Intellectual Curiosities and Provocations

Philosophy Weekend: Rebooting the Argument Against Egoism

By Levi Asher on Saturday, March 17, 2012 11:11 am

How would it feel to have been a physicist just before Albert Einstein, or a biologist just before Darwin? I can sympathize with all the dedicated, highly trained scientists who must have toiled in frustration for decades, grasping for insight, groping at patterns, making little discoveries here and there, yet always sensing that they were missing the big idea.

Amateur or professional philosophers today can probably relate, because our field appears to be currently in a state of darkness comparable to physics before Einstein or biology before Darwin. Why do I say this? Well, the big tipoff is the low standing of philosophy as a whole. It's widely considered a quaint and vain hobby, a useless college major that merits half a shelf in every bookstore. We have no famous philosophers, and virtually nobody considers philosophy or ethics important for everyday life.

We are so accustomed to this sad state of affairs that we often forget that societies do not always ignore philosophy; they only do so when the field is moribund. In the half-century before the French revolution, when ethical philosophers like Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire were making powerful discoveries, philosophers were treated as superstars. Similarly, physicists and biologists probably started getting a whole lot more respect after Einstein and Darwin finally broke the ground that needed to be broken, and may not have gotten much respect before. The standing of any intellectual discipline directly correlates to its level of success ... and it's a sad fact that ethical philosophy has been a flop since the dawn of the modern age.

This is no idle or abstract problem; it amounts to the human disaster of a world that fails to comprehend itself. The spiritual, psychological, social and political problems that ethical philosophy are meant to help fix are going unfixed, and modern society has also come to think of this confusion as normal. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • The institution of war and weapon-bound defense is widely accepted around the world.
  • Marriages, families and friendships constantly fall apart, often in paroxysms of accusation, anger and repression.
  • Many people suffer from addictions or compulsions, causing them to regularly behave in ways that they themselves cannot predict, understand or explain.
  • Our workplaces tend to be dysfunctional, or to operate on the brink of dysfunction.
  • Our larger collective identities -- churches, political parties, ethnic groups, nations -- tend to find cohesion mainly through virulently hating and misunderstanding other collective identities -- churches, political parties, ethnic groups, nations -- to the point of inexplicable hyperbole.

It's because we so badly need enlightenment in the field of ethics that I began this Philosophy Weekend series a year and a half ago. I certainly don't know what the answers are, but I do have an idea what the basic barriers to progress in ethical philosophy have been, and which creaky, archaic ideas must be swept away before we can do better.

Ethical philosophy involves many complex and intense sub-topics, and the discussions we've had in the comments section of this blog have helped me see what the common stumbling blocks towards greater mutual understanding tend to be. With this in mind, I've taken a few weeks to gather my thoughts about the topics we've been discussing here, and I'd like to now begin a new, more consistent and more well-developed presentation of some ideas I've put forth in the past year and a half.

I'd like to reboot my argument, in other words, and today's blog post will be the first of several in which I intend to do so. As always, your comments and feedback are appreciated. We'll begin today with a simple and brief statement of my argument against Egoism, the popular but intellectually limiting model of human psychology that holds such a dominant position in ethical and political debate. I'll present material to back it up in the following weeks.

The Fallacy of Egoism

Egoism, the idea that the general purpose of human life is to pursue and gain individual happiness, can easily be exposed as a knot of naive generalizations leading to a flawed and mechanistic model of the human mind. The Egoist model has never been dominant among ethical philosophers (only a few such as Thomas Hobbes, John Stuart Mill and Ayn Rand support it directly) but has a stronger hold on wide public opinion, mainly because its basic simplicity makes it so easy to understand and express. Because Egoism has greater standing as a popular position than as an academic one, many professional ethical philosophers don't even bother to refute it directly, creating an impression that it cannot be refuted. The goal of this series is to tackle the Egoist error directly, helping us to counter the many ways that this error muddies our thinking.

What is Egoism? The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines Psychological Egoism as the claim that "each person has but one ultimate aim: his or her own welfare", and Wikipedia defines it as "the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest". The simplest expression is the truism that "everybody is selfish", a primitive belief that many of us are in the habit of allowing to pass as true even though we don't personally believe that we are selfish. The Egoist premise gains acceptance as the lowest common demoninator of interpersonal behavior, leading some to declare the premise itself to be rock-solid and irrefutable.

In fact, psychological clarity cannot be achieved until one begins thinking beyond the simple mechanism of selfish motivation, and Egoism provides only a very poor model for human existence. Egoism's central flaw is that it overemphasizes the whole and solitary individual, and thus fails to capture the complex chemistry of social interaction, which changes us to the core wherever it occurs, creating currents of emotion or need that often overwhelm the emotions or needs of individuals within social groups. Egoism's over-emphasis on individual solitary existence also leaves it unable to model the contradictory or psychotic reactions that occur within a single solitary individual (this critique of Egoism is the primary message of anti-Egoist Fyodor Dostoevsky's Notes From Underground, and one of the primary messages of his Crime and Punishment as well.)

Dostoevsky had a lot of company on the anti-Egoist side. Many great writers and artists have been fervent anti-Egoists, as have many political leaders and philosophers. Perhaps the greatest force against Egoism throughout history has been religion, since every religion is based on a sense of community. No religion, Eastern, Western or otherwise, has ever been compatible with Egoism. (Of course, this will not be a selling point to many modern thinkers who dislike religion, so it's important to realize that, while you can't be a religious Egoist, you don't have to be religious to be a non-Egoist.)

This is clearly a favorite topic of mine (can you tell?) and I'll now try to state my philosophical position against Egoism in as brief and clear a way as possible.

The Argument

PREMISE #1: Psychological Egoism is not a self-apparent truth. Even those philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes or Ayn Rand who advocate the Egoist position have never managed (and rarely attempted) to justify the Egoist premise itself. When pressed, a Hobbesian or Randian may argue that the premise is so obvious as to not need justification, or may offer a weak formulation such as this one: "since we cannot exist without our individual solitary selves, it must be the sole purpose of our lives to tend to our individual solitary selves." These formulations can be easily refuted by pointing out that, for instance, we also cannot exist without the planet Earth, so the same logic could lead us to declare that the purpose of our lives is to tend to the planet Earth. We know for sure that we exist as individual and independent biological entities, but this doesn't mean that our consciousness must be limited to consciousness of our individual and independent selves, or that the scope of a person's desire and concern and action and motivation must be limited to the scope of the person's individual and independent self.

PREMISE #2: Since Egoism has never been proven to be self-apparent (indeed, no serious proof has ever been attempted), we are left to evaluate the Egoist premise on its natural merits as a model for human existence. In order to be accepted as a valid theory, any psychological model must be capable of capturing the full complexity of human life as we all experience it. That is, a psychological theory cannot be assumed to be valid if it fails to correspond with the majority of observed experiences of normal life.

PREMISE #3: Psychological Egoism, the theory that we as solitary whole individuals live only for our individual self-interest, clearly fails to capture the full complexity of human life as we experience it, and does not produce a model for behavior that corresponds to the majority of observed experiences of normal life.

CONCLUSION: Psychological Egoism cannot be assumed to be valid.

These are the bare bones of the argument I've been presenting (in various shapes and sizes, and with a few missteps of my own) on this blog for the past year and a half. My goal today is to "erase the whiteboard" and start over, stating each premise and conclusion as simply as possible, so as to allow us to examine and critique the argument as thoroughly as we wish.

