Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Evanescent on the Meaning of Life

I finally get to fit a post in that I have been trying to fit in for a month – a response to Evanescent’s post, The Meaning of Life: It’s Right Here.

A response is appropriate because one of the things that Evanescent claims is:

the only reasonable worthwhile thing to do is live for others; give up what you have; sacrifice for the good of others; create a legacy, make the world a better place; disown yourself.

And here I am, having decided at the age of 16 to "leave the world a better place than it would have otherwise been," having spent 12 years in college studying moral philosophy, and spending extraordinary amounts of time each day writing this blog. Apparently, I have "disowned myself."

In fact, the "myself" that Evanescent claims that I have disowned does not exist. The "myself" that Evanescent would have me serve, in place of this project of leaving the world a better place than it would have otherwise been, is as mythical an entity as God – and service done to a mythical entity is a waste of time and effort.

Instead, "myself" is a person who decided at the age of 16 to leave the world a better place than it would have otherwise been. Giving up that would be "disowning myself"

Evanescent was inspired to make this observation in answering the despondent musings of some friends in a pub asking, "Is this all there is to life?" In speaking of his friend, Eanescent wrote:

His point was basically along the lines of: if I die, and I've contributed nothing, and left nothing, does it really make a difference whether I was alive or not?

In answering this question, Evanescent claims to have entered into the realm of 'morality'.

Morality is a branch of philosophy that attempts to deal with the questions: "how should I live my life? What is good for my life and what is harmful?"

This is certainly not how I use the word 'morality' – and I do not think that this is how most native speakers of English use the word 'morality'. Rather, morality is concerned with how one ought to treat other people; It makes no sense to talk about 'morality' when you are talking about a person who is completely isolated from others – even though it still makes sense to ask the question, "How should I live my life?"

[S]ociety in general . . . holds one thing as its standard. What I mean is, the measure by which an action is considered virtuous and noble. That standard is: sacrifice. It is the belief that the more an action is directed towards others, and the less it is directly for personal selfish benefit, the more moral it is.

"Sacrifice" is not my standard. My standard is that value exists as a relationship between states of affairs and desires. A state of affairs is good to the degree that it fulfills desires, and bad to the degree that it thwarts desires. On this standard, the value of a desire is determined by the degree to which it fulfills or thwarts other desires. A desire is good to the degree that it tends to fulfill other desires, and bad to the degree that it thwarts other desires.

If a person desires to eat chocolate ice cream, then a state of affairs in which he eats chocolate ice cream has value to him. When he picks up a chocolate ice cream and eats it, he is not engaged in any type of "sacrifice". He is acting to as to fulfill the most and strongest of his desires.

The person who desires to leave the world a better place stands in the exactly the same relationship to acts of leaving the world a better place. He, too, is acting so as to fulfill the most and the strongest of his desires. The only difference is that, instead of a having a desire to eat chocolate ice cream, he has a desire to leave the world a better place.

There is no difference between the two that warrants calling one a 'sacrifice' and the other not. In both cases, agents are doing what they desire. They simply do not desire the same thing.

Evanescent apparently wants to argue that an act that provides a benefit to the self is ultimately better than an act that provides a benefit to others. He is willing to allow some amount of charity to enter into an agent's action, as long as the primary focus of the agent's actions is self-benefit.

I'm not saying ignore others, and don't better the world, and don’t help people, and don't be kind and generous – the difference is this: one morality tells you to act with OTHERS as the primary beneficiaries of your life. The other tells you to act with YOURSELF as the primary beneficiary of your life, your actions, your choices. (Emphasis in original.)

There is no way to make a direct endorsement of the second option over the first – or to make a direct endorsement of the first option over the second – except to claim that some sort of 'intrinsic value' property exists. It requires a claim that there is some force or primary particle – 'goodons' and 'badons' – that adhere to one option but not the other. These types of statements are false. Intrinsic values do not exist. On this measure, both options have equal value. On this measure, both options have no value.

Value exists. Value is real. Put your hand in a bed of red hot coals and tell me that you do not recognize the badness of that experience. The badness has an effect in the real world. It alters the movement of physical particles through space, namely by keeping people from putting their hands into red hot burning coals. Value is real. It simply does not exist in the form of intrinsic properties. It exists in the form of relationships between states of affairs and desires. It exists in the relationship between a charred hand and a set of (very real) signals in the brain.

The value of different desires depends on the relationships that exist between those desires and other desires. Desires that tend to fulfill other desires are desires that we have reason to promote. Desires that tend to thwart other desires are desires that we have reason to inhibit. As an agent, if I act so as to fulfill my desires given my beliefs, and I know that other agents will act to fulfill their desires given their beliefs, then I have reason to cause others to have desires that will fulfill my desires. And they have reason to cause me to have desires that will fulfill their desires.

Evanescent's mistake is in identifying these desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others as 'sacrifice'. An agent who acts so as to fulfill his desire to make the world a better place is no more engaged in 'sacrifice' than the agent who acts so as to fulfill his desire for chocolate ice cream. For such a person, 'leaving the world a better place' is simply his particular flavor of ice cream.

Evanescent closes his post with the following statement.

If you live, pursue happiness. It's your right. In fact, there is no other purpose in life.

And what of the person who pursues happiness by making the world a better place? What of the physician who finds happiness in bringing health to a sick child, or the teacher who enjoys teaching a new generation, or the dancer who enjoys giving the audience something that they value?

And what of the person who finds happiness raping children, or dominating and abusing slaves, or demonstrating his absolute tyranny over others through random and senseless slaughter just to show that he has power of life and death?

Certainly, of the different things that might make a person happy, we can recognize that it is better that people find happiness in some things rather than others. From this, it is a small step to recognize that the difference between 'sources of happiness' that we have reason to encourage, and 'sources of happiness' we have reason to discourage is the effect that those 'sources of happiness' have on others. It clearly makes sense to encourage others to adopt 'sources of happiness' that bring happiness to others, and to discourage 'sources of happiness' that bring pain to others.

Of course, I deny the happiness theory of value. I have shown repeatedly how, where happiness and truth take two different routes, value follows truth rather than happiness. I speak in terms of 'sources of happiness' above only to maintain focus on a key point. 'Sources of happiness' theory itself has additional problems. Those problems, in turn, can be corrected by switching to 'fulfillment of desires' theory. But we do not need to add that complicaiton at this time.

36 comments:

Db0 said...

It makes no sense to talk about 'morality' when you are talking about a person who is completely isolated from others...

Expect immediate punt

Alonzo Fyfe said...

db0 Thanks for the warning.

Pre-emptive punt return

As I said, I recognize that Evanescent is using the term 'morality' in a non-standard way where there is a 'morality' for a lone individual to follow.

Such a dispute would be purely semantic - like that of a lone astronomer who insists on calling Pluto a planet even in the face of the International Astronomical Union's decision to adopt a definition that excludes Pluto.

The fact that he insists on using a non-traditional effort simply means that the rest of us have to go to extra effort translating the language that he is writing in into English.

However, this is merely an issue of translation from one language to another. Nothing of substance actually hinges on the language that is being used.

Problems occur when an individual insists that there is some sort of 'natural law' of the meaning of words - where "my definition" is "the one true and accurate definition as determined by an objective evaluation of the natural law of word meanings."

There is no such natural law of meaning, and people who write as if there is such a law can be dismissed as starting from a false premise.

In English, morality concerns what we may or may not do to others. Evanescent is free to apply the term 'morality' to something else, but it would then be a mistake to claim that when he writes about 'morality' in his own private sense of the term, that he is talking about the same thing that everybody else is talking about. It would also be a mistake for him to think that when competent English speakers use the term 'morality' that they are talking about the same thing he is talking about.

