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My question(s) arise about the link between reality and morals/ethics. I do not understand how the facts of reality translate into morals or ethics (if they do at all). While I have read the OPAR, most of Ayn Rand's fiction and non-fiction work, the essays of various others, and I believe that I have a general understanding of what it is that (some) Objectivists believe, I do not understand how morality is derived from reality.

On another Objectivist forum I posted the following scenario that I think helps focus the discussion (please feel free to ignore it if you do not find it interesting/helpful etc.):

I live alone on an island in the middle of the ocean. There is no one else on the island, no one ever visits the island, and there is never any communication with any other person. I am completely alone on the island.

How I got to the island is irrelevant. I will never leave the island.

The island and the ocean immediately around the island provide a wide variety of resources. I use my reason and my ability to think to devise ways of turning the resources available to me into those things that I need to live, e.g. I make tools for gathering and/or hunting food, I devise means of collecting and storing fresh water, I discover or construct shelter.

Over time I have become so efficient at providing for my basic needs that I am able to devise ways to use the resources available to make my life better, i.e. provide luxuries and means of entertainment.

I live my life to the fullest of my ability given the circumstances in which I find myself.

One day, a man washes up on the beach. This man is alive but unconscious. I have never seen this man before and I have never had any interaction with this man. Due to being unconscious, the man has not interacted with me in any way and I do not perceive any kind of threat or danger from this man. I walk up to this man and I kill him. I then continue with my day. The tide washes the body out to sea that evening and I never see the body again. I continue with my life as I did before the man washed up on the beach.

Given the scenario, I ask the following questions: Was it immoral for me to kill the man on the beach? If it was immoral for me to kill the man on the beach, why was it immoral?

Any thoughts on the subject that would help me understand would be appreciated.

asked Jan 14 '14 at 22:04

tjfields's gravatar image

tjfields
493

edited Jan 15 '14 at 11:58

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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Yes, what you did was immoral because it violated the nonaggression principle.

(Jan 15 '14 at 22:04) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy, I do not understand and I need more information. Your answer, without further information, is the equivalent of saying something like, 'It is wrong because God says it is wrong', as if you assume that once I read your twelve word answer all will be clear to me. That is not the case. Please define the "nonaggression principle". Where does it come from, and why is it correct?

(Jan 15 '14 at 23:03) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

The non aggression principle entails that it is morally wrong to initiate aggression or violence against other moral agents.

So your actions were wrong because you initiated violence against the unconscious man on the beach, thereby violating the nonaggression principle.

Where does it come from? It goes back a long way. Arguably to Epicurus, Jesus, Buddha or Taoism.

It's correct because it respects the rights of man.

(Jan 16 '14 at 01:40) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

I still do not understand. Just because someone, or even many people, said something is immoral (or moral) why does it make it true? For a long time, many people said that slavery was moral, does that make it true?

Your statement, "It is correct because it respects the rights of man." leaves unanswered questions. What are the rights of man? Where do these rights come from? How do you know that this is correct? Again, simply saying it respects the rights of man without any further explanation is just like saying, 'it is true because God said so'. Please explain.

Thank you

(Jan 16 '14 at 10:49) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"What are the rights of man?"

According to Objectivism:

Right to life, right to liberty, right to property, right to the pursuit of happiness, right to free speech, and the right to self defense;

"Where do these rights come from?"

It comes from being embedded in a social context and the nature of man.

(Jan 16 '14 at 17:13) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

As I indicated in the original question, I do not understand how the facts of reality relate to morality. When you give an answer of, "It comes from being embedded in a social context and the nature of man" I do not know where this answer is coming from. I understand the words that you wrote but do not understand how they are any less subjective than any other words that people use to justify their beliefs. Can you provide an objective explanation that relates these concepts and terms to reality?

(Jan 16 '14 at 18:11) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

It's an objective fact that humans are in a social context as a general rule. It's an objective fact that man has a specific nature. Neither are subjective.

If you think that both are subjective, explain how.

From this, the fact that we are in a social context and have a specific nature, is how one objectively derives the rights of man. And the first right, is the right to life, which by corollary is where the non-aggression principle comes from.

To murder the man as you did in the hypothetical scenario, violates his right to life and the nonaggression principle, by association.

(Jan 16 '14 at 20:48) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

The terms, 'social context' and 'specific nature' are undefined terms. Can you please provide an objective definition of these terms?

Additionally, just because you write, "From this, the fact that we are in a social context and have a specific nature, is how one objectively derives the rights of man" does not explain how one derives the rights of man from the fact that we are in a social context and have a specific nature. Can you explain how? Maybe if you list the steps (Step 1: ... Step 2: ..., etc.) I could understand it better.

(Jan 16 '14 at 21:18) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

Social context: Living in a society; Being around other people

Specific nature: Having a nature that is specific, rather than random, or undefined, or having no nature at all.

We have rights because we live around other people(social context) Because we live around other people we need social boundaries. These are "actions that are off limits because they are an attack on another person's ability to live."

Since man has a specific nature that entails moral agency and the ability to reason, he has moral autonomy and a right to HIS life. All other rights flow from the right to life.

(Jan 16 '14 at 21:56) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

What is the specific nature of a human? What is 'moral agency'? What is 'moral autonomy'? Is it the same for all humans?