Of course, any philosopher who disagrees with my conclusion may wish to challenge one or more of these three premises, and may also demand that I do a better job of justifying each of the three. I intend to do this, but I would like to obtain general agreement at this point that premises #1, #2 and #3, if each taken as true, do correctly imply the conclusion. Given that agreement, we can focus the debate on the three premises, and that's a challenge I'm happy to face in future blog posts. In fact, I'm pretty sure I can knock premises #1, #2 and #3 out of the park.

So here we are, with a rebooted argument, and the clearest statement of its component parts that I can come up with. I'd love to know what you think.


This article is part of the Philosophy Weekend series. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Delusions of the Group Mind. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: What Is This Thing Called Philosophy?.


90 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: Rebooting the Argument Against Egoism"

by catalyst on

I don't believe egoism to be justified based on my own experience. I agree with your premise #3. So much of our lives depends on other people. We depend on other people for our food, shelter and well being. If everybody was only looking out for themselves, I don't believe we would have these things. If you've ever loved somebody, I don't think you could be an egoist. Religion definitely fights egoism. I think the most clear example (which may not be a religion, but more so a way of understanding the world) is Buddhism. The goal in Buddhism is to attain enlightenment for the sake of other sentient beings so that you may help them to cease suffering. What a great task to attempt! My stance against egoism is that its too simple. It's too easy to only fulfill my own desires/wants/needs. But to reach out to another human being, and try to help them is a task that I find much more rewarding and challenging.

Although, I am having a little trouble with the word valid. Do these arguments make egosim invalid? Or are these arguments simply the other side of the coin? I think both sides can be valid, but you can't adopt both sides into your life, its that duality of one or the other. But I think believing against egoism doesn't necessarily make it invalid.

by mtmynd on

Re: "Psychological Egoism as the claim that 'each person has but one ultimate aim: his or her own welfare', and Wikipedia defines it as 'the view that humans are always motivated by self-interest...'"

This seems to be a confusion between 'egoism' and an 'egotist'. To dismiss this 'Egoism' as irrelevant dismisses an initial importance of our ego and that is 'survival.' We guard our ego, defending it when it is dismissed or ignored, oftentimes responding in socially negative ways. But when we achieve an equilibrium of sorts that places us in a reasonably equal position, this strengthens us and those around us. Our communal give and take is beneficial for all.

The ego itself I see as an important element to that survival instinct within us. Akin to a race, the first off the line sets the speed which all other competitors strive to minimally keep up with and eventually hope to surpass. This is our ego-drive that allows us to fairly compete with an extremely competitive social environment. Again, once achieved we become more friendly, more acceptable and more familial with those around us.

The 'we' within our psyche is a response to our communal needs. As an old Jefferson Airplane song once said, "we are not islands but we are peninsulas." Many of those who may express what is defined as "Egoism" may not fully live up to the definition but only partake of aspects within it to stay socially intact and not feel as if they are outsiders who have little to nothing to offer.

Some of those same folks may indeed be like Rand's character in The Fountainhead, Howard Roark, who feel like their character is so unique and such a reflection of themselves they reject the long held belief by any creative people that "they stand on the shoulders of others who came before them." This is a Randian flaw for we ALL are influenced by others directly or indirectly whether we choose to recognize our influences and give credit where credit is due.

Your third Premise acknowledges the complexity of our hu'manity but I'm not convinced by the overall conclusion that "Psychological Egoism cannot be assumed to be valid" mainly due to that same complexity you spoke of. Obviously, P.E. is valid enough to be seriously considered a worthwhile subject for debate. We often ignore that as hu'mans we all partake of various bits and pieces of subjects offered to us in order to fulfill our inherent need to understand ourselves. But often we lock ourselves into theories that dismiss our social contracts with others, be they our families, friends and/or acquaintances. That is when our lives become problematic, ignoring others that have gotten us to where we are will likely create an unstable personality.

by TKG on

"In order to be accepted as a valid theory, any psychological model must be capable of capturing the full complexity of human life as we all experience it. "

No theory or model can ever capture the full complexity of human life.

The closest that comes to this is literature.

If your statement is taken at face value, there are no valid philosophical or psychological theories ever (something a lot of us would not argue against).

-----

You are trying to do a lot Levi, and you are up against a LT. You do seem to realize what you are doing in recognizing the need for religion in your argument.

Your examples are interesting in that bastardizations of Einstein and evolutionary theory have been used greatly in shaping the philosophy you seek to refute.

Darwin especially recently has been used for this to such an extent that he serves as an icon. In real life biology Darwin himself was not that important, even for evolutionary thought. But just as today, he served as a good focal point. Read the Wikipedia entry on Alfred Russell.

Einstein's physical and mathematical theories of course have been bastardized to somehow apply in a philosophical or ethical realm. It's all relative -- there are really no such thing as ethics.

As far as fighting the egoists -- you are not. You are fighting the entire western progressive world view that come evolved from bastardizations of Darwin and Einstein that form an ostensibly areligious word view based on non teleological evolution. Egoism is non sophisticated and quaint. The selfish gene long supplanted that presentation of it.

The reason there are no philosophers now is that they are now all hiding behind a veneer of scientific rigor and theory in evolutionary psychology disciplines and sociobiology etc... Whatever the flavor of the day is.

by John Woods on

Levi:

1st paragraph - are you comparing yourself to Einstein on the verge of some massive innovation in philosophy? If so, you need to remember, that Einstein actually discovered and proved something. This is a bar that you have not yet crossed over so be careful in granting to yourself or any amatuer philosopher the same status until you have met that threshold.

2nd paragraph - we agree that philosophy is currently in a state of darkness but that darkness is not caused by egotism or Ms. Rand, that part is the light. So I agree with your assertions but not your implied evaluation of them.

3rd paragraph - the reason it has been such a flop is because non-egoists continuously keep trying to build a platform on falsehoods and they collapse again and again, destroying their credibility and their arguments.

4th paragraph - we agree that this is no idle or abstract problem, it is of the most crucial importance.

(bullet points) - War should be accepted but only as a means to stand up for principles, but without a "you" then you would have no idea what "you would be standing up for." would you (or am I talking to a you, or am I talking to a we)? I say that marriages and families are not falling apart because of an over emphasis on their own self and identity, but because a lack of identity and/or convictions where individuals are highly codependent because they believe that their identities move and merge in and out of other people. Only to be absorbed without any reference to their virtues or values, only to be ejected again and again from other people who want to live again by their own independent judgement. Furthermore, people who have no self, who have no identity, who have no convictions, suffer from addictions because they are trying to medicate their mental default. I have nothing to say about the last two, which I think it just an example of ignorance of the people in those particular entities.

5th paragraph - yes we do, but my prescription is the opposite of yours, and I have a pretty clear idea of what the answers are.

Under your "ARGUMENT"

Premise #1: - you have badly stated the egoist position. "since we cannot exist without our individual solitary selves". That is never what "I" said. I said, you have no right to assert that you can exist "outside" of your individual self without positing some sort of a disembodied ghost in another dimension and this is hardly the same thing as your analogy of the earth and man. Since at the very least the earth and the man both have physical bodies which you can view objectively. Yourself that floats around in the "ether" between other people is what is easily refuted by the fact that you cannot demonstrate any of this, so it's all floating. The reason it is limited, it because it is "physically" limited. You cannot exist outside yourself. That is self evident.

