Objectivism

Well, it seems that after heavily commenting on the subject of Morality in the Jungle and trying to explain how morality is an irrelevant issue when living alone, the discussion eventually reached the point where the owner of the blog, Ergo – apparently an Objectivism supporter and capable apologist – just had to blog about the comments in a new post.

Therein I am immediately described as:

“an atheist, moral subjectivist, collectivist, and is obviously influenced by evolutionary empiricism a la Dawkins, Hitchen, et al. to a great extent”

Which I do not find really unflattering (Although I would argue the “collectivist” part). However, it is immediatey followed by:

“The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality. “

Perhaps Ergo meant to say that it does not say anything about his commitment to Objectivism and he would be correct. I consider myself a quite rational person and the fact that what I consider reason differs from what Ergo or an objectivist believes only means that there is a difference of opinion which could then be resolved through discussion.

Nevertheless Ergo appears to believe that the evolution of morals and (thus) moral subjectivism is immediately incorrect. Nevermind the fact that evidence (i.e. history) backs up my position while the only basis he has is Ayn Rand’s “axioms”. Failing to argue against my position, a strawman is set up to be attacked:

“Db0 commits the naturalistic fallacy of arguing from the view that what is given by nature is the way it should be. Notice the dismissal of the volitional faculty of man’s mind to make choices autonomously”

Needless to say that this is not my position. This of course will not deter an objectivist, who like an expert christian apologist will begin arguing on the basis that his philosophy is correct and any fact that disagrees with this must thus be incorrect. What follows of course is a rant about how Richard Dawkins’ positions on memes and “evolutionaty empiricism” is flawed (as well as secular humanism apparently)

I especially liked the part where I am lumped in a random camp of “people” (apparently a bad bunch):

“They are creating a vacuum in morality, which permits people like Db0 to conclude that morality is ultimately a fabrication of society, the fad of the day, the need of a pack, subjectivist, relativistic, etc. In essence, while throwing out the dogmatic morality of religion, they throw out the notion of objective morality itself. “

Of course “we” (I honestly don’t know who the rest of my “posse” is, but I digress) throw the notion of objective morality out. It is a fake idea which is currently supported by theists and Objectivists. The theists because they must accept that goddidit and Objectivists because without this pillar, their philosophy starts to show serious stress. Since they cannot explain how and by whom this “Objective morality” is defined, they engage in mental masturbations and circular logic. As lichanos amusingly said it:

“Ooops. Yeah, if rationality is the definition of morality, then acting rationally is always moral, right? Of course, if an act is not rational, it’s not moral, and we know immorality when we see it because it’s not rational. And we know it’s not rational because we have Objectivism’s first principles as a guide…And since morals MUST be rational because values MUST be rational, then it follows…but why you believe this is beyond me. “

This whole discussion which amusingly enough started by an innocent comment I made in Evanescent’s journal where I simply said “Communism is not irrational” has apparently grown into a clusterblog. Objectivism was thrown in as a response, links were given, Objectivist apologist allies were drawn into the battle, comments upon comments, where unfortunately most of my arguments are ignored altogether, and finally as a culmination, my own blogpost.

To tell the truth, I am getting tired of this debate as we seem to be having fundamental differences in the way we argue and perceive various issues. Most telling was Evanescent’s reply to the comments where I was told that unless I agree that Morality is objective we cannot discuss what it is or where it comes from. At least we can agree on one thing, Libertarians are not a benign bunch of people.
Nevertheless, with each of Ergo’s replies I am once again drawn into the mayem as my stubborness just does not allow me to accept positions (especially about me) which are blatantly incorrect.

And there I go again

13 thoughts on “Objectivism

  1. “Communism is not irrational”

    But if morality is subjective then I can validly claim that the morality of communism is irrational for me. How can you defend that communism is not irrational? Perhaps, you’re only speaking for yourself?

    Subjectively, communism is rational for some and irrational for others. Similarly, any principle can be argued as being true or rational or moral for some in some period in some society and not true or rational or moral for some people in some period in some society.

