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Well, what can I say?  It wasn’t a bad birthday as birthdays go.  Matt even cooked me dinner.

So thanks to everybody who sent happy birthday wishes, and back to the fray.

First, I didn’t mean to imply that Rand based her moral philosophy on her definitions of selfishness and unselfishness.  The basis begins with the law of identity (a thing cannot both be and not be in the same respect at the same time) and goes from there.

And I’m pretty sure that it’s a closed system–that you can only disprove it (if it can be disproved at all) by attacking its premises.  Its logic is not faulty.

And, I notice, that Cheryl was still using the words in their non-Randian definitions–she talks about how, if Paris Hilton was really a performance artist, she could be “just as unselfish as any other artist.”

But to Rand, “unselfish” is always a bad thing.

“Unselfish” does not mean be considerate of other people.

It means having no self–no convictions or ideas of your own.

And yes, using words in ways like this, in ways other than they are usually defined, can cause more than a little trouble.

But John said that people either based morality on God, or on what they just “felt” was a good thing–and my point here is that Rand does neither.  She does, in fact, provide a perfectly logical, consistant, objective basis for a moral code, and then she provides the code.

But here’s the kicker.

She doesn’t provide that basis for the moral code you and I are used to.  She is not providing a basis for the morality of Christianity, or anything like it.

And that is, of course, part of her point.  She holds that the reason we think there is no rational, scientific way to know what is moral is because we have been fed a moral code that is inherently irrational and unscientific.

Reason can tell us what we must do to be moral–but it will not support most of what people have been calling “moral” for centuries.

In other words, the problem is not that there is no objective basis for morality, but that there is no objective basis for the morality we’ve been taught up to now.

At this point, things get a little complicated.   I’m not going to try to outline Rand’s philosophy in a blog.  “This is John Galt Speaking” is probably 4000 words long, and it’s just a sketch of the overall argument.  She wrote books detailing the rest of it.

But I do want to point out two things.

First, that argument does, in fact, provide an objective ground for natural individual rights (freedom of speech, conscience, etc) that does not rely on religion and does not leave them up to “the government gives them to me.”

Second, that when you look at her list of virtues and vices, you’re struck by what’s not there–there’s no harping on sex and sexuality.  Homosexuality is not moral or immoral in Rand’s moral philosophy.  It’s irrelevant.

Let me list here, for a moment, the virtues as proposed by Rand:

a) rationality–we are morally obligated to accept the reality of the world outside ourselves and to seek and support the truth by the use of our reason.

b) independence–we are morally obligated to make our own judgments and be true to them.  It’s all right to figure out we’re wrong and change our minds because we have new facts, but it’s never all right to change our minds, abandon our beliefs or convictions, just because somebody else says so, or “everybody’ says so, or it isn’t what the dogma of our religion or politics declares to be true.

c)integrity–we are morally obligated to reject contradictions between our beliefs and our behavior.  We must act on what we have determined to be morally right, not just think it.

d) honesty–we are morally obligated to tell the truth, and to act the truth. 

e) justice–we are morally obligated to give each person what he deserves, nothing more and nothing less.  We must judge other people rationally, and be judged by them. 

f) productiveness–we are morally obligated to contribute to the society we live in by producing at least as much as we consume.  Productive work is the single most important obligation we have to other people and to society at large.

g) pride–not talking about hubris here, but about that interior demand that we always do our best and only our best work.  And we are morally obligated to judge ourselves as rationally as we would judge anybody else.  That is, if we cure cancer, build the Sears tower, write a good book or establish the first human colony on Mars, we not only should, but must, judge ourselves favorably, as we would judge someone else favorably, for doing these things.

I’m getting tangled up again.

But that’s a beginning–

And, again, that’s NOT the foundation of Rand’s moral code, it’s the code itself.  I don’t quite know how to get into the law of identity.

But this gives me a good place to look at the Singer/Unger “you have no right to anything until all the starving people on earth are fed” argument.

And I’ll do that at some other time.

Written by janeh

July 14th, 2010 at 7:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

6 Responses to 'Foundations'

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  1. I confess I find it confusing to use other peoples’s redefinition of words, but really, Paris Hilton may well have convictions and ideas of her own. They’re just expressed in a way I find rather silly and empty using a language of decoration and expression I don’t speak – like almost all modern music, actually, and a good deal of art, which is why I used that comparison.

    And unless Rand also assumes that all people have all the facts they need to make a judgement on any person or situation, and are also capable of understanding them all, I don’t see how she can insist that everyone be rational at all times.

    There’s a serious problem with justice – of course, there is under other moral codes as well – since I can’t know what others deserve any more than they can know what I deserve. None of us is capable of perfect and complete knowledge of anything, much less than of perfect ability to apply rational reasoning to that knowledge.

    But if I must not change based on others’ opinions of me, I needn’t accept others’ judgement of me either, so justice is really a moot point.

    And, of course, if human being’s value is in their productiveness, I’d better kill myself before I get too sick to work, and I’m not sure how you can justify having kids, who are unproductive for years, and some of whom will never be productive.