You stated, "We have rights because we live around other people." Why or how do we have rights because we live around other people? Do other people give us our rights? If so, can they take them away? If I have moral autonomy, why do other people, or the fact that I live around other people, matter?

What does 'another person ability to live' mean? Why are certain actions off limits? Who says that they are off limits and why is this correct?

(Jan 16 '14 at 23:01) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"Why or how do we have rights because we live around other people?"

That was already explained. I said "Because we live around other people we need social boundaries. These are "actions that are off limits because they are an attack on another person's ability to live."

So you have these rights because you inherently own your own life. Hence why the primary right is the right to life. Since you own your own life, you have certain moral principles that need to be established when you live in a society so that your primary right to life is not threatened or trampled on.

(Jan 17 '14 at 00:01) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

Why do we need 'social boundaries' because we live around other people? Who gets to determine the social boundaries and why? How is that derived from the facts of reality?

What is the objective definition of 'another person's ability to live'? Must the government collect taxes from some of it citizens and give the money to other citizens so that they have the 'ability to live'?

Please explain how 'you inherently own your own life' is derived from reality. How do I own my own life yet there are limits placed on that life by 'actions that are off limits'?

(Jan 17 '14 at 10:16) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"explain how 'you inherently own your own life' is derived from reality"

We know we own our own lives inherently by observation and reason. Both observation and reason are derived from reality. When you observe your arm, you don't say that's someone else's arm. You say that's my arm. When you observe your face, you don't say that's someone else's face. You say that's my face. So our lives are inherently our own.

So your original question has been fully answered. What you did in the hypothetical was immoral because it violated the Nonaggression principle and that person's right to life.

(Jan 17 '14 at 17:59) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

Let us assume that I agree with you that I look at my own life and say that this is my life not someone else's life. So what? Why does it make it immoral for me to kill someone else or for someone else to kill me?

Further, I still do not understand this 'nonaggression principal' that you kept mentioning. I do not know how it is derived from reality and why it means anything. Can you explain?

(Jan 17 '14 at 18:15) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"Why does it make it immoral for me to kill someone else"

Because you don't have a RIGHT to take someone else's life without their consent because it's not your life to take. Since it belongs to them.

It's just like with private property. I don't have a right to take your property without your consent because it's not my property to take. As it belongs TO YOU. Not me.

You don't have a right to kill the man on the beach as it's not your life to take. It's his life. Thus what you did in the hypothetical was IMMORAL.

Q.E.D

(Jan 17 '14 at 20:16) KineticPhilosophy KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy,

Despite your Q.E.D., I still do not understand how morality is derived from the facts of reality. You say that it would be immoral to kill the man who washed up on the beach because I do not have a right to take someone else's life without their consent. Why? "Since it belongs to them" is the only explanation of why you have provided. I do not understand how: 'it belongs to someone else therefore it is immoral to take it' is objectively derived from the facts of reality. Can you explain?

(Jan 17 '14 at 21:12) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image
showing 2 of 16 show all

I do not understand how morality is derived from reality.

Morality is cognitively connected to reality by way of the choice to live (or by actions seeking to remain alive, whether one consciously identifies one's actions as a choice to live or not). Ayn Rand offers extensive explanation of this connection in VOS and Atlas Shrugged, especially in Galt's Speech. I have previously posted synopses of the derivation myself in past questions on this website, such as:

Also related, although I didn't contribute to this one myself:

How I got to the island is irrelevant. I will never leave the island.

As a human, you had to have been born. You had to have had parents and a childhood. Do you, the island dweller, know that? Are you suffering from massive amnesia? What was your life with others like? Did you learn anything from it? How can you be sure you will never want to go back if you eventually have the chance? And wouldn't your life, even on the island, be better off with at least one or a few other capable humans to help you divide up the work and perhaps provide some companionship?

There is no one else on the island, no one ever visits the island, and there is never any communication with any other person. I am completely alone on the island.

The story itself depicts the fact that this isn't entirely true. According to the story, at least one other human did show up once, although he was unconscious. How can you know that others won't show up, too, and perhaps not be unconscious? Maybe they are actively searching for the one who washed up. Maybe they will even be strong enough to overpower you or at least give you an opportunity to work out a mutually beneficial division-of-work among all of you. They could be more valuable to you alive than dead, if you and they handle it properly, i.e., according to the standard of what would be most beneficial to the lives of everyone involved.

I use my reason and my ability to think to devise ways of turning the resources available to me into those things that I need to live, e.g. I make tools for gathering and/or hunting food, I devise means of collecting and storing fresh water, I discover or construct shelter....

I live my life to the fullest of my ability given the circumstances in which I find myself.

By the standard of man's life qua man, your values are moral. You have learned to live by reason, not by throwing yourself at the mercy of imagined "gods" or other mystical beings or forces. Why would a man of reason want to kill a fellow potential man of reason? It would be completely out of character. And men of reason would be so much more valuable to each other alive than dead. The scenario described in the question seems to say that there are plenty of natural resources; the total store of wealth that two of you would be capable of building up wouldn't be limited to what you alone can produce.