    I think imposing a set objective view of anything is faulty. There can be no set truths because it is all eventually percieved by our own subjective minds, which is never static. We are all different and unique, and our families and cultures decide what we believe. To claim that my subjective beliefs are inferior to yours is nothing but egoism.

  2. Jerry? Is that you? The same Jerry (AKA Ergosum) that started deleting my comments from his own blog? Interesting but nevertheless, of no importance (if you are or not).

    Morality is subjective depending on the society you live in. Where you to say that the morality of communism is irrational I would ask you to base your claims.

    I can say why communism theoretically makes sense. I can also explain why it fails or why I am not a Communism.
    However when your excuse for the irrationality claim is “Objectivism says so” then the burden of proof is on you.

    There is an objective reality but morality is a human construct and thus subjective. I will not claim that your subjective beliefs are inferior but I will discuss with you why I believe they make (or not) sense.

  3. Miguel, in essence you are saying that the right choice of action in any given situation, after all situational modifiers are taken into consideration, is objective. Thus, in any given situation, there must be an objectively optimal moral choice to make. I agree.

    However this does not mean that morality is objective. The morality values that you use to judge any given decision or decide on the best choice, remain subjective. Given a different upbringing or a different society, your moraly optimal choice would change.

    You are trying, in a way, to separate the subjective part of a choice and state that what remains must be the objective morality. However the issue here is that you cannot separate it. Without the subjective part, the morality of the choice is irrelevant. I am not certain if that makes sense to you but this is similar to what I was trying to explain to Ergosum in his “Morality in the Junge” piece.

    This is not about multiple scenarios. The objective moral choice you would make in any given situation is irreversibly connected to your subjective moral values.

  4. I came here from Ergo’s blog to offer a hypothetical (see end of my comment).

    Db0, re: your last comments. On Ergo’s post you said, morality is definitely subjective.
    In your comment to Miguel you state that there is an optimal and objective moral path at any one point in time and in any one context. Incidentally, objectivists would say something similar, except that the context is not culture or society, it’s “the realm of human knowledge to date”.

    So how can one determine the optimal moral choice, if it changes depending on populism and culture? Populism and culture have different sources such as authoritarian rulers or the arts or business advertising, government propaganda etc. Which source is better? How can one evaluate which is better? Is knowing the optimal moral path ever possible? How does someone initiate change by use of logic considering that the defense could always be that morality is subjective and that therefore, logic does not apply? And lastly, how do you prevent mob rule and the gang with the most guns being the most “moral”?

    It’s obvious that you have a differnet definition of morality to Ergo and to objectivists. ie: The concept morality only describes interactions between 2 or more people.

    So how do you describe actions that are good for you only? eg/

    If you had two people isolated on two separate desert islands.
    One finds berries and knowing he will survive from these in the short term, chooses to spend his days lazying around on the beach eating berries and going for a swim now and then. After a while, he develops malnutrition and dies prematurely.
    The other person also finds berries, but he chooses to use them to attract and trap birds and animals to supplement his diet. He lives longer and is happier.

    What is your terminology for the difference between these two? Surely hard work and thought are virtues that benefit oneself and in a society, benefit others?
    Why is it that the same qualities, if done in society would be considered moral, but if done alone is considered ammoral?

  5. I do not state that there is an objectively optimal moral path. Rather I agree that in any given choice you have to take you can choose the best choice that objectively, if you could compare all the different resulting scenarios (something currently impossible) for benefit, would be better (as far as we can understand). However, depending on what you subjectively consider “better”, the choice might not even be moral. We could specialize the question then and look for the optimal “moral” choice the subject could take, for this given situation. This would be different than before because we would not be judging the subject’s choice with our own morality but rather with what results his moral choice would have. So it might be the case that a choice that we consider immoral would be the objectively optimal choice in this situation as it would result in the best possible outcome for the subject only.

    A moral path, on the other hand, implies not only a specific decision but rather a whole guideline or mindframe that would always allow the subject itself to choose the objectively best choice. This does not follow.
    As an objectivist you are again trying to merge the concept of making a rational and informed decision with making a moral decision. This a kind of hybris. It implies that the objectivist’s thought is always the correct one.