Premise #2: - "psychological theory cannot be assumed to be valid if it fails to correspond with the majority of observed experiences of normal life." So am I to understand you correctly, that truth is determined based on how much of the majority agrees with someone? There is no objective basis? I am so thankful that this wasn't the measure of truth when Copernicus posited a revolution in the sciences against everyone in his field, or that this wasn't the measure of the truth when Darwin had everyone in the religious community disagree with him. In fact, almost every scientific revolution that ever occurred directly opposite to your assertion here.

Premise #3, seems just to be a restatement of #2.

Good luck rebooting.

by Levi Asher on

To keep this discussion manageable, I'll just respond to a few of these points, and allow the others to stand ...

Catalyst and Mtmynd, thanks for being part of this "Sunday Stream" ...

TKG, you say "No theory or model can ever capture the full complexity of human life." Well, this is a case where I need to remember to make sure I'm expressing myself fully, because the kind of theory or model I'm talking about is the kind that can and must express the full complexity of its subject. My approach here comes from software development (I'm an amateur philosopher, but a professional software developer). I often build data models, and I know the difference between a good data model and a bad one. A good data model can fully contain all required information in all its complexity, and can also clearly represent the exact relationships between the various entities it represents. It does not have to represent an infinite level of complexity, but it must be consistent with all required levels of complexity. A certain level of sophistication, abstraction and polymorphism must be reached before a data model will be as robust and complete as it needs to be (and that's why people like me, with decades of experience in software design, build the data models). Once you have a good data model, you can write all the software applications in the world around it, and the data model will never limit you. So, I'm bridging over a concept from software design into ethical philosophy. I'm saying that the psychological model of Egoism is a bad data model. It is primitive and simplistic and does not capture the kinds of relationships that actually exist in everyday life.

Beyond that, TKG, I really love your points about religion, and about argument -- thanks. And yes, Evolutionary or Darwinian ethics are a highly relevant topic I needed to begin exploring more here -- Richard Dawkins, the Selfish Gene, etc. ... I will read up on Alfred Russell.

John Woods, thank you again for a thorough critique. Well, with regard to Einstein, I don't think I have the caliber of intellect that Einstein had, but I also don't think that should stop me from trying to be as innovative as I can. Haven't you heard about "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for?"

John, you say: "you have no right to assert that you can exist 'outside' of your individual self without positing some sort of a disembodied ghost in another dimension". You are mixing up physical existence with consciousness, and assuming that consciousness follows the same rules as physical existence. My consciousness is not tied completely and solely to my physical body. It is tied to my senses, but my senses are not equivalent to the full scope of my physical body. Please try to prove to me that the scope of my consciousness -- the "reach" of what I am aware of -- must be fully constrained by the physical boundaries of my body. I don't think you'll be able to prove it. Nobody ever has proved that human consciousness only exists at the solitary individual level, or even (as far as I know) tried to prove it. This is indeed, as I've said many times before, the most fatal logical flaw in Ayn Rand's "perfect" ethical philosophy.

Finally, I think you make a good point about Copernicus and group opinion (and I thank you once again for keeping me on my toes). No, I do not believe that truth can be determined by committee, and I do not think popular opinion should be the measure of truth, and I apologize for allowing that misunderstanding to occur. Rather, what I am saying is that I will appeal to each individual reader and ask each of them to answer for themselves: does "I live only for myself" ring true for you? Each reader will decide whether the Objectivist position adds up or not, and whether my position adds up or not, etc. By stating that premise #2 as one of my three premises, I'm allowing us to discuss as a standalone point whether or not it it is important for a theory to feel realistic and lifelike. I think it is important, but I want each reader to answer this question for themselves rather than listening to public opinion.

by Claudia on

Levi, it's commendable that you're considering the arguments for and against egoism from the starting premise to their conclusion. It's a very philosophical method! I think that the starting premise of egoism has to do with individuals that are viewed as separate atoms. Therefore all these defenses of egoism, whatever their differences may be, end up not considering enough the needs of the collective in their conclusion.

by John Woods on

Levi:

Using your data model analogy (now that I know you are familiar with these concepts we can get more in depth).

In a good data model, you have tables which track entities, then you have relationships between tables, with primary and foreign keys relating these tables to each other. You have many to one relationships, one to many relationships, and many to many relationships requiring some sort of a lookup table, etc.

My whole argument with you is that a relationship pre-supposes entities which are relating to each other.

You keep trying to blur the distinction between entity and relationship. But these two concepts are extremely clearly defined in my own mind and a "relationship" presupposes entities which are relating to one another.

For example, you mention in your second paragraph that consciousness is "tied" (a relational concept) only to my body, you mention that a consciousness is "what you are aware of" (again another relational concept). You are blanking out the entity itself which is what is actually "having" the relationships, and the fact that an entity has relationships does not make the entity itself "a relationship", the entity remains an entity and the relationship remains a relationship. So on this point are you trying to argue that consciousness is an entity in itself? Because if it isn't then it cannot "tie" to or "be aware" of anything because it doesn't exist.

Finally, I think you have some very bad premises concerning what you regard as knowledge. What you are calling knowledge is not knowledge by any philosophical standard.

Let me explain. We do know that man is conscious. I think this is self evident and indisputable. (at least some of us are. :-). We do not know that consciousness exists outside of a man. And in fact it cannot be proven because once you disconnect it from the body, what are you talking about? How would anyone go about proving such a statement? You couldn't prove it wrong because you have nowhere to look.

Now allow me to give you another example. Let's say that you come to me and you tell me that you believe there are flower gardens and beautiful waterfalls on the backside of the moon. I say why do you make such assertions? Do you have any proof? And you say, NO but you can't prove that there isn't and so that is my proof that it is.

The lack of evidence, is not proof of anything and it certainly isn't knowledge, by any epistemological standard that I have ever heard of.

So once you disembody consciousness from the human body (on what grounds?), then it is just a free for all. You can now say anything you want. There is nothing to validate anything you say. So to call that knowledge, is terribly irrational and does not hold.

I hold that we are men, and that we are conscious of many things. (One entity relating to many things). And my model can fully account for every scenario you can present, and if it cannot, then you have not named the deficiency. So I do not understand the insistence on another alternative which is totally beyond the capability of any logic system to validate.

by John Woods on

Claudia:

I have got to disagree with you on your "atom" analogy.

Here is the reason.

We are not on some scientific journey here, we are on a philosophical journey.

The primary questions of philosophy are how we should live, and why society should be constructed in a specific way.

The reason that atoms are a bad model to use, is because atoms are not conscious they do not select values, they do not have emotions. Human beings are alive and have specific needs in order to live the good life, and in a society where so called intellectuals are making decisions for all of us, there is always the possibility for individual human beings to be "VIOLATED" by society in a way that may not matter to you, but would be horrible to that particular individual experiencing the problem.

Her philosophy ONLY causes pain to the people who have built their lives on the forced servitude of others to themselves. And so her viewpoint is that if change MUST cause any pain to anyone, then the pain needs to be justified objectively. I.E. By making depdendents begin to live off of their own individual efforts.

So in the words of Ms. Rand... there is a right way to live, if you want to live "AS A HUMAN BEING".

It is important NOT to lose that distinction. If you want to model your life after an atom then that is your perogative, but if you do that then I do not want you thinking for me.

TKG, I read the wikipedia entry on Alfred Russell. I like him!

by Claudia on

John, you have a well-argued perspective. But I still believe that any philosophical model that doesn't consider enough the needs of the collective (and how individuals collectively consider the public good) will be inherently flawed and perhaps even dangerous. We'll probably agree to disagree about this one, as happens in so many ethical debates:).

by Levi Asher on

John, I'm very glad you brought up data models. Well, let's say we were designing a data model for the study of ethics. Like a typical data model used in any modern software application, it would be a relational model, accessible via SQL (Structured Query Language, the universal language for relational databases).