You wouldn't need to be overly "trusting" of your associate. You could make it clear that you have the means to defend yourself and he'd better not try to attack you and plunder your property. Let him know the "rules," and kill him only you have to, to stop him from violating your rights.

The tide washes the body out to sea that evening and I never see the body again. I continue with my life as I did before the man washed up on the beach.

Maybe he wouldn't have recovered before then anyway, even if you hadn't killed him. If you really don't want to try to revive him, and aren't strong enough to move him, you might at least cover him a little for protection from the sun and then wait for nature to take its course, whatever that might be. But it seems unlikely that passing up the opportunity for an associate to share the work of living on the island would be of greater value to your life than making more of an effort to revive him and help him to regain his vitality, within reasonable limits of your own strength and endurance (and medical knowledge, if any).

Bottom line: he's a potential trading partner, so killing him would not be of greatest benefit to your life. There is also the potential for more visitors like him to come in the future (he came, so maybe others eventually will come, too), and you will need to define and consistently practice a morally defensible policy toward potential future visitors. You can't assume that they won't know something about the first unconscious visitor, too.

Update: Learning Objectivism

In the comments, the questioner explains that he is still very unclear about how Objectivist morality is derived from reality. I can attempt to offer some additional commentary on the Objectivist derivation, but ultimately it will be impossible for anyone to learn Objectivism accurately by reading only commentaries, without consulting the original sources (Ayn Rand's writings).

One methodological approach to understanding the derivation of Objectivist morality could be to follow the approach that Ayn Rand herself followed and describes in TOE ("The Objectivist Ethics," Chap. 1 in VOS). She writes:

What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions -- the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?

Or: How does morality, and man's concern with it, arise in human existence?

Does man need values at all -- and why?

Is the concept of value, of "good or evil" ... based on a metaphysical fact, on an unalterable condition of man's existence? ... Is ethics a subjective luxury -- or an objective necessity?

Ayn Rand observes what thinkers mean by "value" and identifies the essence of "value" (of any kind, in any serious theory of morality) as "that which one acts to gain and/or keep." She continues:

The concept "value" is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative.... There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence -- and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms.

Ayn Rand goes on to point out that all living entities face a constant alternative of life or death and must act to sustain themselves. All living action is goal-directed, with the life of the organism as the ultimate goal. She concludes:

It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.

A few paragraphs later, after some further development of life as the ultimate value, Ayn Rand concludes:

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life.

The development continues with many pages discussing how that which is objectively "good" or "bad" for a living entity is discovered, how it follows from the nature of the entity and of its environment. She discusses how man differs from other living entities (volitional rational faculty) and why man, unlike all other living species, needs a code of values accepted by choice, a code of morality. This development culminates in the following key identification in Objectivist ethics:

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics -- the standard by which one judges what is good or evil -- is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man.

Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to [consistent with] the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

Ayn Rand then names thinking and productive work as "the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being."

If these very brief excerpts and highlights raise a huge number of further questions, I will not be surprised. Ayn Rand discusses a great many highly related issues in TOE. Again, reading only commentaries by others can never replace a careful reading and study of Ayn Rand's original works. I can only hope that my own commentaries will reinforce that fact and perhaps motivate other serious observers to take a closer look.

Applying the foregoing again to the murderous island dweller, the question of why he shouldn't kill the unconscious intruder is actually the wrong question, by a rational standard. The proper question is: why would he want to do it? I.e., what value would he stand to gain or lose by doing so? I maintain that a rational view of values implies that a rational thinker and producer would have no value to gain and considerable potential value to lose by killing the non-threatening intruder (who is potentially a fellow rational thinker and producer himself, perhaps even a potential trading partner) for no rational reason.

Update: Context of Morality

In the comments, the questioner continues to resist all efforts to show how and why Objectivist morality is derived from reality. The questioner insists that he is already familiar with Ayn Rand's formulations, but he rejects them and offers little explanation of why. Ayn Rand's development of Objectivist morality began with the question: What is morality and why does man need it? This is actually two questions. Ayn Rand's answers are already noted in my previous update. If the questioner holds some alternative view on these questions, he should name it. Where does he think morality comes from? If he believes that Ayn Rand's answers are not objective, and rejects Ayn Rand's view of what "objectivity" is, he should explain what his own alternative views are; he should explain more fully the context from which he critiques Objectivism, since other observers are likely to be unfamiliar with it. If he wants to ask a question on this website about what "objectivity" refers to, he is welcome to do so -- though probably as a separate question on epistemology rather than here in the comments on this question about ethics. It may also be helpful for the questioner to describe his own position on whether or not objectivity is even possible. (The view that objectivity is impossible is actually an instance of the stolen concept fallacy: how can one discuss objectivity at all if no such thing exists? What can "objectivity" refer to if no instances of it exist? There is an important related question: how does objectivity relate to context?)

At one point in the comments, the questioner asks about the objective basis of rights and Objectivism's view of physical force as anti-life (sometimes referred to as the "non-aggression principle," although that expression is not Objectivism's terminology). These issues are discussed in TOE:

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash -- that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.

The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.
. . .

Can man derive any personal benefit from living in a human society? Yes -- if it is a human society. The two great values to be gained from social existence are: knowledge and trade.