He would need to take care to keep the two definitions separate. Either that, or he risks filling his arguments with equivocation, as the fact that two distinct and separate things have been given the same name causes him to fail to distinguish when he is talking about one entity, and when he is talking about another.

martino said...

I would call what Evanescent is talking about "prudence" not "morality" - this does apply to the man alone in the jungle. However I suspect that he thinks that there is only moral value, no aesthetic or prudential value for example.

I note you Alonzo have avoided this term but it seems unproblematical to me. A prudential value looks at the desires of the kind in question where these are only and all the desires of the agent. Hence smoking is prudentially bad. Of course another version of prudence looks at future not just present desires. Does the "more and stronger of desires" deal with what I have been calling prudence and so smoking would be akrasia - given that one wants to stop? Akrasia is another concept I don't recall you examining.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

martino

I avoided the term 'prudence' because 'prudence' is the evaluation of the appropriateness of means, not ends.

Evanescent clearly thinks that he is evaluating ends - declaring self-benefitting ends to be better than self-sacrificing ends.

So, he is not talking about prudence, as far as I can see.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

A discussion of akrasia can be found at my post, Normative Reasons and Motivation.

Db0 said...

db0 Thanks for the warning.

Glad to be of help. Both me and Martino tried to argue against that over there but I was banned and he was ignored.
Oh well...

PS: What html code do you use to mark quotes? I try blockquote but it does not work

evanescent said...

I have replied to a comment Martino made on the original article, and unfortunately Alonzo, you seem to have made all the same mistakes based on a complete misunderstanding of the Objectivist ethics.

See my response here: http://ellis14.wordpress.com/2008/03/21/the-meaning-of-life-right-here/#comment-4697

I will write a proper reply to your article here tomorrow.

Don't take my comments are dismissive - I look forward to clarifying your misunderstandings and defending my original article. As for db0, I wouldn't pay much attention to his comments - he's been totally annihilated in discussion by me time and again but refuses to accept it. Also, he's a subjectivist - a position you claim to dismiss.

I'll get back to your soon Alonzo.

Best regards

Mark C. said...

"As for db0, I wouldn't pay much attention to his comments - he's been totally annihilated in discussion by me time and again but refuses to accept it."

Do you expect Alonzo to trust you to decide that for him?

"Also, he's a subjectivist - a position you claim to dismiss."

No matter what a person's beliefs with regard to morality are, that person can still make valid points. What you've just done looks like, if not ad hominem, then a prelude to it ("he's a subjectivist, so nothing he says can be trusted"). Careful.

Mark C. said...

Bah! +1 misusage of "ad hominem".

My point is that you're being too dismissive too quickly. Perhaps there are some ethical matters you and db0 agree on, in which case it would be self-defeating to dismiss everything he says or believes with regard to ethics as wrong.

Mark C. said...

And +1 incomplete train of thought!

In addition to my last comment, I would like to add this: perhaps db0 could provide you, me, Alonzo, or anyone with some insight that we didn't have before.

Conclusion: You're being too dismissive and it looks like you're trying to tar db0 so that Alonzo will prejudge him.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

If I may . . .

Evanescent. I was an Objectivist for seven years until the weight of its fictitious entities (intrinsic values), invalid inferences (is -> ought), and equivocations (means - ends) ultimately brought me to reject it.

I wrote the paper that I used to apply to graduate school on the problems with Objectivism, and got accepted with a full ride.

I am also aware of db0's views, since we have had discussions before, but consider them irrelevant to this discussion. Objections to your arguments depend on whether those objections demonstrate problems with your premises or the validity of your reasoning. If the evidence for a false premise or the proof of invalidity is sound, then it does not matter that it was uttered by a subjectivist.

In fact, I am considering plans to assault db0's subjectivism in the near future. When I can fit it in.

I await your response.

Hint: "Life is the ultimate value" is a false statement. Any argument that starts with a false premise can be dismissed as an unsound argument.

Db0 said...

In fact, I am considering plans to assault db0's subjectivism in the near future. When I can fit it in.

I would be interested to engane in another discussion with you Alonzo. I am aware that I still have not followed through my promise to reply to our previous discussion (Morality from the ground up) but I've parked my answer as I am reading more and more of your ideology and trying to understand/digest it.

Once I do, I hope I will be able to come back with my counterargument or agreement.

PS: I do not consider myself "totally annihilated" but rather silences. Unfortunately it seems to be a recurring theme of some Objectivists to band and then declare victory.

martino said...

I am replying to Evanescent's response to my comment on his post that Alonzo that this blog post is about. Simple, yes :-)

Why here? Well I like the preview facility here and especially so for a long comment like this one, there is none on Evanescent's blog and I avoid that if I can - db0 added one to his blog, you could learn from him, even if he is a subjectivist! ;-)

Secondly I am busy moving and so may now have delays in my responses. Since Alonzo wrote a post in response I am sure he can more than pick up the reigns :-)


martino:This is not mine nor the commonly accepted definition of morality. Morality is about how people interact with each other and what, if any, are the guides to good and bad conduct?
Evanescent:That many people make this mistake with regard to morality is not an argument against my use of the term.
Definitions are subjective, you can use them any way you want. But you cannot go claiming to have solved the problem of morality to others when you use an unorthodox version of the term, this is a form of equivocation. Well you do address the problem of morality as Alonzo,I and others conceive of it as your post and response here makes clear, you think it does solve this problem too. You might guess I think it solves neither version ;-)


Evanescent:You actually prove the Objectivist definition of morality by your use of the words “good” and “bad”. Good and bad, for whom?? By what standard? By whose values??
What an illogical claim, I use the word "good" and "bad" and so must be an Objectivist! The values I sue are based on the empirical facts - the relation between desires and the state of affairs that are the objects of the desires, in this case all relevant desires, whoever has them.


Evanescent:The Objectivist theory of morality holds life as the ultimate value, that of a rational being, that of each person in regard to his/her own life.Therefore, morality is important whether one is alone or in a society.
Yes I understand that however apart from me, as you know, waiting to see you objective proof that life is an ultimate value (I do not think that any ultimate values exists) there are substantively different issues when two or more agents interact which this approach is completely blind to but are still real.

And you are confirming that using your unorthodox definition to cover the problem of morality as everyone else conceives of it ;-)


martino:one morality tells you to act with OTHERS as the primary beneficiaries of your life. The other tells you to act with YOURSELF as the primary beneficiary of your life, your actions, your choices. This looks like a false dilemma. For example, if morality were objective and universally prescriptive then a plausible alternative would be to benefit US, both YOURSELF and OTHERS (and without sacrifice).
Evanescent:By the Objectivist morality, actions can benefit everyone without sacrifice. But that’s not the point. The point is WHO is the PRIMARY beneficiary of your actions. Here, the issue is black or white with NO in between. Therefore it is not a false dilemma.
Well how do Objectivist type actions benefit everyone without sacrifice? I certainly do not want to sacrifice anything, but you have not said how it does this, only assert it.

You are the primary actor but not necessarily the primary beneficiary.


Evanescent:There can be only one PRIMARY beneficiary; that is what the word “primary” means!
Primary does not mean just one (agent).


martino:And you have a choice as to what those values are, which we agree should not entail sacrifice. This is a red herring.
Evanescent:No it’s not. How can you have a choice on which values you accept?? That would require YOU making a judgment call. But whose judgment? Based on whose values? Yours or someone else’s?
So you are an automaton and cannot make judgment calls? In practice we often have little time to be certain of the all the facts and their accuracy.


Evanescent:Again, the only way to avoid sacrifice is to act rationally based on your values. So again, this is not a red herring.
Mostly we do not have time to rationally consider our options, what do you do then?