We would define tables such as "Person", "Group", "Decision", "Goal", "Action", "Attribute". It would grow to hundreds of tables, I'm sure, but like any useful relational database, most of the activity would revolve around a few key tables.

And here's the important point I've been trying to make, John. I know enough about database design to know that "Person" would not join directly to "Action". We would require a joiner table between a person and an action, which might be called "Actor". An Actor is any entity that can maintain Goals, make Decisions, evaluate Results, gather Attributes in simulated ethical situations. An Actor would not be identical to an individual Person. Rather, an Actor would be a Person or a Group.

This is an important point because it shows where Ayn Rand's simplistic data model falls apart. Regardless of what you think about your existential place in the universe or your level of spiritual or personal isolation ... as far as the activities and decisions and transactions and exchanges of everyday life go, the Person is not the primary unit. The Actor (a Person or a Group) is the primary unit.

You say that I confuse entities with relationships. Well, we live in a relational world, governed by relativistic physics. A data model that isn't based on relationships is usually just not very powerful or accurate in representing its domain. Why do you think the most widely used databases today are called "relational databases?"

Perhaps a good name for the approach to philosophy I'm trying to take would be "relational philosophy", or "relational ethics".

Apologizes to my non-techie readers for geeking out here.

by anaonymous123 on

If this is the state of ethics, then epistemology and metaphysics (fields you don't prefer which you highlighted in a previous post) have totally lost it. Ethics is still relevant in the age of Egoism, but the more arcane and beautiful of the branches of philosophy that merit more attention and acuteness of intellect have not been able to keep up with the contemporary generation.

Levi, when you geek-out, you shine.

by John Woods on

Levi,

I'm sure you already knew that there were massive flaws and evasions in your rebuttal even as you were writing it.

Here goes.

You may use whatever hierarchy of concepts you wish to interpret reality, so that for example you may say that an Apple is Red. This does not mean that when you drop down to metaphysics that there is a thing called an Apple and a Red. NO! There is just an Apple.

Likewise, just because you have a Person who is performing a specific Role. This does not entitle you to start proclaiming that you now have two metaphysical entities. One called a Person and one called a Role.

Similarily, just because you have a person who is a member of a group, does not entitle you to claim that that you have a metaphysical entity called an individual and a group. A group is an epistemological concept which is nothing more than a grouping of individuals, which is the irreducible metaphysical primary. You are not entitled to create a metaphysical entity out of thin air called a "group" no matter how bad you want to merge your selves together. It simply isn't true. And this is why America (based on individualism) succeeded because it was based on individual rights and recognized the metaphysical reality, and this is also why Communism failed because it ignored that reality, based it's philosophy on a lie, and the whole system buckled under the load, much like building a faulty building.

Finally, relational databases are so powerful because they mimic the way the mind works. Instead of memorizing 10 million different concretes. The mind busts reality up into concepts and then "links" these concepts together via relationships. This is done in order to achieve unit economy in the brain. Just the same way it is done in databases to achieve efficiency, speed and performance. And yet..... none of this means that the relationship is the primary. No it is not! Because without entities nothing would be relating to anything. Relationships pre-supposed entities. You cannot get underneath that.

Your entire rebuttal was a horrible confusion of the differences between metaphysics (what actually exists) vs. epistemology (how we think about what exists.)

Next argument please?

by Shelley on

I write about a people who occasionally rise to community and are under no illusion of their ability to survive alone.

However, what I wanted to say here is simply to thank you for mentioning the dysfunctional workplace. In a world where more and more people live apart from family, it is especially sad that the workplace, infected by corporate giantism and economic pressure, should increasingly become not a place where people treat each other respectfully, but a place where people have an excuse to harm.

by Levi Asher on

(First, thanks to everybody for your feedback -- I really appreciate these comments.)

To John: well, I think your response is hasty. I actually put a lot of thought into the proposed data model I described, and was very careful to make my description as sound as possible. Your dismissal of my point seems slipshod to me -- I don't think you get to the core of the matter here.

You are correct that the two key concepts in relational database modeling are entities and relationships. An entity is implemented as a table (such as a SQL table) while a relationship is implicitly enforced by the use of a key that joins two tables. One classic example, often used when training newbies to SQL, is a data model for employees of a company. You have tables called "Company", "Employee", "Department", "Position". An Employee is joined to a Department by placing the appropriate Department ID into the Employee table. That enforces a relationship. A Department will probably have a single Employee with a Position of value "manager". By virtue of the Employee being joined to the Department and another Employee with Position of "manager" also being joined to the same Department, we represent the fact that one Employee is the manager of another Employee. This is a typical example of a relationship between entities in a relational database.

The key point is, both Employee and Department are entities. The primary purpose of Department is to represent relationships between Employees and the Company (which are also entities), but that doesn't mean that Department is not also an Entity.

Bringing this back to our proposed data model for the study of ethics -- a data model that might be used to map legal disputes, let's say, or to record events in history such as wars or trade agreements -- there is no question that an entity like Actor must exist. As you say, John, a database must be efficient so that it can perform reliably and speedily. If our "ethics" database only contained an entity called "Person", then the level of computational complexity required to model actual real world activities would be through the roof. Furthermore, it would be unable to model certain activities that involve Group-level attributes that don't exist at all at the Person level.

So, yes, a Group is a relational concept. But it is also an entity. It's not correct to say that a type of data that describes a relationship is not an entity in itself. A Group is an entity just like a Person is an entity.

Does this help explain what I'm getting at, John?

(Please note that, in the notation I am using here, I am using upper-case to denote the name of any database object (Employee, Actor, etc.). When I discuss the SQL table directly -- not the data object, but the table that contains all available objects of that class -- I put quotes around it ("Employee", "Actor"). I am trying to use a consistent notation to make sure I am communicating as clearly as possible.)

by John Woods on

Levi,

I do understand you quite well. I do not however think you are understanding me.

In the realm of metaphysics, you must reduce down to the irreducible primary to get at "existence".

In the realm of epistemology, you can build whatever heirarchy of concepts you wish to build in order to help you interpret reality.

I am basically trying to tell you that epistemology and metaphysics are NOT the same thing, they are entirely different, and your database model pertains to the realm of epistemology directly and only indirectly to metaphysics.

So it is in the realm of actual existence (metaphysics), not database models (epistemology) that groups or departments are just individuals sharing goals or values, etc. (primary and foriegn keys).

But you keep on trying to give "physical existence" to "epistemological constructs", and this is where I cannot allow you to pass. It is a grave error.

by Levi Asher on

John, you're right that I don't understand -- at least I don't understand what you just wrote.

I don't think we're talking about epistemology (theory of knowledge) at all. We are talking about ethics.

Please explain what you mean -- your last post has left me thoroughly confused.

by Subject Sigma on

Dear sirs,

After following closely those posts about egoism and altruism since January, Levi convinced me to join the public discussion. I did read with great interest the novels of Ayn Rand and also many of her philosophical essays, and "Why Ayn Rand is wrong" of Levi. I am a bit "weak" on the "altruist" side, but I am going to read William James.

I am very positively impressed by the level and the tone of this confrontation, it is a bright example of the possibility of dialog between very different positions; in the same way I was impressed by Levi that in his book showed full respect for Ayn Rand philosophy and person.

