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Thoughts on Objectivism

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triknighted Posted: Wed, Mar 14 2012 9:38 PM

I've been reading Atlas Shrugged and really like it. Just curious to see the community's critiques b/c I know there will be criticism :p

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Bert replied on Wed, Mar 14 2012 9:40 PM

There's tons, I just don't feel like doing it.

I had always been impressed by the fact that there are a surprising number of individuals who never use their minds if they can avoid it, and an equal number who do use their minds, but in an amazingly stupid way. - Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols
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Wheylous replied on Wed, Mar 14 2012 9:50 PM

Morality as a normative statement is not objective. It may, however, be objective as a positive statement.

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Autolykos replied on Wed, Mar 14 2012 10:19 PM

It's objective in the sense of saying "A believes that X is (im)moral".

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Morality as a normative statement is not objective. It may, however, be objective as a positive statement.

Rand actually distinguished between intrinsic value and objective value, which puts Objectivist ethics more in line with subjectivism than its name suggests.  Like Mises, Rand would say "If you want to achieve Y, you ought to do X."  However, Rand also believed that we all hold an ultimate end, a rational life, and as such, could objectively rank value according to that end. 

Anyway, the whole objective-subjective divide is not nearly as clear cut as everyone makes it out to be, and probably isn't that important either.  Take a phenomena like Pain:  it only exists for the subject, yet we (on the outside) are able to know that it exists without experiencing it.  Its ontologically subjective and epistemically objective.

 

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 15 2012 12:26 PM

mikachusetts:
However, Rand also believed that we all hold an ultimate end, a rational life, and as such, could objectively rank value according to that end.

I'm not sure where you stand, but I definitely disagree with Rand on this. We're certainly capable of holding something other than "a rational life" as an ultimate end. As Exhibit A, I present people committing suicide.

mikachusetts:
Anyway, the whole objective-subjective divide is not nearly as clear cut as everyone makes it out to be, and probably isn't that important either.  Take a phenomena like Pain:  it only exists for the subject, yet we (on the outside) are able to know that it exists without experiencing it.  Its ontologically subjective and epistemically objective.

Is pain an objective phenomenon in the sense that we can quantify it by some empirically rigorous standard?

On the other hand, I wouldn't even say that we on the outside are able to know that pain exists for the subject - because we don't experience his (alleged) pain ourselves. We merely assume that the subject is in pain based on what we observe him doing.

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I'm not sure where you stand, but I definitely disagree with Rand on this. We're certainly capable of holding something other than "a rational life" as an ultimate end. As Exhibit A, I present people committing suicide.

I'm not an Objectivist, but I'm sympathetic to the Aristotelain-naturalistic approach.  And by sympathetic I mean that I'm more apt to ask "how can I make this work?" than "how can I prove this wrong?"  So, my response to the suicide thing is that it might throw a wrench in the specific arguments of Rand, Rasmussen and Den Uyl, but it doesn't address the root -- whether or not there is some universal and ultimate end against which we can judge values.  At the very least, there must be an ultimate end for each individual, and personally, I think enough individuals share the same ultimate end (the good life), that we can talk about it as if it were universal. 

Is pain an objective phenomenon in the sense that we can quantify it by some empirically rigorous standard?

No.  There's a significant difference between being able to know if someone is in pain, and being able to know how much pain they are in.

On the other hand, I wouldn't even say that we on the outside are able to know that pain exists for the subject - because we don't experience his (alleged) pain ourselves. We merely assume that the subject is in pain based on what we observe him doing.

Well this might come down to us disagreeing on what counts as knowledge.  If I run a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis that event X will be followed by event Y, how many times do the results have to conform to my hypothesis before we can know that Y does in fact follow from X?

Its not that we always correctly identify pain, but that we are capable of doing so often enough that it meets the epistemic standards that we generally hold for other things that we call knowledge.