    For us, as individuals, it is impossible to make the optimal choice as this would require a near omniscience of the situation. Since we know that we are very likely to be making mistakes we use our logic and knowledge to judge the situation to the best of our abilities. Many times we also use our morality to find a choice that will comply with our personal beliefs.
    As far as evaluating which source of morality and rules is correct, well, this is where critical thinking and knowledge get in the game. Without critical thinking you easily fall prey to whatever the popular sources want you to believe and without sufficient knowledge you cannot make a correct informed critical decision. Furthermore, even these two are invariably affected by the belief that you were instilled with until you reached the age of reason and/or adulthood. Especially these first belief are the harder to shake off with critical thinking (which is of course why most of the world populace is religious).

    How do you prevent mob rule from deciding morality? Historically speaking, mob rule has never defined morality so I don’t see this as a worrying outcome. Even in the Nazi party, morality was not decided through force but rather through propaganda and that can be defeated as I described above.

    So how do you describe actions that are good for you only? eg

    You are still going back to the discussion I was having with Ergo. You are again merging survival with morality.

    The examples you present are survival and intelligence issues, not moral. The person who knows he is going to die but does not wish to fight it has taken either a survival decision. He could just as well have drowned himself.
    You do not define the reasons why he would choose death over live and since we know that self-preservation is one of the stronger instincts in a human, we must therefore assume that there was a reason behind it.

    • Perhaps he was ignorant and he was not aware of the danger of malnutrition. Thus, a knowledge issue.
    • Perhaps he was ignorant and did not know how to capture birds. Again, a knowledge issue
    • Perhaps he was reasonable and know for certain that he was never going to be picked up by a ship. Rather than suffer a life in isolation he preferred to end it. A survival issue or a semi-moral issue if you consider euthanasia an immoral choice. For this case to be considered though, morality must have been implanted in him before he was stranded in the island so that he could judge himself as an outsider.
    • Perhaps he was mentally disturbed and could not handle the isolation. This would make it survival issue again.

    In your example however you are assuming that both had the same knowledge and intelligence and the same instinct for survival but for some reason, one chose to die because…he was lazy? Truly, do you consider this a plausible scenario?

    Why is it that the same qualities, if done in society would be considered moral, but if done alone is considered ammoral?

    Generically speaking? Because you are judging these qualities in the context of a society. You consider them moral because if they were done in a society, they would be considered moral as well. However for another person, coming from a different society and with different morals, perhaps they would not be. For the person living alone, the actions he does will be considered moral or immoral depending on how he was raised. Thus he would be doing actions that follow his subjective moral guidelines…if possible.

  6. Hi Db0,

    I recently discussed morality with Evanescent and Ergo, as well. It’s practically impossible to get them to agree with non-Objectivists on anything, as far as morality goes, and I’ve given up on trying to get through to them at the moment. I think there are three important things to keep in mind, the first of which you mention:

    1. Morality is a human construct.
    2. The is-ought problem is present.
    3. Reason is a tool–it does not supply factual inputs.

    I agree completely with passerby on the issue of definitions.

    Objectivists have a definition of morality that is less than optimally applicable, since it’s not the same thing most people I’m aware of mean when they use the term. Thus, Objectivist criticisms of other people’s morality somewhat misses the mark. Rationality, to them, is whatever fits in with their nonsolution to the is-ought problem, instead of being a tool. Emotions are seemingly based on false empirical claims that they take for granted. Self-interest can be regarded as being so broad as to refer both to traditionally selfish AND altruistic acts, and altruism is regarded as something that I don’t think anyone in the human population (well, maybe 0.00000001% or whatever) practices.

    What Rand is missing is an ACTUAL good reason to accept her philosophy, because as it is, it is not justified as Objectivists say it is. A few great online resources for refutation of Objectivism are the following:

    http://www.aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/
    http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/critics/
    http://www.mises.org/journals/jls/7_1/7_1_4.pdf

    I recommended that Evanescent and Ergo read the document at that last link, and Ergo responded in a way that, IMO, indicates he doesn’t comprehend the definitional difficulties involved in discussing these things with him (“IMO” because I haven’t analyzed his response yet).