    14 Jul 10 at 8:18 am

  2. Rand does not require you to have all the knowledge you need at all times–only that you act on what you know, and that you do not suppress what you know because “He’s the expert, so he must know better, I’ll just stop thinking because I can’t think well enough.”

    And Rand was a big fan of children and of the worthiness of having and nurturing them.

    But the point about judgment is that judgment must be objective, not subjective.

    You’re certainly no required to accept other people’s SUBJECTIVE opinions about you.

    But there are facts, and the judgment of the facts must be inviolate.

    So if Johnny is a bum who’s spent his whole life living in a bottle, and Carl is a hard working guy who did a job all his life, saved his money, took care of his family–there’s something inherently contradictory (and therefore morally wrong)in saying that “social justice” means that Johnny has a “right’ to food, clothing and shelter, even if to give it to him we must take it from Carl by force.

    And your worth is not in your productivity. It’s in the fact that you are a human being (first) and, beyond that, in what you decide–of your own free will–to do about that fact.

    And your total worth, at the end, is in the totality of what you have made of your life, which is judged against what you were capable of making of it.

    Productive work is your moral obligation to other human beings, and you are obliged to the extent that you are capable.

    I feel like I’m trying to explain something enormously complicated in sound bites.

    But I’ll go back to the beginning–I’m not defending (or criticizing) the CONTENT of Rand’s code.

    I’m just pointing out that she’s proof positive that it IS possible to establish a SECULAR objective foundation for morality.


    14 Jul 10 at 8:34 am

  3. How has she proved that she has a secular objective foundation of morality? She appears to have created a somewhat internally consistent model, but there’s no particular reason to accept that model over any other. She’s trying to put humans, or perhaps human reasoning ability, in the place of the human as a functional object (if I’m remembering the term correctly) that you need in order to have a moral system.

    In other words, even if she is right about the way humans can use reason to construct a way of life, she hasn’t gotten from ‘is’ to ‘ought’. Why ought I construct my life and beliefs on reason alone? Because she says so? Because she says that’s all there is to being human?


    14 Jul 10 at 9:19 am

  4. And now we get to the fifty pages about the law of identity–a good third of “This Is John Galt Speaking” answers this particular question alone.

    I can do a rough overview, but I’m uncomfortable about being responsible for defending a large, complicated philosophical system on the basis of piecemeal stuff here and there.

    It’s not fair to what she’s saying for me to get it wrong.

    She beings by saying:

    The first thing we have to acknowledge is that existence exists. Reality is real. It is independent of what we wish it to be.

    The second thing we have to acknowledge is that every living thing is presented with a fundamental alternative: life or death.

    The third thing we have to acknowledge is that a human being is a particular kind of living thing–unlike most animals (as far as we know), we are aware of the alternative and we can choose either side.

    The fourth thing we have to acknowledge is that just as other animals have their survival mechanisms (instinct, for instance), we have our survival mechanism–our minds.

    If a human being wants to survive, he must rely on his mind. If he shuts off his mind, or violates it (by lies, fraud, delusions, denial, whatever) he descreases his capability of surviving or negates it altogether.

    The only way a human being can survive if he violates his mind is to rely on the minds of other people–who are not violating theirs, or are not violating theirs as much–because for survive to happen, somebody has tobe thinking.

    A moral code is the rules we derive from these facts, to help us to survive and to survive as human (thinking) beings.

    And then she goes on from there.

    I think she would say that the reason you have to be rational is because if you’re not, you will have only two choices:

    a) die OR

    b) find somebody else who IS being rational to support you in your irrationality.

    In other words, relying on anything but reason is dysfunctional.

    But–ack–I’m REALLY doing this badly. I’m being sketchy, and she does it better.


    14 Jul 10 at 9:32 am

  5. Thanks for trying, though. I think I’m getting a bit of her ideas. I have to admit I don’t find them attractive or interesting enough to want to look into myself in any depth, particularly since I don’t seem to find the time to read philosophy that appeals to me. And that’s a non-rational idea, for sure – the idea that I might choose what to spend time on based on what appeals to me.

    I suppose part of the problem is that I don’t think humans are entirely rational, and while rationality is a great gift, it’s still only part of the whole human being.


    14 Jul 10 at 6:37 pm

  6. Other things than sexual conduct are irrelevant to Rand’s moral structure. Charity gets passed off in–as I recall–about half a sentence as a “natural impulse.” True enough, but we have LOTS of natural impulses. Until about the mid-Nineteenth Century, most of morality and as dedicated to making sure we didn’t act on many of them.

    Which brings me to the two areas in which I felt she was tap-dancing–trying to avoid the logical consequences of her premises: first, her argument against accepting slavery or someother unfree state as at least better than death was forced, to say the least. Second, I never thought she had come up with a valid reason why I should not abuse my fellows–rape or rob, kill or enslave–so long as I was doing it for my own purporses and my own pleasure. She obviously disapproved of such conduct, but it was a gut reaction philosophy rationalized, rather than a rigorous philosphical conclusion. That might itself be a problem with a and c.

    Mind you, I like and admire Rand, and I feel objectivism is a splendid achievement–but we do as a species rationalize better than we reason.


    14 Jul 10 at 8:13 pm

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