There is still something that I cannot understand.

"We don't ever want to submit any part of our individual selves to our collective selves"

Can someone tell me who is the author of this statement?

by John Woods on

Levi, Levi, Levi....

Listen closely. Metaphysics is the study of existence.

It answers the question "what is out there?"

Epistemology can be described as the theory of knowledge, it answers the question, "and how do you know it?" Clearly epistemology is dependent upon metaphysics. Because if there is nothing to have knowledge of, then there is no way to have knowledge of anything. How do we explain how we know anything? We speak based upon the mental contents in our minds. We pull from concepts which can be properly formed (correct), or they can be mis-conceptions (wrong). How do we validate our concepts? By using logic and breaking our conceptual understanding "against" reality. (metaphysics). This is the basic premise of the scientific method.

Ethics finally answers the question, how should we live? But we can only answer a question like this based on what we know. So that if we do not have a proper formulation of metaphysics and epistemology then we have no hope of knowing how to live or why.

Using your examples of a data model in the computational universe, it's equivalent in philosophy is unmistakably epistemology, and it is restricted to that realm.

For example. You can build a data model which doesn't reflect reality at all, just like you can hold a conceptual framework (epistemology) that does not correlate with metaphysics whatsoever.

When you do this you are in a horrible position, of having any clue how to live your life (ethics).

These subjects are massively interrelated and demand proper conclusions in all branches so you don't wind up with a terrible contradiction in your thought process. So they have "everything" to do with each other. But your data model example clearly belongs to the realm of epistemology in a philosophical sense.

Getting my point now?

by John Woods on

Sigma:

That statement could never be attributed to me as I do not believe in the concept of a collective self, I believe this to be an egregious falsehood.

by Levi Asher on

John, I get the point that you are totally changing the subject. Unfortunately, I'm not hearing anything from you that relates to the topic we're discussing.

We're not trying to figure out "what is ethics" or "how does ethics relate to metaphysics and epistemology". I know that Objectivists love to talk about metaphysics and epistemology. But we are trying to actually answer a question, which is, is the Egoist premise correct or not?

I presented a data model to show that the primary entities in a hypothetical "human activity database" would be polymorphic objects representing either individual people or groups. My point is that, while it's simple and pleasing to say that all human activity is directly associated with individuals, in real life many human activities revolve around the intentions, goals, decisions and motivations of groups of people. This is why Ayn Rand's thoroughly individual-oriented philosophy simply lacks the sophistication to reflect actual life.

Can you please respond to this? We can leave metaphysics and epistemology for another day, please.

by John Woods on

Levi:

No we cannot leave them out of the discussion.

That is called context dropping.

You do not seem to understand that in a objectivist philosophy the reason we talk about metaphysics and epistemology, is because we are trying to drill down to reality to see if what you are saying is true or false. So it has everything to do with ethics.

Your quote: "My point is that, while it's simple and pleasing to say that all human activity is directly associated with individuals"

My response to this is that, all human activity CAN ONLY BE associated with individuals, because they are the only existent in reality. Even if you need a concept called a "group" to give your mind a place holder for several people which happen to hold the same values. There still is no metaphysical entity called a group.

Those individuals may share values and choose to do the same things, but the only existents are individual human beings.

by Subject Sigma on

John, your reply to me is quite curious, as the quote is from Levi's book...

by Levi Asher on

John, I find that answer satisfying. It's clear that you and I disagree, but at least I think we're agreeing on what were disagreeing about. That means something.

Sigma, it was very consistent of John to object to that statement from my book, since he objects to my book. So what do you think of that statement?

by Subject Sigma on

I still cannot understand... excuse me if I reply with a question, Levi, maybe the last one, but how do you call someone who wants to be unhappy or to make something bad for him?

by Levi Asher on

A masochist?

by Subject Sigma on

So, by Levi's standard, someone who does not pursue his individual happiness is a masochist. This looks really like a demonstration by reductio ad absurdum of the "first principle" of Psychological Egoism.

That's about your first premise.

The second premise, aka back to the Battle of Gettysburg. Again, you are stating that a molecule can define reality better than atoms. In a strict scientific method, is the simpler argument that wins. Groups cannot explain everything, individuals can if you have the patience to calculate the relations between them. Unless you pretend that an oversimplified model with few parameters is better than one with more elements and parameters in describing the reality, that was your argument in the Gettysburg battle. It can be better for computational purposes, but to say that it is describing better the reality, that is a different story.

The third premise, as you state it, uses the term "self-interest" in a manner that I think is different from the one intended by Ayn Rand.

As already stated by mtmynd, I am afraid that we are confusing egoism and egotism.

We cannot speak about Rand egoism using the wikipedia definition of egoism. Reading the Rand novels, it is difficult to state that "our consciousness must be limited to consciousness of our individual and independent selves". Sure if you use a strict definition for consciousness as "relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts", as result of "sensory inputs" from our senses, our consciousness is strictly individual. But if "consciousness" means "awareness" and interest, it is impossible to miss the deep interactions, sentiments and importance that the characters of Rand's novels have for "others", as they are one of the main drive of the novels. If you remove the love from any Rand novel, you keep almost nothing, and love cannot exist, even on Rand world, without the care for an other person. Then, this love is "positive", given with free will and not as enchainment, so it is not a "slavery" but an "enhancement" for the self. Rand love is "pure", is an act of complete free will, the opposite of the "do ut des" (doing something for achieving back something else) and of morbid sentimental bonds where one person is enslaved to the other.

In "We, the Living", think about Kira's actions ... can you say that "the scope of a person's desire and concern and action and motivation must be limited to the scope of the person's individual and independent self" when she is doing everything to save Leo? Or about Hank Rearden when he is trying to find the disappeared Dagny Taggart? You can, only if you admit that the "self interest" is much more than the wikipedia definition of egoism, is much more than the "self interest" you use in your third premise.

The society is necessary for the Randian man, that is able to produce and to reach his goal through the "trade" with other men. The society of men is the only means to avoid violence, (as government is the only one allowed to use force, just to protect his citizens from inside or outside violence and to grant honest trade) and so the only means that allows the Randian man to live "by his own standards" without being killed or cheated by the first bully passing by. If you read Rand's novels you cannot miss the continuous interaction with, and the importance given to the society. The Randian man is a social man: he will not be able to build railroads if not hiring and paying workers and engineers, and being payed by industrialist to transport their products. He will not be able to search his own happiness outside a society, and you can see well this when in Atlas Shrugged Dagny self-exiled herself in the mountain estate; as you can understand reading Rand's "For the New Intellectuals".

As you stated, Levi, check your premises. And check Ayn's premises.

She was fleeing from communist Russia, and if you read "We the Living" you can understand better her feelings (she admitted that book was close to an autobiography).

She re-stated the terms egoism, selfishness and self interest, and she built her philosophy as protection for the horrors and aberration of communism (and of any totalitarian regime). Her main drive was to formulate a system to protect man from repeating those mistakes, from being enslaved, from becoming a parasite, from being dependent not on his own work but on the statal charity, like russian citizens bounded by the food rations decided by communists, independently by their works or efforts. You can really read her fear of this in her books. Forget for one moment lassez-faire capitalism and Alan Greenspan: as Ayn stated, compromises and errors may stand on the realm of concrete actions, as imperfect implementation of the ethics.

If you keep referring to egotism as egoism, and to use wikipedia (or stanford or wathever else) definitions of terms, I think you will never understand the real Ayn Rand.