    *sigh* What can ya do? A somewhat scary thing to know is that I was a “student of Objectivism” (I hate that phrase, but apparently it’s used because only Rand- or Peikoff-approved people can be called Objectivists… or something like that) for a brief period a couple years ago.

  7. So how do you describe actions that are good for you only?

    Good

    If you had two people isolated on two separate desert islands.
    One finds berries and knowing he will survive from these in the short term, chooses to spend his days lazying around on the beach eating berries and going for a swim now and then. After a while, he develops malnutrition and dies prematurely.
    The other person also finds berries, but he chooses to use them to attract and trap birds and animals to supplement his diet. He lives longer and is happier.

    What is your terminology for the difference between these two?

    .
    Prudence

    Surely hard work and thought are virtues that benefit oneself and in a society, benefit others?

    There is not guarantee they beneift others in a society nor that they are virtues. It depends on how that “hard work and thought” are directed.

    Why is it that the same qualities, if done in society would be considered moral, but if done alone is considered ammoral?

    This is a loaded question. There is no morality on the island, there in a society, by definition, to assert otherwise is to make a category error and to play the equivocation game beloved by Objectivists. The question of qualities does not come into it.

  8. Db0,

    You’re quite welcome for the links. I have some more, but they aren’t as good or substantive. You should be perfectly happy with the ones I’ve provided if you ever get into an ethics conversation with an Objectivist again. 😛

    “It’s an interesting thing to see that you are a former student of Objectivism and you have rejected it.”

    While I might have been with them, I had and have only read one book by Rand or any other Objectivist: Atlas Shrugged. Most of my reading after that consisted of stuff at SOLO HQ and The Autonomist, the latter of which is not an Objectivist site, but somewhat close.

    My mind tends to go all over the place when I’m thinking about something like moral philosophy, and it’s entirely possible that my conversion to and deconversion from Objectivism were not entirely rational. I just recently dropped the claim that there is or can be an objective morality. As long as I’m honest with myself, somewhat thorough in my reasoning, and open to persuasion by others, I’ll be fine no matter what my position. 🙂

    “As I wrote in Evanescent’s blog, it must be incomprehensible that someone might reject Objectivism after he’s studied it in depth.”

    Definitely. I didn’t study it in depth, but what would be really great (for those of us who disagree with Objectivism) is if a prominent Objectivist dropped the philosophy on rational grounds. My deconversion from it began with a conversation with someone from an opposed viewpoint and conversations over on The Autonomist.

    “A reaction which is quite similar to a Theist’s, which incidentally seems to have more and more in common with Objectivism, barring the God aspect of course.
    In their case, they just have their godless prophet, Ayn Rand.”

    It both is and is not a shame. It is in that people would be more likely to examine the philosophy if they weren’t driven away by the zealots. It isn’t in that I don’t think the philosophy is good enough to receive that attention. It just isn’t rigorous and precise enough. The problems are probably all relative to stupid definitions–if they were only cleared up, the reasoning would be much more amenable to judgment.

    (What is the tag for quoting? Could you type it in and leave a space in the middle so I could see? Thanks.)

  9. @Mark:Objectivists have a definition of morality that is less than optimally applicable, since it’s not the same thing most people I’m aware of mean when they use the term.
    Generally anyone is free to define any term as they wish, it is to what they refer that is the issue and also if you to want communicate with others it is sensible to use common meanings and dubious if one does otherwise – indeed I would say irrational 🙂 ! The Randian Objectivitists definition of morality defines away real morality -as taken by everyone else. They use the same words with radically different and incorrect usage. The one man in jungle is the perfect example of that. There seem to be three key mistakes they make.

    1) They have only one type of value when, in fact there are at least three – (generic) value, prudential value and moral value.

    2) Further they define all (generic) values as moral and make it only one specific type of (generic) value with only one end – evaluation against one's desire to live.

