Compiled by Diana Mertz Brickell
Compiler’s note: These are some of the more general articles concerning the Kelley/Peikoff split. Regrettably, there were
many good articles that I couldn’t include due to space constraints.
Table of Contents:
* Jimbo Wales, Incomplete Bibliography
* Paul Spunzar, Toleration
* Diana Mertz Brickell, yet another heretic is created...
* Eyal Mozes, Re: yet another heretic is created...
* Timothy Shell, Intolerance and creativity
* Carolyn Ray, Carolyn plays devil’s advocate
* Rick Minto, Epistemology of Toleration: The Case of Christianity and Marxism
* Peter Steinmetz, Purpose of Moral Judgment
* Timothy Shell, Mechanics of Reasoning
* Will Thomas, When to stop toleratin’
* James F. Hranicky, Toleration/Evil/Truth
Date: Tue, 15 Feb 1994 13:50:12 EST
From: Jimbo Wales JWALES@IUBVM.bitnet
To: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNET
Subject: Incomplete bibliography
Compiler’s note: Many of these articles, plus a few more, are available via ftp.vix.com. Please see my introduction for a listing and instructions on how to obtain them.
What follows is an incomplete bibliography of the sanction/tolerance issue, including pointers on where to find this stuff. I invite additions and corrections!
Schwartz, Peter. “Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty”, The Intellectual Activist, May-June and December 1985. Also published in Rand, Ayn. _The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought_, 1988.
Schwartz, Peter. “On Sanctioning the Sanctioners”, _The Intellectual Activist_, Feb. 27, 1989, Vol. IV, #20. This article implicitly criticized David Kelley for certain associations with Libertarians. (All of the articles from TIA are likely available as back issues. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Kelley, David. “A Question of Sanction”, privately circulated paper now available in the “Truth and Toleration"
booklet (which see). This is Kelley’s initial response to Schwartz’s article.
Peikoff, Leonard. “Fact and Value”, _The Intellectual Activist_, May 18, 1989, Vol. V, #1. In this essay, Peikoff says that he “agrees completely” with Schwartz’s “On Sanctioning the Sanctioners” and claims that Kelley’s “A Question of Sanction” is Ôa repudiation of the fundamental principles of Objectivism’.
Schwartz, Peter. “On Moral Sanctions”, _The Intellectual Activist_, May 18, 1989, Vol. V, #1. “An addendum to the above essay”.
Walsh, George. “A Statement”, _The Intellectual Activist_, I don’t know the exact date. From the preface “Each member of the Contributing Editors panel was promised the opportunity, in the event of any disagreement with TIA, to briefly present his viewpoint.” The published version of the letter was altered substantially without Walsh’s permission.
Bidinotto, Robert James. “Facts, Values and Moral Sanctions: An Open Letter to Objectivists”, privately circulated paper, August 1, 1989. A rather scorching paper attacking Peikoff’s view in “Fact and Value”. This essay is available from BROADSHEET PUBLISHERS, 422 Park Avenue, New Castle, PA 16101. It contains the following note: “The author grants to any reader blanket permission to photocopy and circulate this essay to others.” I may make it available via anonymous FTP, if I get up the energy to scan it in, or if someone sends it to me in ASCII format.
Karp, Bennett. “Reintroducing the measurements: An Old Fallacy with a New Name”, _Objectively Speaking_, Winter1989/1990 (Volume 2, No. 3). Republished with minor revisions on the electronic “Objectivism Study Group”. I obtained my copy via the following clause in the electronically published version “OSG members may give paper copies of this posting to friends for personal (i.e. non-commercial) use as long as the copy is complete, including this introduction. I ask that this posting not be forwarded electronically.” I am not a member of OSG (quite the contrary!) and so I won’t send you a copy of this. Perhaps some OSG member will volunteer to do so?
This essay accuses Kelley of holding a nominalist view of concepts (“at best”).
Kelley, David. “Truth and Toleration”. Available from either of:Institute for Objectivist Studies82 Washington Street, Suite 207Poughkeepsie, NY 126011-800-374-1776 / E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Laissez-Faire Books938 Howard Street, #202San Francisco, CA 941031-800-326-0996 This is Kelley’s seminal work on tolerance. In addition to being excellent polemics, I think that Kelley makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the Objectivist ethics.
Date: Thu, 17 Feb 1994 01:21:23 ESTFrom: Paul Szpunarpaul.email@example.comTo: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNETSubject: Toleration The toleration debate within Objectivism is very frustrating for me. I’ve debated this issue with many people, I’ve lost good friends over this issue, I’ve been called all sorts of names both to my face and behind my back. The frustrating thing is that I’ve never been able to understand the rationale behind the Peikoffian camp, or the violent condemnation of Kelley. The basic point Kelley makes is very simple and is representative of plain common sense. If someone holds or argues for a false idea, one cannot (in most cases) infer *from this fact alone* that the person is dishonest or irrational. The only legitimate conclusion to draw at this point is “This person is mistaken.” You need to know more about the person to make any further judgment. I think the point made in connection with this by Mike Hardy was very good.
Kelley does not advocate moral sanction of false ideas. To the contrary, he is very careful to point out that we should be cautious not to give our direct support to ideas we oppose.
Peikoff strongly implies (he may even come out and say it, I can’t remember) that all substantive error in thought is due to lack of mental focus, and that this lack of focus must be intentional -- one must be evading. This is absolutely absurd, as anyone who has engaged in highly complicated and abstract thought can testify.
Intellectual errors should not be automatically classified as moral lapses.
Peikoff claims Marxist ideas are “inherently dishonest”. This is not true. I have had the opportunity to talk with many Marxists (I’m a history and philosophy major, and the history department here is well known to be a bastion of Marxism). Most of them have obviously thought about the issues a great deal. Although I believe they are mistaken, I have always been struck by the sincerity and honesty with which they have argued for their views. Many times their attacks on capitalism are attacks on strawman versions, but then again, many advocates hold fundamentally flawed views of capitalism. The point is that they sincerely believe socialism will solve very legitimate problems. They are mistaken. That’s all I can conclude without knowing more about them.