 

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 15 2012 3:37 PM

mikachusetts:
I'm not an Objectivist, but I'm sympathetic to the Aristotelain-naturalistic approach.  And by sympathetic I mean that I'm more apt to ask "how can I make this work?" than "how can I prove this wrong?"  So, my response to the suicide thing is that it might throw a wrench in the specific arguments of Rand, Rasmussen and Den Uyl, but it doesn't address the root -- whether or not there is some universal and ultimate end against which we can judge values.  At the very least, there must be an ultimate end for each individual, and personally, I think enough individuals share the same ultimate end (the good life), that we can talk about it as if it were universal.

With all due respect, I don't think you're being consistent in the above. Either there exists an (i.e. a single) ultimate end for all people (i.e. that they must/necessarily hold to) or there doesn't. To talk about "enough individuals [sharing] the same ultimate end... that we can talk about it as if it were universal" is to adopt an empirical rather than a strictly logical (i.e. deductive) methodology. I, for one, am not adopting an empirical methodology. Nor do I think was Rand.

mikachusetts:
No. There's a significant difference between being able to know if someone is in pain, and being able to know how much pain they are in.

Okay, I think we're in agreement here, at least. Pain, like value, is subjective.

mikachusetts:
Well this might come down to us disagreeing on what counts as knowledge.  If I run a controlled experiment to test the hypothesis that event X will be followed by event Y, how many times do the results have to conform to my hypothesis before we can know that Y does in fact follow from X?

Mathematically speaking, I'd say an infinite number of times.

mikachusetts:
Its not that we always correctly identify pain, but that we are capable of doing so often enough that it meets the epistemic standards that we generally hold for other things that we call knowledge.

I don't think I'm a part of that "we". Then again, I think all epistemology is ultimately about the definition of the word "know".

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Either there exists an (i.e. a single) ultimate end for all people (i.e. that they must/necessarily hold to) or there doesn't.  To talk about "enough individuals [sharing] the same ultimate end... that we can talk about it as if it were universal" is to adopt an empirical rather than a strictly logical (i.e. deductive) methodology. I, for one, am not adopting an empirical methodology. Nor do I think was Rand.

 

But even if there isn't a single (i.e. shared by everyone) ultimate end, there's no reason to reject the idea of ultimate ends altogether.  It's completely reasonable to assume that everyone has an ultimate end, but that exactly what it is might vary between people.  Insofar as more than one person holds the same ultimate end, then we can talk about right and wrong values within that population.  And I think that population is a significant enough portion of all of humanity that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be overly concerned about the 3% or whatever that doesn't fit it. 

This isn't empiricism, at least not in the modern sense.  I'm not talking about running tests to determine what ultimate ends people hold.  But Rand did think that the way we come to know anything is through experience, so she was probably more of an "empiricist" than you might think.

I don't think I'm a part of that "we". Then again, I think all epistemology is ultimately about the definition of the word "know".

I use "we" to be congenial and illustrate common ground over diference.  If you seriously can't identify if someone is in pain, and have such strict epistemic standards that you don't claim to know anything by way of inference, then... I don't believe you.  There is no way that you go through your life ACTUALLY treated the word "know" in the sense that you want to here.  

I guarantee that you have said "I know" and meant a number of different things depending on the context.  You know that your parents love you, You know that 2+2=4, you know that the sun will rise in the east.  You aren't changing the definition in each case, you are changing the standards according to which belief becomes knowledge.  And you are changing the standards becuase it is appropriate to do so.  

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 15 2012 8:44 PM

mikachusetts:
But even if there isn't a single (i.e. shared by everyone) ultimate end, there's no reason to reject the idea of ultimate ends altogether.  It's completely reasonable to assume that everyone has an ultimate end, but that exactly what it is might vary between people.  Insofar as more than one person holds the same ultimate end, then we can talk about right and wrong values within that population.  And I think that population is a significant enough portion of all of humanity that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be overly concerned about the 3% or whatever that doesn't fit it.

