Rebirth of Reason

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Post 0

Thursday, February 10, 2005 - 8:55amSanction this postReply
This post is the continuation of the discussion I started in the thread about Younkins
article about Dr. Stadler.

I live in Germany. In Germany we have no studying fees, therefore most students go to
public universities, because they don't want to pay the fees at the private universities.
This is one reason, why almost all universities in Germany are public. A few weeks ago
our supreme court declared the federal law for unconstitutional, which forbade the
universities to collect fees. The court said, that it is not the role of the federal
government to make laws concerning this issue, and that each state can make its own laws. I
think in a few years there will be study fees in the whole of Germany. Every public
university has a rector, which is elected by the senat, and the senat is elected by all
members of the university. The rector is managing the university, but the ministry of
education has much power, too, and the rector has to obey a lot of regulations and
directives. There is a political debate about giving the universities more autonomy, but
it is not clear, which side will win. Needless to say, that the conservatives and
classical liberals advocate this reforms, while the social democrats and greens
oppose them.

I heard about Ayn Rands essay about scholarships. Does anyone know, in which of her
books it is published?  

I don't know, if it makes much sense to recruit objectivists on the german campuses. After
all the Germans are a very altruistic people and I don't think that there are more than
50 objectivists in Germany. Another problem, which I will address below, is that I consider
myself as a sympathizer of objectivism, but not as an objectivist. Nevertheless, I'm
thinking about planing some private lectures about the philosophy of mathematics. I don't
know, if I will have enough time to do this next semester, but it would be a great thing to
do. The best thing you can do is giving the students something to think. This is even more
important than trying to convince them of a certain ideology, no matter how rational it is.

The question about my philosophy and my code of ethics is a hard one, but a question worth
debating. Objectivism helped me to get rid of my flawed philosophical opinions and to make
the right decisions in many areas of life. But calling oneself an objectivist is a total
different thing. Objectivism advocates egoism. So, if you don't consistently act and think
egoistic, you aren't an objectivist. Since I have doubts, if a society made of rational
egoists would work, I am not an objectivist, but something different. I haven't found an
answer, why an egoistic person should raise children or should care for disabled persons
instead of letting them starve. Surely, no objectivist of which I know is advocating to
starve disabled persons, but I have not heard any convincing answer for my question.
Another question is, why the state should not help, if there is a disease or a natural
disaster. If there weren't any travel restrictions in the case of diseases the disease
would spread much faster. And if the governments would not start information campaigns
against Aids many more people would die. I could give you more examples, but I better come
to my conclusion: I think, that rational egoism is in general the best tactic, but there
are some exceptions. Call me a semi-objectivist or a mixture of an objectivist and a
pragmatist, if you want. The question about my personal code of ethics is complicated, too.
When I have to make decisions, I try to be rational and egoistic, but I have some habits,
which are not rational. Since I do not want to spend my whole life trying to be John Galt,
I act most of the time rational and follow sometimes my emotions as long as it doesn't harm
me or other persons.

To Hong: I think that there are two different kind of questions. One is more theoretical
and one is more practical. The theoretical ones are: Why is basic research a good thing,
even if it leads to no new products? Why is it good for human beings to know, that Pi is
not rational or that Fermats last theorem is true? Why should a rational person pay someone
else a salary for finding the answers to purely mathematical questions? Should the state
fund basic research? And if not, how should basic research be funded? The answer to these
questions would give me a better feeling, but not having answers to these questions is
not a sufficient reason to start another career. Now the practical question: In 30 years
the German government will have to privatize many public services including universities
or Germany will be bankrupt. If there is really no private organization, which sponsors
pure mathematics, I will then be in big trouble, no matter which of the two scenarios will
happen. This is not abstract speculation. Today the German rate of growth is 2 per cent
lower than the American rate of growth. The experts agree, that the german economy might
collapse, if there are no radical reforms in the next few years. Therefore I have to
think about my future.

By the way, the reason I started this discussion in the previous thread was, that it is
in both cases about public funding of science. 

P.S.: Maybe my next answers will be shorter. Its not meant personal, but I have to work.  

