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In his attack on Objectiivst ethics, Stpehen Parrish identifies that Objectivist ethics entails a premoral choice to live. He identifies that this is thus a Kantian hypothetical imperative. Is that true, and if so, how does that square with Rand's hate for Kant?

Second, Parrish says a fundamental problem with this premoral choice is that if a person does not choose to live, they are outside of ethics, and not bound by morality. With the "distressing implication" that he can do evil acts, but consistent with Objectivsm, cannot be judged as being immoral because he already chose not to live and thus the Objectivst ethics cannot be used to adjudicate his behavior as being right or wrong. What is your answer on this?

Also, another person against Objectivism, says that this premoral choice to live, places at the heart of Objectivist ethics, a subjective foundation that thus contradicts its claim of being objective. How do you respond to these critiques?

asked Jan 24 '14 at 06:54

KineticPhilosophy's gravatar image

KineticPhilosophy
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edited Jan 24 '14 at 12:29

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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KineticPhilosophy, I appreciate your question postings -- can I ask that you please follow the guidelines and make your question posting's title a "short, essentialized, one-sentence version of your question"? Consistently doing this is an important part of what makes the content of this site useful. Thanks.

(Jan 24 '14 at 12:20) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Stephen Parrish identifies that Objectivist ethics entails a premoral choice to live. He identifies that this is thus a Kantian hypothetical imperative. Is that true, and if so, how does that square with Rand's hate for Kant?

To my knowledge, Kant advocated a categorical imperative (causeless duty to sacrifice oneself), not hypothetical imperatives. There are Wikipedia articles on both "Hypothetical imperative" and "Categorical imperative," and the latter article explains, in part:

Kant argued, hypothetical moral systems cannot persuade moral action or be regarded as bases for moral judgments against others, because the imperatives on which they are based rely too heavily on subjective considerations. He presented a deontological moral system, based on the demands of the categorical imperative, as an alternative.

It is specifically Kant's causeless, unconditional, a priori "duty of self-sacrifice" that Ayn Rand most strongly opposed. Refer to the topic of "Kant, Immanuel" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon for additional overview.

...if a person does not choose to live, they are outside of ethics, and not bound by morality.

The use of retaliatory physical force to stop or punish a murderer does not depend on the murderer's moral code. It's an issue for the victim or victims and their moral code. The same is true for actual wild animals that attack humans. Animals have no capacity to understand or adhere to a code of values accepted by choice, but man does and man is morally entitled, by a life-based moral code, to defend himself, regardless of whether his attacker is human or not. If a human chooses to act like a wild animal, the victims are morally entitled to treat him as one as needed to stop the attacks and recover from them. (Actual wild animals are acting on the standard of life when they attack humans, either for food or to protect their young and/or their territory; among humans, it's extremely unclear what would motivate a death-choosing human to attack others, since he has nothing to "gain" from them, nothing that would help him to die.)

With the "distressing implication" that he can do evil acts, but consistent with Objectivism, cannot be judged as being immoral because he already chose not to live and thus the Objectivist ethics cannot be used to adjudicate his behavior as being right or wrong.

Reality does not allow a serious, consistent death-chooser to continue living for long. One cannot "choose death" with impunity, and live indefinitely to attack others. Furthermore, it is the victims' choice to live, and thus to adhere to a life-based code of values, that provides the moral foundation for their self-defense against human or animal attackers.

Also, a fully consistent death-chooser is more hypothetical than real, since the overwhelmingly vast majority of humans normally do prefer living rather than dying. The most concrete example of a death-chooser that I can think of in real life is a violent criminal who chooses to resist arrest in such an extreme degree in his final hours as to effectively commit "suicide by police," i.e., to refuse to be taken alive and to kill as many others as possible before they kill him. But even here the choice to die seems inconsistent, providing no answer to the question, "What for," in regard to attacking others. If he merely wants to die faster, there are more efficient ways for him to do it.

