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Some people argue that human instincts will tend to pull individuals to religiousness, and that critical thinking is needed to avoid this. Is this view in accordance with objectivistic philosophy?

asked Oct 17 '10 at 15:19

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edited Oct 17 '10 at 15:23

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Greg Perkins ♦♦

I see an inherent logical conflict with this argument. Instincts generally are directed toward survival of the individual or of its species. Religion provides no survival benefit. Religions greatest "benefit" would appear to be in making subjects more malleable to control. If anything, this endangers the individual. Human survival depends upon learned knowledge and reasoning not instinct. At best, I see no relationship between instinct and religion.

(Oct 17 '10 at 16:42) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

The Objectivist view on this question can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, in the entries on "instinct" and "religion." I could quote excerpts, but it would be better for those who are interested to read the full excerpts in their entirety in the Lexicon. Some key highlights are that (1) man does not possess an instinct for religion because man does not possess instincts of any kind; (2) a desire or need is not an intinct; (3) religion is a primitive form of philosophy; and (4) man certainly does possess a need for philosophy.

More recently, Leonard Peikoff's DIM Hypothesis notes that man has a compelling need for integration, which will be filled by religion if too few intellectuals understand and uphold a philosophy of reason.

answered Oct 17 '10 at 23:40

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

As a note, this "no instincts of any kind" idea turns some people off at times and they can view it as illegitimate. One should be careful to note what the definition of "instinct" actually is in essential terms, and to be sure not to subscribe things that may have some similar aspects to it as actually being instinct.

(Oct 18 '10 at 15:46) capitalistswine ♦ capitalistswine's gravatar image

RE: "One should be careful to note what the definition of 'instinct' actually is in essential terms...."

Yes, Ayn Rand does exactly that in the excerpt on "Instincts" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. Anyone truly interested in the issue can easily check it out firsthand and would learn far more by doing that than by trying to get by with someone else's highly condensed summary of it. No one should be attempting to rely on summarizations such as I provided as a substitute for original sources. Furthermore, the sharp contrast that I alluded to between instincts and needs in my formulation should be more than adequate to pique the curiosity of rational observers who are unfamiliar with the issues that Objectivism addresses. If man possesses something called "needs," why would anyone be "offended" at denying that man's needs are instincts? Why would a predominantly rational person want to insist on the term "instinct" rather than "need"? (The psycholoogy of an irrational observer is another matter, perhaps worthy of further study for the benefit of rational observers who need to understand it; but that is a separate topic.)

(Oct 19 '10 at 03:42) Ideas for Life ♦ Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

"Instinct" is the wrong word to apply to any basic human characteristics. An instinct is a complex, biologically inherited behavior, such as hummingbirds' southern migration before winter.

Rationality, as an evolved form of consciousness, must necessarily supersede and quell instinctual behavior. Reason brings with it volition — it is a form of consciousness that is inherently self-directed and self-motivated. Hence there is no such thing as "human instinct." Instinct and volition are incompatible.

It's facile to say "there's an instinct for god-belief," but it's anthropologically scientific to ask why primitive men were inclined to believe in gods. We can ask Ayn Rand's question: "What facts of reality give rise to belief in supernatural beings?" Although it is ultimately a belief that we reject as modern and educated persons, it can be regarded as a belief that somehow answered a question or issue necessary to primitive man. That need, as we can now see, is the need of science and ultimately of philosophy to guide men's actions.

If something is an understandable, or even inevitable mistake, that still doesn't make it an instinct. It's still the product of a volitional consciousness, which was in charge of its own mental processing as it weighed the options.

answered Oct 20 '10 at 08:19

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Robert Garmong ♦

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Asked: Oct 17 '10 at 15:19

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Last updated: Oct 20 '10 at 08:19