Comments from NoodleFood


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Comment #1

Sunday, September 16, 2007 at 14:35:07 mdt
Name: Jeff Montgomery

I must have missed class the day they explained how the exclamation "Rubbish" became an argument.

>Particularly pathetic is the argument that apparently altruistic actions are really egoistic, since you get pleasure from doing good

I barely need to point out that Objectivism has no desire to co-opt altruism, since it does not regard it as valuable, although I would agree that the only good reason to engage in ostensibly altruistic actions is for some kind of benefit. The problem, however, is with our critics, not egoism: for example McGinn trivializes pleasure, and it is a common tactic of altruists to attempt to attempt to make self-benefit in seem depraved, ignoring egoism's use of passionately held moral principles (i.e. I want to help someone because I value life, and helping them better their life is an expression of that valuation).

>This just conflates the object of a want with its consequences.

Is this Herr Kant calling? (We can't allow consequence, i.e. causality, to enter into it; one has to simply do it from duty).

>...with its consequences. You might as well argue that economic actions, like buying a television, are really altruistic, because someone else benefits, namely the people you buy it from

It's amusing to hear him strike out consequence as a justification, since one of the most common justifications for altruist, anti-rights political measures is that an action by a freely acting individual has "consequences" liberals don't like. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Tulsa and as a result someone in NYC can't afford health insurance, we must outlaw butterflies.

All I can say is: Doesn't this man want to live? Doesn't part of him see the value of self and its link to the very essence of life itself? I guess not.



Comment #2

Sunday, September 16, 2007 at 15:05:01 mdt
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Without egoism, the question "WHY should I?" becomes unanswerable. All that is left is vigorous assertion - and this forms a habit.



Comment #3

Sunday, September 16, 2007 at 15:18:45 mdt
Name: L.R.

Wow. McGinn blatantly declares that short-term psychological benefit is the kind of "self-interest" egoism is concerned with. No philosopher has ever advocated such a theory; McGinn "dispatches" only his own strawman.

A superficial treatment would be bad enough, but he's literally making this up. I know he's not an ethicist, but he at least should have read some instead of looking up "egoism" in his pocket dictionary.



Comment #4

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 2:08:30 mdt
Name: tw

>> That means that helping others, with no benefit to self, is immoral. <<

Correct. It is immoral. Another word for it would be slavery, only it is the ugliest form of slavery: voluntary slavery in which the victim submits of his own free will.



Comment #5

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 2:51:08 mdt
Name: anon

This guy is something else

Mr Mc Ginns comments "The belief in altruism doesn't necessarily require big self sacrifice, only that, e.g., you should keep you promises even when it doesn't suit you to do so; or shouldn't rape even when it does suit you"

Not raping someone is now altruistic? Also I am sure the women in Mr McGinn's life are glad that he remain altruistic and not rape them. Just one of the small sacrifices he makes I guess.



Comment #6

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 4:20:26 mdt
Name: kishnevi

I agree that Mr. McGinn does not really get Diana's point, and his "argument" is not much of a logical argument. But I think his assertion that ethical egoism requires the moral to be co-extensive with the prudent is true. If values are derived by their importance to the survival of the individual as a rational being, then what advances that survival--which is to say, what is prudent--and only what advances that survival is moral, and moral choice boils down simply between the prudent and the imprudent. The prohibition on coercion and aggression is moral only because it is (or should be) a reciprocally held value: your refusal to coerce me is good for me, and to encourage that refusal, I in my turn refuse to coerce me. The same with such things as integrity. But where that reciprocity fails to hold, there is no prudential reason for me to refrain from coercion or breaking promises or the rest other than the possibility of legal punishment, and therefore in those circumstances it is not immoral to use coercion, to break promises, etc.



Comment #7

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 5:34:31 mdt
Name: Monica
URL: http://sparkasynapse.blogspot.com

Most of the comments there are simply too absurd to respond to, like the dollar in exchange for not killing someone scenario. Give me a break. Let's let them do the work. I posed a question on his site to "Q" about when altruistic acts ARE necessarily obligatory. Let's see if it's ever answered.

I also blogged it briefly here:

<http://sparkasynapse.blogspot.com/2007/09/egoism-or-altruism.html>



Comment #8

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 6:02:01 mdt
Name: Flibbert
URL: http://flibbertigibbet.mu.nu/

I just blogged about this, too.

I am impressed that they have come up with so many different ways to just say, "This is rubbish!" without offering any proof or argumentation to support it.