One other brief point should be made on this subject. Just because we conclude a *person* is irrational or dishonest does not necessarily mean the *ideas* they advocate are irrational or dishonest. I’ve known a few Objectivists in my day who at least bordered on being irrational and dishonest. When asked to defend their positions they would simply quote from Ayn Rand, attack strawman opposing arguments, blind themselves to facts or arguments that might cause problems for their positions, etc. People like this (and there are quite a few of them) give Objectivism a bad name, but the basic ideas of Objectivism are quite sound.
There are disturbing consequences that arise from holding the Peikoffian view. You may have noticed that the folks over at ARI spend the vast majority of time complaining about how awful society is, how morally repugnant modern intellectuals are, we’re surrounded by irrational people, blah blah blah. Then there’s that stupid remark in the preface of OPAR about most philosophers not qualifying as human beings. This attitude is a direct implication of his views on intellectual error. Needless to say, this is very counter-productive if one of your goals is to spread Objectivist ideas through the culture. If nearly everyone is irrational and dishonest, not open to rational argument -- well, you get the picture.
By the way, has anyone else noticed that Peikoff seems to contradict Rand (at least in her early years)?
Dominique and Dagny both hold false ideas about society, evil, life, etc, but we don’t see Roark or Galt going around screaming at them about being immoral and dishonest. No, they are understanding. They realize that the issues they are grappling with are complex. The solutions are not immediately obvious and it is likely one will enter down blind alleys in the pursuit of the truth. There are people who hold false ideas and are obviously irrational and dishonest (Toohey), but there are also people who hold false ideas, and may be guilty of a little dishonest, but are still basically decent people in the end (Keating, that scientist guy from Atlas Shrugged). I think that if you talk to people, you’ll find that most are basically decent, rational, honest individuals in pursuit of the truth.
Paul SzpunarUniversity of Michiganpaul firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Thu, 17 Feb 1994 18:14:10 ESTFrom: Diana Mertz Brickell email@example.comTo: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNETSubject: yet another heretic is created...
Bob Stubblefield (the current publisher of _The Intellectual Activist_) runs a mailing list known as OSG (Objectivism Study Group). Members of the list are under contract to refuse sanction to any “anti-Objectivist"
activity, where “anti-Objectivist” is used to describe anyone who disagrees with Peikoff’s _Fact & Value_. I recently disassociated myself from OSG because there was no value to be gained from it, and to continue my subscription would have been sanctioning evil. Since I have so recently seen (and felt) the effects of Peikoff’s anti-toleration stance through those who support and practice his view of moral judgment, I thought my experiences might shed some light on these issues.
**** In October, being quite new to the philosophy, I started my subscription to OSG with a most humble and diffident attitude (quite unusual behavior for me to say the least). It was the first time that I had come into contact with any Objectivists, and I assumed that most would be quite rational and reasonable people. It never crossed my mind that any Objectivists would be more concerned with the Written Word of Rand (or Peikoff)
than with the facts of reality.
My first battle on OSG was the result of a discussion of esthetics and whether glue is valid medium of art, of all things. One member of OSG, William Wilkinson, asserted that the exclusion of glue as a medium does not follow logically from Rand’s definition of art, and thus the whole debate began. King Wiemann responded, “[OSG] is not a place where the validity, truth, or logic of Objectivism is debated or challenged. If you do not understand something Ayn Rand said or wrote, OSG provides a medium to ask for help in understanding...” and then dared to assert that his view was not an issue of “faith, appeal to authority, or dogmatism.” I was rather stunned and angry by this attitude and wrote up a post arguing that, according to the OSG contract, one does have the right to attempt to invalidate Objectivist principles with well reasoned arguments.
Most of the resulting discussion was quite reasonable, although a number of people were obviously more concerned with believing what Rand wrote than the facts of reality. For example, in a post entitled “Wrong or Rand, I understand” (!!!) Robert LeChevalier alluded to William (and also those who defended him) as a “busdriver with a ÔPopular Science’ knowledge of physics [who] had said ÔAlbert Einstein made a logical error in his theory of relativity since [he didn’t] see time dilation’...” Such a lack of benevolence is astounding.
Bob Stubblefield, in a later post on how to deal with hecklers, was also quite critical of anyone who questions Rand.
“Consider, for example, a student of Objectivism who tells others a statement in one of Ayn Rand’s articles is Ôillogical.’ He has ignored the difference between the effort he took to utter his accusation and the effort it takes to create a publishable article. He has ignored the difference between his mind, with its particular psycho-epistemology, and hers, which had a lifetime of never using a concept without identifying the facts of reality that gave rise to it. He has ignored what that careless accusation tells others about his attitude towards ideas. He has taken his context as not-to-be-questioned and does not check his premises.”This sort of argument from intimidation was used consistently by a number of people in any controversy. For many, I think it was a way to circumvent the issues at hand and thus ignore the contradictions in their ideas. For such people, it is much easier to proclaim that someone has attacked their highest values than to investigate the meaning and implications of what their interlocutor is saying.
When I was still quite humble and diffident, there were three posts (two by Jay Allen and one by Robert LeChevalier) on David Kelley that I printed out so that I could reread the posts after I reading Kelley’s works. To give you some idea of what these posts consisted of, a few quotes are in order.
From Jay Allen (who had not read all of T&T at the time BTW):“Kelley’s sundering of fact and value is a default on cognition as such; it is a declaration that some facts of reality are outside the province of moral judgement-- which means: outside the province of _reason_.” [_Kelley Exam_, 8/22/93] (Allen seems to have forgotten that moral judgment only applies to volition.)
