as a bit cold, seeing humans as valuable because they are productive, not because they are simply human.  Sartre would be a little more pro-active in curing the ills of society.  He might support, for example, affirmative action to offset the historical injustices of racism.  To Rand, this would be racist.  She would allow business owners to discriminate on the grounds that it is their right to hire and fire who they want and serve who they want.  We would perhaps hope that bigots will lose business by some natural unwillingness of rational people to patronize those businesses, that the invisible hand of economic law will regulate things justly.  In some communities, this is fantasy.

According to Objectivism, one need not go to the assistance of someone in trouble.  One may do so if one wants, but he or she would not be condemned for pulling the shades to avoid seeing someone raped or mugged outside one's window.  One has no obligation to help.

Dr. Barnes concludes her chapter with the following two paragraphs:

Objectivist Man is both an ideal and a reality.  He represents only one of the possibilities for the human species.  Existentialism rejects Objectivism because it ignores the two sources of existentialist despair instead of seeking some way to overcome them.  Objectivism hides the fact that to be free to become what one chooses means also that one must choose what one feels one ought to become.  Objectivism tries to evade the knowledge that to exist means not only to be-in-the-world but to-be-with-others.  John Galt said in his radio speech that men have secretly hated the doctrines of altruism and of living for others.  Existentialists, too, confess to a horror at the knowledge that one must face these unchoosen responsibilities.  But it refuses to evade them.  Rand attacks those who say that we can have no absolute certainty.  Existentialists, too, oppose those who use the inadequacy of knowledge to defend irresponsible action or to refuse to engage themselves.  But existentialism never seeks to clothe its commitment with the false certainty of authoritative guarantee.

To the existentialist, Objectivism appears to be based on wish-fulfillment.  Barbara Branden's biographical sketch of Ayn Rand treats as significant Rand's early decision to create a life which would resemble the world of the operetta rather than the given reality of the Sopviet Union in the early twenties.  And we are told that while Rand loves the theater, she does not care for tragedy.  Joy and happiness are possible in this life, and I think they are legitimate goals.  I do not think one can win them legitimately by denying the essence of the tragic vision.  The cross, like the hemlock, is an ambivalent symbol, one which reminds us of the failures of the majority at the same time that it speaks to us of the heroic self-transcendence in self-fulfillment on the part of a few.  We may feel as Rand does, and as I do, that the cross as a symbol of self-sacrifice is not an adequate measure of human aspiration.  I do not think we will improve things by replacing it with the dollar sign.  That is all too good an emblem for Objectivism, suggesting that happiness is for those who have the whereeithal to pay and in the currency set by those who are in power.  Existentialism seeks something less subject to the arbitrary whims of the market.

Okay, my response to all this is to say there are valuable things in both Existentialism and Objectivism, but both have problems in their pure forms.  Pure Objectivism has a problem with freedom, but Existentialism has a problem with facts, with laws of nature which do pre-exist us and are external to us.  There is an essence to humanness such that an Asian in asia is no more or less human than an American in Spokane.  Rand would recognize this and realize, as did Locke and Jefferson, that it follows from this that all men have natural rights to pursue life and happiness.  Reason does not reach all situations, as was pointed out in the essay above, so man must have some freedom to forge his own paths.  The parameters inwhich he is free to do this, however, must be generalizable, objective.  NickOtani'sNeo-Objectivism combines Existentialism and Objectivism such that the strengths of both philosophies are augmented and the weaknesses of each are off-set.

bis bald,
Nick




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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - 1:00pmSanction this postReply
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Mr. Otani,

I am delighted to see your posts here.

When I was first in college, about forty years ago, some of my friends who had largely adopted Rand's philosophy were also avid readers of Sartre and Camus. They found true, and consonant with Rand, much that these existentialist writers wrote concerning human freedom.

I am pleased to see that you are cognizant of Sartre's stance that "existence precedes essence." My friends construed that as "existence precedes identity." I gather that you give Sartre's saying that same construction. I would like to share some thoughts about both of these propositions in the context of Rand's philosophy.

I think that in Rand's philosophy existence cannot precede identity, nor can identity precede existence. As for existence preceding essence, it seems that Rand should say: No and Yes. For Rand the relationships of similarity, comparative similarity, spatiotemporality, and causality are the bases of essence. These are part of the identities of existents, in Rand's view. These bases of essence do not precede existence (nor does existence precede them).