I don't see myself as an Objectivist or a "complete" Egoist. I think to be a religious person, and I feel much closer to Egoism than to Altruism or Collectivism (as stated in Rand terms). That is because Egoism is not "the end" of my life, is just "the base"; then, from my self, can start a communion with others, that does not in any way impair, reduce or bypass my self, but enhance it. And this "communion" is NEVER denied, hidden or forbidden by Ayn Rand untill those don't threaten to subjugate and enslave the self; the relations of the characters in her novels are really clear about that, and so often forgotten.

In my sentimental experience, the only time I "sacrificed" myself for another person, the only time I removed my "self" believing in a "we", the end was bad for both.

So, that is the outcome of months of reflections about Levi's and Ayn's books and those discussions.

by Levi Asher on

Sigma, thanks for your comments. I appreciate the thought you've given this, though I think we are in strong disagreement on two points.

First, no, a person is definitely not a masochist if they don't only pursue individual happiness! A person might be a masochist is they pursue individual misery. But a person who wishes to pursue individual happiness as well as the happiness of his or her loved ones (which is the case I'm talking about) is not pursuing misery or unhappiness at all.

Second, this: "Groups cannot explain everything, individuals can if you have the patience to calculate the relations between them." You are referring here to my proposed "ethics data model", where I have pointed out that the primary data object that makes decisions, takes actions, pursues goals and evaluates results is not an individual person but rather an "actor" which might be a person or a group. And your response (which you've said to me in private email before) is that, even if the data model can be more efficient by using the concept of "actor" rather than "person", the same resulting behavior can be created within the data model using only the concept of "person".

But I don't think this is true. For an example, I'll use the same example we've used before: a hopeless military charge by a large number of soldiers, such as the legendary Pickett's Charge at the Battle of Gettysburg. As I pointed out before, observers of this momentous battle all said that the Confederate divisions moved steadily, confidently and without any sign of fear across an open field towards a visible and well-entrenched enemy.

It's easy to model this behavior in a database as long as you employ groups as actors. It's understood that all the individual soldiers voluntarily became members of a group -- "Pickett's Divisions". Their membership in the group allowed the individuals to act in ways in which they could not have conceivably acted without the "group chemistry".

But I don't think any formula can possibly achieve the same result without employing the central concept of a group. My point is that the groups we join change us. When we are acting within a group, we act in ways that we could not conceive of if we were acting individually. Thus, I don't think you're correct when you say that the same results could be obtained without introducing the structure of the group into the database. Does this make sense, Sigma, and are we talking about the same thing here? I want to make sure I understand your objection fully.

by John Woods on

Subject Sigma.... I have a few words for you!!!!!

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

Peace out!

by Subject Sigma on

First point.

You said "a person is definitely not a masochist if they don't only pursue individual happiness!". That "only" is very important and I think is the reason of the struggle. It is correct to say "A person that don't pursue individual happiness is masochist"? Without the "only"!

I explain better my point: Ayn Rand never told that you need to pursue "only" your individual happiness. It is you adding the "only" to the discussion. For me the important point of Ayn Rand is that the pursue of other people's happiness must not go against the personal happiness. If you do a "sacrifice" (I use quotation marks because here I use the word "sacrifice" in his "common" meaning, that is different from Rand meaning) you are doing something that, in first instance, you dont like, for another person. Usually, this will be intended as an act of altruism. If you do a "sacrifice" for a person you love, because you want to see this person happy (or because you want to help that person, or for any other reason decided by your free will), for Objectivistic ethics you are NOT doing an act of altruism. You are doing an act of free will that will make you happy in second instance, because you really wanted to help that person. You wanted to help that person so much, that you decided helping that person was "worth" the "sacrifice" of your momentary well being. If you are willing to give away some of your money to the paupers, because you believe this will help the whole society improve, by Randian ethics this is not altruism, this is a selfish act.
So, for the Objectivistic point of view, there is nothing "wrong" in striving for the happiness of other people, as long as you rationally decide with your free will that the struggle is worth of something for you.

To use your own words, "a person who wishes to pursue individual happiness as well as the happiness of his or her loved ones (which is the case I'm talking about) is not pursuing misery or unhappiness at all." and that is perfectly accepted by the Egoism. Most of the characters of Ayn Rand novels, also the main ones, the "Randian Heroes", are living with this values.

Second point.

Yes I think we are talking about the same thing. I think that, especially on the Pickett's Division, you can obtain the same results without introducing group attributes. For this precise example, introduce the "morale" individual attribute, and the relationship between soldiers and Pickett. Pickett the individual has the "power" to boost the morale of the soldiers, as individuals, to follow him. Introduce also the "fear" attribute. Individuals that dont have high enough morale also after Pickett intervention, have so high fear (of getting prosecuted as traitors or of getting killed anyway by the enemy) that decides individually to follow the march. You need no "group chemistry", that is just a "shortcut" to accelerate and simplify computational process.

For sure "the group we join changes us". But "the group" is a number of individuals with relations between them, and they are the relations between them and us that "changes us". For sure the "response" of an individual to an event, when he is alone, is different to the response of the same individual to the same event when he is inside a group. But this is because of the relations between the individual and the other individuals of the group. Eg. the proximity of other soldiers increases the individual "morale" attribute of each Pickett's infantryman.

by Levi Asher on

Sigma, I think you're using the term "masochist" in a very loose way. The term most commonly refers to a sexual deviance in which a person is turned on by pain, or by punishment. So, a masochist (in this sense) is actually pursuing sexual pleasure via suffering.

More importantly, the reason I added "only" to help me process your statement is that I never suggested that a person shouldn't pursue individual happiness. I just suggested that a person will often pursue personal happiness as well as happiness of his or her loved ones, as well as happiness for every living thing in the world.

It sounds like you're saying that you think we only pursue the happiness of our loved ones because it brings personal happiness. Well, this is a common statement, and a pillar of Egoism -- and all I can say at this point is no, no, no, a million times no! I cannot understand why you or anyone would consider this a valid statement. When I wish for the happiness of my loved ones (and of every person in the world), I am not wishing it for the sake of my personal happiness. I am simply wishing their happiness, with no regard to my own happiness. I would really appreciate it if you or anyone else could explain why you think it's necessary or meaningful to say that Person A can only wish for Person B's happiness for the sake of Person A's own happiness. Isn't it a more simple and direct truth to say that Person A wishes for Person B's happiness, and leave it at that?

Sigma, I appeal to simplicity again with regard to Pickett's Charge and your formula of morale and fear and power and inspiration. I appreciate you spelling out how you think this formula would operate, but I wonder, what is wrong with the formula I am presenting, which is that individuals become members of groups, and thus begin to behave and think according to the intentions and goals of the group? Isn't my formula explain the same phenomena with greater simplicity, and isn't it thus more likely to be the more accurate explanation? Why would you choose the formula you are presenting over the formula I am presenting?

Thanks again, all, for the responses -- and Sigma, I'm glad you got a Bravo from John -- I still haven't gotten one from him but I'm still trying.

by Subject Sigma on

I restate one of my premises.

I am a bit "weak" on the "altruist" side, but I am going to read William James. At the moment I can not understand how altruism-collectivism-common thinking-put_the_name_here works. Maybe I will find there a good critique and another system working as well as objectivistic one.

Second point (because it is "quicker")

The appeal to simplicity is just "not enough". The fact that one theory is simpler than another is not enough to proof that one is wrong and the other correct.