Comment #9

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 6:02:46 mdt
Name: Flibbert
URL: http://flibbertigibbet.mu.nu/

By the way, in addition to long strings of rhetorical questions, I am adding this strategy to my list of ways to compose technical documentation at work.



Comment #10

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 6:25:05 mdt
Name: Monica
URL: http://sparkasynapse.blogspot.com

Colin McGinn says, "That ought to end this little discussion."

Yeah, actually, it doesn't. Not when the question is left unanswered. But if you don't want discussion then you shouldn't have a blog and shouldn't open up a big can of worms for yourself.



Comment #11

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 10:16:00 mdt
Name: Conrad

Hello,

I've been following the discussion on Colin's site and I find it hard to believe that Colin has had any kind of formal education in philosophy. I don't mean this comment to be derogatory; only that I'm in total disbelief.
Diana; your comments addressed the central issues, were clear, and to the point. Good Job!



Comment #12

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 12:23:24 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Well, I must have hit a nerve. Colin McGinn made good on his threat to delete my comments. He deleted two, in fact. He was apparently offended by the fact that I characterized his description of egoism versus altruism as "sloppy." That was a fair comment on my part -- for the reasons I articulated in the two deleted comments. (It's also not out-of-bounds in philosophic discourse.) So I'm bowing out of the debate, since my hands are tied if I can't openly criticize my opponent's views.

Here are my two deleted comments:

** Comment #1 **

Colin said: "As philosophers use the term, altruism requires only that one gives some weight to the interests of others, as opposed to oneself; its opposite is egoism, which takes account only of one's own interests in decision-making."

That's a sloppy characterization of egoism and altruism. The question is not whether the egoist can take account of the interests of others: he obviously can and should, if and to the extent that the welfare of others matters to his own welfare. The key point is that the egoist regards his own welfare as the ultimate justification for his actions. The altruist, in contrast, regards the welfare of others as the ultimate moral justification of his actions.

Moreover, altruism is understood to require the sacrifice of oneself. That's why the widow is morally superior to the rich men in the story of the Widow's Mite: she sacrificed more, even though she gave less. That's also why the surgeon who performs life-saving surgery is not regarded as an altruist (or moral praiseworthy) if he's paid for his life-saving work as he deserves.

As for what philosophers think, in the _Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy_, altruism is defined as "disinterested concern for the welfare of another, as an end in itself." In other words, altruism (like egoism) is about ultimate justification in ethics, not whether the interests of others are considered in decision-making.

** Comment #2 **

Colin: I read (and re-read) your post just fine. I stand by my claim that your characterizations of egoism and altruism were inaccurate as worded. Since the "elementary" matter of the nature of egoism and altruism were under dispute, my concern for accuracy was well-placed.

You are welcome to delete my criticisms if you find them intolerable. Since I've been polite in my comments, that would mean the end of the debate for me.



Comment #13

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 12:39:26 mdt
Name: Jim May

kishnevi writes:

"But where that reciprocity fails to hold, there is no prudential reason for me to refrain from coercion or breaking promises or the rest other than the possibility of legal punishment, and therefore in those circumstances it is not immoral to use coercion, to break promises, etc."

The reason why that is *never* in our self-interest is that the reciprocity is logically necessary and always active, given the understanding that rights originate in the nature of human beings, or as Objectivists like to put it "man qua man".

The syllogism goes like this (using "man" in the generalized nongender sense):

1. The principle of individual rights follows from the nature of man.
2. "I" am a man. ("I" means a specific human self, he who is thinking)
3. All human beings are men.
4. Therefore, if "I" claim rights for "myself" on the grounds of "my" nature as a human being ("qua man"), "I" am necessarily doing the same for every other entity possessed of the same identity -- i.e. all other men.
5. Therefore all men possess the same rights (they are "inalienable"): "your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins"
6. The concept of individual rights and its implementation are directly in "my" selfish interests.
7. Therefore, since the assertion of rights for "me" logically asserts them for all men at the same time, denying them to another must *always* entail denying them for "me", i.e. reciprocity never fails in the normal course of things.
8. Therefore, it is *never* in my interests to deny others their rights.

This, by the way, is how the principle of individual rights delimits itself; it refutes the common nonsense that it is society/convention that delineates and defines the edges of freedom.

The only way around that logical necessity in order to "morally" attack others is to redefine rights as based on particular individuals, e.g. "I, John Doe, claim the right to life for all men exactly like John Doe, everyone else takes their chances". That won't last very long.



Comment #14

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 12:46:34 mdt
Name: Jim May

Diana: those comments were just about right for the context. IMO "sloppy" was more than warranted; it's long past time to put these arrogant "a million altruists can't be wrong" types in their place.