Here are the interrelated reasons I see for Rand to say not only No but Yes to the question of whether existence precedes essence. The class-membership relations in our conceptualizations of existents, the taxonomic and thematic relationships between our concepts, and the traits functioning as essential to identities in our conceptual organization of existence are all preceded (temporally and logically) by bases in existents, namely their identities.

I know that the preceding remarks speak only to basic metaphysics, not to the freedom of human invention. But I wonder, does your reading of Rand agree with mine on the preceding restricted topic?

for now,

Stephen




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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - 2:24pmSanction this postReply
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To Stephen,

I can see how people equate "essence" with "nature" or "identity." I think Rand used  "identity" to mean "nature," that man is man, that he has a specific nature, a humaness which doesn't change, that what is good or evil for Americans in 2006 is also, generally speaking, good or evil for Asians in prehistorical times. I agree with this. However, I also have to acknowledge that humans are still in a process of becoming. They do not yet have a fixed and static identity or essence. They participate in making themselves with each decision they make. Yes, an individual human is human, by genus and species, but he or she is a coward or a hero depending on what he or she does in certain situations. It isn't just A is A but A is what A does, or A is in the process of becoming. Sartre said that he was what he was not and was not what he was.

bis bald,

Nick   




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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - 6:14pmSanction this postReply
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They do not yet have a fixed and static identity
But I do, and that's what matters isn't it. You are homo sapiens sapiens NOW you will never be homo sapiens whatever. You are what you are. You exist in reality as what you are. A is A.

Ethan




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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 - 7:10pmSanction this postReply
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(Ethan)But I do, and that's what matters isn't it. You are homo sapiens sapiens NOW you will never be homo sapiens whatever. You are what you are. You exist in reality as what you are. A is A.

(Nick)Yes, we are what we are, but we are also what we do. If we just think we are heros but we run when situations call for us to take a stand, then we are cowards. In that sense, we can participate in the creation of our essences.

bis bald,

Nick





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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - 6:33amSanction this postReply
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Observe - the mindlessness of the unprincipled, who see dots but no line....



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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - 9:31amSanction this postReply
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The Main Mouse
NO philosopher




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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - 12:07pmSanction this postReply
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Nick,

 

I want to mention a point in common between Sartre and Rand that may be unknown to you. It concerns the nature of consciousness. I will then move from that point to a difference in their conceptions of consciousness, which will lead to a couple of questions for you.

 

In his The Transcendence of the Ego (TE) (1936–37), Sartre writes:

Consciousness is aware of itself in so far as it is consciousness of a transcendental object. All is therefore clear and lucid in consciousness: the object with its characteristic opacity is before consciousness, but consciousness is purely and simply consciousness of being conscious of that object. This is the law of its existence. (40)

In Being and Nothingness (EN) (1943), Sartre writes:

All consciousness is consciousness of something. . . . Consciousness in its inmost nature is a relation to a transcendent being. (21–22)

 

These fragments that I have torn from their settings in Sartre’s larger story of consciousness and being have some likeness (and difference) with Rand’s view of self-conscious consciousness in Atlas Shrugged (1957). I mean this statement of Rand's:

A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something. (1015)

 

The difference between Rand and Sartre that I want to take note of here is the following one. Speaking of an object of consciousness not itself, Sartre writes:

Its object is by nature outside of it, and that is why consciousness posits and grasps the object in the same act. (TE 41)

 

Rand can embrace the fact of common experience and modern neuropsychology that every waking focal perception is given as in some region of space or other. The region may be given as within or upon one’s body or as some region outside one’s body. Or if one is perceiving not something given in space, but empty space, then one is perceiving it as this or that portion of space. But for Rand, all of this spatial reference in percepts is simply given to our elementary perceptual consciousness. In this mode of consciousness, all of this spatial reference is grasped by consciousness, but it is not posited by consciousness.

 

Do you agree with Rand or with Sartre on this? Sartre says, furthermore, that in a world devoid of consciousness there would be no spatial distances (EN 54–55). Do you agree with Sartre on this further point?

 

Can you perhaps accept Sartre’s view, contra Rand’s, that in elementary perceptual consciousness, we not only grasp but posit the object, yet resist Sartre’s position that distance relations are not in the world independently of consciousness?