Anyway the issue is over values, acting rationally is only the means to that end. The question is over the appropriate ends (values).


Evanescent:those who say that your life is not an end to itself, that you have no right to live, that the best thing you can do is give your life to the service of others (like a man on a street returning a wallet that didn’t belong to him) – they have already won.
martino:Surely life is an instrumental not an or the ultimate value? How can your claim be shown objectively?
Evanescent:I don’t understand this question. Are you questioning that life is not the highest value??
Yes where is you argument that this is so?

Evolutionary biologists would say that the "highest" value is to successfully reproduce and it is not life itself. They have their context (which I am unconvinced applies to ethics), what is your context within you think that life is the "highest" value and what is your justification for using that context?

I think this is the main point of our disagreement and everything follows from whether you accept life as an ultimate value or not. I am still waiting for a rational case for this


Evanescent:Since you seem to think that morality is meaningless except in reference to other people, you are actually a subjectivist all along!
Huh? The definition of morality presents a problem for which I seek the best available solution. I have long rejected subjectivism, if you think think this then you are deeply mis-understanding what I am asking - which is an objective and realist approach to this problem. I have not seen one from you yet. Indeed, since you brought it up, yours looks like a version of subjectivism! Since common subjectivism is most typically based only on the opinion of the agent and no-one else. What is the difference to what you are presenting here?


Evanescent:The moral person knows that their life is an end to itself.
martino: This is an assertion where is your argument for this?
Evanescent:Because there can be no concept for morality without holding your life as an end in itself.
This is still question begging or circular reasoning. I ask again where is your rational objective argument for this?


Evaneascent:My point is proven by the fact that you have to assume its truth in order to even question it.
Not at all. I do not have to assume its truth in order to question it. This is quite absurd. People question beliefs - that the asserter thinks is the truth obviously - all the time, this is very fundamental to rational debate. Very irrational reasoning for someone who holds rationality as the basis for being moral :-)


Evanescent:If your life was not an end in itself, and you were a sacrificial animal, morality would be meaningless anyway.
The second clause is nothing to do with the first. I am still waiting to see if presented a meaningful morality. It has meaning but no morality yet.


Evanescent:That the highest moral purpose you can pursue is not the happiness of others, but the happiness of yourself.
martion:Really? What if your happiness brings creates great unhappiness to others.
Evanescent:Ah, but this only happens under a collectivist morality, like Utilitarianism, and its political embodiment: democracy.
In an Objectivist society, you are free to pursue your own happiness, but never to violate the Rights of others. Therefore your question is false.

This is interesting.

First though we do not live in that society so how do you deal with this one? Surely it is misleading for you to give no indication that your post could not be applied here? This looks like an avoidance of real-world issues to which the question of morality applies. So not only are you using an unusual definition but it only works, - maybe - in an imaginary world not this one!

Second this completely alters your version of happiness, it is not as free as it appeared to be in your post. What are these rights and who decides what they are and/or what is your objective evidence for them?


martino:What if others happiness brings great unhappiness to you or those you care about?
Evanescent:Why would you be unhappy by people you care about being happy??
Huh? Did you mis-read my question?

Evanescent:Can you give me an example where the happiness of those who care about is a direct source of unhappiness to you? In your example, all parties must be acting rationally.
You have to ask such a question? I have to ask do you have any friends? Children?

I want some I care about -say my spouse, child or a friend - to be healthy and happy and, say, they have an accident and are not.

martinoThis is the problem of morality and you have not tackled this here at all.
Evanescent:On the contrary, your proposed examples are fallacious and beg the question.
I have just asked questions, and what are the questions that are being begged?

Evanescent:There is no conflict of rational interests between people. Therefore, there is never a conflict between the rational pursuit of happiness amongst people.
Assuming you are rational, some of your answers are puzzling in this regard, this is evidence of such conflict.

Evanescent:But it takes a break from convention and an objective rational philosophy to ground one’s morality on these foundation
martino:So we agree that “conventional morality” is not objectively grounded. That is what I look for but you, yourself, have not shown the objective grounds of your, I have to say, supposed moral approach.
Evanescent:Yes I have.
Not here you have not.

Evanescent:And I’ve done it in other articles too. What I’m presenting is the Objectivist theory of morality, and I don’t think you’re familiar enough with it / understand it, enough to reject it. This is clear from your comments.
I am only addressing your claims which is the only basis I am using to accept or reject these claims. Still waiting for any rational empirical argument contrary to any of your implications to have a moral objective approach. Where is it?


Evanescent:There is only one way to live – to value your life and act accordingly, and that is how to achieve happiness. If you don’t choose to pursue happiness, you are not choosing to pursue your values. And since values have their ultimate goal in life – the rejection of values, of the pursuit of happiness, has only one other goal: death. If you can’t see the point in being happy, you might as well kill yourself now, otherwise you’re living a contradiction. If you live, pursue happiness. It’s your right. In fact, there is no other purpose in life.
martino:This entirely misses the point. You are just advocating one version of the status quo thereby perpetuating the problem and possible suffering the consequences of others, in their pursuit of their own happiness - that you recommend - deleteriously affecting you and making you unhappy.
Evanescent:You are completely wrong. It is actually a total break with the status quo to hold your life as the standard and NOT others’.
This is just your opinion, try living in the UK and then tell me this is so! :-) Anyway this is diversionary from your main argument.


Evanescent:This in NO way perpetuates the problem, what problem? And nor does it affect others’ rational interests.

The problem with your reasoning is that you smuggle in the false assumption that the pursuit of rational values produces a conflict of interest. Which it doesn’t. With Objectivism, the rational interests of people do not conflict.

A thread on this has just started at overcoming bias http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/04/a-model-disagre.html Plus it is not as simple as you make out. In an ideal world that would be the case, provided there is also a perfect information scenario, that is generally not this world.

How does Objectivism magically make rational disagreement go away in this world?. This claim looks like authoritarianism.

In addition just because you claim you are rational therefore no-one who is rational could disagree with you is a version the "every schoolboy knows" informal fallacy.

You need to demonstrate you rationality here in debate rather than just make assertions. A suggestion you avoid the term rational in your answers. It looks like a rhetorical device the way you are using it.

The issue is not over the rational pursuit of happiness but what ends to pursue in the first place.


Evanerscent:For more information on this, read The Virtue of Selfishn
Read it, it is peculiarly regarded as a work of philosophy in the USA but, correctly, nowhere else. A poorly argued book as I recall. Is this the best you can offer?


martino:Along wth religious morality and secularized versions of that, it is most people living like this that causes the problem of morality.
Evanescent:The problem is exactly the opposite. The problem is treating human beings as sacrificial objects to the collective masses – that is why the world is so immoral.
Well as an individualist I have no issue if that were the case but this is a misleading and gross over-simplification of the real issues.


Evanescent:Unfortunately, Martino, you have misunderstood every point I have made here, and pointed out problems where there were none.
Unfortunately Evanescent you have misunderstood every one of my questions and avoided dealing with any of these issue which still remain :-( :-(

Mark C. said...

Alonzo, I am VERY interested in reading your paper on Objectivism of which you spoke. Would you be willing to host it somewhere if it's been digitized?

Db0 said...

Alonzo, I am VERY interested in reading your paper on Objectivism of which you spoke.

+1

evanescent said...

First of all:

Mark C: you misunderstand the nature of the ad hominem fallacy, and also the philosophical consequences of subjectivism.

Since db0 is a subjectivist, he has absolutely no standard on which to ground anything he says. He might just be giving his opinion, but so what? I can say my favourite colour is black, but who cares?

We’re here to resolve a philosophical issue, not exchange irrelevant subjective opinions.