I wouldn't have given him any sort of out to delete my comments though. Why make it easy on them?



Comment #15

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 13:31:32 mdt
Name: Sajid

I have a question. It's a technical issue rather than a general philosophical issue. At least I think it's technical. Anyways, imagine if I was in need of money and could get some by murder. Imagine if I was also 100% sure I could get away with it. What is an egoistical reason to not commit the murder? I know I do not want to live in a society of murderers, but I could easily solve that problem by being a hypocrite. I also know I have grossly violated the man's right to live, but is his RIGHT to live my responsibility? Obviously his life isn't by objectivist standards.

If possible Diana, your comments will be greatly appreciated.



Comment #16

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 14:56:40 mdt
Name: Jeff Montgomery

It's pathetic that McGinn deleted the above entries by Diana, since I thought they were totally on point. McGinn made an oblique reference to deleted posts in the comments section:

"Please be more careful in your comments. I've already had to delete some irresponsible material elsewhere."

Irresponsible? LOL. I realize it's his blog, but... what about his constant and baseless condescension, as in saying how "elementary" our arguments are, and how such-and-such could easily be answered by first year textbooks, etc., as if egoism were merely a case of zits that will clear up in a year or so. He *wishes*.

I'm glad I didn't have him for a prof. Yikes. What a nightmare: "Note: One of the answers on your 2-question essay mid-term exam was 'irresponsible' so I deleted it. You get an 'F'."



Comment #17

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 14:58:34 mdt
Name: Monica
URL: http://sparkasynapse.blogspot.com

LOL, Jeff.

Notice also that some of the commenters on Colin McGinn's website have to resort to mental contortions of epic proportions to create absurd hypothetical bad people that also at the same time no danger to me, like hermits in forests that have never had human contact until they, one day, just happen to ignore a drowning baby that was dropped down in a pond in the middle of nowhere right next to their cabin.

Give me a flipping break!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!



Comment #18

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 15:55:10 mdt
Name: kishnevi

Mr. May: your proof fails, since it's actually an elaborate form of begging the question. (Step 6 is simply a restatement of what you are trying to prove.)



Comment #19

Monday, September 17, 2007 at 21:24:27 mdt
Name: Inspector
URL: http://z7.invisionfree.com/capitalistparadise/index.php?showforum=17

"Mr. May: your proof fails, since it's actually an elaborate form of begging the question. (Step 6 is simply a restatement of what you are trying to prove.)"

No; step 6 rests firmly on step 1.



Comment #20

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 1:42:16 mdt
Name: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php

"But I think his assertion that ethical egoism requires the moral to be co-extensive with the prudent is true. If values are derived by their importance to the survival of the individual as a rational being, then what advances that survival--which is to say, what is prudent--and only what advances that survival is moral, and moral choice boils down simply between the prudent and the imprudent."

On this way of thinking, Britain never should have resisted the Nazis in the summer of 1940.

Congratulations: you have relieved the world of the pain of heroism.



Comment #21

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 3:23:10 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

Sajid:

(1) The case is illegitimate: you cannot erase all trace of what you've done from the face of the earth, so you cannot possibly know with certainty that you won't be caught. The "perfect murder" is not undetectable.

(2) Others might not know that you've committed a murder, but you would. You would know that you are a danger to others, that others shouldn't trust you. That will damage your capacity to even have relationships.

(3) Why oh why would you want to kill someone anyone? If you dislike someon, don't deal with them. If they're violating your rights, call the police. If you want money, you'll be far better off earning that money, in that you'd make yourself into a productive, capable person. If you're smart enough to commit "the perfect murder," then you're certainly smart enough to earn gobs of dough.

(3) You should re-read Dr. Peikoff's case of the con man in his discussion of honesty in OPAR, as I think many of the considerations are the same.



Comment #22

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 5:36:19 mdt
Name: John Dailey

~ I understand the temptation, but why anyone finds it worthwhile to get into debates with those whose idea of 'logical argumentation' consists primarily of evaluations of points of others, rhetorical questions and non-sequiturs, all with little (if any) referencing to actual rules of logic, followed or broken, and clearly has a bunch of supporters doing a 'tag-team' way of giving each other a breather...I have no idea.

~ Might as well argue with RandZapper...or a wall.

~ Such might be worth a 'listing' though, of those who mimic 'logical' arguing (especially on Rand), rather than actually show that they know how to.