 

I know that I am continuing to ask you questions about ontology of being-in-itself and the character of consciousness of such being. I know you want to race on over to the ontology of being-for-itself and the making of concrete human life. But first things first, analytically regarded. Where are you as between Sartre’s and Rand’s positions on the questions I have posed in this post? We cannot go forward in a serious way to your position, between Sartre’s and Rand’s, concerning the character of consciousness and being-for-itself, without clarity of your position on this more primitive platform.

 

Stephen







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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - 12:49pmSanction this postReply
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Existentialism and Objectivism have one, and only one, belief in common:

When you're dead, you're dead.

Sam




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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - 12:55pmSanction this postReply
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I'm not dead.
I don't want to go on the cart.
I think I'll take a nice walk.
I feel happy!
I feel happy!




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Thursday, July 6, 2006 - 11:26pmSanction this postReply
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(Nick) Stephen, I am very familiar with the quotes you cited. Both Sartre and Rand say that consciousness is consciousness of something. It reminds me of the materialist’s answer to the idealist, “no matter; never mind,” that one can’t really prove the existence of the mind unless there is something external to the mind, matter, of which the mind can be aware.

(Stephen) Rand can embrace the fact of common experience and modern neuropsychology that every waking focal perception is given as in some region of space or other. The region may be given as within or upon one’s body or as some region outside one’s body. Or if one is perceiving not something given in space, but empty space, then one is perceiving it as this or that portion of space. But for Rand, all of this spatial reference in percepts is simply given to our elementary perceptual consciousness. In this mode of consciousness, all of this spatial reference is grasped by consciousness, but it is not posited by consciousness.

 

(Nick)Yes, I agree that this is Rand’s position, that reality is discovered, never created.

 

(Stephen)Do you agree with Rand or with Sartre on this? Sartre says, furthermore, that in a world devoid of consciousness there would be no spatial distances (EN 54–55). Do you agree with Sartre on this further point?

 

Can you perhaps accept Sartre’s view, contra Rand’s, that in elementary perceptual consciousness, we not only grasp but posit the object, yet resist Sartre’s position that distance relations are not in the world independently of consciousness?

 

(Nick)I understand both positions, that Rand is focusing on the in-itself, the object, and she sees humans as objects with consciousness. They have consciousness and free-will but still have specific natures, what Sartre would call essences. Her essence is more like the in-self than the for-itself. It doesn’t change. For Sartre, humans are incomplete, still in a process of becoming. They participate in working on their natures, essences.

 

This incomplete essence of Sartre’s, the for-itself, allows for freedom better than Rand’s idea of the fixed essence, the unchanging, specific nature. Man is free to participate in working on his nature if he still in a process of becoming.

 

My position is that man does have a fixed nature such that a human in Spokane is no more or less human than an Asian in Asia. He or she has the same conditions of existence required for flourishing survival. This humanness and these conditions are objective, prior to existence, just as conditions for sound would exist even if no sensing entity would be around to hear it, just as gravity would exist even if nothing falls. However,  also think there is room for Sartrian like freedom. Within objective parameters which are universal and fixed, man is free to participate in working on his nature and adjusting his reality to himself.

 

Now, I don’t know about time and space. Kant speculates that these are human constructs which all humans share. Would they exist if humans didn’t? It could be that our senses are so constructed that we perceive things this way and that there are other dimensions out there which we cannot perceive, like in the Matrix movie.

 

NickOtani’sNeo-Objectivism holds that man is free within generalizable parameters, which include allowing other humans that same freedom, to pursue a flourishing survival.

 

Bis bald,

 

Nick   

 




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Friday, July 7, 2006 - 11:34amSanction this postReply
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Nick,

 

You are mistaken about Sartre’s topic in the quoted passages. In these sections of TE and NE, he is addressing precisely being-in-itself and the relation of consciousness to it. His presentation is very careful. He has here not yet turned to the contrasting category of being, being-for-itself.

 

From what you have shown me of your philosophy so far, I gather that you are glossing over an important difference between you and Sartre. He thinks that in our perceptual consciousness of being-in-itself we not only grasp but posit the object. You disagree with him on this point concerning being-in-itself and its relationship to consciousness. In this precise context, you agree not with Sartre, but with Rand: the perceptual act of consciousness is a grasp of being. That act is not also, contra Sartre, a posit of being.

 

So on this plane, it seems to me that your framework is more like Rand’s and less like Sartre’s than you have said in the display of your philosophy so far.