The TOE discussion explains these points far more fully than I can excerpt here. If the questioner objects to any of the explanations and elaborations that Ayn Rand offers, the questioner really should explain more fully what his own context is.

Update: Various Clarifications

I found two additional past Answers on this website that relate to the question of how Objectivist morality is derived from reality:

In the comments, many questions have been raised about disagreements, conflicts, and physical force. For those who may not already know, I would like to point out some potentially helpful references on these topics in Ayn Rand's writings, starting with Galt's speech. Speaking to the whole nation, Galt discusses happiness, then the trader principle, and then explains, in part:

Do you ask what obligation I owe to my fellow men? None -- except the obligation I owe to myself, to material objects and to all of existence: rationality. I deal with men as my nature and theirs demands: by means of reason.... It is only with their mind that I can deal ... when they see that my interest coincides with theirs. When they don't, I enter no relationship; I let dissenters go their way and I do not swerve from mine.... When I disagree with a rational man, I let reality be our final arbiter; if I am right, he will learn; if I am wrong, I will; one of us will win, but both will profit.

Whatever may be open to disagreement, there is one act of evil that may not, the act that no man may commit against others and no man may sanction or forgive. So long as men desire to live together, no man may initiate -- do you hear me? no man may start -- the use of physical force against others.

To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival.... Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise ... of destroying a man's capacity to live.

Do not open your mouth to tell me that your mind has convinced you of your right to force my mind. Force and mind are opposites; morality ends where a gun begins. When you declare that men are irrational animals and propose to treat them as such, you define thereby your own character and can no longer claim the sanction of reason -- as no advocate of contradictions can claim it. There can be no 'right' to destroy the source of rights, the only means of judging right and wrong: the mind.

This passage goes on for three more full paragraphs and then turns to the issue of self-defense and retaliatory physical force.

Regarding conflicts of men's interests, there is an entire chapter in VOS (Chap. 4) on that topic. A recording of it by Ayn Rand is also available for on-line listening at no charge from The Ayn Rand Institute, link.

Another topic that may cause confusion about Objectivist morality is the fact that reason operates volitionally; man can choose his code of values. Objectivism regards the code itself, based on rationality and man's life qua man, as objective (based on reality). Man's only choice is whether or not to adhere to it, and whether to do so consistently. There is no moral principle in Objectivism (nor can there be) mandating that man must adhere to the life-based code of values. Galt's speech seems to express this as follows:

My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists -- and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these. To live, man must hold three things as the supreme and ruling values of his life: Reason -- Purpose -- Self-esteem.

This paragraph continues with further explanation of what each of the values refers to, followed by several pages discussing the seven essential virtues.

A key confusion may arise over what happens if some people choose not to be consistent, or perhaps choose outright death. The answer, as I understand it, is that an outright death-chooser needs no code of values to achieve his ultimate goal (death), nor does he need any values from others. He might attack others but has no rational reason to do so. If he does attack, his victims are perfectly morally entitled to defend themselves, even if it means killing the attacker, thereby granting his stated wish to die (just as they are morally entitled to defend themselves against actual wild animals who attack humans).

As for one who adheres to the rational, life-based code of values some of the time but not always, he will suffer the consequences that reality imposes on his life, namely, a diminished state of life and diminished capacity for future living action. That, in effect, is what he said he wanted. He, too, will have no reason or need to attack others. Inconsistent followers of the life-based code have no more need than either the fully consistent life-seekers or the fully consistent death-choosers to attack others. There is no conflict. It's only when an inconsistent life-seeker aspires to more than his chosen values can achieve that there is any conflict with other life-seekers, since that is a contradiction that only others can shield him from, if he can compel or induce them to do so.

Again, there is only one objective, life-based code of values for man. He is free to accept it or not, with corresponding effects on strengthening or weakening his life, imposed by reality. An inconsistent life-seeker doesn't necessarily become immoral merely by being inconsistent; he may only be less alive and less efficacious than he could have been. The choice is entirely his to make, since it's his life that is at stake.

answered Jan 16 '14 at 01:50

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
467718

edited Jan 21 '14 at 02:47

Ideas for Life,

Thank you for your answer. I still have some questions, however. I understand that (some) Objectivists believe that, " Morality is cognitively connected to reality by way of the choice to live". Does this mean that whatever way I choose to live is moral because it is my choice on how to live? To the island example, if I chose to kill everyone who washes up on the island, my choice on how to live, then does that make killing the man who washed up on the beach moral? (to be continued)

(Jan 16 '14 at 11:38) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) When you asked, "And wouldn't your life, even on the island, be better off with at least one or a few other capable humans to help you divide up the work and perhaps provide some companionship?" would it change the act of killing the man who washed up on the beach from an immoral (or moral) act to a moral (immoral) act if my answer was no? If I choose to live my life is solitude, if I value being completely alone and it is how I choose to live my life, then is it moral to kill the man who washed up on the beach ? (to be continued)

(Jan 16 '14 at 11:38) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) You wrote, "How can you know that others won't show up, too, and perhaps not be unconscious? Maybe they are actively searching for the one who washed up. Maybe they will even be strong enough to overpower you ..." What does this imply? You appear to imply that morality is determined by consequences, or possible consequences. (to be continued)

(Jan 16 '14 at 11:39) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) An action is immoral if you suffer negative consequences and moral is you either do not suffer negative consequences or experience positive consequences. Is this correct? If not, then what does the fact, or possible fact, that other people will come to the island have to do with whether or not it was immoral to kill the man who washed up on the beach?