Post 1

Thursday, February 10, 2005 - 1:33pmSanction this postReply
Hi Frank:

"The Question of Scholarships" is reprinted in The Voice of Reason.
I lived in Germany for a few years so can empathise where you are coming from. I can't imagine a harder place to try and establish an individualist culture such as objectivism.

Your doubts about whether to call yourself an objectivist seem to be somewhat  based on your practical inability to live up to an egoistic, 100% reason-based code of ethics. I wouldn't get too hung up on perfection. By that standard there are no objectivists, Rand included. We all do our little daily battles and aim to improve, but if you set perfection or a Randian hero as your standard, you are doomed to fail, unnecessarily. I think Joe Rowlands (from memory) wrote a great article about that.

I'm interested as to how you came across objectivism- did you read the Fountainhead, which is translated into German? Apparently the translation is atrocious...

Grüesse aus Mallorca, the 17th German Land :-)

Post 2

Thursday, February 10, 2005 - 2:53pmSanction this postReply
Hi, Frank,
You've asked a lot of questions about the value of sciences. I will just give you my own thoughts on these.

"Why is basic research a good thing, even if it leads to no new products? "

For me it is because I want to know how things work. I am not particularly concerned with whether it would lead to a new product or not. There are numerous examples that pure research had led to unexpected practical applications, and that sometimes scientists started out to solve a practical problem and discovered some fundamental rules as well. Therefore there is never a question in my mind about the value of theoretical sciences such as pure math.

That said, I also think that such theoretical scientific activity is a luxury for men, and is only supported when men's other basically needs are satisfied. In older times, science was done by aristocrats who were rich enough to set up their own laboratories, or by individuals who were supported by rich patrons. In a sense, science has never been independent from the other aspects of human activities: economical and political conditions inevitably will affect the directions and extents to which sciences will be conducted in a country. I've studied and worked in US universities for 15 years now, and I think that despite of everything, this is, in general, still the place where scientists have the most freedom to do what they want.

(Edited by Hong Zhang on 2/10, 2:54pm)

Post 3

Thursday, February 10, 2005 - 6:28pmSanction this postReply
So, if you don't consistently act and think
egoistic, you aren't an objectivist. Since I have doubts, if a society made of rational
egoists would work, I am not an objectivist, but something different. I haven't found an
answer, why an egoistic person should raise children or should care for disabled persons
instead of letting them starve.

Help others because you want to, and care about those you help. To be selfless is to act without considering the self. Would you be willing to help someone who spits in your face, and constantly demands more, every time you buy him his dinner? That's true altruism. To help others who give your life more meaning, (or to make a career out of running a charity, perhaps), are all selfish goals. That's the key. Do it because YOU choose to do it; because it gives meaning to YOUR life. That's egoism.

Craig (Houston)

Post 4

Friday, February 11, 2005 - 9:22amSanction this postReply

why an egoistic person should raise children

As an Objectivist and a parent this is easy to answer. My daughter is my highest value and that which gives me the most joy.

or should care for disabled persons instead of letting them starve.
They have no family that loves them and values them enough to take care of them? Ok suppose they have absolutely no family like this. No one is willing to help them through private charity, or a friend who values them? Ok suppose that they don't (please keep in mind that this is going to be a rare situation in a rational egoist type society)
Did they do something to piss everyone off? No? So lets assume are disabled person is good, but has no family, no firends, and no private charity that will agree to help them. You should see that this is completely unlikely, and using something this unlikely as a moral standard is a bad thing. Not to mention the idea, that, if all this were true, why would there state of disability be a demand on me?

So I've rambled a bit here, but you should get the gist of my point.



Post 5

Friday, February 11, 2005 - 1:39pmSanction this postReply
The grammar errors above in my post are pretty bad.....Sorry :-)