 

On the question of the mind-independent existence of space, I just want to acknowledge your indecision. I should say, however, that Sartre did not question the mind-independent existence of space, nor the three dimensions of space (those three we do perceive), nor directions in space. (In terms of synthetic geometry, we can say that Sartre affirmed the mind-independent existence of our 3D space and its affine structure.) He denied only the mind-independent existence of distance relations in space. Like you, but in lesser degree, Rand seemed somewhat unsettled concerning the ontology of space. When she writes of and illustrates causal relations in Galt’s Speech, and when she addresses perceptual illusions in that same exposition, she seems to be a regular realist about space (like me). But she was never sufficiently sure to write (and publish) directly on this topic.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

I turn to Sartre’s arena of being-for-itself and to the arena of making human life and character. Your own position vis-à-vis Sartre and Rand in this arena seems to me to be closer to Sartre primarily in your high sensitivity to the fullness and variety possible, by choice, in one’s further life. I’m sure that individuals, rational individuals, can vary greatly in the level of vigilance they characteristically maintain for choices open to them. It is very like the way individuals vary naturally in their characteristic level of risk-aversion. (This latter variation is essential to capitalism, as you may know.) Moreover, I’m sure that rational individuals—even ones adhering to Rand’s ethics—can vary greatly in the strength and complexity of the organic unity they prefer in their lives.

 

You are mistaken concerning Rand’s views on preformationism in biological species and biological individuals. She repudiates final causality in nature possessing no intelligence. She does this in a note to her essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” and she develops this repudiation further in her essay “Causality v. Duty.” Rand does not ascribe a formative Aristotelian essence either to organisms lacking intelligence nor to human beings.

 

Consciousness of and trueness to the pleasures and pains set in our biological constitution are integral to Rand’s ethics, as you know. But when it comes to making choices that craft the contours of our extended lives and our extended selves, I say Rand’s theory of moral value falls under what Nozick (1981) called the realization mode of making value: we can choose that there be value, but which results of that choice can be value is not entirely up to us. The possibilities for value are constrained by nature, including our own psychological nature.

 

This far you seem in agreement with Rand’s ethical view. But isn’t an agreement with Rand this far also a disagreement with Sartre this far?

 

Proceeding further along the course of Rand’s ethics, I wonder if you think she gets too narrow in what she proposes as uniquely correct in the following:

  1. Egoism (the view that all moral values are justifiable in terms of self-interest)
  2. Purpose (Rand’s depiction of this and her awarding it the status of a cardinal value)
  3. Integrity (Rand’s depiction of this moral virtue).

 

Thank you very much for this discussion.

 

Stephen




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Friday, July 7, 2006 - 1:22pmSanction this postReply
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(Stephen)You are mistaken about Sartre’s topic in the quoted passages. In these sections of TE and NE, he is addressing precisely being-in-itself and the relation of consciousness to it. His presentation is very careful. He has here not yet turned to the contrasting category of being, being-for-itself.

 

(Nick)I don’t think I am mistaken. As soon as Sartre refers to consciousness, he has to allude to the being-for-itself, which is human consciousness. It is very difficult to talk about the perceived, the being-in-itself, without taking into consideration the perceiver, the being-for-itself.

 

(Stephen)From what you have shown me of your philosophy so far, I gather that you are glossing over an important difference between you and Sartre. He thinks that in our perceptual consciousness of being-in-itself we not only grasp but posit the object. You disagree with him on this point concerning being-in-itself and its relationship to consciousness. In this precise context, you agree not with Sartre, but with Rand: the perceptual act of consciousness is a grasp of being. That act is not also, contra Sartre, a posit of being.

 

(Nick)I do not agree entirely with either Rand or Sartre, but I try to take from each what I think is good to augment what I think is lacking in each. I do agree that we grasp and posit, discover and create. Rand does not believe objective reality is posited, created. I agree that some aspects of reality are as she says, prior to consciousness and discovered by it. Even some aspects of human nature are such. However, some aspects of human nature are as Sartre describes, the being-for-itself, incomplete and still in the process of becoming.  

 

(Stephen)So on this plane, it seems to me that your framework is more like Rand’s and less like Sartre’s than you have said in the display of your philosophy so far.

 

(Nick)I agree with Rand that there is a specific human nature which is prior to consciousness and discovered by it, objective, grasped and not posited or created. However, I also think, within those universal parameters, we create. This is the freedom of which existentialism is concerned. It is baseless choice within objective parameters.