The formula you are presenting has nothing wrong: it can work, at the same way as the individualistic one can work. So this argument does not prove anything. As I said, it is 1-1, draw match. From my point of view, it is just a different level of simplification in simulating (or modeling, if you like more this term) a system.

I try again with an example that is very clear for me, but may be obscure for others ... I try anyway.

The relation between steering angle and car cornering at constant speed may appear as linear. You steer 0 degrees and the car rotates 0 degrees, you steer 10° and the car rotates 1°, you steer 20° and the car rotates 2°. So it would appear correct to use a linear model. You can use also a non-linear model, but this is more complex, so with your method the linear model is "correct" and the non-linear is not. But then you steer 40°, and the car does not rotate 4°, but just 3°; you steer 80° and the car rotates just 2° (understeer!). So now it appears that the linear model was an over-simplification, and the non-linear model is still correct.

What is wrong with the linear model? Nothing, untill you use it under 20° of steering. Is the linear model worse than the non-linear, under 20°? No, the result is the same, and the linear is also easier for computing. But this does not prove that the linear model is "true" and the "non linear" is false. I hope that example was understandable ...

You can get the same results for any model: you can have different levels of abstraction and detail. Usually more detail (individuals) requires more computing power and better characterization of relationships between elements; more abstractions (groups) are more economic for computing but are valid just under limited circumstances (when the behavior of individuals remain constant ... a bit like psychohistory, if you know Asimov's Foundation, or like statistics).

And the fact that a model seems good can help us to predict or calculate the reality, but is not a proof that the reality is like the model. So for all those reasons, as previously explained, the model analogy is not, in my opinion, a "proof" to convince that individualistic or collectivistic system is "better" or more corresponding to reality.

For the first point, you are right, I used the term "masochistic" in a very loose way; but it is a way that is coherent with your answer to my question, and was usefull to prove my point.

I don't want to say that we pursue the happiness of others just for the sake of our self happiness. I think that, when you truly pursue the happiness of another person, it is impossible to avoid to "get" a bit of happiness also for yourself. If you care for a person, how can you be sad about helping him, also if this cost you some struggle?

If you really hate a person, how can you desire his happiness?

I think there is a common "misunderstanding" of the term "egoism". I think that, Levi, you are still using "egoism" as in the "common language" (like egotism), and that is very different from Ayn Rand meaning of egoism.

Try to read the "egoism" like this: if you love a person and struggle for his happiness, you cannot feel sad about what you are doing, because you love him/her and you are willing to make a "sacrifice" (not in Randian terms) for his/her happiness. Every time you help someone you love, you cannot avoid being happy yourself!

If you do a sacrifice for "helping" a person you dislike, in the deep of yourself you would not do that sacrifice, and you cannot be happy.

It is not the "bad" thing that you do just things for your self interest, that you are not able to go over your nose, that you are "selfish" in the strict (not Randian) meaning of the word - it just happens that when you do something noble for someone you care, in complete free willingness, that makes also you nobler and happier.

And that is exactly what happened to Kira in "We the Living"!

Now it sounds very different, but logically it is the same thing, just from the opposite point of view. For the poor Ayn, fleeing from Russia and terrified by horrors of Nazis and Communists, it was much more clear as seen on the other direction, but it is the same.

So, now, can you start trying Egoism from another point of view, trying to discard the common meaning of that word and the common "bad shadow" that common sense attaches to the words "selfishness" and "egoism"?

by John Woods on

Levi:

You do get a bravo from me for effort but not for content. :-)

by Levi Asher on

Sigma, that's a really great example, and I agree that in technology and engineering (and, therefore, in real life) no single model must be true at the expense of others, and actually competing models can be valid at the same time, each applicable in certain situations.

In fact, I don't ever claim to have a proof or a model so convincing that it will change the minds of devoted Randians or Egoists for whom the Egoist model is fully satisfying. As I emphasize in my book, I am mainly trying to show that the Egoist position isn't a necessary but a voluntary one. I wrote "Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong" because I was annoyed and offended by the Randian position that her ethical system is the only possible valid system. Will you agree with me that both the Egoist and non-Egoist models may be rationally accepted, like the two engineering models you describe above?

As for the terms Egoism and Egotism, I will think about your suggestion.

I hope you do read William James, though I want to clarify that he is not the source of much writing on altruism - epistemology rather than ethics was his primary field.

For great writing on altruism, I'd suggest M. Gandhi as a great writer to start with, and perhaps some classic Buddhist texts. This is where you might find a rewarding source of anti-Egoist writings -- or, as I mention above, perhaps Dostoevsky. As for modern philosophers on the subject, there have not been enough, and this is a problem I'd like to help solve.

by mnaz on

rand was right about totalitarian communism of course. duh . . . but this does not mean that collectivism has no place or value. ultimately, as we multiply exponentially and tax the planet to ever-greater heights, the point will be made for us. profit will need to balance increasingly with the collective, lest the entire system begin to fail.

by John Woods on

Levi;

Ayn Rand was right that her philosophy is the only rational position for a human being to take. Her system required that you think for youself. Being inside of a group, does not merge you into a group self, or give you a group mind. You must always keep ahold of your responsibility to think for youself.

That is your tool of survival. To surrender that tool to any collective or group is irrational.

Even when you are existing inside of a group, you do not lose the requirement that if you want to be rational you must be clear thinking in a first handed manner against every problem/challenege that you face.

To fail in this regard, is irrational. I agree with her 100%.

A = A. The law of identity.
The law of non-contradiction.

They are foundational to the entire universe.

There is no way to make collectivism and individualism compatible, and both cannot be right at the same time. To accept this, demolishes the law of non-contradiction, wipes out the law of identity and therefore reality.

It is a terrible confusion.

by John Woods on

Mnaz:

If by collectivism you mean the surrender of your mind to a group self, then that is moral bankruptcy.

After all, morality defines what is proper to man from the perspective of making choices.

The moment you place your mind in a secondary position to some "invented" "group self" you are in the position of a second hander, as opposed to staring at reality with your own two eyes.

You have to think for youself. You have to make decisions for yourself.

If you happen to share values with someone else, on a given topic, at a given time, then that is not collectivism, you still retain individual control over your own thought process.

That is the point.

There are great many people pushing collectivism in order to intentionally get in the back seat of their mental faculty, and evade the responsibility for their own lives and judgement of what is good or evil for them.

That part is irrational.

by Levi Asher on

John, every time you state the Randian/Objectivist position, you talk about what we should do. But an ethical philosophy must not only sound good as an idealistic prescription. It has to actually work in real life.

One of the reasons so many people (like me) react negatively to the Ayn Rand principle of selfish ethics is that we don't see a track record of success. Ayn Rand herself was a very successful writer, even heroic in her rise from rags to riches -- and yet every biographer has pointed out that she herself became highly emotional dependent on her partner, Nathaniel Branden, and became irrational when he wished to leave her. Likewise, in a completely different vein, the continued attempt by devoted Republican Randians like Ronald Reagan, Alan Greenspan and Paul Ryan to apply Randian principles (supply side economics, reduced regulations of the financial industry) into practice in the USA has resulted in soaring budget deficits, ruinous economic crashes, and unpalatable proposals. So, John, can you please speak not to the wonders of Ayn Rand's philosophy as a perfect ideal, but to the actual track record of Randian practices? All evidence seems to indicate that human beings simply don't function according to Ayn Rand's rules of life.

by John Woods on

Levi;

Now we are reaching common ground. I agree that there are "very few" people who can live up to a philosophy that is a logically sound as Objectivism. But this still does not make the philosophy untrue. Did you also know that Ayn Rand was constantly asking herself what would Hank Rearden or John Galt do in these situations? In her momentary lapses, she always attempted to get back on track very quickly.