Post 6

Friday, February 11, 2005 - 10:03amSanction this postReply
Hi guys,

at first I will tell you, how I found out about objectivism. When I was younger, I was a
leftist. There is not much positive to tell about this, I was really a anti-everything guy.
One day I found via google a website of a german anarcho-capitalist. I thought, that
anarchism and capitalism can't go together, because capitalists want to build up a fascist
dictatorship. Of course it is true that capitalism and anarchism can't go together, but it
is for completely different reasons. I thought, that I could easily refute the arguments
made on that webpage, but the economic arguments of this guy had a certain logic. So I
read much about libertarianism and got rid of my flawed views on economics, but I had
still skeptical, subjectivist philosophical views. One day, I found a web site with a
summary of objectivism and links to other objectivist articles. I was fascinated how
anyone can be such a logical person, one reason for my fascination was, that I studied
mathematics and therefore liked logic. My development was a little bit untypical, because
I started to read Ayn Rands novels after I learned the philosophy. I have read Atlas
Shrugged and Anthem. At the moment, I try to read the Fountainhead - the English version.
I have seen the movie, so I know about the story. Another untypical thing is, that I
was not much into political activism. The first half of my adult life I tried to find
out, what the right political principles are and in the second half I found out, that you
can use reason not only to solve the problems of the world, but your personal problems,
too. I'm getting more unpolitical the more I know about philosophy, because it makes
more fun to improve my own life than trying to explain some morons why 90 per cent
income tax are a bad idea.

Yes, the german culture is in a really bad state. I just mention two of  the last political
debates: One german politician said, that the Germans should boycott the Deutsche Bank,
because they want to fire employees while making huge profits. Another politician, Edmund
Stoiber, the governor of Bavaria, said that the reason people vote for Nazi parties is
the high unemployment. Therefore it is all the fault of the federal government. The
strangest thing is, that Edmund Stoiber is a conservative, who should know better.

I am still not convinced, that it is appropriate to call myself an objectivist. The term
objectivism has a certain meaning. If you are an objectivist, you advocate a total
separation of the state and the economy. I don't want to rule out, that there are special
cases, in which I would advocate government intervention. One example are private roads.
While private high ways are O.K., I have problems with the privatization of the roads
in the cities. I don't see, why the owner of the road before my house could not say, that
I have to pay one million dollars, if I want to leave my house. Yes, I know that socialism
can't work, even if it is limited to the public ownership of roads, and that forced payment
for public roads is a violation of individual rights. But I don't understand how a system
of private roads could work, too. Another example is the transition between our mixed
economy and laissez-faire-capitalism. If taxation is really as evil as slavery, it would
be the best to end social security immediately. This would be a problem for the retired
people, who thought that the state would pay for them. Therefore I favour a slow
transition, even if it means to tolerate forced taxation for the next decades. Another
problem is, that there are many things objectivists typically do, which I don't do,
although this things aren't part of the definition of objectivism. If you want to use the
term X, you have to take notice of the things other people associate with X. Many
objectivists talk much about all the splits of the objectivist movement and the end of the
welfare state. I personally find the most splits of the objectivist movement silly, and my
time is to precious to ask myself the whole day, if person A will hate me, if I speak a
word to person B or the other way round. I think, that the size of our welfare
state is the main reason for our economic weakness. While all objectivists would say the
same, many would go further and say that the advocates of the welfare state are evil. I
think many people feel just pity for the poor or feel frightened, that they won't have
enough money, if there wasn't a welfare state. I don't want to be mixed up with people,
who say, that tolerance is evil or that you should nuke Mekka or that people, who feel pity
for the poor, are as evil as Hitler. When I talk about other things than small talk, I
don't call everyone evil and I don't debate much about politics. Instead of this, I talk
about ways to live a better live or about the things I love - the achievements of
man. Because I behave so completely different, I don't think I and the guys mentioned
above belong to the same category.

To Craig: Thanks for your comments. The objectivist ethics say, that you should help other
people only, if there is a benefit for your own life. If you feel happy with something, it
is not enough reason to do it. Some people feel happy in the short term, when they do
immoral things. There are people, who feel happy, when they help other people. But why
should a rational egoist feel happy, if he sends money to the tsunami victims or if he
raises children? In which way does it benefit his life except that it gives him a good feeling?
I don't say that you should sacrifice your well being for your children or that you shouldn't
get children, because it is not egoistic enough. I just don't understand, how some benevolent
acts fit together with egoism.
To Hong: I think you are right. Basic research gives you a deeper understanding how things
work. Even if it does not lead to new products, it can give you the feeling that the
universe works in a manner understandable by human beings. Another aspect is, that you get
better in solving problems, if you have much background information, even if you don't directly
apply this information. I had the idea with the rich sponsors, that finance research, too.
But I don't think that a billionaire would spend one billion dollars to send a space ship
to Titan. I was very happy, when I heard that the space ship landed on Titan. I think, that
in pure capitalistic society there would be much less money for basic research. Maybe the
whole thing is more psychological and I am afraid that society could change in a way, so
that I am the looser.