(Jan 16 '14 at 11:39) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"If I choose to live my life is solitude, if I value being completely alone and it is how I choose to live my life, then is it moral to kill the man who washed up on the beach?"

It is not rational to (subjectively) value being completely alone (always and forever).

Perhaps your trip to the island has driven you insane, causing you to lose the ability to behave rationally. But then I think your homicide would be, as the act of an insane individual, outside the scope of morality.

In any case, I don't think we gain anything from these unrealistic hypotheticals. You value other humans, right?

(Jan 17 '14 at 09:16) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Ideas for Life,

I indicated in the original question that I have read Ayn Rand's work and I am familiar with all of the quotes that you provided in your update. Those quotes, nor the original works in which they appear, do not explain how morality is derived from the facts of reality. Ayn Rand states, "that which is proper to the life of a rational man is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil." You added 'consistent with' to the quote. Please provide an objective definition of "a rational man." If the definition consists of something akin to (to be continued)

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:02) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) 'one who uses reason' then please explain what happens when two, or more, people both use reason, both are sincere in their use of reason and both desire to reach a rational conclusion, yet come to different, and conflicting, conclusions. Does this mean that both are rational men? If so and if both men come to different conclusion, then both men will have different conclusions of what is good and what is evil. Who is right? If both are right, then how is based on reality and not subjective? (to be continued)

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:03) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) What is the objective definition of "proper"? How does one derive "proper" from the facts of reality?

Rand states that that which negates life is the evil. A disease, especially a fatal one, negates life. Is a disease evil? A hungry lion will eat you if given the opportunity, since this negates life, is a lion trying to eat you evil? Can a non-human be moral or immoral, good or evil? (to be continued)

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:03) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) What about actions that do not negate, oppose, or destroy my life? To the island example, killing the man who washed up on the beach does not negate, oppose, or destroy my life. I continue to live after I kill the man who washed up on the beach. Based on that, do we conclude that the act of killing the man was not immoral, or evil? (to be continued)

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:04) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) You wrote, "I maintain that that a rational view of values implies that a rational thinker and producer would have no value to gain and considerable potential value to lose by killing the non-threatening intruder...for no rational reason" In the comments I proposed that if one of my values was solitude and living completely alone then it would not be an immoral act to kill the man who washed up on the beach. (to be continued)

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:05) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) Since I would have a value to gain, in this case solitude, then I would have a rational reason to kill the man who washed up on the beach and it would therefore be a moral action. Do you agree?

Further, if morality is determined by what value one could gain or lose by some action, as you indicate, and you, the individual, determine what your values are, how is this not subjective? Different people are going to choose different values for different reasons, therefore anything could be moral and anything could be immoral it just depends on what one chooses to value. Is this correct?

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:06) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

Anthony,

You stated, "It is not rational to (subjectively) value being completely alone (always and forever)." Why do you get to judge what is rational for me? How are you judging what is rational for me? Is there some standard to which you are comparing? If so, where did the standard come from and why is it correct? How do you know that I am subjectively valuing something? Please explain how this works.

(Jan 17 '14 at 11:12) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"Can a non-human be moral or immoral, good or evil?"

Certainly not in the same context. What's moral for a space alien invading Earth wouldn't necessarily be what's moral for humans. I think this is a key question, because I think your hypothetical is equivalent to asking what is moral for a non-human alien, and I think that's using morality in a completely different context than that of what is moral for a human.

"Why do you get to judge what is rational for me?"

You asked us to judge what is moral for a person in a certain situation. What is moral is dependent on what is rational.

(Jan 17 '14 at 12:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image
1

"How are you judging what is rational for me?"

First of all I thought we were talking about a hypothetical man, not you. As far as what I used to judge that situation, I think the scientific evidence for the fact that man would be harmed mentally and physically from complete and permanent isolation from all others, is overwhelming.

Anyway, if you'd like to talk about what is rational for you, rather than some hypothetical (unrealistic) island-dweller, that is good. But surely you value other humans, as you're currently seeking advice from them right now!

(Jan 17 '14 at 12:08) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"Is there some standard to which you are comparing?"

Life.

"If so, where did the standard come from and why is it correct?"

Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. Without life, you can't have any other values. Life makes value possible.

(Jan 17 '14 at 12:09) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"How do you know that I am subjectively valuing something?"

I assume that when you said "if I value being completely alone [always and forever]" you were talking about subjectively valuing that, because being completely alone, always and forever, is not an objective value.

But you tell me what you meant by "if I value being completely alone". Did you mean "if I believe being completely alone, always and forever, is good" (subjective value) or "if being completely alone, always and forever, is actually good"? The latter would be objective value, but it's not how human life actually works.

(Jan 17 '14 at 12:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony,

I asked why do you get to judge what is rational for me and you answered that, "You asked us to judge what is moral for a person in a certain situation. What is moral is dependent on what is rational." This does not make sense to me as it does not answer the question of how you are judging what is rational for me. How do you know what is rational and is not rational? If I say something is rational and you say that same thing is not rational, how do we know who is correct?