“Viewed as another Ôtolerance’ scheme, Kelley’s theory is another instance of the pragmatic cult of compromise, which dissolves fundamental philosophical differences in the lukewarm acid of Ôopen-mindedness’ and treats all disagreements as mere Ôdifferences of opinion.’” [Ibid] “As long as they are left alone to their own fraud, and are denied the name of Objectivists, then the Kelleyites will simply perish in obscurity.” [Ibid] “So what motivated Kelley to adopt Objectivism in the first place? And why is he so determined now to distort it? This is my hypothesis: In Kelley’s particular case, the emotion dominating him is fear of moral judgement. To alleviate this fear, he adopts Objectivism, which he hopes will give him the confidence he needs to overcome his Ôyellow streak.’ He goes through a brief “moralizing phase"
which hurts many people around him and leaves him with an aftertaste of guilt. He then rebels against Objectivism...” [_Kelley and Floating Dishonesty_, 9/7/93]LeChevalier’s post was quite bizarre. He spoke in abstract terms of a man whose concepts float, cited David Kelley as an example (simply by stating “E.g. David Kelley”) and then went on to prove that Bill Clinton’s concepts float. [_Floating Concepts & Dishonesty_, 9/5/93] In the middle of December I finally got a chance to read T&T and go over these posts with our great and venerable moderator. :-) As soon as I had gotten over my shock at how ludicrous these assertions actually were, I wrote up an article to OSG quite harshly criticizing these posts for their blatant misrepresentations of Kelley, psychologizing, and lack of evidence to support their claims. I made it clear in my post that I was not arguing for Kelley (I had not read anything other than T&T at the time so it would have been inappropriate), but rather that I wanted to hear some good arguments against his actual position. The reaction that I got was astounding. Jay Allen called my criticism of his post “hysterical judgements on the basis of so little evidence” and demanded a “WHOPPING apology.” He stated that if he did not get an apology and if I continued my “outrageous behavior,"
he would attempt to get my removed from OSG. When I did not apologize, he threatened to quit OSG. (Allen recently apologized for this knee-jerk reaction.)
Well, I was about to say that there were a number of polite replies to me, but upon looking over my OSG archives, I find this to be an overstatement. There were, of course, a few polite people, but they certainly did not dominate the discussion. Apparently, what I should have done (after apologizing) was the following, according to Mehul Dave: Your objections against Jay [Allen] and Robert [LeChevalier] are essentially objections to Dr. Peikoff’s arguments. If you have any objections to make, I would request the following:1. State your axioms - clearly2. State your position on the issues of truth, nature of man, nature and meaning of values, man’s relationship to reality, basis of morality and moral judgement in a way from which you can demonstrate your conclusions.3. With these, show where and why, according to you, Dr. Peikoff is wrong.4. Show which principles of Objectivism has Dr. Peikoff violated.5. Do all this without resorting to rudeness.When you have done this, you have an argument worthy of consideration. Dr. Peikoff has done all this in his article simply because the context of the issue *demands* that much.It seems that a philosophical treatise was required for any objection to even be considered! This request completely drops the context of every human’s time constraints and thus manages to circumvent all discussion of the issues at hand. Since there was no way that I could comply with this request (nor did I have a desire to), I would never produce an argument or criticism that would be “worthy of consideration” and nor would anyone else. (Apparently T&T is not necessarily worthy of consideration either, for some OSGers proudly proclaim that they have not, and do not need to read it.)
Despite my refusal to apologize, things soon quieted down on OSG, and a number of people started this back-patting session of Ôwho can say the worst things about David Kelley’ with very little regard for the truthfulness of the claims. As long as posts were sufficiently denunciatory, it did not matter what was asserted. For example, a well-respected member of OSG, Betsy Speicher, wrote: “Kelley’s stated view is that actions can be judged as good or evil, but that ideas may only be judged true or false. He claims that any attempt to evaluate an idea morally would _have_ to be psychologizing...”Most of these false claims I did not bother to refute, for it would have been a wasted effort.
It was not long after this that I excommunicated myself. I was in a debate on the property status of Objectivism and was conversing extensively with Jimbo on the subject at the time. In one post, not wanting to pass off another’s ideas as my own, I gave Jimmy credit for serving “as a catalyst to a number of ideas about how to form the concept of Objectivism properly.” The next day I got the following message from Bob Stubblefield: “Do you subscribe to Jimmy Wales list? If so, you are in violation of the OSG contract and will have to choose between OSG and his list.” (Since the official rule is that one cannot subscribe to OSG and post to Jimbo’s list, Stubblefield later retracted his ultimatum.) I responded to him that I was in not in violation of the contract as I had understood it, for I had never posted to Jimbo’s list, and it is not “anti-Objectivist” anyway. I told him that if I had to choose between the two I would unsubscribe to OSG, and would like the opportunity to state publicly my reasons for doing so.
Later that day, I decided that I was going to unsubscribe to OSG regardless of Stubblefield’s reaction, and so I wrote up a post to OSG to that effect. To quote myself: “I have yet to receive a reply from Stubblefield about this change in policy, but I can say with assurance that I no longer want any part of OSG. This sort of attempt to control what OSG members may read is appalling, but what is even more appalling is that people will *voluntarily* subject themselves to this sort of action by remaining subscribed to OSG. Everyone, even those OSGers who have no interest in subscribing to any other email list, should think carefully about the fact that Stubblefield may now stipulate what may be read and what may not be read by those on OSG.”For some reason, my post did not go out to all list members, although enough people got it to begin asking questions about what the contract actually forbids. Stubblefield then, “for the record,” posted our previous correspondence, the first sentence of my post, followed by: “This last makes me think of several interesting questions--such why such [sic] impatience in one so tolerant? why ask permission if you’re going to act anyway? who is it that takes what on authority?
or why do subjectivists feel a need for intrinsic rules?”(Note: I got this from a fellow heretical OSGer; my subscription had finally been killed by this point.)
Stubblefield then posted a disturbing Ôclarification’ of OSG’s anti-toleration policy (1/26/94). He writes: “It is certainly not a sanction of Kelley to read what he has written. And I am not going to ostracize you if contribute to his royalties by buying one of his books-- even though I think it would be obscene for me to do so. But if you recommend him or his ilk as being capable of teaching someone Objectivism, that is an “explicit sanction of anti-Objectivist activities” and I will cease dealing with you.