 

(Stephen)On the question of the mind-independent existence of space, I just want to acknowledge your indecision. I should say, however, that Sartre did not question the mind-independent existence of space, nor the three dimensions of space (those three we do perceive), nor directions in space. (In terms of synthetic geometry, we can say that Sartre affirmed the mind-independent existence of our 3D space and its affine structure.) He denied only the mind-independent existence of distance relations in space. Like you, but in lesser degree, Rand seemed somewhat unsettled concerning the ontology of space. When she writes of and illustrates causal relations in Galt’s Speech, and when she addresses perceptual illusions in that same exposition, she seems to be a regular realist about space (like me). But she was never sufficiently sure to write (and publish) directly on this topic.

 

(Nick)I do think natural rights, conditions of existence for the flourishing survival of humans, are mind-independent, as is gravity or sound. However, I don’t know everything, and I don’t think it is necessary to have a conviction about everything. It’s fun to have some things about which to wonder.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

(Stephen)I turn to Sartre’s arena of being-for-itself and to the arena of making human life and character. Your own position vis-à-vis Sartre and Rand in this arena seems to me to be closer to Sartre primarily in your high sensitivity to the fullness and variety possible, by choice, in one’s further life. I’m sure that individuals, rational individuals, can vary greatly in the level of vigilance they characteristically maintain for choices open to them. It is very like the way individuals vary naturally in their characteristic level of risk-aversion. (This latter variation is essential to capitalism, as you may know.) Moreover, I’m sure that rational individuals—even ones adhering to Rand’s ethics—can vary greatly in the strength and complexity of the organic unity they prefer in their lives.

 

You are mistaken concerning Rand’s views on preformationism in biological species and biological individuals. She repudiates final causality in nature possessing no intelligence. She does this in a note to her essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” and she develops this repudiation further in her essay “Causality v. Duty.” Rand does not ascribe a formative Aristotelian essence either to organisms lacking intelligence nor to human beings.

 

(Nick)The note in “The Objectivist Ethics” states:

When applied to physical phenomena, such as the automatic functions of an organism, the term “goal directed” is not to be taken to mean “purposive” (a concept applicable only to the actions of a consciousness) and is not to imply the existence of any teleological principle operating in insentient nature. I use the term “goal-directed,” in this context, to designate the fact that the automatic functions of living organisms are actions whose nature is such that they result in the preservation of an organism’s life.

 

According to this, non-human things, living or not, do not have consciousness and, thus, cannot have freedom, cannot choose. They cannot be first causes.

 

In “Causalty v. Duty,” Rand objects to Kant’s ethics of duty. About final causation, she says,

In its origin, a “duty” defies the principle of efficient causation—since it is causeless (or supernatural); in its effects, it defies the principle of final causation—since it must be performed regardless of consequences….

 

Implied within this, man has free-will but causation works everywhere else. To be a first cause would be “supernatural.”

 

So, where does free will come from, according to Rand?  

 

(Stephen)Consciousness of and trueness to the pleasures and pains set in our biological constitution are integral to Rand’s ethics, as you know. But when it comes to making choices that craft the contours of our extended lives and our extended selves, I say Rand’s theory of moral value falls under what Nozick (1981) called the realization mode of making value: we can choose that there be value, but which results of that choice can be value is not entirely up to us. The possibilities for value are constrained by nature, including our own psychological nature.

 

(Nick)I’ll have much more to say about my theory of value in upcoming posts. I think we’re squeezing too much into short responses.

 

Bis bald,

 

Nick

 

 

 




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Post 13

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - 5:08amSanction this postReply
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Discussions with Nick concerning value theory were continued here:

 

Happiness and Character

 

Kant's, Rand's, and My Ethics

 
Nick on Life and Value




Post 14

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 - 8:54pmSanction this postReply
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Nick,

I've broached this topic a few times in the past on Objectivist forums.

I think perhaps the most important difference between Rand and Sartre is that Rand is an optimist, whilst Sartre a pessimist. In Rand's terms, he has a malevolent view of the universe; she a benevolent view. Sartre views our circumstance with anguish and dread. Rand views it with confidence an hope.