I didn't say I was rejecting the idea of ultimate ends altogether, and I'm not rejecting it. I'm rejecting the idea that everyone necessarily has the same single ultimate end ("a rational life"). That's the idea that you initially put forth. You've changed it twice since, and that's fine. However, it's not logical to assume that everyone necessarily has the same single ultimate end when not everyone does. If you're going to not be "overly concerned" about the counter-evidence, that's fine too, but I see no logical basis for that.

mikachusetts:
This isn't empiricism, at least not in the modern sense.  I'm not talking about running tests to determine what ultimate ends people hold.  But Rand did think that the way we come to know anything is through experience, so she was probably more of an "empiricist" than you might think.

I was using "empirical" in the same sense as "inductive". You can replace the former with the latter, if you so desire. My point was to contrast what you were doing with (deductive) logic.

mikachusetts:
I use "we" to be congenial and illustrate common ground over diference.  If you seriously can't identify if someone is in pain, and have such strict epistemic standards that you don't claim to know anything by way of inference, then... I don't believe you.  There is no way that you go through your life ACTUALLY treated the word "know" in the sense that you want to here.

I guarantee that you have said "I know" and meant a number of different things depending on the context.  You know that your parents love you, You know that 2+2=4, you know that the sun will rise in the east.  You aren't changing the definition in each case, you are changing the standards according to which belief becomes knowledge.  And you are changing the standards becuase it is appropriate to do so.

Claiming to know something and actually knowing something are two different things, IMHO. But I also think there's a difference between everyday colloquial discourse and the kind of discourse I thought we were engaging in here (i.e. logical discourse). When it comes to logical discourse, I don't think it's appropriate to equivocate. That's because equivocation is a logical fallacy.

Now, do I know that my parents love me? Strictly speaking, no. I haven't experienced their own thoughts. Do I know that the sun will rise in the east? Strictly speaking, no. I haven't experienced a future event (yet). Do I know that 2+2=4 (in base-10 arithmetic)? Yes, because I've experienced it.

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Autolykos:

mikachusetts:
But even if there isn't a single (i.e. shared by everyone) ultimate end, there's no reason to reject the idea of ultimate ends altogether.  It's completely reasonable to assume that everyone has an ultimate end, but that exactly what it is might vary between people.  Insofar as more than one person holds the same ultimate end, then we can talk about right and wrong values within that population.  And I think that population is a significant enough portion of all of humanity that it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be overly concerned about the 3% or whatever that doesn't fit it.

I didn't say I was rejecting the idea of ultimate ends altogether, and I'm not rejecting it. I'm rejecting the idea that everyone necessarily has the same single ultimate end ("a rational life"). That's the idea that you initially put forth. You've changed it twice since, and that's fine. However, it's not logical to assume that everyone necessarily has the same single ultimate end when not everyone does. If you're going to not be "overly concerned" about the counter-evidence, that's fine too, but I see no logical basis for that.

mikachusetts:
This isn't empiricism, at least not in the modern sense.  I'm not talking about running tests to determine what ultimate ends people hold.  But Rand did think that the way we come to know anything is through experience, so she was probably more of an "empiricist" than you might think.

I was using "empirical" in the same sense as "inductive". You can replace the former with the latter, if you so desire. My point was to contrast what you were doing with (deductive) logic.

mikachusetts:
I use "we" to be congenial and illustrate common ground over diference.  If you seriously can't identify if someone is in pain, and have such strict epistemic standards that you don't claim to know anything by way of inference, then... I don't believe you.  There is no way that you go through your life ACTUALLY treated the word "know" in the sense that you want to here.

I guarantee that you have said "I know" and meant a number of different things depending on the context.  You know that your parents love you, You know that 2+2=4, you know that the sun will rise in the east.  You aren't changing the definition in each case, you are changing the standards according to which belief becomes knowledge.  And you are changing the standards becuase it is appropriate to do so.