Alonzo said:

"Evanescent. I was an Objectivist for seven years until the weight of its fictitious entities (intrinsic values), invalid inferences (is -> ought), and equivocations (means - ends) ultimately brought me to reject it."

You were an objectivist for seven years? Really? Then why do you think Objectivism has intrinsic values?? Objectivism most definitely does NOT hold intrinsic values – I know this and I’ve been studying it for 7 months.

"I wrote the paper that I used to apply to graduate school on the problems with Objectivism, and got accepted with a full ride."

Given the sorry state of philosophy these days, that doesn’t surprise me.

"Objections to your arguments depend on whether those objections demonstrate problems with your premises or the validity of your reasoning. If the evidence for a false premise or the proof of invalidity is sound, then it does not matter that it was uttered by a subjectivist."

But since nothing db0 has said is valid, we can dismiss his comments.

"Hint: "Life is the ultimate value" is a false statement. Any argument that starts with a false premise can be dismissed as an unsound argument."

Name a value higher than life.

Martino said:

"Definitions are subjective, you can use them any way you want. But you cannot go claiming to have solved the problem of morality to others when you use an unorthodox version of the term, this is a form of equivocation."

For a start, definitions CAN vary in certain contexts, but that doesn’t make them subjective.

You cannot for example redefine the nature of numbers and letters etc. You cannot redefine “one” to mean “two” and even if you changed the words, the conceptual unit would remain the same.

I am not redefining morality – I am showing why your usage of it is incorrect, because it reduces to subjectivism – a position that we all reject.

The fact that many people hold this faulty view of “morality” and what it means is not my problem.

Moral systems can be discovered. Objectivism includes a moral theory, where morality is the attempt to answer the question “how should I live my life?” or words to that effect.

"What an illogical claim, I use the word "good" and "bad" and so must be an Objectivist! The values I sue are based on the empirical facts - the relation between desires and the state of affairs that are the objects of the desires, in this case all relevant desires, whoever has them."


Sigh. No, I didn’t claim you were an objectivist by your use of those words. You need to read my comments better.

You do however make a good observation, which further reinforces Objectivism: values are made possible by beings to value them.

Values do not arise mystically, and nor or they created by a collective mass, or a notion of “great good”.

Values arise because individuals have needs as living beings that need to be met. This makes certain values objective and necessary. However, it is LIFE that makes value possible. Without life, “value” is meaningless. All values ultimately end up benefiting your life or detracting from it. That is why life is necessarily, axiomatically, the ultimate value.

"And you are confirming that using your unorthodox definition to cover the problem of morality as everyone else conceives of it ;-)"

Who is this “everyone else” of whom you speak??

I am using morality to mean “what is right or wrong” – I assume you don’t disagree with that.

The only further question is: right or wrong – for whom?? Based on what? Now, the fact that many people seem to think morality is measured by OTHER people is not my problem, or my error. It is yours. It is an error because this thinking reduces to subjectivism – it always will do.

The Objectivist theory of morality uses the life of a rational being as the standard. You can call this unconventional if you want – it doesn’t matter. It’s what we’re discussing here.

"Well how do Objectivist type actions benefit everyone without sacrifice? I certainly do not want to sacrifice anything, but you have not said how it does this, only assert it.

You are the primary actor but not necessarily the primary beneficiary."

What I find interesting is why so many people here are attempting to dispute Objectivism when they don’t understand anything about it.

When discussing religion for example, I can debate because I know both sides. Yet every man and his dog seem to think they can poke holes in something they don’t understand.

If you want to understand it better, fine, I’ll help you, but you have to do some research yourself.

Now, an Objectivist can act in a way which benefits everyone, including himself. Here’s one extreme example: saving the world. But you are still labouring under the false dilemma that one must either sacrifice others to oneself, or sacrifice oneself to others. This is EXACTLY why Ayn Rand was so revolutionary, because she rejected this and proposed Objectivist morality: where nobody is ever sacrificed to anyone!

Like I said in my blog, you should read the short book The Virtue of Selfishness.

"Primary does not mean just one (agent)."

Yes it does. There can be only one ULTIMATE beneficiary in the purpose of your actions. I’m not saying that actions that you take with yourself as the beneficiary can ONLY benefit you. The point is that you either act with YOUR life as the ultimate goal, or you don’t.

But, like Ayn Rand pointed out, there are many opportunities for people to exchange mutual values and benefit each other. In doing so, they benefit themselves.

"So you are an automaton and cannot make judgment calls? In practice we often have little time to be certain of the all the facts and their accuracy."

This is an irrelevant comment. I’m really not sure what your point was here.

"Mostly we do not have time to rationally consider our options, what do you do then?"

Nonsense! Most of the time we do! It is only in rare emergency situations when we don’t have time to think every single thing through.

It is precisely because human beings are not omniscient (no one and nothing is) that we need moral principles to guide our actions. Moral principles are derived from reality and man’s relationship to it. These moral principles must be objective.

"Anyway the issue is over values, acting rationally is only the means to that end. The question is over the appropriate ends (values)."

Rationality is the virtue by which one achieves reason (a value). The appropriate end is YOUR LIFE. There is no alternative except death. Either you pursue those values that benefit your life, or you pursue your death. There is no in between. Morality should be a guide to how to LIVE, not how to die!

"Yes where is you argument that this is so?"

This is getting ridiculous. Life is necessarily the ultimate value, because IF it wasn’t, you would act with death as your objective! IF that was the case, you should up and die as soon as possible, in which case you wouldn’t need a guide to how to live your life, because you wouldn’t have life as your goal!

I’m sure you can see the ridiculousness of that scenario. That is why life is the ultimate value – nothing else can be.

"Evolutionary biologists would say that the "highest" value is to successfully reproduce and it is not life itself."

But reproduction would be impossible without life!

"They have their context (which I am unconvinced applies to ethics), what is your context within you think that life is the "highest" value and what is your justification for using that context?"

Already explained this.

Also, the fact of evolution as to how life developed is irrelevant to moral systems.

"I think this is the main point of our disagreement and everything follows from whether you accept life as an ultimate value or not. I am still waiting for a rational case for this"

Excellent! Well since I have clearly explained why life is the ultimate value, that should take care of your objections! :)

"Indeed, since you brought it up, yours looks like a version of subjectivism! Since common subjectivism is most typically based only on the opinion of the agent and no-one else. What is the difference to what you are presenting here?"

Martino, morality is not dependant on the opinion of the agent. However it IS up to the agent to discover rational objective values for themselves.

Life makes all values possible, and objective values for a rational being are: REASON, PURPOSE, SELF-ESTEEM. They aren’t a matter of opinion. Now, you’re free to disagree with this and not accept that, but that doesn’t change the facts of reality. IF you want to live, and IF you want to live as a RATIONAL human being, these values are necessary in order to live your life in that way.
That is why Objectivist morality is objective!

"Not at all. I do not have to assume its truth in order to question it. This is quite absurd. People question beliefs - that the asserter thinks is the truth obviously - all the time, this is very fundamental to rational debate. Very irrational reasoning for someone who holds rationality as the basis for being moral :-)"

Am I wasting my time here?

Let me give you an example of what I mean by an axiom.

Imagine you saying “prove to me that I exist.”

Well, you wouldn’t be able to ask that question UNLESS you existed! In other words, your existence is PROVEN by any attempt to even question the fact!

The same is true with morality and life. In order to even ask whether life is the ultimate value or not, you are in effect asking “how do you know that life is the standard for right or wrong?” – but what you have missed is that UNLESS YOU WERE ALIVE, and unless you were a rational being with needs and desires, and things that were objectively positive or negative for your existence, you couldn’t even ask the question! The words “good” and “bad” would be meaningless. What ever else could they relate to, if NOT your own life??