    3) This makes all other evaluations means to this one end hence they assert means-end rationality for everything else hence their morality is rationality mistake.

    By contrast what they do with fact-value, is-ought and the Open Question argument is deliberate evasion of the challenges that are presented. 🙁

    @mark:

    The problems are probably all relative to stupid definitions–if they were only cleared up, the reasoning would be much more amenable to judgment.

    They cannot since if they give up their "stupid" definitions the whole system falls down like a pack of cards…. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. This is exactly my point what they do do is not (necessarily) the same as what they should do. Morality is concerned with what they should do the above focuses on what they have done given whatever understanding of morality they have. This difference is crucial to understanding this moral argument.

    This is the part that once again we start going back to the basics (thus no reason to repeat our arguments here once again). I am still not convinced that DU presents the correct “should do” option. Perhaps it is better than most but I am not certain that it is objectively the best. We’ll see…

    The questions is do they have the right habits and if not how can they be encouraged to?

    I would hazard to say: Education and giving the example

    And this is why moral subjectivity is arbitrary! One’s choice depends on many factors outside one’s control and your approach just acknowledges this fact. It can be insufficient for appropriate action in a given situation. They have no means to discern that this is so – what is appropriate action – let alone learn to update their habits. DU and equivalents suffer no such flaw.

    I would not call moral subjectivity as arbitrary. You just cannot arbitrarily decide on your morality. This is related to the recent post I made about the comment on Prosblogion.
    Morality is subjective. That’s my statement and nothing more and I’m yet to be convinced otherwise. I also believe that someone who accepts that morality is subjective is much more open on updating his habits than someone who consider his current morality objective.

  11. This is the part that once again we start going back to the basics (thus no reason to repeat our arguments here once again). I am still not convinced that DU presents the correct “should do” option.

    i agree that I too am not sure that DU presents the best “should” option. Yet I found Du because it was the type of solution that I was looking for and there, I am guessing, is a key difference between us. As to why I was looking for such, it was consistency with my realist and naturalist worldview which is inclusive of subjectivity and not, as some more restrictive worldviews, exclusive of some aspects of subjectivity. Traditional moral objectivism has also never been persuasive to me.

    Perhaps it is better than most but I am not certain that it is objectively the best. We’ll see…

    Again we agree, the difference being I have never understood how moral subjectivity could be a proper moral solution therefore i choose, to the degree I need to, the moral theory that is closest to what I expect an answer to be and what I have found is different to what I wanted it to be – I am not relying on comfort in my selection. Still it is broadly consistent with my own minimal approach and that could be argued is my own subjective stance. However this stance has developed and been influenced by trying to transcend my perceptions, preferences and positions to be epistemologically objective, that is take a scientific stance, since until one tries one does not know whether science can answer this or not.

    I would not call moral subjectivity as arbitrary. You just cannot arbitrarily decide on your morality.

    I suspect we are using different meanings to the term “arbitrary”? I certainly do not mean it as in your second sentence. It is not a matter to deciding ones morality but rather, what is arbitrary – within obvious biological and psychological constraints of course – are the factors that do contribute to having a subjective moral stance. I think there is an important difference in our usage of this term?

    Morality is subjective. That’s my statement and nothing more and I’m yet to be convinced otherwise.

    Fair enough. What I do not understand is how anyone can justify any moral claim if you are a subjectivist. If you do make such claims, could you then please explain how you justify any of them?

    I also believe that someone who accepts that morality is subjective is much more open on updating his habits than someone who consider his current morality objective.

    A very interesting point. It makes me wonder whether we also differ in our usage of the term moral. For example I cannot see that having a moral realist and naturalist system would make someone more closed to updating their habits, far from it, they would have a better understanding of what habits to update and prioritize – given someone who wants to moral of course.

    In answer to your last clause It is not the case of it being my or anyone else’s morality that is objective. Rather it is the study and analysis of morality that can be carried out objectively and DU is one of the best attempts I have seen to date and Randian Objectivism one of the worst to keep this on thread 🙂

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