“In the OSG contract, I gave an example of intolerable sanction as “posting to mailing lists run by libertarians who Ôtolerate’ Objectivists.” A more blatant example would be contributing to a list that explicitly endorses anti-Objectivists. Such a list is the one run by Wales.”I think think that this behavior, for the most part, speaks for itself. It is result of Peikoff’s view of moral judgment and of Objectivism as laid out in “Fact and Value.” I did not understand how “Objectivists” could behave in this fashion until I saw that such people were strictly adhering to the principle of armchair moralizing as advocated by Peikoff. Although I doubt I will ever fully understand why someone would endorse Peikoff’s position, I can now see why such behavior is accepted and rewarded among certain Objectivists.
And so now here I am, an enemy of Bob Stubblefield and an “anti-Objectivist” according to the Peikovians. It almost seems like an honor.
diana mertz brickell.
Date: Fri, 18 Feb 1994 13:52:26 ESTFrom: Eyal Mozes firstname.lastname@example.orgTo: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNETSubject: Re: yet another heretic is created...
Complier’s note: Out of modesty and the desire to keep this file down to a decent size I am omitting the first part to this post.
One final point which Diana’s account raises, and which I haven’t really considered before: just why do Peikoffians see Kelley, IOS, and this forum, as such great threats? ARI has much greater financial resources than IOS, with its access to the royalties from Rand’s books; it has first access to almost all new Objectivists, through the cards inserted in Rand’s books; they have Peikoff’s authority as the philosopher who’s been the closest to Rand, studied with her the longest, and most personally respected by her; in sum, in their attempt to convince people that they truly speak for Objectivism, Peikoffians have *all* the advantages over Kelleyians except one: the truth. The only advantage Kelley’s side has - which, ultimately is the most important one - is that they do in fact represent Objectivism accurately, and can present arguments to prove it.
But if Peikoffians honestly believed that *they* represent Objectivism accurately, than they would have to think that they have *all* the advantages; that IOS and supporters of Kelley have no chance at all. They’d have no reason to go to such lengths to denounce IOS or this forum or prevent people from participating in them. Their actual behaviour clearly shows that they do consider Kelley, IOS, and this forum, to be very serious threats; and I think the only possible reason for this is that they are in fact evading the knowledge that they are the ones misrepresenting Rand’s philosophy.
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 1994 18:53:19 ESTFrom: Timothy Shellmilesian@aol.comTo: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNETSubject: Intolerance and creativity In considering our opinions regarding tolerance, we should bear in mind the consequences an intolerant attitude will have on creativity.
To be creative, we must be willing to step outside of established patterns of thought. Creativity accepts nothing on authority. It turns its back on tradition and strikes out on its own. People, to be creative, must not be confined by dogma or creed. They must be willing to pioneer their own thoughts, rather than feed off the thoughts of others.
This is true even when the other in question is a great genius. An authority as great as Aristotle hampered scientific inquiry for generations in the late Middle Ages, as scholars were instructed to learn what the master has taught to be true, rather than to discover the truth themselves. It took a genius the caliber of Galileo to shatter this dependence on Aristotle, and he achieved this only after being forcibly removed from the academic mainstream.
Creativity is not simply the creating or discovering of some new idea. Creativity means discovering new ways to consider old ideas, and more specifically, it means discovering new relationships between old ideas. These new relationships will at first strike us as being very strange, as they run counter to our old way of thinking.
Which means, a creative new idea often strikes us in much the same way as an irrational idea. This can be true even if the new idea is a perfectly good one.
A person who sets out to be creative must be willing to risk being irrational, because, in the earliest stages of creative thought, the creative new idea is almost indistinguishable from an irrational idea. In an atmosphere where irrationality- or deviation from dogma- is considered to be tantamount to sin, thinkers will lack the courage to pursue these seemingly irrational ideas to their potentially creative ends. The first hint that their new idea may be irrational will send them scampering back into the fold. In such an atmosphere, creativity is impossible.
Of course, for most people, an authoritative, institutionalized, creativity-stifling atmosphere is perfectly acceptable, as most people are utterly incapable of creative thought to begin with. In fact, they might prefer such an atmosphere as being one which conceals their deficiencies.
We note that Dr. Peikoff, in ÔFact and Value,’ argues that he wants to keep Objectivism pure. He can do this. But he risks making it sterile as well.
Timothy Shell Milesian@aol.com
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 1994 18:37:53 ESTFrom: Carolyn Ray email@example.comTo: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNETSubject: Carolyn plays devil’s advocate [Moderator’s Note: Carolyn would like to have it pointed out that she does not necessarily endorse the position she puts forth in this article, but is helping me to ensure the fairness of this discussion by presenting as fairly as we can the Peikovian position.] Jimbo asked for a Devil’s advocate. There are a number of issues on which the advocate wishes to challenge Kelley. Here is one.
Kelley compares speaking at the Libertarian supper club to saving money in the open market.
“In varying degrees, the benefits of our action will fall upon the just and the unjust alike. For example, one may properly refuse to make any direct loan to a totalitarian government. But *any* money one saves will marginally increase the supply of capital, and thus lower the prevailing rate of interest. So as long as the totatalitarian government has access to the international capital market, it will benefit from one’s savings. “The same basic point applies, finally, to the marketplace of ideas....” (T&T, p. 20).
Granted. However, speaking at the Libertarian supper club is NOT like quietly saving one’s money. Speaking at the club is like putting one’s money in a trust fund for the totalitarian government. So the analogy does not hold.
If I put my money in the Eastman Savings and Loan, no one will think to connect my name and fame with China. But if I publicly announce my decision to put it in The People’s Bank Of China, they will. The fact is, people are often influenced by what celebrities or the members of famous organizations do (even though this is wrong), and if I am famous enough people may think that banking with The People isn’t so bad after all.
Haven’t you heard people say, things like, “I’m sure Clinton’s people would have told him if his health plan were bad; he’s surrounded himself with smart people who have won Nobel Prizes. So it can’t be as disastrous as you say. After all, YOU’RE just a little philosophy graduate student.” Thus, Kelley has sullied the name of objectivism by publicly associating himself with people who are unprincipled (and worse), not just incidentally and by mistake, but purposely and directly. By likewise publicly dissociating itself from Kelley, the ARI has prevented further misinterpretation of its philosophy.
