Objectivist MetaEthics: Six
By Jimmy Wales
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 18:51:55 -0400
From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales firstname.lastname@example.org
To: ASP-Disc email@example.com
Subject: Dead is dead.
Bryan caplan writes:
> To begin with, what exactly does it mean to say: "Fundamentally, living
> entities face a single alternative: existence or non-existence."?
It means that dead is dead. This is a fact about certain entities, the living ones. Life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action, and it is contingent upon the pursuit of a certain course of action. Failure to take the appropriate actions ends life. At that point, the _living entity_ no longer exists. The life is gone. Dead is dead.
> If the second, then it is clearly true, but so what? It only shows that
> every value system is going to have to endorse life as a _means_; as
> Ron Merrill explains in his _The Ideas of Ayn Rand_ this argument
> shows that life is an ultimate _means_. But it hardly shows that life
> is an end-in-itself, much less the only end-in-itself.
I suggest that you stick to primary sources. In my opinion, Merrill does not understand Rand's argument or its implications.
The phrase "end-in-itself" has at least two meanings, and I hesitate to get involved in an in-depth discussion of it until we have sorted out some more basic issues. Suffice to say that in the sense of an _ultimate_ value, life is the only possible end-in-itself. As Rand puts it: "Metaphysically, _life_ is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself:
a value gained and kept by a constant process of action." The word _metaphysically_ is important, and serves to distinguish what she is talking about from various other senses of "end-in-itself" (for example, emotional experience of value achievement).
_Metaphysically_, life is the only plausible candidate for an ultimate value.
> ...she (perhaps unwittingly) counciled using life as a _means_ to _ending > pain_; and hence the latter goal would appear more fundamental.
A word of advice on interpreting Rand: never assume that she wrote _anything_ unwittingly. She asked to be interpreted as a person who chose every word very carefully, to express her precise meaning. So if you see the word "metaphysically" as a preface to a claim, always suppose that the word is there for a _reason_. And if you find yourself supposing that in one part of her writings Rand just suddenly forgot her entire meta-ethical theory, then check your premises. Chances are, you just haven't grasped all the implications and interconnections of her theory.
> For Jimbo to be right, it would have to be the case that somehow,
> everyone using the word "ought" is covertly saying that it is necessary
> for survival.
If you can show me where I claimed anything that would require this, then I would appreciate your pointing it out to me so that I can correct my sloppiness. Otherwise, leave the strawman bashing to the students in your classes, o.k.?
> Perhaps Jimbo will say that ordinary English is philosophically unsound;
> and that the vast majority of ought-statements are arbitrary claims
> about nothing.
Perhaps you ought to stop the rhetorical flourish of putting claims into my mouth, and instead focus on what I *do* in fact say. That way, we can progress to a state of mutual understanding. That is the goal, isn't it? I mean, as opposed to the goal of showing off your (admittedly impressive) rhetorical skills. Instead of supposing all over the map what I might say, you could just ask a brief question; I think I've been very good about answering questions, haven't I?
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