Do you see now?

"What are these rights and who decides what they are and/or what is your objective evidence for them?"

Nobody “decides” what rights are – they are a moral principle for living in society. They are objective (like all proper moral principles) because they relate to reality.

That’s like asking, who “decides” that the earth goes around the sun? No one decides, man merely observes what is. Similarly, by observing the type of being man is, and observing the world he lives in, we can observe that certain moral truths exist. One of these truths is that it is never acceptable to violate the Rights of others.

Your question slips subjectivism into the mix - something that you claim to reject.

"I want some I care about -say my spouse, child or a friend - to be healthy and happy and, say, they have an accident and are not."

Urm, yeah, I get that! But this isn’t a conflict of happinesses!! What I meant is, can you give me an example where the PURSUIT of THEIR happiness conflicts with YOUR pursuit of YOUR happiness? And of course, you won’t be able to, because it doesn’t happen.

"This is just your opinion, try living in the UK and then tell me this is so! :-) Anyway this is diversionary from your main argument."

I do live in the UK.


Alonzo, I’m interested in reading your paper on Objectivism, but since you seem to think that Objectivism has intrinsic values, I can promise you that there is at least one error with it already. If you can make such a glaring mistake as this, I doubt your paper has much credibility.

That’s all I’m replying to for now.

No one so far as presented a moral theory of their own. They are therefore trying to attack Objectivism from an arbitrary and unfounded basis. Also, there is incredible ignorance over Objectivism and understanding of the position that you’re attempting to refute!

I would like to see someone here, preferably on your own blog so it can be read and discussed more tidily, present their own objective moral framework.

Alonzo, since you seem to think you have such a framework, perhaps you could post a new article explaining it and justifying it objectively? I look forward to seeing that.

In the mean time, I believe I’ve fully justified Objectivism and the idea of life = value = morality.

I am going to write an article on my blog on this issue of value.

Dan said...

Would somebody please hurry up with the fake experience machine so we can put a few of these Objectivists into it and make them totally happy?

A few shots from the hip to scuttle the text monolith above me...

More valuable than Life? Offhand, and maybe not in this order I'd say: Love, Honor, Truth, Beauty, Knowledge. In this kitchen, the chef probably serves them up in a casserole called Desire Fulfillment Surprise.


But reproduction would be impossible without life!

...which would be impossible without reproduction. Chickens, eggs, etc. (Tack "Gettin' it on in the afternoon" to my value list somewhere below Love but above Honor and Knowledge if Truth be told.)

Proof of Existence: Cogito Ergo Sum works for brains in jars, characters in plays, artificial intelligences in simulations, and pink elephants on parade. Anyone have an icon of a snake biting its own tail? (Are Objectivists sad and lonely because they're selfish or selfish because they're sad and lonely? I kid, but only because I love. Also, I like to poke at things that bite, so put "a good laugh" into my value list, too.)

I applaud attempts to find some kind of objectivity in this world. I don't think automatically dismissing other views as irrelevant is a good way to rationally winnow your options in development of a morality or philosophy.

Regardless of the Subjective/Objective views, Morality is a flexible, complex mesh, not a Gordian Knot. If you pop an Objective Alexander and just hack through it, you might have untangled the knot, but you've destroyed the usefulness of the net as a tool.

Db0 said...

Given the sorry state of philosophy these days, that doesn’t surprise me.

And what are your philosophical credentials pray? Or is it in a sorry state because it does not agree with Objectivist ethics?

You were an objectivist for seven years? Really? Then why do you think Objectivism has intrinsic values?? Objectivism most definitely does NOT hold intrinsic values – I know this and I’ve been studying it for 7 months.

Really, then what is this all about life being the ultimate value and a wild berry having an intrinsic good value because it will feed you in a desert island and whatnot?

Values arise because individuals have needs as living beings that need to be met. This makes certain values objective and necessary.

Wait a minute. Something (that does not have a intrinsic value mind you) receives a value, because someone assigns this value to it (obviously based on his desires) but this makes that value "Objective"?!

Mark C. said...

This...

http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_4.pdf

... is all that really needs to be said. I've put it out before and it's been dismissed, but I don't remember ever seeing any actual responses to it.

martino said...

Hi Evanescent

Where to start? Well I will try and keep this as short as possible.

First note that you regard being rational as being moral, so to the extent that you are not you are
being immoral by your own standards! :-) Lets see:

db0
We all know db0 is a moral subjectivist. This does not prevent him engaging in meta-ethical discussions such as this one - where everyone is objective. Alonzo and I have engaged with db0 and though we obviously do not agree on his solution, this has not prevented us have interesting and constructive debates.

To dismiss db0 since he is a moral subjectivist and deny that he cannot contribute at all is to rely on an ad hominem informal fallacy - irrational and immoral your books! :-)

Plus how are you meant to communicate your system if you dismiss many who does not (yet) hold it?

Values
I have asked for empirical evidence of your claim that life is the ultimate value and you have given none. Instead you are trying to argue that this is an analytical truth - some sort of a priori or logical and purely rational point?

You ignored my main point that life is certainly an instrumental value and AFAICS all your statements can be deflated by that point alone.

Your created a false dichotomy imposing a unidimensional binary value system "life or death" which is a strawman I know no-one who is arguing that death is a value.

We all reject intrinsic values yet you have failed to show how life as the ultimate value is not intrinsic and clearly you do not think it is instrumental so what is it?

Rationality
Your approach seems idealistic. In an ideal world where everyone is perfectly rational and operate with perfect information then one should be able to reason to mutually agreed conclusions. That is no this world. No-one is perfectly rational and I have certainly not debated a Randian Objectivist who is, whoever much they assert that they are.

Anyway in an ideal world perfectly rational agents would need to transcend their own preferences, prejudices and perceptions - including holding their own life as the supreme value in order to be rational.

Your idea of rationality seem to be Spock like where empirical neuroscience shows that rationality cannot be divorced from emotions, feelings and is empirically grounded and interactive. (Look up Phineas Gage and Damasio).

Rights
I am with Bentham on this natural rights is nonsense built on stilts. You seem to be arguing for analytical rights? How does this work to avoid being built on stilts?

Moral Subjectivism
We agree that morals based on one's own opinions is not morality. However I have yet to see that anything that you have offered is not just opinion. Many claimed objective and absolutist moral systems are actually subjective such as Divine Command who also relies on purely rational and non-empirical arguments to make their case. The only difference I can see is that they cannot make any epistemically objective arguments whereas you have not either arguing instead on a purely logical basis. However what you have presented yet is not logically compelling.

The Virtue of Selfishness
I already told you I read that, why recommend it again, maybe you should read posts more carefully.

martino said...

Evanescent

Two final points:

Morality
You define away the problem of morality as conceived by most everyone else yet you still claim to have a solution to this problem - that you fail to acknowledge - namely the interaction of human agents: through everyone valuing their own life as the ultimate value and recognizing everyone else's right to life as a limit on one's own pursuit of happiness.

Of course this pursuit of happiness is subjective, so how is this an objective solution?

And how do you deal with those who do not subscribe to this "philosophy"? This is the key problem in such interactions - people who disagree on morals. Your proposed idealistic solution is no solution in this world.

Personal Values
How do other values work aesthetics, taste and so on? Your are surely not saying anything as absurd as that one's preference for sorbet over ice cream is a moral value are you?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Mark G.

I owe you a perpetual debt of gratitude. In my writings I have often mentioned an article that I had read that convinced me to give up libertarianism. Yet, I could not remember the article (or the author) in order to give credit.

The article you provided in your link is that article.

Thank you for finding it for me.