(Jan 17 '14 at 13:29) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

"How do you know what is rational and is not rational? If I say something is rational and you say that same thing is not rational, how do we know who is correct?"

In general, or in the particular case where we're talking about killing everyone who comes into your life?

I mean, are you really saying you think it's rational to kill everyone you meet?

If you're talking in general, well, I make no claim that I can always know what's rational and not rational. But killing everyone who comes into your life because you want to be alone? I do claim to know that's not rational.

(Jan 17 '14 at 22:08) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Furthermore, if you think it's rational to kill innocent people because you find no value in other human beings and want to be completely alone always and forever, I'm not sure there's anything I can say to convince you otherwise. If you feel this way, you should seek professional help immediately.

But I was under the impression this was a hypothetical, an unrealistic hypothetical which was specifically set up to try to prove a point. And my answer to how I was judging morality came after my answer to why I "get to" make that judgement. I judge using my understanding of the facts of reality.

(Jan 17 '14 at 22:19) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony,

This is a hypothetical question designed to help me understand the claim by many Objectivists that morality is derived from the facts of reality.

You seem to link rational and moral. If claim to "know" that "killing everyone who comes into your life" is not rational, and this is not just your opinion, then your knowledge has to come from somewhere. How do you objectively know that killing people is not rational? Please take me through the steps that link this knowledge to the facts of reality and demonstrate that you are not just stating your opinion or how you wish things to be.

(Jan 17 '14 at 23:16) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

I think Ideas for Life already did this within the context of your hypothetical. People are generally a value. Our lives are generally better off with other people existing in the world than without. Those are facts of reality as I understand them, and I'm about as convinced of them as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow morning.

Maybe those aren't facts of your hypothetical unreality. But those are facts of the reality you and I live in.

(Jan 18 '14 at 08:31) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I mean, how step-by-step do you want me to be? My view of the world is a culmination of everything I've observed over my entire life. If you want me to convince you that random homicide of everyone who ever comes into contact with you is wrong, we need a starting point. Can we agree that people are generally a value? Can we start there?

If you want the non-interactive version of this, start by reading everything ever written by Rand. That you're questioning that there is a link between "rational" and "moral" suggests to me that you've haven't read enough Rand or haven't paid enough attention.

(Jan 18 '14 at 08:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If you want the interactive version, then let's drop the unrealistic hypotheticals and start with a common starting point. You generally find value in other people, right?

(As far as the unrealistic hypothetical, I'm going to concede. You can make your facts of reality in that hypothetical whatever you want them to be. If you want your hypothetical universe to be a malevolent universe, that's your choice.)

(Jan 18 '14 at 08:34) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony,

I cannot agree that that, "People are generally a value" when the term 'value' is undefined and/or subjective. What do you mean by 'value'? Is your definition of 'value' objective - meaning that your definition of value will be the same as mine and the same as everyone else - or is it subjective - meaning different things to different people at different times? If your definition is objective, then you should be able to demonstrate where that definition came from and why it is correct. If it is subjective, then how can morality and/or ethics be based on or derived from it?

(Jan 18 '14 at 09:37) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

Ideas for Life,

I do apologize if you think that I am resisting all efforts to show how and why Objectivist morality is derived from reality. I did not realize that asking questions would be regarded as resistance. If I am supposed to accept what has been written and believe it to be true without questioning it, please let me know. I have asked questions in an attempt to understand. I have not rejected anything but since you have not answered my questions, I am no closer to understanding how morality is derived from reality than I was before this process started. (to be continued)

(Jan 18 '14 at 20:56) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) For example, I previously asked for a definition of a 'rational man' as used in Ayn Rand's quote, "that which is proper to the life of a rational man is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil." Without a definition how can I know that you and I are referring to the same concept when the term 'rational man' is used? If you and I have different definitions of what a 'rational man' is, we cannot, in my opinion, constructively proceed. Do you agree? (to be continued)

(Jan 18 '14 at 20:57) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) I also previously asked about actions that do not negate, oppose or destroy my life and provided an example. The Ayn Rand quote you cited mentions that which is proper or that which negates, opposes or destroys a rational man's life it did not mention that which is neither. Again, I was not rejecting or resisting anything I was asking a question. Do you feel that this question is not valid and not worth answering? If so please explain why so that I may learn. (to be continued)

(Jan 18 '14 at 20:57) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) I have asked many questions in my attempt to gain understanding and many have gone unanswered. I desire to learn so I ask. Please answer my questions and help me to understand. Your answers will most likely give rise to more questions but just because I ask it does not mean that I am resisting.

Thank you.

(Jan 18 '14 at 20:57) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

When I asked whether or not you "generally find value in other people", I was asking whether or not you generally believe that the presence of other people in your life is beneficial.

My definition of value will not necessarily be the same as yours. And "morality and/or ethics" is not based on or derived from the definition of value.

Now, do you generally find value in other people?

If you still can't answer that, maybe we need to take a step back. Do you have any goals in life at all?