Putting aside for now the question of whether Kelley was intentionally evil and evasive, let me simply note that Kelley was wrong to speak at the club, and ARI was right to publicly dissociate itself from him. --The Devil’s Advocate
Date: Sun, 27 Feb 1994 13:26:03 ESTFrom: Rick Minto firstname.lastname@example.orgTo: Multiple recipients of list AYN-RAND AYN-RAND@IUBVM.BITNETSubject: Epistemology of Toleration: The Case of Christianity and Marxism [Moderator’s Note: I hereby award Rick Minto the MDOP Philosophy Geek Vocabulary Word Award for January, March, and July. This unprecedented multiple award is due to his creative use of the word Ôdoxastic’ nine times in one post. Nine times. Nine. Count Ôem. Great post, too!] Compiler’s note: In a later post, Minto asked subscribers to append their dictionaries thusly: “dox-as’-tic. adj. 1. Pertaining to a belief system."
I have to concur with the sentiments expressed by Chris Sciabarra in his post on his dealings with Marxists in the past. I considered myself a Marxist between 1982 and 1984, and it was the contrast between the Marxist positions and Objectivist ones that threw the basic issues of political theory into the clearest relief for me.
The most beat-up, dogeared, broken-spined, coffee-stained, Post-It note-littered copy of _Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_ I’ve ever seen was that owned by Doug Walsten, a professor of biopsychology at University of Waterloo, and a “raving” Marxist. Doubtless I would not have read Rand with such enthusiasm had he and his comrades, who I hung out with for a while in my first year of University, not done so.
I was originally attracted to Marxism because of its atheism, and the systematic nature of the theory, from metaphysics to politics. Objectivism also exhibits these, so it too, was attractive to me, and it was only a matter of a few months of reading Rand that I decided she was right in her assertion that “man is not a sacrificial animal."
There, she identified something basic to both Christianity (the only other sufficiently developed system to be in the running) and Marxism, which seemed to be fundamentally false. The rest is history.
I think that the question of the intellectual dishonesty of both Marxists and Christians requires a LOT more evidence to be settled than the dishonesty of people whose doxastic system (the interrelated set of beliefs that they hold) is not so (1) highly integrated, and (2) dependent on a few highly abstract foundational tenets whose logical implications provide the framework by which they interpret the world.
It is true that a belief is unjustified, prima facie, when that belief, in isolation, is inconsistent with with some particular fact of reality. For someone whose doxastic integration level is low, the very fact of the lack of correspondence should be sufficient, if s/he is intellectually honest, and the incongruity readily apprehensible by such as person, for that person to change his mind. For those people whose level of doxastic integration is higher, it would take more for that person to deal with some fact we br
Objectivist MetaEthics: OneBy Jimmy WalesDate: Thu, 22 Sep 1994 18:30:00 -0400From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.comTo: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: A few words on the nature of principles...
I’m not completely satified with my full formulation here, but I think that my point comes through ok.
I am a being constituted in a particular way. I am aware of the world and chose my actions in ways that are determined by my nature. I am not at liberty to disregard this nature with impugnity.
One fact about me is that I can’t think of everything at once. As a matter of fact, I can only thing of a few things at once. I find that I have to make decisions based on an extremely limited ability to detect and process a staggering amount of potentially relevant information. When I decide what I ought to do (which for me, just means deciding what is in my actual self-interest) I can’t be omniscient; I have to do the very best I can with the knowledge I have and with my limited ability to process it.
In general, I am driven to use my conceptual faculty wisely in order to achieve “unit-economy.” By this I mean that I store knowledge about _kinds_ of things, so that when I meet up with a _particular_ thing, I don’t have to start from scratch each time figuring out what it is. There isn’t time (and it isn’t safe!) to learn each day anew that fire is hot, that cats are nice but scratch sometimes, etc.
Every day, I have to decide what to do. And by my nature, it is just not possible for me to consider _from scratch_ all the possible consequences of any given action. So I form moral principles to guide my action. Each day on the way to my office, I am confronted by beggars. (I live in downtown Chicago.) I could spend a lot of time each morning deciding anew whether or not I ought to give change to each beggar. In order to do so, I would have to consider whether or not giving change to this beggar will actually contribute to my life. This is a very complicated question, and after some deliberation I’ve answered it in the negative. It would be self-destructive to give change to the beggars. This is a contextual conclusion, based in part on the fact that I have begun to recognize some faces, and that they have probably begun to recognize mine. If I gave them money this once, then they would be ever more persistent in the future. For someone in a different context (tourists, for example) the conclusion might be different.
I don’t think about this every day. It isn’t optimal to do so! I have formed a moral principle “Don’t give change to the beggars on the way to work” which was formed to apply in a specific context. So long as I am comfortably in that context, I can apply the moral principle with minimal mental effort, leaving my mind free to work on other tasks. I might of course find myself in a situation that falls _outside_ the context, but if my moral principle is formed carefully and correctly, those cases will be rare.
A key point here is that I know full well that by applying my principle, I sometimes miss out on cases where giving would actually be in my real self-interest. But _global_ considerations and constraints make it worthwhile for me to forego those particular cases.
This is a very specific moral principle. But there are others, formed much more broadly. One is “Don’t steal.” This principle is contextual, too. There are cases (_Schindler’s List_ has been given here as an example) where stealing _is_ in one’s actual self-interest, but because I have formed the principle carefully, and because I know the general context in which it applies (ordinary day-to-day life), I don’t have to approach each case as new. I don’t even have to think about it most of the time.
The key point above comes into play now. Let’s suppose that there are some cases in which I could steal and get away with it, even in regular day-to-day life. Like, if I’m in a store and no one is looking, I could probably slip something into my pocket. But my principle precludes me from even thinking of such a thing. Why? Unit-economy!
This is the best answer I can give to the question “why have Ôdon’t steal under any normal day-to-day circumstances’ as a principle rather than Ôdon’t steal unless you can get away with it’.” The reason is that the first principle serves to reduce cognitive complexity in a way that the second doesn’t. And that reduction of cognitive complexity is really important to me. It would be a huge waste of time to always go around looking for ways to steal things. Stealing is in general a very low-return activity, and I have better things to worry about than if THAT CLERK is looking this way.