It was certainly one of the most influential things I had read in the development of my own thoughts on morals.

db0 said...

We all know db0 is a moral subjectivist...

@Martino: I was going to reply in a comment but it was getting too long winded so I decided to blog it instead ;)

Mark C. said...

Alonzo,

That's a "C" in my name, not a "G", but anyway...

You're very welcome for the link. I think it completely does away with the claim that Objectivism is non-subjective. I've put the link out in at least one discussion I've had with an Objectivist, but the argument at the link was dismissed as BS without any good attempt at explanation.

Objectivists are very good at dismissing arguments that poke holes in their philosophy.

Not to be too repetitive, but is that paper on Objectivism you wrote available to read online, or would you be willing to make it available? It sounds very interesting and I'm interested in your more in-depth reasoning for rejecting Objectivism.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Marc C.

I am afraid that I do not have that former paper. I wrote it on a machine that called a 'typewriter' - an ancient device that typically created only one hard copy of an original document.

However, I have written some of my arguments into today's blog. Life as the Ultimate Value

Db0 said...

I am afraid that I do not have that former paper. I wrote it on a machine that called a 'typewriter' - an ancient device that typically created only one hard copy of an original document.

I guess that means that the original is not with you anymore? Otherwise it should be fairly easy to scan (perhaps with a OCR program)

evanescent said...

The article that Mark C offers here, he’s offered before and on each and every site an Objectivist has provided a counter to it.

I’m not going to waste any more time on that.

Martin said:

To dismiss db0 since he is a moral subjectivist and deny that he cannot contribute at all is to rely on an ad hominem informal fallacy - irrational and immoral your books! :-)

Absolute rubbish.

I said that since he’s a subjectivist he has no basis by which to make any claims of his own, therefore anything he says can be dismissed as subjective opinion. That is NOT the ad hominem fallacy.

“Plus how are you meant to communicate your system if you dismiss many who does not (yet) hold it?”

By having a rational discussion on an objective basis. Since db0 rejects objectivity, a rational discussion with him is impossible.

“You ignored my main point that life is certainly an instrumental value and AFAICS all your statements can be deflated by that point alone.”

Instrumental…in terms of?? As an instrument in order to do…what?? What can life be a means to the end of? What other end can there be apart from life that life is there as an instrument in the aid of??

Blank out. Blank out. Blank out.

The only way to evade this obvious error of yours is to claim that life is NOT an end in itself. Is this what you’re saying??

“We all reject intrinsic values yet you have failed to show how life as the ultimate value is not intrinsic and clearly you do not think it is instrumental so what is it?”

Life as the ultimate value is NOT intrinsic, nor is it subjective. It is objective, because life gives rise to all other values! The concept value would not exist without the precondition: life. Why? Because value presupposes the question: of value to WHOM? Life makes all other values possible. When one acts on a value, one is doing so because it is consonant with one’s requirements as a living being. All values are either ultimately conducive to life or deleterious – there is no in between. Therefore, every value one pursues is made possible and is in keeping with the pursuit of one’s own life. It can mean nothing else. Therefore Life is one’s highest value, necessarily.

“In an ideal world where everyone is perfectly rational and operate with perfect information then one should be able to reason to mutually agreed conclusions. That is no this world. No-one is perfectly rational and I have certainly not debated a Randian Objectivist who is, whoever much they assert that they are.”

This is a red herring. We act as rationally as possible to the best of our contextual knowledge. The point is that assuming both parties are being rational, we can be sure there is a right and a wrong; there is always a correct outcome, and all we need do is look hard enough.

The point is not, and never was (!) that people never argue. I never claimed otherwise. The point is that the RATIONAL interests of man never conflict. If they do conflict, one or more parties is being irrational. Who said that human beings are always rational ALL THE TIME?? Not me. So, a strawman too.

“Anyway in an ideal world perfectly rational agents would need to transcend their own preferences, prejudices and perceptions - including holding their own life as the supreme value in order to be rational.”

Absolute nonsense.

“I am with Bentham on this natural rights is nonsense built on stilts.”

The objectivist concept of Rights flows necessarily from morality, which flows from the facts of existence.

Instead of trying to attack what you don’t understand, why don’t you offer YOUR definition of rights and justify them objectivity. Write a blog on this when you do.


“We agree that morals based on one's own opinions is not morality. However I have yet to see that anything that you have offered is not just opinion. Many claimed objective and absolutist moral systems are actually subjective such as Divine Command who also relies on purely rational and non-empirical arguments to make their case. The only difference I can see is that they cannot make any epistemically objective arguments whereas you have not either arguing instead on a purely logical basis. However what you have presented yet is not logically compelling.”

That you are unable or unwilling to understand Objectivism is not my failing.

“…through everyone valuing their own life as the ultimate value and recognizing everyone else's right to life as a limit on one's own pursuit of happiness.”

There is no contradiction. A human being that doesn’t recognise the concept of rights has none, and therefore cannot pursue his/her own happiness.

Happiness as a human being means to be rational (moral), and one cannot be happy if one surrenders their own Rights. And one cannot keep one’s own rights whilst ignoring others, since Rights are a moral principle that arise from the same place: man’s interaction with man as a moral being. Since the rational person doesn’t abide contradictions, the moral happy person doesn’t.
You are presenting a false dichotomy, and you’re doing so because you don’t understand the first thing about what you’re attempting to attack.

“Of course this pursuit of happiness is subjective, so how is this an objective solution?”

Pursuing one’s rational values isn’t subjective.

Your total ignorance of a subject you are trying to refute is embarrassing.

“This is the key problem in such interactions - people who disagree on morals.”

People are free to disagree on morals. But there is still a right or wrong answer. Morality cannot be forced. The only thing you are prevented from doing in an Objectivist society is violating the rights of others.


Alonzo said:

“In my writings I have often mentioned an article that I had read that convinced me to give up libertarianism.”

Well, Alonzo, Objectivism is NOT libertarianism. So it seems that whatever you claimed to have written debunking Objectivism (plus your comments earlier about intrinsic values) – you were addressing the wrong thing.


That’s all I can write for now because I’m in a rush. I am hesitant to invest much time debating this here, as clearly all of you fancy yourselves as ‘objectivist debunkers’, yet not one of you has shown any knowledge of the philosophy you’re pretending to refute.

Ever encounter those creationists that say “how could a fish give birth to a horse??” and you bang your head against the desk and think “you don’t know a thing about evolution”? That’s what you’re like talking about Objectivism.

Thanks for taking the time to write this article Alonzo, but this will be last comment here as I’m very busy lately. I will write an article on my blog and Alonzo, I actively encourage you to visit it and we can discuss this issue there, if you want?

In a rush to apologies for any typos.

Mark C. said...

"I said that since he’s a subjectivist he has no basis by which to make any claims of his own, therefore anything he says can be dismissed as subjective opinion."

Complete subjectivism does not follow from moral/ethical subjectivism.

The Barefoot Bum has this to say on the word "objective" (from his post "Theistic Morality and Objectivism):

"The word 'objective' is — like most words in any natural language — ambiguous. It has three different meanings pertinent to this context: (1) pertaining to the world outside mind or minds (as opposed to subjective) (2) consistently determinable and (3) unchanging. Conflation occurs because the truth of ideas about the world outside our minds is consistently determinable (consistent determination is necessary, but not sufficient, to establish objective truth), and many truths about ideas outside our minds are (or seem) universal, i.e. unchanging."

Consider this, evanescent: Objectively (by definition 2 or 3 above), it could be the case that the contents of what people call "morality" are entirely determined by each individual and can't be generalized, and that this is all there is to morality. This would make morality objective AND subjective. Your unargued dismissal of "subjectivism" seems to indicate that you do not understand what you are dismissing.