(Jan 19 '14 at 19:19) anthony anthony's gravatar image

One of the general rules of this website is that these Q&A should not be conducted as on-going back-and-forth dialogs, so I will need to be very brief.

  • A "rational man" is a man who is rational. Objectivism identifies "man" as "the rational animal," meaning that he possesses the faculty of reason (which is volitional). Objectivism identifies "rational" (as in being rational) as adhering to reason, i.e., actually using one's rational faculty. These identifications should already be familiar to one who has read Ayn Rand's major articles and thought about them.

  • Regarding "that which is neither," things can be pro-life, anti-life, or neutral. I'm not readily able to identify what else the comment refers to among the great many questions asked. If it's the issue of "my life" versus "man's life," see next bullet below.

  • Regarding "my life," the standard of value for man is "man's life qua man" -- not just one person's life, but the life of every person, as instances the concept "man." (The last TOE excerpt that I cited provides an initial answer about whether or not man's life can be served by initiating physical force against others. There is far more material in TOE on that issue.)

  • "Please answer my questions and help me to understand." Brief answers from commentators will be virtually useless unless one makes a real effort to study the original sources as well as the commentaries, with active cognitive effort to relate them and to see if one can answer one's own questions and/or identify specific points that are unclear. Serious visible effort to find one's own answers is essential, not by speculating out of context, but by studying the references in greater detail and formulating thoughtful questions that show it.

The foregoing may be too brief to be of much value without the full context of the original Objectivist sources and the various past Objectivist Answers for which I provided convenient links at the outset.

(Jan 19 '14 at 20:02) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Anthony,

I am confused. In your earlier comments you stated, "It is not rational to (subjectively) value being completely alone (always and forever)" in response to my question of if it would be moral to kill the man who washed up on the beach if I valued solitude. You then asked, "You value other humans right?". Then in a later comment you stated, "What is moral is dependent on what is rational."

It appeared to me that you are, or were, attempting to, link value, rational, and moral i.e. If your value(s) are not rational then your value(s) are not moral.(to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 20:54) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) Now you state, "And 'morality and/or ethics' is not based on or derived from the definition of value." Can you clarify your position?

As for your question, "Do you have any goals in life at all?", yes I do. How does the fact that I have goals relate to morality?

(Jan 19 '14 at 20:55) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

Ideas for Life, It is my understanding from reading the FAQ section of this website that the "Answer" section should not a back and forth dialog but that the comments could be used for that purpose. If this is not the case, please let me know (in the comment section) and I will forgo asking further questions. (to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 21:59) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued)Regarding a rational man (your first bullet point), I asked earlier and will again, if two, or more, rational men both use reason, both are sincere in their use of reason and both desire to reach a rational conclusion, yet come to different, and conflicting, conclusions, does this mean that both are rational men? If not, how is it determined who is rational and who is not. (to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:00) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) If so and if both men come to different conclusion, then both men will have different conclusions of what is good and what is evil. Who is right? If both are right, then how is based on reality and not subjective?(to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:00) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) Regarding that which is neither (your second bullet point), you state that "things can be pro-life, anti-life, or neutral." You did not provide definitions for any of these term so I will relate them to the original scenario as follows: killing the man who washed up on the beach was a "neutral" thing because it did not help keep me alive so it was not 'pro-life" but it did not end or damage my life so it was not "anti-life".(to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:04) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) The question then is, is a "neutral" action a moral action? If you do not agree with the way that I have used these terms, please provide objective definitions. Regarding "my life" (your third bullet point) you state, "the standard value for man is 'man's life qua man' - not just one person's life, but the life of every person, as instances the concept 'man'" I need some more explanation of this statement. (to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:04) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued)It reads as if I, the individual, am required to have as my standard of value not my life but all human life. Is this what you mean? Does this mean that Objectivist morality, or your interpretation of it, is based on some concept of a collective 'man' that the individual must adhere to? (to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:07) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued)As for your fourth bullet point, you stated: "Brief answers from commentators will be virtually useless unless one makes a real effort to study the original sources as well as the commentaries, with active cognitive effort to relate them and to see if one can answer one's own questions and/or identify specific points that are unclear. Serious visible effort to find one's one answers is essential, not by speculating out of context, but by studying the references in greater detail and formulating thoughtful questions that show it."(to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:07) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued)I have heard similar statements before complete with backhanded insults such as your insinuation that my questions are not thoughtful or reflective of knowledge about the subject. Mostly these statements come people who want me to accept what they say as gospel without question. I have usually found that these people do not like to be asked questions because 1) they feel that their statements alone should be sufficient and (to be continued)

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:07) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) 2) they do not have an answer to my questions. Mostly they want me to go away so they tell me things like, "You will understand Christianity if you read the Bible [original source] and then you be able to answer these questions yourself". If you do wish to discuss this topic with me then do not discuss it. To my knowledge no one has forced, or is forcing, you to provide any answers to my question or to even read my questions. But, please, do not insult me or disparage me, because you do not like my questions. Thank you

(Jan 19 '14 at 22:07) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

1) I initially tried to respond to your hypothetical man on the island. I later decided to concede, and said that your hypothetical facts of reality can be whatever you want them to be.