LLAP
J:D



Comment #23

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 5:57:43 mdt
Name: Flibbert
URL: http://flibbertigibbet.mu.nu/

They've also reached the point of referring to Objectivism as a cult. It took a couple days. Who won the pool?



Comment #24

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 8:25:19 mdt
Name: Justin

The exact comment was from McGinn: "There is the whiff of the cult about it." I replied, "The only thing that stinks around here is all the pooh-poohing from the altruist camp," but it was quickly deleted. Apparently he only likes his own word play.



Comment #25

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 10:21:48 mdt
Name: Jim May

Kishnevi: Is that all you got? Really?

Step 6 is the assertion that the notion of "rights" is to one's self-interest. It follows from step 1, as the Inspector notes.

The point I'm proving is a different one -- that because of the logic inherent to the principle of individual rights as established in seps 1 through 5, it is in your interests to secure and respect the rights of all, not just yourself -- because these rights belong to all humans, or none. Not the same thing.

The only way to weasel out of that conclusion is to redefine rights as belonging to particular humans, not all (contradicting the result of steps 1 through 5) -- or argue that the notion of rights is NOT in your self-interest as a human being (contra step 6).

Good luck with that.



Comment #26

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 14:47:23 mdt
Name: kishnevi

Mr. May--rereading your comment, I see your point, and that I missed it the first time through. (Note to self: remember that you are not the Vilna Gaon, and do not attempt intellectual discussion when you've only had two hours of sleep the night before.) But I still think your "proof" is inadequate. Step one is simply an assumption, or an axiom. Rights do not necessarily follow from the nature of man. And even if they do, you don't deal with the conundrum that Rand's definition of value leaves you with: that if survival as a rational being is the foundation of value, then respecting the rights of others is valuable only if it helps, or at least does not impede, one's own survival as a rational being--and if it impedes that survival, then it becomes immoral.
Mr. Beck:
"On this way of thinking, Britain never should have resisted the Nazis in the summer of 1940.

Congratulations: you have relieved the world of the pain of heroism."

Summer of 1940, you would be incorrect. There were issues of survival readily apparent to all but the most diehard appeasers by that time. And Summer of 1940, Churchill was in charge. While he had an enormous ego, he was not an egoist. Change the date to September 1939, and your point may well be correct. And that is one reason why I think Objectivism fails as a system. While Rand made much of heroes, her philosophy actually undercuts heroism, since a hero who takes his own survival as a rational being for his standard of value will never indulge in heroics. Now or never moments usually appear only in the rearview mirror. Outside of gulags and totenlagern, life rarely lets you realize ahead of time that tomorrow will NOT be another day, and that if you don't make a stand today, you'll never get another chance--whereas heroism is essentially taking a stand regardless of one's survival as a rational being.
If an Objectivist wishes to argue that heroism and Rand's ethics are compatible, let them. It would be merely an academic exercise for me, since the flaws of Objectivism, like any system that bases itself on the substansive reality of the ego, run much deeper.



Comment #27

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 16:34:13 mdt
Name: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php

{laff, laff, laff} Okay, then: I can see that it would be fruitless to argue the very dire facts of the Battle of Britain with you, and I'm not interested to do that here in any case. Beyond all that: if you really cannot grasp the obvious necessary implication of your own position -- that it would be "prudent" to surrender to a threat of overwhelming force, instead of taking every chance at resistance -- then I am content to leave you to anyone bloody foolish enough to have anything to do with you.



Comment #28

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 17:31:18 mdt
Name: kishnevi

By the time of the Battle of Britain, the issue as one of survival of the UK as something other than subservient to the Nazis was sufficiently clear, so your sentence was incorrect if you insist on that date. If you switch the date to September 1939, you would, on the other hand, be absolutely correct. The prudential course would have been to let the Germans get their way in Poland with only a ritual noodle whipping. The British chose to be imprudent.

"Beyond all that: if you really cannot grasp the obvious necessary implication of your own position"

It's NOT my position [I thought I made that relatively clear], which is considerably different; it's Rand's position (or at least, the necessary consequence of her definition of value) that I was outlining. It is very rare that we realize that if we surrender now, we will never have another chance to fight for what we value; often enough we manufacture the illusion ourself, in the form of false hope, and tell ourselves that circumstances will change and we will be able to fight a better fight if we wait. And unless one realizes that present surrender means that one will never be able to fight that better fight in the future, surrender is usually the prudent choice--the one that appears to allow one to survive as a rational being to defend one's values at a later time. And if the morally valuable is defined strictly in terms of survival of man "qua man", heroism will almost always appear to be immoral and surrender moral.