"Since db0 rejects objectivity, a rational discussion with him is impossible."

Neither the antecedent nor the consequent is true, and you are an absolute idiot. Get your facts straight before you try deducing anything from them.

"Instrumental…in terms of?? As an instrument in order to do…what?? What can life be a means to the end of? What other end can there be apart from life that life is there as an instrument in the aid of??"

Oh... happiness, for instance (though I have problems with happiness as the goal of an ethical theory). And I think you and other Objectivists are making a serious error, too: there is a difference between "life" and "MY life". I can use MY life as an instrument to preserve OTHER lives, or I can use my life (the fact that I live) as an instrument with which to, say, obtain happiness. An agent's life is a prerequisite for values and such, but unless you want to ditch that "life man qua man" thing and just hold being alive as a standard of morality, you're going to have to concede that a person's life IS of instrumental value. I sure wouldn't care to live if I had no values other than merely living. What about you?

"Blank out. Blank out. Blank out."

Oh, shut up, parrot.

"The point is that the RATIONAL interests of man never conflict. If they do conflict, one or more parties is being irrational."

Evidence for both. Argument for both. Now. Put up or shut up, because we are under no obligation to agree with those claims, and they are nowhere near obvious, else we would agree.

"The objectivist concept of Rights flows necessarily from morality, which flows from the facts of existence."

Then name specific "facts of reality" (as if we would be talking about facts of fantasy...) and derive morality from them. Logically. Step-by-step. Do not give us paragraphs from a book. Provide the deduction. I want YOU to prove that YOU know what you're talking about--I am not asking that you prove that Rand said such-and-such.

(I feel I must remind you that saying "morality is objective" is different from saying "there exists a morality (i.e. a system of moral statements) which is objective". Morality as a thing could be objective (existing no matter what anyone's thoughts on it are) while including subjective or objective systems of morality. Or it could be entirely subjective if we use another definition of "objective".)

"Instead of trying to attack what you don’t understand, why don’t you offer YOUR definition of rights and justify them objectivity."

I'd say the best way to justify the definition of an extant term is to either use it like it always has been used in the relevant context, or to broaden the meaning so that it's more inclusive, such as what happened with "number" when zero, irrationals, and the imaginaries came about. But I find it funny that you ask someone to justify a definition when Objectivists are the ones using terms in nonstandard ways.

"There is no contradiction. A human being that doesn’t recognise the concept of rights has none, and therefore cannot pursue his/her own happiness."

How the hell do you justify any of this?

"Happiness as a human being means to be rational (moral),"

You claim "if happy, then rational". "If not rational, then not happy", then, should also be true. But it looks ridiculously false to me. If by "as a human" you are invoking that subjectively-chosen "man qua man" nonsense, then your argument has no merit, since there are instances of human happiness without rationality. "Man qua man" just inserts what RAND wants the ideal human to be.

"and one cannot be happy if one surrenders their own Rights."

This is an empirical claim. Prove it now.

"Pursuing one’s rational values isn’t subjective."

If the rational values are subjectively chosen, then the pursuit of them is likewise subjective.

"The only thing you are prevented from doing in an Objectivist society is violating the rights of others."

Derive rights from egoism. Just try it.

"Well, Alonzo, Objectivism is NOT libertarianism. So it seems that whatever you claimed to have written debunking Objectivism (plus your comments earlier about intrinsic values) – you were addressing the wrong thing."

Objectivism has a lot in common with libertarianism (or at least the version of the latter that I've been more often exposed to): natural(ish) rights, capitalism, an extremely limited government. Do you deny this?

"I am hesitant to invest much time debating this here, as clearly all of you fancy yourselves as ‘objectivist debunkers’, yet not one of you has shown any knowledge of the philosophy you’re pretending to refute."

Or maybe we have and you just don't understand the real, yet insidiously veiled, flaws with the system.

"Ever encounter those creationists that say 'how could a fish give birth to a horse??' and you bang your head against the desk and think 'you don’t know a thing about evolution'? That’s what you’re like talking about Objectivism."

Oh really? I think it's funny that you mention evolution, because Rand never accepted it that I know of. Furthermore, Objectivism (not sure if it was just Rand or a disagreement between Rand and Peikoff or someone, or what) has problems with the issue of determinism and free will. Oh, and Objectivists use unorthodox definitions.

We're the ones who are properly banging our heads on the wall.

"The article that Mark C offers here, he’s offered before and on each and every site an Objectivist has provided a counter to it."

And I've never been in agreement with whatever counter is offered.

"I’m not going to waste any more time on that."

Not even for Alonzo's sake? After all, it was far more influential to him than to me.

Db0 said...

Ah, I see you're playing the "close my ears and go la-la-la" game now. Keep on ignoring me and mine, you just look like a bigger fool that you already are.

I was planning to just ignore your personal attacks against me and give you some argument about ought-is and the life argument but as apparently I won't be able to argue with you at all I'll just respond as you deserve. Apologies in advance to Alonzo if this is unwanted.

The article that Mark C offers here, he’s offered before and on each and every site an Objectivist has provided a counter to it.


Shyeah...Probably like you "totally annihilated" me, or refuted Martino.


Well, Alonzo, Objectivism is NOT libertarianism. So it seems that whatever you claimed to have written debunking Objectivism (plus your comments earlier about intrinsic values) – you were addressing the wrong thing.

Oh Alonzo, how could you miss something like THAT. tsk tsk tsk


Thanks for taking the time to write this article Alonzo, but this will be last comment here as I can't discuss without banning the ones I don't like or who's arguments I can't refute. I will write an article on my blog and Alonzo, I beg you to visit it and we can discuss this issue there so that all my buddies can jump in to help and I'll be free to censor at will.

Fixed that for you...

Btw, don't forget to brag to your fellows about how you "handed our ass to us" in the comments of this post.

For some reason, I seem to be seeing the rear-end of Objectivists more and more recently as they flee any discussion where the opponent can actually stand their ground.

evanescent said...

Hi Alonzo, I have written an article further clarifying this point, and I invite you to read it and comment. I'm sure this will clear up your misunderstandings:

http://ellis14.wordpress.com/2008/05/02/ultimate-value-and-morality/

I welcome Martino and others to read it too and comment. Please actually read it in full though before you comment, as there is little else to be said on the matter that the article doesn't explain. My invitation doesn't extend to db0, who is rude and ignorant, and banned from my site anyway.

I look forward to having an honest discussion there.

martino said...

Evanescence

I will mostly keep to points that have not been dealt with bu others or points that you have ignored.

"To dismiss db0 since he is a moral subjectivist and deny that he cannot contribute at all is to rely on an ad hominem informal fallacy - irrational and immoral your books! :-)"

I said that since he’s a subjectivist he has no basis by which to make any claims of his own, therefore anything he says can be dismissed as subjective opinion. That is NOT the ad hominem fallacy.

Absolute rubbish.If this is your idea of rationality then you need to go back to logic 101.

I note you omitted in quoting me my key point about meta-ethics and it was the point which Mark made too.

It seems a standard rhetorical trick of Randians and, so not surpirisingly, one that you are doing here and below, is to avoid defending your own system by seeking to criticize other's moral systems or if they are a moral subjectivist ignore them.

This is a classic litmus test of the weakness of a position, if you were really confident of your approach you would have no need to stoop to such underhanded and irrational debating ploys.

By having a rational discussion on an objective basis. Since db0 rejects objectivity, a rational discussion with him is impossible.

More equivocating. Objectivity in meta-ethics can be used to argue for moral objectivity or moral subjectivity. I suggest you take an Ethics 101 course too.

“You ignored my main point that life is certainly an instrumental value...”