The question also seems to assume that morality has to be equally applicable to all regardless of their individual choice to live or not, that it has to be independent of anyone's individual choice of life or death. There is no way for a moral code to achieve that without divorcing itself from reality in the first place. Only a detached, mystical view of morality can be independent of any earthly, reality-based conditions of human existence. In reality (earthly existence), man always has the power to choose to accept or reject any code of values, including the life-based code that Objectivism identifies. Nothing and no one can force man to accept a particular code; it's entirely his own individual choice. At most, reality can (and does) impose definite consequences on the life of anyone who resists reality, reason, and the reality-imposed need to act to sustain and strengthen one's life if one wants to remain alive in the present and future. But it's still everyone's choice to follow reason and live, or not.

A further line of argument might try to claim that a code of values based on the choice to die cannot be said to be any less "valid" than the life-based code. But in reality, no code of values proceeds from the choice to die; one needs no moral guidance on how to accomplish it. One needs only to refrain from performing any actions that would prolong one's life, insofar as one is able to do that. The most basic bodily functions operate automatically, by the standard of life as their predetermined functional non-conscious goal, but in man the automatic bodily functions are far from sufficient to sustain a person's life for very long. If man is to live on his own, he needs to think and produce.

Remember, also, that rationality (including logic) is open to man's power of choice, too. No matter how compellingly rational a theory of morality might be, man can always choose to be irrational. Those who choose to be rational and live remain morally entitled to judge anyone who doesn't, and to act accordingly. Acting accordingly means leaving a death-chooser free to kill himself it he so chooses, and retaliating against him by force if needed to stop him from attacking others. He has no reason or need to attack others if he is a consistent death-chooser, and no reason to object if others kill him, since he said he wanted to die. But logic won't stop him from doing whatever he wants anyway if he chooses to be irrational and self-contradictory. Why is reason a value for man? There is only one possible reason in reality: to live.

...this premoral choice to live, places at the heart of Objectivist ethics, a subjective foundation that thus contradicts its claim of being objective.

The choice to live or not has no bearing on what man's life requires. The requirements of man's life qua man exist independently of any individual's choice to live. The ethics is what it is, by the nature of man and existence, whether one chooses to accept it or not. That makes the ethical principles objective, not subjective, while also recognizing that as a being of volitional consciousness, man has the capacity to choose to be objective -- to look at reality and plan his own course of existence accordingly -- or not.

This type of objection to Objectivist ethics seems to be another form of the demand for morality to be equally applicable to all regardless of their individual choices to live or not. But the reality inherently is that a person's whole relationship to existence depends crucially and fundamentally on the alternative of life or death which he constantly confronts, and on whether or not he chooses to live and therefore to be rational, logical, objective, and moral. There is only one basic set of principles that can guide man effectively in living his life (if living is what he wants), and only one choice in the alternative of life or death from which the need for principles arises.

answered Jan 25 '14 at 01:25

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦
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Great answer. I found the questions to be confusing, and I think you did a great job of sorting through them and pointing out the assumptions being made.

"The most concrete example of a death-chooser that I can think of in real life is a violent criminal who chooses to resist arrest..."

What about a prisoner who is successfully arrested and then tortured/enhanced-interrogated?

Apparently several Guantanamo prisoners are or at least at one point were being force-fed, and I'm sure this happens and has happened in other places as well.

(Jan 25 '14 at 09:01) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Terrorists inspired by militant Islam are followers of what Ayn Rand calls a morality of death. It posits a supernatural realm in addition to, and above (higher in importance than) the earthly realm. Life in the earthly realm is of little value in a militantly other-worldly, supernatural perspective.

Prisoner "hunger strikes" are also well known. One must always consider the full context, however, since it is also possible for a life-seeker to conclude that the conditions of existence imposed on him by others or by illness or disease are not worth living. OPAR discusses this type of case on pp. 247-248.

(Jan 25 '14 at 14:06) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

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Asked: Jan 24 '14 at 06:54

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Last updated: Jan 25 '14 at 14:07