2) What is moral is dependent on what is rational. If your values are not rational then your values are not moral. As far as whether or not "morality and/or ethics" is based on the definition of value, I think not, but I'm not really sure what that means in the first place.

(Jan 20 '14 at 08:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

3) Good, you have goals. Morality is a code of values to guide your choices and actions to help you reach those goals. What are your goals? Do other people help you reach those goals?

4) Two men coming to different conclusions does not cause a conflict if the two men are rational. Good and evil are objective, but that doesn't mean that what's good for one person is always the same as what's good for another, any more than allergic reactions being objective means that what one man is allergic to is the same as what another man is allergic to. Allergies are based on reality and not subjective.

(Jan 20 '14 at 08:56) anthony anthony's gravatar image

5) I personally have found this discussion to be...valuable. However, I do feel that many of your questions are not reflective of knowledge about the subject. I don't think that's an insult, and I absolutely don't want you to accept what I say as gospel without question. On the other hand, when your "question" is, so far as I can translate it, a request to demonstrate where my moral code comes from and why it is correct, you're asking for way too much. I could spend a decade writing a treatise on that topic, and if I did I wouldn't post it here but would try to get it published.

(Jan 20 '14 at 09:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony,

You wrote a lot, and I thank you. However, you made some statements that are unclear to me. You wrote, "What is moral is dependent on what is rational. If your values are not rational then your values are not moral." In earlier comments I asked how does one determine if a value is rational. I then asked about two people both coming to a different and conflicting conclusions about what is rational, and hence moral, and how you determine who is correct. (to be continued)

(Jan 20 '14 at 18:23) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued)You have also stated "Two men coming to different conclusions does not cause a conflict if the two men are rational. Good and evil are objective but that does not mean what is good for one person is always the same as what's good for another..." If something is 'good' for one person but not for another, how is this objective and not subjective? (to be continued)

(Jan 20 '14 at 18:23) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

(continued) If two people are evaluating something and one person says 'This is rational, this is good' and the other person says 'This is not rational, this is evil' then how do you know who is correct? You used the example of an allergic reaction. Is an allergic reaction 'good' or 'evil' or is it just an allergic reaction? I could say that the effects of gravity here on Earth are the same for every man and it is not subjective but does this mean that the effects of gravity are 'good' or 'evil'?

(Jan 20 '14 at 18:23) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image

1) You're welcome. I find this back and forth dialogue useful because it forces me to think through my beliefs.

2) You determine if a value is rational by using reason. If your values contradict each other, or contradict the facts of reality, then they're not rational.

(Jan 20 '14 at 18:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

3) For the reason that something can be "good" for one person but not for another (or, even, good for one person in one context but not for the same person in a different context), I'd refer you to the excerpt from "What is Capitalism?" found at http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/good,_the.html

Perhaps that clarifies what I mean when I say that value is objective?

(Jan 20 '14 at 18:54) anthony anthony's gravatar image

"Again, there is only one objective, life-based code of values for man. He is free to accept it or not, with corresponding effects on strengthening or weakening his life, imposed by reality."

I wish it were that simple!

You seem to be adamant about this point, but as far as I can tell you haven't backed it up with anything.

(Jan 22 '14 at 13:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I see at least four main points and some subpoints in the quoted statement, which is intended to express the same basic idea as Galt's statement about the morality of reason being contained in the axiom of existence and the choice to live. How should man live, if not by thinking and productive work as his two essentials (along with self-esteem)?

(Jan 22 '14 at 22:15) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Certainly a proper code of values for any man involves thinking and productive work, but there's much more to a code of values than that, isn't there?

(Jan 23 '14 at 14:52) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anthony,

Thank you for your responses. I have thought about an earlier comment you made where you suggested that I ask to much. I have decided to ask another question (in a new thread) that may clarify some issues. I hope to post that questions soon. I hope that you will continue to respond.

(Jan 23 '14 at 18:17) tjfields tjfields's gravatar image
Certainly a proper code of values for any man involves thinking and productive work, but there's much more to a code of values than that, isn't there?

By the stage in TOE and Galt's Speech at which Ayn Rand has explained the distinction between values and virtues and is ready to identify the seven essential virtues, she has clearly stated the three cardinal values of Objectivist morality: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem. The earlier discussion of thinking and productive work seems to mix the concepts of value and virtue together, and on a more concrete, less precise but more initially understandable level, than the more exact differentiation between value and virtue that comes a little later in the development.

(Jan 23 '14 at 23:32) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Thanks for the book review, but I'm not sure what your answer is.

(Jan 24 '14 at 07:17) anthony anthony's gravatar image
1

I am not aware of any additional values that need to be added to Ayn Rand's list of three cardinal values for man's life qua man, nor any additional virtues that are major enough to be added to Ayn Rand's list of seven essential virtues as the primary actions by which to gain and/or keep the values, although I've seen discussions of some lesser virtues that aren't explicitly listed by Ayn Rand but are virtues nonetheless in the appropriate context. In Objectivism, rationality is the primary virtue; all the other virtues in Objectivism are corollaries of rationality.

(Jan 24 '14 at 23:36) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Thank you.

(Jan 25 '14 at 08:41) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Jan 14 '14 at 22:04

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Last updated: Jan 25 '14 at 08:41