Instrumental…in terms of?? As an instrument in order to do…what?? What can life be a means to the end of? What other end can there be apart from life that life is there as an instrument in the aid of??
Alonzo provided a great post on this a couple of days ago which I whole heartedly endorse. I suggest you try and defend your position on this at http://atheistethicist.blogspot.com/2008/04/life-as-ultimate-value.html


“Anyway in an ideal world perfectly rational agents would need to transcend their own preferences, prejudices and perceptions - including holding their own life as the supreme value in order to be rational.”

Absolute nonsense.
Here we see a great example of Randian rationality. :-) Look at the well crafted reasoning and argument :-)

Instead of trying to attack what you don’t understand...
Well you are making the claims, the burden of proof is on you to defend them. This is not a defense but an avoidance.

That you are unable or unwilling to understand Objectivism is not my failing.
It is your failing if you think you cannot answer some straightforward points. So the point still stands that Randianism is still a morally subvjective system masquerading as an obective system as does Divine Command. Now can you answer this or not?

That’s all I can write for now because I’m in a rush. I am hesitant to invest much time debating this here, as clearly all of you fancy yourselves as ‘objectivist debunkers’, yet not one of you has shown any knowledge of the philosophy you’re pretending to refute.
I am only debunking you Evanescent and only to the degree that you have failed to make your case.

Mark C. said...

Evanescent, I read your blog post there, and I must say that it is completely... um, how should I put this... flaccid.

You attempt to defend your statement that life is the ultimate value, but nowhere do you define "ultimate value" and more importantly... NOWHERE do you prove that one's own life, let alone life in general, is even AN ultimate value.

From your blog post:

"Later on, he clarified that the paper he wrote debunking Objectivism (which of course was highly praised in the Philosophy community) was actually an attack on Libertarianism."

Can you point out where that is stated, because I can only find two relevant statements here in the comments upon cursory perusal: first, that Alonzo's paper discussed the problems of Objectivism, and second, that the article I linked to (the one he thanked me for) caused him to reject libertarianism (and possibly also Objectivism).

"Objectivism REJECTS intrinsic values. Objectivism is NOT Libertarianism. So, once again we see that those who pretend they have found a flaw with Ayn Rand don’t actually know what they’re talking about."

Strawman and bad induction. Even if Objectivism really didn't have any intrinsic values, that does not mean that critics who say it does have nothing else of value to contribute.

Two issues:
1. I am not formally well-versed in moral philosophy, but as far as I know, intrinsic values and instrumental values exhaust the value space. A thing can be valuable as an end, as a means, or both. If one's own life can not be considered solely an instrumental value, then it is also an intrinsic value. Thus, if life is not solely an instrumental value in Objectivism, then Objectivism has at least one intrinsic value (again, IF those two types of value exhaust the value space).

2. No one claimed that Objectivism is equivalent to libertarianism. But do you deny their commonalities that I mentioned?

"The only thing I can’t understand is why Objectivism should meet such a vociferous reaction; atheists like this slaughter theists when the latter make ridiculous claims about evolution and science;"

... which might tell you something about your philosophy.

It meets with said vociferous reaction because it's incorrect, just like claims of theism. One of the reasons for the reaction is that Rand was a sloppy "philosopher"--she equivocated a lot, used nonstandard definitions (and equivocated) and claimed to have solved problems that she didn't.

"yet every other New Age Atheist feels themselves qualified to attack Ayn Rand on philosophical grounds when they haven’t the slightest clue what they’re talking about. It’s pretty embarrassing."

New Age Atheist? Sorry, try again.
What exactly does count as qualification for critiquing a philosophy? Reading the source material? If that's the case, there are a TON of Objectivists who are in deep trouble if they read as much as Ayn Rand did on others' philosophy, which wasn't much, if any. It's been pointed out how similar parts of her philosophy are to... I believe it was Kant's... yet she's absolutely rabid in her rejection of his philosophy and never seemed to see the similarity.

I'm guessing that Alonzo has read some of the important Objectivist literature if he was among your ranks for seven years. I, myself, a having been in your ranks, have read Atlas Shrugged, participated on SOLO and The Autonomist (an Objectivist-ish site), and was once a fan of G. Stolyarov II's writing (he claims to be an Objectivist). And I have subsequently rejected all of that (though not necessarily all of the philosophical points). I gave it a chance, bud.

What's actually embarrassing is your moronic outright dismissal of people like db0. As Martino pointed out, and as I pointed out in a less effective way, if one does meta-ethics objectively, one can arrive at either moral objectivism or moral subjectivism. Your mind is... oh, how should I put this... on the wrong conceptual level. Step it up, evanescent, because you're only exhibiting the flaws of comprehension that we see with most Objectivists we encounter online. I thought you'd be better than that.

"To even ask the question “why is life the ultimate value?” is to assume that there can be value without life!"

False. To say what you just said is to misunderstand the objection.
The Objectivist definition of "value" as a "thing one acts to gain and/or keep", implies purpose, which is a conscious phenomenon. When I eat, I do not eat to gain and/or keep my life. I eat because I either need the energy reserves for some activity or because I feel hungry. This is the rule. It is only in very rare situations that people eat for the explicit, conscious purpose of staying alive. The former point is most likely true for similar organisms, as well. This is a consequence of evolution that Alonzo touched on. Only if the Objectivist definition actually does not imply purpose can life even be considered as the universally ultimate value. But then such a definition is so loose that anything I gain or keep as a consequence of any action can be considered a value, which makes the concept useless. When I walk and pick up a grain of sand on the bottom of my shoe, that grain of sand is not a value to me. Likewise, when I eat because I'm hungry, staying alive is not the purpose for doing so, but just a result.

Once again your objections fail. Insert 4 tokens to try again.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Marc C.

I am not formally well-versed in moral philosophy, but as far as I know, intrinsic values and instrumental values exhaust the value space.

There are moral philosophers who would agree with this. However, I disagree.

'Means' and 'Ends' certainly exhausts the value space. However, equating this to the claim that 'instrumental' and 'intrinsic' values exhausts the value space makes the unwarranted claim that the only way that something can have value as an end is to have value in virtue of its intrinsic properties. Desire utilitarianism holds that value as an end is a relational property, not an intrinsic property.

evanescent

"To even ask the question "why is life the ultimate value?" is to assume that there can be value without life!"

False. To draw this implication is to confuse value as ends and value as means. The proposition, "There can be no value without life" says that life has instrumental value. Your implication above is, 'Life has value as a means; therefore, life has value as an end," which is an invalid implication.

Second, life may be essential for the existence of value, but the existence of value, and the value of value are not the same thing. Many things exist that have no value, and many things that would have value if they existed do not exist.

We can see this distinction by looking at the fact that I value chocolate ice cream. My desire for chocolate ice cream would not exist if I were dead. However, is it a good thing that I desire chocolate ice cream? This question is entirely different from the question, "Does my desire for chocolate ice cream exist?"

So, even if it is the case that life is necessary for the existence of value, you have not demonstrated how 'value exists' has value. Even if you demonstrate that "value exists" has value, you have only demonstrated that life has instrumental value (is necessary for realizing the value that is intrinsic to 'value exists'), not that it has value as an end.

Mark C. said...

'Means' and 'Ends' certainly exhausts the value space.

That's what I was going for, so readers of my comment can now make the appropriate correction.

(I just need to study the notion of intrinsic value more.)

Mark C. said...

But because of that substitution, there is one less valid objection to evanescent's "argument". However, since he used the means/end terminology earlier, I may still be able to make a similar objection.

Db0 said...

My invitation doesn't extend to db0, who is rude and ignorant, and banned from my site anyway.

AKA: A big meanie