If anyone would like, I can explain in more detail why I think it is a fallacy to say that this line of argument would lead one to suppose that it is more often or more likely optimal for a really smart person to steal than for a really dumb person.
Objectivist MetaEthics: TwoBy Jimmy WalesDate: Fri, 30 Sep 1994 07:19:28 -0400From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.comTo: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: Re: why self-interest I would once again like to thank Bryan Caplan for his thoughtful questions.
First, Bryan asks for more details about my claim that when we begin to study ethics, we ought to start with what philosophers Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen call Ôtranscendental questions.’ [Den Uyl and Rasmussen, “Life, Teleology, and Eudaimonia in the Ethics of Ayn Rand,” in _The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand_, p. 63.] Recall that I claim that we ought to begin our study of ethics with questions like: what makes values possible? what are the facts of reality that give rise to this subject? why does man need a code of values?
does man need values at all -- and why? what are values?
Bryan thinks that this sounds like an odd way to proceed, and wonders if I would advocate the same method in other areas, such as physics. My answer is yes. “If one wishes to understand the definition and distinctive nature of a particular science, the question to answer is: _What are the facts of reality that give rise to that science?_ For example, the basic fact of reality that gives rise to the science of biology is that certain entities in nature are _alive_. Thus, biology is the science that studies the attributes and characteristics which certain entities possess by virtue of being alive.” [Branden, _The Psychology of Self-Esteem, p. 3] This is a specific application of a more general epistemological principles commonly known as “Rand’s Question."
You may recall from my recent essay here on propositions, or from your own background knowledge of Rand’s epistemology, that on Rand’s view, a concept “is a mental integration of two or more units possessing the same distinguishing characteristic(s), with their particular measurements omitted.” [Rand, _Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology_, p. 13] Rand disagrees with the view that the meaning of a concept is only the definitional or some other subset of the attributes of the units subsumed under the concept. Rather,”the meaning of a concept consists of the units -- the existents -- which it integrates, including all the characteristics of these units.” (Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy,” in _Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology_, p. 98] For any particular concept, if there is some dispute or concern over the meaning or status of the concept, Rand suggests that we “look for its referents.” By this she means that we ought to ask ourselves: “What fact or facts of reality gave rise to this concept? What distinguishes it from all other concepts?” (Rand, ITOE, p. 51)
Notice that this is a tool for clarification, not a precondition for any thought whatsoever. Rand’s Question should be applied whenever we need to specify more precisely to what in existence we are referring when we use some concept.
With this background, we are ready to consider Bryan’s questions more specifically.
> Frankly, this would be a rather odd statement: it would appear to > assume that (1) Claims about physics are only true if I “need” them; Not at all. Claims about physics are true if they are meaningful. In order to determine if some claim is true, we must investigate carefully what the claim actually means. The word Ôneed’ in my presentation shouldn’t mislead you. In this context, an unneeded concept would be either some invalid concept or some concept which doesn’t carve reality at the joints. (“Caloric” comes to mind.)
> (2) That physical concepts can be reduced to something else, rather
> than being irreducible facts; There is a sense in which all concepts can be “reduced to something else.” The something else _is_ the (possibly Ôirreducible’) facts which the concepts integrates.
> (3)That there is a great mystery about the meaning of terms that
> seem completely pellucid.
But isn’t there some disagreement here about ethics? If so, then it is surely worth our while to spend some time clarifying for ourselves exactly what it is in reality that we are referring to by various moral concepts. What is a value? What is a virtue? What facts do these concepts mean? Person A claims “E = MC ^ 2.” I want to verify the claim. I should first make sure I understand what it means. I should then look for the referents.
> And I think that Jimbo’s statement is at least as odd for the field
> of morality. For consider his first question. What does whether or
> not you “need” a moral code have to do with what is moral?
I think it has everything to do with it. Keep in mind that Rand’s Question is not simply limited to asking a _single_ question, but rather to a thoroughgoing approach to subjecting all of our ideas to the ultimate test of correspondence to reality. Your answer to the question “why do I need a moral code?” may have implications for your actual moral theory. (It may be interesting to note that the young G. E. Moore asked himself this very sort of question. He answered it far differently from Rand, of course.)
> Similarly, take the second question. Why shouldn’t the answer be:
> “The fact that there are moral facts.” Plain and simple. Why
> should there be any further answer?
Suppose I asked you “what are the facts of reality that give rise to the science of biology?” and “to what in reality do biological concepts refer?” If you answered “the fact that there are biological facts” I think I’d be justified in saying that you hadn’t really answered my question. I’d be asking you to tell me what essential features of reality make it cognitively necessary to have a science of biology. (And this kind of question isn’t moot in many sciences! Consider psychology, which as a science was once and is still sometimes questioned by those who would eliminate the science in favor of study of brain chemicals, and what have you. Or the “science” of phrenology, which perished when it was shown that its claims about reality were false, and its concepts invalid.)
> What I am picking up here is that, much as he would deny it, Jimbo
> implicitly denies the full objectivity of morality. His whole strategy
> seems to be to reduce it to some other field, (namely, what is in
> our self-interest) and thereby get rid of it.
I do not deny the full objectivity of morality. You’ll have to help me see what you mean, on that one. And I hope that I’ve explained my epistemological approach well enough to show that I don’t want to reduce ethics to some other field, but to identify the essential facts that make it necessary for us to _not_ reduce ethics to another field.
My approach doesn’t amount to question begging in ethics, any moreso than it does in psychology or physics or any other field. When I used to teach financial management, I would ask my students (following the strategy of one of the best textbooks) to answer for themselves the question: why should anyone study financial management? What are the facts that give rise to this field of study? Why do businesses hire financial managers?
In the process of answering these questions (a process that I encouraged by bringing it up repeatedly during the semester as a unifying theme) the students came to a keener appreciation not only for why they had to take the class, but for the motivations behind some of the most basic _principles_ of financial management.
Similarly for ethics. Or, quoting from memory the young G. E. Moore, “why shouldn’t everyone just do as they please?” Well, why not?