Claiming to know something and actually knowing something are two different things, IMHO. But I also think there's a difference between everyday colloquial discourse and the kind of discourse I thought we were engaging in here (i.e. logical discourse). When it comes to logical discourse, I don't think it's appropriate to equivocate. That's because equivocation is a logical fallacy.

Now, do I know that my parents love me? Strictly speaking, no. I haven't experienced their own thoughts. Do I know that the sun will rise in the east? Strictly speaking, no. I haven't experienced a future event (yet). Do I know that 2+2=4 (in base-10 arithmetic)? Yes, because I've experienced it.

Rand's ethics are perfect imo. As for her epistemology, I need to research it more. My concern is that is takes induction and attempts to equate it with deduction. One cannot say they know the future because the future has not occurred. Then again, I'm not going to step off a cliff like they do in the cartoons because every time I've seen something go off a cliff, it fell. That's inductive (empirical) experience, although since I have only witnessed it 999 times, who is to say the 1000th time it will be for sure? Again, with experience, one only knows what has happened and what is happened, not what will happen (although prediction systems like science is the closest the infallibility we will ever get imo).

The definition in concern surrounds knowledge. What is knowledge? It's certainty. When a system holds things called anomalies, it means the system is incomplete. That is a fact. Then again, there is no reason to doubt my sense experience, for what I am experiencing is as real as anything. I would have to make a concerted effort to doubt reality as I perceive it, thus I am an empiricist. While Objectivist empiricism whereby A is A (really it's Aristotelianism) makes sense, causation is always uncertain because it involves something we haven't yet experienced.

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As Exhibit A, I present people committing suicide.

So what is this supposed to be proof of?

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Mar 16 2012 7:13 AM

It's not proof, but counter-evidence to the notion that everyone always values "a rational life" as his ultimate end.

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It's not proof, but counter-evidence to the notion that everyone always values "a rational life" as his ultimate end.

What makes you think committing suicide runs counter to valuing "a rational life"?

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Mar 16 2012 7:32 AM

"A rational life", as a kind of life, can't be obtained or maintained if one is dead.

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"A rational life", as a kind of life, can't be obtained or maintained if one is dead.

Whether one dies doesn't enter into it, if one is capable of making a rational decision to end their life, then that decision is consistent with valuing "a rational life".

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Mar 16 2012 8:00 AM

I don't see how that follows. Can you elaborate?

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I don't see how that follows.

As a follower of Austrian economic philosophy who (presumably) believes that every action man makes is rational by the Austrian definition, you must thus concede that killing yourself is rational, yes?

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Autolykos replied on Fri, Mar 16 2012 8:30 AM

I never said that committing suicide is irrational, and I don't think it is, so I have nothing to concede there.

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Autolykos:

I never said that committing suicide is irrational, and I don't think it is, so I have nothing to concede there.

It all comes down to whether or not you think the world we experience is in fact real. We can say we know certain things exist because of our senses. Again, there is literally no reason to doubt our senses. In this aspect, A is most certainly A, and not A is impossible. Only objective things exist, and concepts like nothingness and infinity and so forth are only subjective constructions certainly not based on anything empirical.

I'll be sure to post again when I've read Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. I'll have it here soon.

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triknighted,

If you are seriously interested in Rand, check out the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.  Its a pretty good resource, and there are probably a dozen articles on her epistemology alone. 

 

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mikachusetts:

triknighted,

If you are seriously interested in Rand, check out the Journal of Ayn Rand Studies.  Its a pretty good resource, and there are probably a dozen articles on her epistemology alone. 

Thanks Mikachusetts

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I never said that committing suicide is irrational, and I don't think it is, so I have nothing to concede there.

Well exactly what inference were we to draw when you said:
 

We're certainly capable of holding something other than "a rational life" as an ultimate end. As Exhibit A, I present people committing suicide.