And BTW, Manson was hardly a novelty. Mohammed, Hernando Cortes, and the Anabaptists of Munster spring to mind immediately, and I'm sure they're not the only representatives of Mansonite behavior.



Comment #29

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 17:51:19 mdt
Name: Adrian Hester

Kishnevi writes: "And if the morally valuable is defined strictly in terms of survival of man 'qua man', heroism will almost always appear to be immoral and surrender moral." Except that Objectivists consider heroism to be part and parcel of what it is to be man qua man.



Comment #30

Tuesday, September 18, 2007 at 18:03:41 mdt
Name: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two--four.net/weblog.php

"By the time of the Battle of Britain, the issue as one of survival of the UK as something other than subservient to the Nazis was sufficiently clear..."

Christ help me (metaphor!), I can't resist addressing that. Look: Churchill himself doubted the whole enterprise of the war as late as 1943. Now, I'm not going to give you any hints beyond that.

You don't know what you're talking about. Just sit down and be quiet, and stop being an ignorant fool.



Comment #31

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 6:22:14 mdt
Name: Jim May

Kishnevi writes:

-->"Mr. May--rereading your comment, I see your point, and that I missed it the first time through. (Note to self: remember that you are not the Vilna Gaon, and do not attempt intellectual discussion when you've only had two hours of sleep the night before.) But I still think your "proof" is inadequate. Step one is simply an assumption, or an axiom."<--

Step 1 is indeed an "assumption", or *premise*, for the purpose of that syllogism. Am I supposed to write everything all the way down to fundamentals in *every* syllogism? Who taught you that bunk? If you do not accept the premises, then it's a given you won't accept its conclusion -- duh!

I have shown that within the context of the Objectivist ethics, there is solid grounding for respecting the rights of others. Outside that context is a different discussion.

-->"Rights do not necessarily follow from the nature of man."<--

Our case in this respect has already been published for your convenience, so I'll not be reinventing that wheel here. Read up!

-->"And even if they do, you don't deal with the conundrum that Rand's definition of value leaves you with: that if survival as a rational being is the foundation of value, then respecting the rights of others is valuable only if it helps, or at least does not impede, one's own survival as a rational being--and if it impedes that survival, then it becomes immoral."<--

I deal with that "conundrum" by pointing out that if you had read Rand's work, you would know that "man's life qua man" is the standard of Objectivist ethics, and this is specifically distinct from bare subsistence "survival", which is clearly what you mean by that term here. That is what Billy's been pointing out -- "life" is much more than mere survival. That distinction is fairly mainstream outside of the Left, so I don't know what your excuse is for making the unwarranted assumption that "survival" == "life qua man".



Comment #32

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 6:43:18 mdt
Name: Jim May

kishnevi writes:-->"But I think his assertion that ethical egoism requires the moral to be co-extensive with the prudent is true."<--

Regarding that, I came to the same conclusion that I came to in an ethics class years ago, when the teacher was drawing the distinction between "moral" and "prudential" -- Objectivism rejects that distinction, on the grounds that the standard and the process for determining both are the same.

Ayn Rand illustrated that clearly in the passages in "Atlas Shrugged" where she describes how all the parts of a railroad engine, being answers to engineering questions that are normally considered "prudential", were still nonetheless answers to *moral* questions nonetheless -- "a moral code cast in steel."

While there is no doubt a difference between "Steel or cheese for bolts -- right or wrong?" and "Altruism -- good or evil?" as expressed in the terms of the alternative, Objectivists hold that the difference exist at the level of the alternative involved and one's goals -- not in the process of thought. There is no such thing as "prudential reasoning" versus "moral reasoning"; reason IS our moral sense. The moral vs. prudential distinction issues from Kant's "phenomal" vs. "noumenal" bit.



Comment #33

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 11:31:12 mdt
Name: Flibbert
URL: http://flibbertigibbet.mu.nu/

I think I rankled McGinn to the point where he's deleting every comment I make. Granted, since he started deleting my comments I haven't been very nice to him at all, but I think he's just plum tuckered out from bending so far to get his head up his butt.