To Ethan: I heard your arguments before. My problem is, that I want two things. On the one
hand I don't want anyones rights violated. On the other hand, I want a guarantee that disabled
people have a decent life, too. In a free society it is likely that this will happen, but there is no
guarantee. That is not the answer you wanted to hear, but please note, that there isn't an
automatic process which will lead to the right decisions, and I haven't yet made my decision,
since I regard both individual rights and help for the disabled as high values. After all, I wanted
to show, that I am not an objectivist, since I haven't made this decision.

Post 7

Friday, February 11, 2005 - 2:29pmSanction this postReply
Hi Frank,

Don't think I'm being antagonizing, I'm just trying to understand what you beleive and why so that I can decide what to say to you. :-)

Deciding that you value something and then looking for a society that justifies is a common thing. What you really need to ask yourself is: "What do I value?" and "Why do I value it?"

So, to continue with my friendly questions:

Why do you value a society that guarentees disabled people a decent life?
What is a decent life?
What is the basic value judment of your preference? 



Post 8

Friday, February 11, 2005 - 2:55pmSanction this postReply
To Craig: Thanks for your comments. The objectivist ethics say, that you should help other
people only, if there is a benefit for your own life. If you feel happy with something, it
is not enough reason to do it. Some people feel happy in the short term, when they do
immoral things. There are people, who feel happy, when they help other people. But why
should a rational egoist feel happy, if he sends money to the tsunami victims or if he
raises children? In which way does it benefit his life except that it gives him a good feeling?
I don't say that you should sacrifice your well being for your children or that you shouldn't
get children, because it is not egoistic enough. I just don't understand, how some benevolent
acts fit together with egoism.

There's a book by David Kelley called 'Unrugged Individualism', and it talks about the virtue of benevolence. I agree with him. I am much happier knowing that I live in a benevolent society. The loss to me for certain donations to charity are well worth the value I gain, when I CHOOSE those donations myself. Why does there have to be a deep rational explanation to act benevolently? I do not believe I am losing values; rather I am gaining them in the process.

There are a lot of things people do to enrich their lives. Many people like to snow ski. Why do it, since it involves a certain risk to one's life? People do it because they enjoy it -- for recreation. Likewise, there are a whole host of things that people do to enrich their lives. I believe that benevolence can be one of them.

Also, on another issue: Ayn Rand never advocated the immediate removal of all government programs and taxes. She clearly spoke about a gradual change. Indeed, she most adamantly did not believe in anarchy, and supported a minimal government. The key here is that one's OWN life is one's highest value. Individual rights are not absolutes. Throwing society into chaos by stopping the government -- tomorrow -- is not in my best interest, and could cause me to lose some of my highest values. So while knowing that a minimal government is an optimal state, I suggest we move toward it as quickly as possible -- just not tomorrow. Maybe next year. :)

Craig (Houston)

(Edited by SnowDog on 2/11, 2:57pm)

Post 9

Friday, February 11, 2005 - 6:40pmSanction this postReply


Yes, basic scientific researches enable us to understand ourselves and the world around us better. For many scientists, it is also a passion and an enjoyment. After the industrial Revolution, there has been much closer relationship between science and economy and people’s daily life. I think people recognize that and I believe that there will be continuing demand for both pure and applied sciences, even in a pure capitalist society. Of course the demand for particular disciplines will fluctuate as is now.

As for the ethical and political issues that you raised, well, I am also no expert on many of them. But what I can say is that you don’t have to be a self-claimed Objectivist to be a SOLOist!

Post 10

Saturday, February 12, 2005 - 1:22amSanction this postReply

How do you do it? Every time I get back to SOLO there are more of your beautifully crafted and clever notes. I do half of my Friday's work on Saturday, and half of Monday's on Sunday, but Tuesday through Thursday I hardly have time for one or two posts per day. How do you manage to be so much on SOLO, and still find time to get your work done, your kid raised etc?