 

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Mar 20 2012 11:12 AM

When a person holds something as an end, then he will act in ways that he at least believes will attain that end for him. If the end in question is his ultimate end, then he will presumably seek to attain that end over all others. So if life ("rational" or not) is his ultimate end, then he will act in ways that he at least believes will attain life for him over everything else. Committing suicide does not do that. Hence I maintain that a person who commits suicide does not have any kind of life as his ultimate end.

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So if life ("rational" or not) is his ultimate end, then he will act in ways that he at least believes will attain life for him over everything else. Committing suicide does not do that.

 

What if part of living a "rational life" is knowing when it's your time to die?

 

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Mar 20 2012 4:50 PM

Knowing, or believing?

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There is no believing, unless you think the individual is incapable of deciding for themselves.

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Autolykos replied on Tue, Mar 20 2012 5:04 PM

I was confused by your use of "knowing", but it now seems to me that you're using it as a synonym for "deciding". So I think your question can be rephrased as "What if living "a rational life" involves deciding when it's time to die?"

In that case, I think there's a semantic issue about the meaning of "holding (a rational) life as an ultimate end". It could refer to wanting to have lived a certain way, or it could refer to wanting to live a certain way. That is, it's a question about looking back at the past or looking ahead to the future. What do you think about this distinction?

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Gman1944 replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 9:31 AM

About Rand's political philosophy: her endorsement of limited government glaringly contradicts the broader tenets of Objectivism. If she holds that the initiation of force is always immoral, then no state, no matter how limited, and regardless of whether or not it is funded by voluntary donations, is morally permissible. After all, government, by definition, is a monopoly power; even the ideal minarchist state maintains a coercive monopoly on the production of security (i.e. law and order). Any attempt to justifiy a monopoly of this sort (which is exactly what Rand sets out to do) is incompatible with the non-aggression principle - a principle Rand would argue must be adhered to if man is to be able to live a rational life.

To illustrate: imagine an individual decides he is unsatisfied with what he deems the unsatisfactory security service provided by the state in whose territory he resides. He is precluded, by law, from patronizing another security firm; or from establishing such a business himself. To prevent one from using their property in contractual exchange qualifies as aggression just as the uncontracted confiscation of that same property does. Even if this state doesn't tax its citizens, but rather funds its operations with donations offered voluntarily, it is still interfering with the property of its citizens, at the very least the one who wishes to bring his patronage elsewhere.

In order to consistently project the broader philosophical ideas of Objectivism in the realm of politics, Rand would have had to advocate for pure capitalism - a private-law society.

And besides, "limited government" is a pipe dream. 

 

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Autolykos replied on Thu, Mar 22 2012 10:05 AM

Well said, Gman1944. If a state interferes with property owned by an individual who no longer wishes to patronize it, and considers itself justified in doing so, then either the state thinks the withdrawing individual has harmed it in some way, or the state thinks itself is the true owner of the property in question. Indeed, the state can think both of those things at the same time. In that case, the withdrawing individual is hurting the state by trying to take its property from it.

The kind of property where this is most often seen is property in land. A state claims that everyone living within its claimed boundaries must follow its rules - they are said to be under its jurisdiction. The establishment of such a jurisdiction is in fact an establishment of ownership.

However, the state seems to have its origin in communal (or joint) kinship-based land ownership. In such a situation, a single individual isn't the sole owner of the land on which he resides. Depending on the decision-making procedures governing the land, he may not be allowed to stay on the part of the land he's using, or even on any part of it, should he disagree with or disobey decisions made in accordance with the procedures. His only recourse then would be to physically remove himself from the land.

The problem today, as I see it, is that there are two systems of land ownership in conflict with one another. On one level, land is said to be ownable by private individuals or arbitrary groups thereof. On another (allegedly "higher") level, land is said to be owned by certain organizations that call themselves "states". A sort of Marxian materialist dialectic can be read into this, if one wishes. I'm not sure how the conflict will turn out - whether it will revert back to solely state ownership, or whether private ownership will win out. But I side with private ownership.

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