Objectivist MetaEthics: ThreeBy Jimmy WalesDate: Fri, 2 Dec 1994 07:54:59 -0500From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.comTo: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: Re: Defining Ôought’?
Mike Heumer writes:
> I mean something by “ought”. What I mean by saying someone Ôought’ to do
> something is exactly and only this: that he ought to do it. No more and
> no less. You might think this some sort of joke, but it’s not. Let me
> put the point a different way: what I mean by the word “ought” is a unique
> and simple concept. I certainly can express that concept, viz. by the words
> “ought” or “should”, but I don’t see why I should be expected to express it
> in some other, more complicated phrases.
I don’t know what concept the word “ought” refers to, when you use it. Can you help me understand to what you are referring?
Let me see if I can explain what I do understand. If I’ve got this much right, then you can take me to the next level of understanding by answering the few questions I have, or if not, you can show me where I’ve gone wrong.
You claim that the word “ought” designates a concept, a simple one. I presume that this means that there are some things in reality (actions, perhaps) which are similar in some relevant way, that can be sensibly and usefully considered together. Now, if these things are in fact _similar_ in some relevant way, then surely there is some _dimension_ along which they are similar, and some means of measuring (the word Ômeasure’ here being used broadly, to include at least partial orderings) these things along that dimension.
What is that measurement? I see two possible answers for you. Either you can specify that measurement to me in words, or you can specify that measurement to me through ostension. You can specify that measurement in words if you can state explicitly the criteria you use. I think you are saying that you can’t do that, or at least you can’t do it as well as I can for _my_ concept of “ought”.
Now, you can specify that measurement to me only through ostension, I again see two possibilities. You can hold that _in principle_ this is the only way to communicate the concept (maybe it is axiomatic) or you can hold that it is the only way to communicate the concept because you don’t yet know enough about the referents to clarify for me what it is that is similar. A case like the latter would be the color “blue” before the scientific discovery of the wavelengths of light and photoreceptors. You could point at a lot of blue things, but not be able to explain the facts that make it sensible to group them together. (I.E., the wavelengths and the physiology of the brain.)
If you hold that _in principle_ it is not possible to specify what measurements you are omitting in forming the concept, then I’ll need some argument to explain to me why this should be the case, since I think my concept of “ought” is perfectly valid.
If you hold that you simply can’t specify the measurements right now, then perhaps I can help you to educate your moral sense to such a degree that you can. (This isn’t an insult, it is an oblique reference to Prichard. (who likely would agree?))
> Your argument appears to be an argument that everything is definable --
> which thesis, as I’ve said in the past, is untenable, as it requires either
> a circular set of definitions or an infinite regress.
Not necessarily! I admit “ostensive definition” as a valid possibility, and I think that it closes things up quite nicely. I _think_ that you will answer by saying that you _can_ give an ostensive definition by pointing to examples of “oughts.” If I understand you correctly, though, you’ll say that you can’t explain _why_ those things are “oughts” and that you’ll answer any disagreements by claiming that if I can’t see it, I’m a moral imbecile.
(Again, a reference to Prichard!)
> Anyway, I would ask you what you mean by “further” when you say that if a
> person does an action, he will further his life thereby. To apply your
> reasoning: if you mean anything by it, you should be able to say what it
I don’t mean anything special by it, nothing secret! One furthers one’s life when one makes it more secure, more comfortable, more pleasant, and longer. One hinders one’s life when one does something that makes it less secure, less comfortable, less pleasant, and shorter. In all normal cases, these all amount to the same things.
Notice that I’m using two different perspectives on the same thing here -- the internal and the external. We can go into great depth about all this, but I get the feeling that yet another discussion of my moral code is not what the list will be interested in. So perhaps we can just stick to your concept?
Objectivist MetaEthics: FourBy Jimmy WalesDate: Thu, 13 Apr 1995 22:17:43 -0400From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.comTo: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: Re: A Challenge for Jimbo Hi, gang, I don’t often get such easy challenges. :-)
I think that the philosophical essence of this question is “Jimbo, do you really mean it?” And my answer is “Yes, I do."
It is not in your self-interest to steal from me because you can benefit in a far greater fashion by trading with me.
The claim that it is in your self-interest up until the point that I decide to go on strike isn’t correct. By weighing me down with all manner of taxes, rules, regulations, and the like, you severely delimit my ability to produce values.
You want good cheap schools? The best way to get them is not to use the government to tax me and institute them. If you try that, you’ll inevitably wind up with problems like those faced by our current public schools.
You want good cheap transportation? The best way to get that is not to have the government involved in taxing and spending to get them. You’ll inevitably wind up with pork-barrell projects and all manner of subtle inefficiencies.
The proof of these claims is not via a kind of a priorism, intuitionism, emotionalism, or anything of the sort. The proof of these claims lies in a good hard look at the facts of economic reality. Among rational people, the initiation of force is always a suboptimal strategy. Feel free to dispute my claims about THIS if you like, and then we can argue about economics if you like. But I take the real question here to be a philosophical one, namely this: “Do you REALLY think that respecting other people’s rights is in your self interest? Or do you appeal to something else?” The answer is: Yes, I really do. And furthermore, I think that it should be almost intuitively obvious to any well-educated person that this is the case.
What’s different about this case and the kinds of cases that we talked about before? Bryan correctly identified one difference, although I contend that in some ways (not all ways) it is a difference in degree and not in kind.
In our earlier examples, we talked about why one shouldn’t concoct some scheme to rob people, some elaborate financial fraud. In those examples, we all implicitly agreed that the discussion was taking place within the context of assuming that the sort of fraud contemplated would be illegal. This, of course, gives one additional reasons not to do it (you might get thrown in jail), but I correctly and cleverly didn’t give this as a primary reason. :-)
In this case, Bryan asks us to consider whether or not it would make since to elevate thievery into a principle of law, on an egoist view. If I may be permitted the indelicacy of quoting a rock song in defense of an abstract theoretical claim in political economy, I’ll quote the Rush song which says “There’s no safe seat at the feast.” What that means, in this context, is that by abandoning the most rigorous defense of property rights in your governmental system, you open the doors *in principle* to all manner of pressure groups. You may think that _somehow_, in contradiction to the entire history of humankind, you will be able to safely and easily enjoy your plunder with no negative consequences, but, well, you’ll just be kidding yourself.