Comment #34

Wednesday, September 19, 2007 at 17:18:51 mdt
Name: kishnevi

Mr. May writes:
I deal with that "conundrum" by pointing out that if you had read Rand's work, you would know that "man's life qua man" is the standard of Objectivist ethics, and this is specifically distinct from bare subsistence "survival", which is clearly what you mean by that term here. That is what Billy's been pointing out -- "life" is much more than mere survival. That distinction is fairly mainstream outside of the Left, so I don't know what your excuse is for making the unwarranted assumption that "survival" == "life qua man".
---
I am aware of it: but bare subsistence type of survival is necessarily included in survival of man qua man, unless Rand inserted some sort of life-after-death into her scheme of things that I'm not aware of. You can't defend or live out your values (except through the influence of example and influence of one's writings) once you are dead. She posits situations where man may choose not to survive "qua man" because to live without certain values is in his eyes worthless--that is, he chooses not to survive without that which he values. But using a moral code that bases itself on survival (however you define survival), choosing not to survive is the basic immoral act. I think the problem may stem from the fact that Rand allowed as morally acceptable certain things, like love of family, which we generally think of as being morally acceptable, but which have no logical relationship to survival qua man and which might at some point contradict survival of man qua man. (To make it clearer, think of something such as commitment to reason, which is logically related to the concept of man qua man. You can survive as man qua man without a family to love, but you can not survive as man qua man without being committed to reason.)

I think Rand also ignored a psychological fact which I tried to outline before--human psychology being what it is, we very rarely realize at the time that the crisis before us is the last chance to defend or live out our values--that we imagine, rightly or wrongly, that circumstances will change and that we gain advantage in defending our values later if we temporize now. We are tempted, and give in to temptation without even realizing we are tempted. We will be glad to be heroic, but prefer to wait until the odds tilt a little more in our favor, and at the moment being heroic seems to be counter to the ethical standard we use. It's only later that we realize that not only were we tempted, but that we sinned [metaphorically speaking, in this context]; only later that we faced a clear choice and flubbed it; only later that we realize that the odds will never tilt in our favor, and will probably actually tilt even more against us, only later that we realize we should have been heroic, and instead were cowards. So in the real world, a person who seriously bases themself on Objectivist ethics will hardly ever choose to be a hero.

BTW, while Objectivism may reject the distinction between the moral and the prudent, I, not being an Objectivist, don't. And it's not because of any Kantian cant. It's because of the English language, in which prudence and morality are two different things, and a prudent act can be immoral.

And, on another tangent, after reading your comments yesterday, I came across one of those postings highlighting what Rand (allegedly) said regarding the American Indians--to the effect that since they had no concept of rights, the European settlers and their descendents/successors were under no obligation to act as if the Indians had rights. If she did actually say that, it would seem to contradict your presentation, since you are arguing that we respect the rights of others as a direct result of claiming them for ourselves, and not as a result of those others claiming it for themselves. Do you think her statement about the Indians (again, this is subject to the quote I saw being an accurate quote) can be reconciled with your view? Or do you just think that she was wrong on that point, that Homer was nodding?

And finally, I wish to thank you for the thorough replies you have been giving.



Comment #35

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 1:39:59 mdt
Name: DavidR
URL: http://davidrehm.com/

Diana, can you please define "psychological egoism" or point me to where I might find a suitable reference?



Comment #36

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 10:42:13 mdt
Name: Jim May

kishnevi writes:

"But using a moral code that bases itself on survival (however you define survival), choosing not to survive is the basic immoral act. I think the problem may stem from the fact that Rand allowed as morally acceptable certain things, like love of family, which we generally think of as being morally acceptable, but which have no logical relationship to survival qua man and which might at some point contradict survival of man qua man. (To make it clearer, think of something such as commitment to reason, which is logically related to the concept of man qua man. You can survive as man qua man without a family to love, but you can not survive as man qua man without being committed to reason.)"

Ayn Rand specifically uses the concept of "life" instead of mere survival as the standard of her ethics to head off this kind of issue -- i.e. "life" consists not only of those particular values that are necessary to survive, but also those higher-level values which "make life worth living".

THAT is the logical relationship of the chosen higher values to those that are required for survival; seeking food, water, shelter etc. is the efficient cause or "how" of survival, but the "why" of survival comes from those higher values. This was the one place where Ayn Rand said "love is the answer" -- love of those higher values is what gives you the spiritual motive power to continue the process of survival.

To use an analogy: fuel and an engine are the *efficient* causes of a car moving forward, but the destination chosen by the driver is the *final* cause. Take away the efficient causation, and the car stops dead, no matter how badly you want to reach your destination. Take away the destination, and the car keeps moving -- but why? There is no place to go. No *particular* destination is necessary in the way the fuel and engine are -- but without *some* destination, the driver will wander around until he hits something, or just stops until he runs out of fuel.

Survival is necessary for life, but is not sufficient for it. One must choose a reason to survive, in order to live. None of that is new; the difference for Objectivism, in rejecting the dichotomy between "survival" and "living" (or between "prudence" and values), is they they become a single concept, "life qua man", and reason is the faculty with which we deal with all of life's choices, not just the "prudential" alternatives.