Also, as already discussed, Sartre opines that existence precedes essence, a point with which Rand disagrees. But she doesn't accept its opposite, i.e., the Platonist view that essence precedes existence. Rather, she views existence and essence as ontologically equal. This helps explains why Sartre diverges into a subjectivism in a world without order and Rand into an objectivism in an orderly world. The ontological concurrence between essence and existence allows people a static framework over which to build a flexible frame (Ok maybe too stretchy a metaphor?) Sartre's ontological split restricts people to building flexible frames on flexible bases, which are bound to fall over.

Jordan






Post 15

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 3:42amSanction this postReply
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Response to post #14

Here is the definition of existentialism I got from the wiki:

Existentialism is a philosophical movement which posits that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to deities or authorities creating it for them.

It emerged as a movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, though it had forerunners in earlier centuries. Existentialism generally postulates that the absence of a transcendent force means that the individual is entirely free, and, therefore, ultimately responsible. It is up to humans to create an ethos of personal responsibility for themselves, outside of any branded belief system. In existentialist views, personal articulation of being is the only way to rise above humanity's absurd condition of much suffering and inevitable death.


===========================================================

Is there anything in this definition you find false or absurd?

Here is the bottom line: We are all going to die. It does not matter if we are good or bad; die we shall. Given that it is up to us to adapt to this fact as best we can. We can lengthen our lives somewhat. We can keep ourselves in reasonable comfort until the end. We can learn not to brood over, or to resent, or to be driven crazy by that which we cannot change. How we do it is up to us. From what I can see, existentialism puts the responsibility of our lives and how we shape them strictly in our own hands.

I have reached the point in my life, when death no longer terrifies me. It is the final stage of a natural process. It is the second law of thermodynamics working itself out. I do not deceive myself into believing there is something beyond death or that I will (personally) get another go-around. I am here and eventually I will not be here. But I can leave a mark so that it will not be as though I never was. My children and my children's children will assure that I fade gradually and not all of a sudden. For some time after the stone has sunk beneath the water, the ripples continue. Such is the nature of nature.

Markahm's poem -Invictus- comes to mind. Maybe it is a bit grim, but it posits an attitude that is not all that bad. No whining, no blubbering, no pleading, no hope that reality will make an exception in my case; it won't.

What it all comes down to is to learn how to live in such a way that death will not spoil our time prior to our deaths. We are on a journey the WILL end. No doubt about it. So the only thing that matters is how well we travel.

When the molach ha'mavot (the angel of death) comes for me I will either thank him for relieving me of the burden of eternal boredom or I will spit in his eye. But I will not be afraid.

Bob Kolker

(Edited by Robert J. Kolker on 5/28, 3:44am)




Post 16

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 9:42amSanction this postReply
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I prefer Badger Clark's line from his "The Westerner" - 'the world began when I was born, and the world is mine to win..'   as well as Ayn's answer to Tom Snyder - 'it is not I who dies, but the world which ends..'
(Edited by robert malcom on 5/28, 9:43am)




Post 17

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 - 1:13pmSanction this postReply
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I prefer Badger Clark's line from his "The Westerner" - 'the world began when I was born, and the world is mine to win..' as well as Ayn's answer to Tom Snyder - 'it is not I who dies, but the world which ends..'
(Edited by robert malcom on 5/28, 9:43am)


That is very silly. Before any of us were even conceived the world was and after we die the world will go on. We are just temporary blips. Here were are and here we aren't.

Bob Kolker

(Edited by Robert J. Kolker on 5/28, 1:14pm)




Post 18

Thursday, May 29, 2008 - 11:38pmSanction this postReply
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You're taking her too literally. She is speaking psychologically, not metaphysically. She is saying that from her perspective, it is not she who dies but the world which ends. In other words, the world ceases to exist for her. She is not saying that the world literally ceases to exist. That would be the primacy of consciousness, which is the antithesis of her philosophy.

- Bill



Post 19

Friday, May 30, 2008 - 8:07amSanction this postReply
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Dwyer writes:

You're taking her too literally. She is speaking psychologically, not metaphysically. She is saying that from her perspective, it is not she who dies but the world which ends. In other words, the world ceases to exist for her. She is not saying that the world literally ceases to exist. That would be the primacy of consciousness, which is the antithesis of her philosophy.


I respond:

From -her perspective- you say? Gadzooks! How subjective can we get?

I recall a novelist with a thick Russian accent advising us to take what we read or hear literally. Am I mistaken in my recollection. Besides, a plus nine Aspie such as myself, is genetically wired to take things literally unless otherwise indicated.

Bob Kolker





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