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Post 11

Saturday, February 12, 2005 - 12:12pmSanction this postReply

here are a few of my thoughts:

To Ethan: I tried to order my thoughts. At first I doubted, that an egoist would value
certain things (pure science, charity, raising children etc.) I tried to find reasons,
why a rational person should value those things. One reason, why one should value science
is, that it gives you a deeper understanding, that the world around you is governed by
the laws of nature and that it isn't chaotic. Astrophysics is one example: Until now, man
can't travel to the stars, but many people want to know more about the nature of the stars.
A rational reason for this could be, that you see the stars every night and you don't
want to see something you don't understand, if you look above. Another reason why basic
research is a value, is that it may lead in the far future to new products. If there hadn't
been people, who discovered the cells and the molecules, moderne medicine would be
impossible. Therefore I think, that one should care about the development of science, even
if it will lead to nothing new during the next 50 years. I found two reasons, why a
rational person should care for disabled people: The first reason is, that I wanted to be
fed and cared for, if I had an disability. The other reason is, that man should rule
nature. In a world, where nobody would care for the disabled, you would starve, if you had
an accident, which will lead to a disability. In a world, where people care for each other,
you could live. In the first kind of world man would have a greater power about nature,
since accidents could not kill him as easily as in the second kind of world. This could be
reasons, why a rational egoist, should value basic research and charity. On the
intellectual level my own life is my highest standard, but sometimes I feel, that I value
other things, which don't have a direct relation to my rational self-interest. The above
thoughts are a try to find this relation. Whatever the reasons to value those things are,
they are rather subtle. I fear, that in a capitalist society many people won't see the
reason for sponsoring the sciences or art or other things, which would benefit them only in
the long run. The reason is, that many people are passive or short-sighted. I want to ask
you, if you have the same fear, and if not, why not. My thoughts are surely no argument for
forced taxation, but they can be an example, that the moral and the practical are different
things. If I am right, capitalism is a moral, but not a practical system. Therefore it is
logical, to be not too enthusiastic about it.
To Craig: It may be, that it is compatible with objectivism to advocate a slower transition
to laissez-faire-capitalism. But I ask myself, what this would mean in practice. Many
objectivists say, that George Bushs reforms aren't radical enough. Surely his reforms can
only be a first step, but I don't think, that it makes much sense to try more than he is
promising to do in the next four years. If you would abolish social security immediately,
you have two possibilities: Either you don't pay the old people money or you would have to
do a lot of deficit spending. So I ask you, what would be your economic politics, if you
became president of the U.S.A.

You mentioned, that it is morally O.K. to do some things, only because they give you a good
feeling. I agree, that there is a danger to overanalyze your own behaviour. You see, that
drinking water benefits you, even if you don't know about the importance of water for your
metabolism. And you see, that art can benefit you, even if you have not read the romantic
manifesto. But on the other hand, you should start to think, if there is any evidence, that
the things you enjoy may harm you.

To Hong: I tried to lay down my reasons for my scepticism concerning the funding of basic
research above. You said, that you can be a SOLOist, even if you are not an objectivist.
Is this possible? I thought, that all the socially accepted members of this site are
objectivists. Adam Reed mentioned an interesting question. One reason, why I seldom use 
discussion forums, is a lack of time. Do you have a secret time management trick?  

Post 12

Saturday, February 12, 2005 - 9:35pmSanction this postReply


Thank you very much for your extremely kind word. SOLOHQ is the only internet forum that I visit daily. I can’t help it. After many years of living under the rock of career and family, and not of much of anything else at all, I finally discovered Rand and SOLO, and found a place where I can share my own world views with others. Also, I’ve just reached the age of the so-called “year of wise”, and is unable to refrain from showing off the “smart chick” side of myself!


Funny you asked me about time management. I’ve just had a big screw-up last week – I missed my own presentation and was at somewhere else! I certainly need to be better organized myself!
As for the non-Objectivist SOLOist, I am speaking for myself. I have my own views on many ethical issues and most of them appear to be consistent with Objectivism. Although I in general embrace the Objectivist essentials, I am yet to read any of Rand's non-fiction. I think people at SOLO value rational exchange of ideas most of all.