A mixed economy will always underperform a true laissez-faire economy, with the degree of underperformance correlated (and caused by) the degree of departure from principles of individual rights. I consider this to be a by-now well-establish fact of political economy.
Here is another way to look at it. (I’m trying to give several angles, because I know people have a hard time understanding what I mean when I talk about the importance of principles.) Who serves to benefit the most from a laissez-faire economy? At the risk of jading you with my knowledge of pop culture, I refer you this time to a quote from the movie “Other People’s Money.” Danny DeVito points out that all the laws in the world can’t stop him. Well, he’s right and he’s wrong. Smart people do o.k. (though not great) under lots of different systems. But it *is* your regular joe who gets the boot shoved up his arse in various socialistic, communistic, or mixed-economy schemes. The pyramid of ability means that it is the *poor* who will benefit the most from raw, unregulated capitalism.
------ Like I say, we can quibble if you like about the economic facts. But maybe we don’t need to do that right now. I think that the real issue is settled: does Jimbo pull some kind of question-begging trick at the base of his views on egoism and capitalism? I think the answer is no.
Still, I would like to point out that there is a way to include psychological facts here in a nonquestion-begging manner. Your psychological machinery has an identity. It is an automatic response to your prior value judgments, but that doesn’t mean that if you make all kinds of mistaken judgments that lead you to near-death, you will respond to that near-death-agony with joy! No, the relationship between emotions, values, and biological/psychological machinery is much more complex than that. To be really joyful, you have to make sure that your happiness is noncontradictory, which is to say, that your values are in accordance with the successful carrying on of the business of living. So there is a non-question-begging way for me to say that you _won’t_ be happy if you steal from me, even if you attempt like the dickens to evade that fact that by stealing from me you are acting in contradiction to your own self-interest.
I hope this clarifies and enlightens. :-)
Objectivist MetaEthics: FiveBy Jimmy WalesDate: Fri, 21 Apr 1995 18:31:42 -0400From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.comTo: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: Re: life as the standard of value
> Thus, no answer has yet been given:
> Why should we use life as a standard of value?
Fundamentally, living entities face a single alternative: existence or non-existence. The continued existence of a living entity requires a specific course of action, a course which will sustain the organism. If an organism does not pursue that course of action, it will die. Inanimate objects do not face any alternative. It is only to a living entity that things can be beneficial or harmful. “It is only the concept of ÔLife’ that makes the concept of ÔValue’ possible.” (Rand, somewhere, I’m quoting from memory here.)
I’m sure you see the potential for confusion in a question of the form “Why _should_ we use X as our standard for what we _should_ do?” There is a real danger of a circular argument, and I hope that I don’t upset you when I accuse you of hoping that people will fall into that trap! Wasn’t that the purpose of the question? Weren’t you hoping that people would answer “Gasp! But life is just GOOD!”?
My response is: what do you mean by “should”? If you mean “ought” then you’ll have to specify what standard you are using to judge what one ought to do. If you answer anything other than “life” I will argue that you are (as outlined above) actually acting on the premise of death. Death requires nothing for its support or maintenance. It is permantant, irreversible, stable, still. Death does not need a moral code. There isn’t anything that dead people ought to do. Asking why one ought to use life as the standard of value is an instance of the “stolen concept fallacy."
You can choose life, in which case there is an objective need for a moral code which will guide you in the furtherance of your life. Or you can choose death, in which case you’ve opted out of the moral game altogether.
In such a case, you do not _need_ a rational ethics; the nearest razorblade will do.
Objectivist MetaEthics: Six
By Jimmy Wales
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 1995 18:51:55 -0400
From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.com
To: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.org
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?
Objectivist MetaEthics: SevenBy Jimmy WalesDate: Tue, 25 Apr 1995 21:58:16 -0400From: Jimmy -Jimbo- Wales email@example.comTo: ASP-Disc firstname.lastname@example.orgSubject: Re: life as the standard of value I’m only going to respond to part of this one. The rest of it I’ve answered before so many times that I fear I will begin to bore the other readers of the group.
> 2. Other standards of value besides life and death are possible. Life
> and death are not the only two things in the universe. Thus, for
> instance, it would be possible to take pleasure as a standard of value
> (hedonism). Or, one could have several values: pleasure, knowledge,
> beauty, freedom, etc.
As a technical point, I think that a complete system of morality (by which I mean, a set of principles that in principle gives a complete ordering over alternatives) can have only one ultimate value. What I mean by this is that if you have more than one supposed ultimate value, say beauty and knowledge, they could very well come into conflict, and you’d have to use something else to resolve the conflict between them. It is difficult to show (and I don’t have an airtight deductive proof - yet - so don’t ask) but I think that it is most plausible that only a system with a single ultimate value can avoid this problem.
> 4. Why don’t inanimate objects face alternatives?
Well, the most simple answer is that inanimate objects don’t “face” anything. For a more detailed answer, you might want to read Harry Binswanger’s _The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts_. There is an ongoing chapter-by-chapter discussion of this book going on at the listserv group AYN-TECH@IUBVM.UCS.INDIANA.EDU, and you could order the archives from the listserv.
There are of course borderline cases, entities for which it is difficult to decide if they are alive or not.
> 5. Why should living things continue to live?
As I have pointed out repeatedly, on my theory, this is a potentially invalid question! For plants, there is no question of conscious awareness and so no “should” can come into the picture at all. It is only for a being with a volitional question that ANY question of ought can come into play. Additionally, no real oughts are possible for those who have chosen death; death requires nothing for its maintenance.
> All you have given as an argument is, essentially, this: If an organism
> does not act in a certain way, it will cease to live. Ergo, the organism
> should take its life as a standard of value.
If this was all that I had said, then I wouldn’t know whom to suppose the greater fool, you for still sitting here arguing with me, or me for thinking that an argument like that would convince you! (with apologies to Guanilo.)
I have said many times that if you do not choose to live, then you do not have a need for ethics at all. That is a _crucial_ point.
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