"So in the real world, a person who seriously bases themself on Objectivist ethics will hardly ever choose to be a hero."

In my experience of it, the opposite is true -- because I know that the higher values in life can be identified, chosen and pursued in this world, by using my reasoning mind, I am now able to recognize heroism in places and forms most people would never think to look -- or, stumbling upon it, to ever call it "heroic".



Comment #37

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 13:22:02 mdt
Name: Diana Hsieh
URL: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog

David: Psychological egoism is that view that people's actions are always -- deep down -- motivated by self-interest. N Branden's article on it -- entitled something like "Isn't Everyone Selfish?" can be found in _The Virtue of Selfishness_. However, the standard criticisms of it are apt, for the most part.



Comment #38

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 13:24:04 mdt
Name: Inspector
URL: http://z7.invisionfree.com/capitalistparadise/index.php?showforum=17

Kishnevi,

I think we've all been too polite for too long against your attacks on Objectivism. The fact is that, just like the title topic of this thread, your criticism comes from a failure to understand the philosophy. A failure on such a level that I think it fair to guess that you've never substantially studied it.

So let me just take one example:

This idea of yours, that "we very rarely realize at the time that the crisis before us is the last chance to defend or live out our values" is completely false.

I'm not surprised in the least that you're spouting it, since you've been arguing pure Pragmatism, which is a philosophy which holds that reality is a Heraclitian flux which cannot be known ahead of time.

But, according to Objectivist epistemology we bloody well CAN know ahead of time when aggression should be resisted.

But such an approach is hardly unique to Objectivism. The founding fathers of America were all over it. You might want to check up on who has "Obsta Principiis" set on his tombstone.

In fact, it is only the Pragmatists, mostly on the Left, who fail to grasp this wisdom. So what you're saying is not so much a truth as a psychological confession of the failure to grasp the concept.

Well not everyone's mind is so impotent.



Comment #39

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 15:18:10 mdt
Name: kishnevi

Mr. May--thank you for your response. I will only say in reply that Rand was in essence trying to weld together two things that do not necessarily go together; the seam shows and can under the appropriate circumstances break apart, and this is due to the fact that while she may have made "life" the coherent principle of her ethics, she used survival as the basis of her concept of value.

Inspector--I've studied Objectivism enough to see its flaws, which start at the metaphysical level (the idea that either existence or conciousness are primary is itself wrong, and something which places such emphasis on the ego is bound to be wrong, since the ego itself is illusion. Try to come to grips with the paradoxical idea that you are a figment of your imagination before you can even hope to answer that argument.)

"But, according to Objectivist epistemology we bloody well CAN know ahead of time when aggression should be resisted."--I happen to believe that, too. The problem is not whether we CAN know things ahead of time. The problemis that, more often than not, in real life we fail to know them. The reasoning mind may cut away false ideas, but it is just as prone to merely supply rationalizations. It is possible for the reasoning mind to be the powerful tool that Rand envisaged, but for most people, Objectivists and nonObjectivists alike, it is not; and one of the problems of Objectivism is the tendency to forget what the tool is to be used for, and a companion tendency to forget that there are other tools available to achieve the same result.



Comment #40

Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 19:53:02 mdt
Name: Inspector
URL: http://z7.invisionfree.com/capitalistparadise/index.php?showforum=17

"the ego itself is illusion."

Speak for yourself.

"The problemis that, more often than not, in real life we fail to know them."

Ahem, again, speak for yourself.

"and a companion tendency to forget that there are other tools available to achieve the same result."

What tool, exactly, would that be? There is no source of knowledge except the reasoning mind's observation of reality.

This argument is over. We do not share enough metaphysical agreement to be able to discuss things. If reality hasn't convinced you of the Objectivist metaphysics, then I sure won't try.

Stated simply, I do not agree with you. At all. In the interest of politeness, I believe we should stop there.



Comment #41

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 9:01:54 mdt
Name: Freddy Ben-Zeev

Kishnevi, the idea "that you are a figment of your imagination" is not paradoxical, it is a full contradiction.



Comment #42

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 9:17:10 mdt
Name: madmax

Kishnevi

To satisfy my curiosity, could you please tell me how you self-identify yourself? And by that I mean, do you consider yourself a libertarian, a Kellyite, etc? When I encounter people with certain beliefs I find its helpful to classify them.