Post 13

Saturday, February 12, 2005 - 9:44pmSanction this postReply
How do you manage to be so much on SOLO, and still find time to get your work done, your kid raised etc?
Actually there is no "etc".  Work, kid, and now SOLOing, that's all I do...
(Edited by Hong Zhang on 2/12, 10:17pm)

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Post 14

Tuesday, February 15, 2005 - 5:13pmSanction this postReply

Frank, I wouldn’t surrender the benefits of the government to those who have values that are inimical to a liberal order. What I needed to do when I was employed in a public university was to contribute to organizations that fight socialism. And I refused to lobby the government for programs that I directly benefited. If we take the government’s money and divert some to libertarian groups, we will turn the government’s resources against itself. If we leave it for the socialists, we leave them with the means to lobby for the expansion of the government.


Now that I work in the private sphere and pay close to 50% of my income in taxes, I glad for every penny of that money that goes to a pro-liberty scholar or individual that is fighting the good fight. And I'm still in the habit of giving private contributions!

Post 15

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 7:15amSanction this postReply
Ayn Rand was wrong about seeking government funding.  She wrote: "The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism." [Rand's italics.] 

Quite frankly, I saw the fallacy in that when I first read it in 1966 at age 17, getting ready for college.  I went to a private school.  My mother explained the realities of our finances.  I found a school that cost no more than the state universities. 

To say that you can apply for government money -- scholarships, grants, jobs, contracts -- and get away with it as long as you chant the mantra is hypocrisy. 

I have also attended public colleges and universities.  I even taught at one.  It was still wrong, even though I did it -- at least by Objectivist standards. 

I know libertarians who work for the state.  I do not expect much of libertarians and they seldom fail to underwhelm me, even if many of them are socially enjoyable for an evening. 

Reality is not to be evaded. 

I am now 55. I have worked many jobs since I was 16.  The more capitalist the organization, the longer I lasted and the happier everyone else was with me.  I lasted two weeks on a contract with NASA.  I was a hero at the Financial and Accounting Services of the Department of Defense -- the ultimate in government work for an Objectivist.  I was happy at both Kawasaki Robotics and Montgomery Ward for two years in each case.  I was wildly successful as a private security guard, rising rapidly from drone to dispatcher -- they even made me the weapon master, even though I had not completed a firearms qualification.  I have been most prosperous as a freelance technical writer, creating automation documentation, both in print and online.  I do the work. I get my money. I leave. 

Over the years, I have met many so-called "Objectivists" who are intellectual individualists and emotional collectivists.  They need to believe in something, to know what to believe, to find out how to act, to have a guide for their lives -- all provided in a few books.  People like this spend lifetimes at large corporations and government agencies.

Over the years, I have met many self-styled "political progressives" lefties and greenies of all kinds who could not survive in a real collective society any longer than it would take someone to organize a firing squad.  They spout silly metaphysics and have no idea where their ideas come from.  Yet, they are free spirits, seeking truth, daring to accept it even when they don't like it.

To get back on point, however, Rand was wrong when she said that accepting government money is "restitution."  On that excuse, we are all entitled to other people's money.  The classic book The Cliches of Socialism long ago exploded the myth that we might as well accept federal funding because we owe it to ourselves or if we don't take it someone else will.  Your federal representative might be happy to boast that they brought so many millions of federal dollars to your district.  To me, that is a confession of shame.
(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 2/20, 7:20am)

(Edited by Michael E. Marotta on 2/20, 7:21am)

Post 16

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 10:50amSanction this postReply
Hi Michael,

The government takes our money in the form of taxes and uses it as it sees fit. Should we, who believe in a system that does not do this, drive on the roads paid for with our money? Collect Social Security checks paid for with our money? Use any service or product that is funded by the government with our money?

No, Rand was right. Advocate a system that doesn't seize our property, but get back as much of the property that was seized from you. It is not immoral to take money back from a thief who stole from you in the first place.



