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If the non-aggression principle is an absolute, then it is a deontologically based moral standard. Rational self-interest is a consequentially based moral standard. It seems to me that a moral system can't be both consequential and deontological.

asked Sep 27 '13 at 16:03

AndruA's gravatar image


edited Sep 30 '13 at 21:51

Andrew%20Dalton's gravatar image

Andrew Dalton ♦

The question makes liberal use of a number of technical terms and expressions from conventional philosophy. Objectivism, however, endeavors diligently to use terminology that is as precise and clear as possible, which often means narrowing and delimiting conventional philosophical terminology, and using alternative terminology designed to make the issues (as they are conceived in Objectivist philosophy) as clear as possible. Examples of potentially confusing conventional terminology in this question include:

  • "moral absolutes of Objectivism" -- Objectivism clarifies what is meant by "absolute." In regard to the "metaphysically given versus the man-made," OPAR explains (p. 24):
"Absolute" in this context means necessitated by the nature of existence and, therefore, unchangeable by human (or any other) agency.

A fact is "necessary" if its nonexistence would involve a contradiction.

Later (p. 174), OPAR explains what is meant by contextual absolutes:

Although the researchers [who discover new knowledge] cannot claim their discovery as an out-of-context absolute, they must treat it as a contextual absolute (i.e., as an immutable truth within the specified context).

Refer also to the topic of "Absolutes" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Regarding moral absolutes, Ayn Rand's exact formulation is:

Reality confronts man with a great many "musts," but all of them are conditional; the formula of realistic necessity is: "You must, if—" and the "if" stands for man's choice: "—if you want to achieve a certain goal." You must eat, if you want to survive. You must work, if you want to eat. You must think, if you want to work. You must look at reality, if you want to think—if you want to know what to do—if you want to know what goals to choose—if you want to know how to achieve them.

(From "Causality versus Duty," reprinted in PWNI Chap. 10.)

  • "consequentially based moral standard of self-interest" -- Objectivism rejects the conventional meaning of "consequentialism (ethics)" as defined in The Harper Collins Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd Edition, by Peter A. Angeles. (Other conventional dictionaries of philosophy may provide other definitions.) Objectivist ethics proceeds from the nature of the concept "value" and from "man's life qua man" as the only objective standard of value for man. Objectivism also identifies "morality" as "a code of values accepted by choice." (See "Morality" in the Lexicon.) "Self-interest" pertains to the issue of the proper beneficiary of the values that man seeks. The standard of value in Objectivism is man's life qua man, and the standard is derived from the deeper issues already mentioned. Does the existence of a derivation make a conclusion "consequentialist"? Does the existence of a "standard" of value mean that values are "consequentialist"? I don't think conventional philosophy necessarily says so (in either case), at least not consistently. Does the acceptance of a code of values by choice mean that it can't be "absolute," or at least "contextually absolute," since man can choose whether to follow it or not? Objectivism says no, free will doesn't imply that the proper values for man to act to gain and/or keep are not objective absolutes within the context of ethics and man's power free will. If "absolutes" are "contextual," are they still absolute? Objectivism says yes. In the case of moral choices, the relation between man's choices and his life is an absolute (beyond man's power of choice); he is free to make choices, but not free to escape the consequences. The connection between the consequences (for man's life) and the choices he makes is absolute (although the full context may include efforts by others to counteract the effects and deflect reality, as in the Objectivist principle of "the sanction of the victim," in which case the full context includes choices by the victims as well as by the their attackers).

  • "non-aggression principle" -- this appears to refer to the Objectivist ethical principle that it is a major evil in human life to initiate (start) the use of physical force against others. This principle is a derived contextual absolute. Objectivism denies that having a derivation means it is not an absolute (in an ethical context). Objectivism also denies that the derivation is merely subjectively "consequentialist."

  • "deontologically based moral standard" -- Angeles (ibid.) provides several definitions of "ethics, deontological." Objectivism deviates from many aspects of most of these definitions, as I've already indicated. This means that the conventional distinction of "consequential" versus "deontological" is an instance of the fallacy of the false alternative. It may be prompted by the premise that values can't be objective, but must be either intrinsic or subjective. Ayn Rand also very explicitly criticizes and rejects deontology in "Causality versus Duty":

In a deontological theory, all personal desires are banished from the realm of morality; a personal desire has no moral significance, be it a desire to create or a desire to kill.... Only a vicious repressor, who feels a profound desire to lie, cheat and steal, but forces himself to act honestly for the sake of "duty," would receive a recognition of moral worth from Kant and his ilk.

This is the sort of theory that gives morality a bad name.

The significance of "causality" in Objectivist morality is discussed by Ayn Rand in "Causality versus Duty" (as indicated in the excerpt above regarding conditional "musts.")

Update: Consequentially Based

Can Objectivist moral and political principles be classified as "consequentially based"? There is only one passage that I know of in the entire primary literature of Objectivism that comes close to using this terminology:

In order to achieve one's goals in any field, one must choose among alternatives—which requires that one know the things around one and judge them rationally. This applies even to the humblest undertakings, such as picking out today's wardrobe, furnishing the spare room, or selecting a spot for a picnic. It applies to one's dealings with men, also.

The necessity of knowledge and judgment is especially important in regard to men because the differences among them are more consequential than those among shirts, sofas, or parks. Men are beings of self-made soul; they have the faculty of volition, with everything this implies. The wrong shirt can ruin your appearance; the wrong man can kill you.

(From OPAR Chapter 8, "Virtue," subsection titled, "Justice as Rationality in the Evaluation of Men," pp. 276-277; bold emphasis added.)

If "consequentially based" simply means "based on the consequences," then that expression applies to Objectivism. However, in the dictionary of philosophy that I cited earlier, I found two aspects of that expression in some definitions that differ from the Objectivist perspective:

  • The suggestion that we cannot know what the consequences of an action will be until after it occurs. Objectivism, in contrast, emphasizes "thinking in principles," i.e., judging a human action according to its type and the fundamental nature of the characteristic consequences of that type of action. Man is not in the position of having to wait until after an action is performed before he can know (fundamentally) what its consequences will be. Man's ability to project the consequences in advance of the action proceeds from the objectivity of abstract concepts and principles.

  • The suggestion that motive and intention are irrelevant, and that only the end result of an action matters in judging an action's moral status. Objectivism (to my knowledge) does not regard motive and intention as irrelevant, although claiming to have had "good intentions" generally does not excuse the fundamental nature of an act and whether or not one should or could have known an action's nature before performing it. Intentional (purposeful) benefit or harm is generally more beneficial or harmful (more consistently so) than unintended consequences.

Again, I would advise caution in attempting to apply conventional philosophical terminology to Objectivism. One must know how Objectivism conceptualizes various issues before one can judge whether or not conventional terminology is applicable.

answered Sep 27 '13 at 22:21

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Sep 29 '13 at 14:13

This response and citations are informative but twice as technical with far more confusing terminology than the question itself and lacking a clear answer.

What I was exploring in my question was the relation of two separate ethical values in objectivism; rational self-interest and the non-initiation of force. I've did some research and discovered that Rand adhered to a non-natural rights view of non-aggression. This annuls the premise of my question. In objectivism, rational self-interest and the non-initiation of force are both arrived at consequentially.

(Sep 28 '13 at 04:17) AndruA AndruA's gravatar image

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Asked: Sep 27 '13 at 16:03

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Last updated: Sep 30 '13 at 21:51