Also, when you say that the ego is an illusion, are you basing that on some type of scientific assertion; ie the ego is just a collection of neurotransmitters that are the result of the dopamine / serotonin ratio or some such?

My guess its that you are a libertarian and a materialist. I have encountered many like you before which is why I am interested.



Comment #43

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 9:39:21 mdt
Name: Paul Hsieh
URL: http://www.geekpress.com

To "madmax": Is it even possible for someone with no ego to "self-identify"?



Comment #44

Friday, September 21, 2007 at 10:07:35 mdt
Name: madmax

"Is it even possible for someone with no ego to "self-identify"?"

I get your point and you are right. But I've seen these kinds of arguments made over and over and usually by people with the same type of intellectual dispositions. That's why I ask.



Comment #45

Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 13:20:16 mdt
Name: kishnevi

Madmax--in response to your query, I am a libertarian and a practicing Jew who has been heavily influenced over the years by Buddhism and by certain types of Christian and Moslem spirituality, and by certain experiences which can best be labelled mystical, as mainstream Western religion understands the term. So you are half correct in your guess. Being a libertarian, and finding Rand to be general currency, so to speak, in libertarian circles, I started to investigate Rand again (having looked into Objectivism more briefly about ten years earlier).

There are several reasons why I don't accept Objectivism, and the fact that I had those mystical experiences is directly linked to those reasons, since because of it I know through direct personal experience that some of her fundamental ideas are wrong. For instance, neither conciousness nor existence are primary in regards to each other, when talking about the mind: the mind that is not aware is a mind that does not exist. And certain other statements she makes about the supposed logical consequences of conciousness are also wrong. (I don't have the exact text anywhere near at hand, so I can't supply the verbatim quote.)
But the primary fault of Objectivism is its apparent inablility to deal with the fact that certain parts of reality are accessible to human experience but not to the reasoning mind. Which is why the idea that "I am a figment of my own imagination" is not a contradiction. It's dealing with something that reason is unable to deal with--but the fact that reason is unable to deal with a thing does not mean that thing does not exist. The Universe is, ultimately, neither rational nor irrational, but arational, and therefore the reasoning mind can only get you so far down the road.

As for what I meant by that paradox (which is, essentially, what Dr. Hsieh was asking)--it's the idea that the ego is not something that actually exists in any substantial way--that our mind and its selfawareness are constantly changing ephemera: that we are, to put it metaphorically, a bubble on the surface of the brook of being. If you wish for more detailed explanations, I suggest Buddhist writings are the best source.



Comment #46

Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 15:58:37 mdt
Name: Adam Reed
URL: http://www.calstatela.edu/faculty/areed2

Kishnevi -

Things that change can still have, at any given time, specific measurements that constitute an identity - and therefore existence. Specifically, to be aware is to be aware of something - and that means that at any given time consciousness contains information about that of which one is aware. This information has specific measurements: number of bits, their discriminability etc. Quite apart from the axiomatic aspect (every claim to knowledge means "I am aware that I know that..." and therefore consciousness, even before it could be objectively measured, could not be denied without contradiction) you can atually measure the discriminability of information in your own consciousness. Would you be able to do this if your consciousness did not exist, and thus had no identity and no measurements?

At one point in my graduate study in cognitive experimental/mathematical psychology, I actually investigated some of the so-called "mystical" phenomena, particularly the Zen technique for target shhooting, at which I became quite adept. I found absolutely nothing that would require anything, beyond what is already known in cognitive psychology and neurophysiology, to explain.

Taking "mystical" introspections at face value is cognitive self-sabotage. You just might have enough rationality left at this point to back off from that Buddhist ideal of achieving non-existence of (the, your) self. And if you really wish to achieve a state of non-existence of the self, an opiate overdose would be less laborious and more pleasant than the Buddhist equivalent.



Comment #47

Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 17:26:32 mdt
Name: kishnevi

Mr. Reed--I'm not saying conciousness does not exist. I'm denying the reality of the ego as a susbtantive entity. Again, I refer you to Buddhist writings for the clearest exposition of the matter.
And Zen techniques such as you refer to are not mystical in any sense of the word. At best they represent the very first step on the path. It's teaching the letters of the alphabet to a person who wants to read Shakespeare (or Rand, for that matter.)



Comment #48

Saturday, December 29, 2007 at 4:55:51 mst
Name: doctorx0079

After a while McGinn seems to take the viewpoint of "You don't know what ethical egoism is. You are an idiot. I am the authority here. What you described is not ethical egoism. This is what ethical egoism is and this is why it's wrong. Please don't make me repeat it a tenth time." The arrogance is breathtaking.