(Edited by Ethan Dawe on 2/20, 10:52am)

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Post 17

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 11:47amSanction this postReply
Michael, I am curious: Do you have a problem with the scene from ATLAS where Ragnar confronts Rearden with his take on reclaiming stolen goods? Do you share Reardon's initial disgust with the "pirate", and do you think such a revulsion is similar to your point in your article?

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Post 18

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 12:18pmSanction this postReply
Michael, an important point that Rand made concerning ethics is that morality presupposes freedom of choice in the face of rational alternatives. Where the use of force and coercion deprive you of any rational, life-serving options -- where the coerced choices pit one important value against another, or your virtues against your values -- then no morality is possible. In such a situation, you shouldn't deem any coerced victim as "immoral" for trying to make the best of a bad, harmful situation.

There's a classic Jack Benny comedy routine where a robber sticks a gun in his face and says, "Yer money or yer life!" Benny pauses, hesitates, puts his hand on his chin, turns slowly to the audience looking anguished. "Well?" demands the robber. "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!" said the world's funniest miser.

This silly example does underscore the issue. At the point of a gun, no fully "moral" options are possible. Facing only harmful options -- your health OR your money; the life of one child OR another ("Sophie's Choice"); being taxed to pay for your neighbor's education, OR accepting offsetting government education grants yourself simply to avoid financial and competitive ruin -- what is a "moral" course?

The EVIL of coercion is that it imposes such morally impossible "choices" on people, and twists moral principles -- such as "rights" and "honesty" -- toward evil, destructive ends. It splits morality in two, turning virtues (means) against values (ends).

For example, under normal situations "honesty" is a life-furthering virtue. But if the Nazis came to your door and at gunpoint demanded you to "honestly" answer the question, "Where are your kids?" -- do you owe them honesty? Is your first loyalty to the abstract principle, or to your kids? Which is the end, and which is the means?

If you say "the principle" is the end in itself, then you are treating honesty as an intrinsic virtue, always to be applied regardless of context or consequences...even when thugs turn it into a tool of your self-sacrifice. You become an altruist. And the only victors under altruist-intrinsicist ethics are the thugs, who gain by not observing it, at the expense of those, like you, who do.

So it is with the moral principle of "rights." Your unilateral observance of "rights" in a coercive context will drive you to self-sacrifice...precisely the opposite result that the concept of rights was formulated to achieve.

The common confusion here, I believe, is rooted in regarding "rights" as the beginning and end of morality. But it isn't: Rights arise from the more fundamental ethical principle of "self-interest." Rand defines rights as a moral principle -- one that arises from an ethic of rational self-interest, and which defines and sanctions one's freedom of action in a social context. But note that "freedom" is built into the definition. Without freedom -- under force and coercion -- the concept of rights is obliterated.

In metaphysically "normal" circumstances -- i. e., under freedom -- the principles of morality are practicable, so one wouldn't be moral if he used government to gain unfair advantages over others: that would truly be a violation of rights. But under governmental force and duress, rights aren't recognized, and one is not trying to obtain unfair advantages: one is simply trying to survive and minimize unfairness imposed by others, and not be taken advantage of. The aim is simple self-defense.

Since rights are no longer recognized under coercion, it is no violation of anyone's "rights" to take self-defensive actions in a governmentally imposed welfare-regulatory state.

To sum up:

Normally, morality is a means to "maximize gain"; but in the face of a gun, it does not apply, and your only option is to "minimize loss." Where you cannot advance your self-interest because coercion has rendered all your moral principles self-sacrificial, then you are forced to seek your self-interest by more primitive means.

So the moral "prime directive" in coercive situations is: Get out of the situation as best you can. Do whatever you must in order to survive, and to return to morally normal conditions.

(This also applies to so-called "lifeboat situations" -- emergencies in which the normal social context of "win-win" relationships no longer exists.)

Post 19

Sunday, February 20, 2005 - 11:56amSanction this postReply
Jason, your idea of donating money to pro-reason, pro-capitalism organizations is a good one, especially for people like me, who don't want to become full-time-activists themselves. Unfortunately, there is only one objectivist think tank in Europe 
(www.aynrand.nl), which seems to associate with anti-war- and anarcho-libertarians. This is definitely not my brand of politics, but there are other organizations out there. 

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