Also, I think you have things wrong about Branden. In fact, if you read enough about them, you will find that as soon as she discovered he was lying to her, she broke off all relations with him, and there were numerous attempts by people close to Branden to attempt a reconciliation and she would not meet with him under any circumstances. The only exception is that when his wife passed away (I believe she drowned), Ms. Rand sent Nathan a sympathy card. But beyond that she would have nothing more to do with him.

It maybe true that someone cannot be perfect all the time. But this doesn't mean that you shouldn't try or that the philosophy isn't completely logically coherent, sound, and able to be practiced by people.

So if you are going to set a standard of "perfect adherence" as the only way that a philosophy can be valid, then I think we would have to throw every single one of them out. Wouldn't you agree?

This means alot to me because it is something I have been thinking about very deeply in the past few weeks. To give it to you briefly, I liken Ms. Rand's philosophical conclusions to be based on Aristotle's logic (syllogism). I believe that she was following a logical tree to reach her conclusions step by step, and many times when she found answers she was every bit as astounded as any of us are to read about them. I do not think she always knew where her studies would take her, but she was very good at following them to their logical conclusions. I would love to find someone who could prove that her logic and reasoning was incorrect, but I have yet too.

This is in the realm of epistemology. (there's that word again). In my mind this sets far above what you or I think about anything. It's more like math because it is drawn from premises and reaches logical conclusions one step at a time. If the problem solving is sound then the answer will be right.

Two levels below that you have a realm called Psychology (well known to William James), and this area deals with how the human being is experiencing reality from inside their minds. Epistemology (properly done) sits well above psychology and is more like a translation of reality based on facts and validated by logic.

Ms. Rand tried to create a new category called psycho-epistemology which would get closer to explaining how a mind would interpret or agree or rebel against an fully objective epistemology. I believe this is what she an Branden had been working on. She was doing the epistemological work and he was doing the psychological work and they were trying to connect the two fields. I think she was largely successful.

None of that changes that she was still a human being, she was still striving and trying to live up to these discoveries she had made. She believed the philosphy she discovered was the only rational course, not only for everyone else but for her self as well.

She was fallible just like anyone else, but she did not believe that her logic/epistemology was fallible anymore than you would believe you were wrong if you had done a math problem in multiplication and then validated it using division (inversion).

It is not her fault that 12 times 12 equals 144 always, precisely, and exactly, no matter who is doing the math problem. You rebel against these findings because you think she is arrogant, but I view arrogant as someone trying to pretend they've got something that they don't. She did not have to be arrogant, but she was absolutely convinced that she was right.

And I totally agree with her, even if some people fail to live up to the standards she discovered. Yes, even if she failed to live up to them as well at some points.

Lastly, I think she was far more consistent in her philosophical beliefs and the way she lived her life, than about anyone I can think of....

by Levi Asher on

John, thanks for this direct and convincing answer. I really think you are a credit to the Objectivist community, because you not only have conviction (a lot of Objectivists have conviction) but also the patience and ability to discuss your principles with non-Objectivists like me in a calm and reasonable way. I think this is great. If I were Yaron Brook or Leonard Peikoff or any of the other high-ranking Objectivists, I would hire you to go around the world speaking for the cause.

I definitely agree that it is not to Ayn Rand's discredit that she had a few rough moments in her private life, and it does appear that she handled these problems in a way that is completely respectable and consistent with her philosophy.

But, with all this said, I still need to challenge you on one point. You say: "I would love to find someone who could prove that her logic and reasoning was incorrect, but I have yet too."

I have made a particular point to you several times, and each time you have either scoffed at my point, dismissed it, or smothered it in long paragraphs about metaphysics or epistemology. But you never addressed it directly, and this point does show the one premise Ayn Rand accepted as certain and absolute without providing any evidence that it is certain or absolute. I'm going to say this again, and I plead with you to address it directly. Until you do so, I don't think you can fairly say that I have not proven her logic and reasoning incorrect.

Here is my point, which I hope you will counter directly.

Ayn Rand believes that the only primary goal of a person's life is to seek their own individual well-being and happiness. Yet many of us have an instinctual sense that we wish the well-being and happiness of others, and of all living things. We do not feel that this is a secondary or derived wish, but rather that it is a primary wish, existing alongside our wish for our own individual well-being and happiness. Why do you and Ayn Rand believe we must be deluded if we believe we care directly not only for the well-being and happiness or our private selves but also for the well-being and happiness of others?

by John Woods on

Levi:

Thank you.

When I read your reply I have a mental image of Ayn Rand towering about 10 stories above you and William James both staring directly into reality and translating that into an objective epistemology.

Then several levels down there are you and William James attempting to throw a lasso up around her epistemology and drag it down into your psychological realm because "it feels better" which is what you actually mean by "it works better".

Finally. You have stated all through these debates that you cannot prove your assertions.

So I hold that I have never found anyone to overturn her arguments, even you. There certainly is no evidence or proof here.

If your mind will not allow you to fully grasp the field of epistemology then you are not entitled to shrink the whole field, and certainly not because it feels better.

In the debate of primacy of existence vs primacy of consciousness. Ayn Rand and objectivists are on one side (which I believe is true philosophy- without context dropping, taking all of reality into account) and Levi and Carl Jung and William James are on the other which probably does make you feel better but since you must blank out entire branches of philosophy (metaphysics and epistemology) in order to hold your ethical positions and then when reality backfires against you and William James claims then it is okay to hold contradictions. The whole thing sounds like one huge evasion. It also has to result in you falling into subjectivism at some point because without reality (metaphysics) an without knowledge (epistemology) there can be no objectivity.

Since when did feelings, introspection, or subjectivism become the standard of knowledge?

I cannot make 2+2=7, no matter how badly you want that, or how nice you are, or how it might work better for this problem you are working on, etc.

by Levi Asher on

So, John, once again you are not refuting my objection.

My objection is to Ayn Rand's statement that her ethical principles are the only valid and rational principles. I am asserting an opposite ethical principle -- one in which individuals wish primarily and directly for the well-being of others as well as for the well-being of themselves -- and pointing out that Ayn Rand has never proved that her assertion is better than mine, nor has she pointed out any inconsistency or logical flaw with my principle. You have also never proved Rand's principle or pointed out a flaw with the principle I am stating (which happens to be a very popular principle, and a foundational truth within many religions and belief systems).

So, we are left to conclude that my principle and Rand's are on equal standing, as far as rational proof is concerned. Neither system of principles can be proved or disproved. Neither can be declared either rational or irrational on purely logical grounds.

I'm happy to leave it at this -- thanks.

You say "Since when did feelings, introspection, or subjectivism become the standard of knowledge?". Well, logic and factual evidence trump feelings and subjectivism. But since we've now agreed that there is no logical certainty or factual evidence to bolster the assertion that "the sole purpose of a person's life must be limited to the pursuit of that person's individual happiness", each person will look for wider grounds upon which to judge the assertion.

Finally, as I've said before, if you're going to "condemn me" to stand on the same debased ground as the great philosopher William James, I'll stand proudly on that pantheon! You could hardly give me a better compliment.

by John Woods on

Levi:

You are evading in order to give your assertion equal footing. This is not proper.

Let's start with basic premises and work our way through it.

Ayn Rand's position is not required to prove or disprove your statement. Only her own.

Which is that we pursue our own happiness. True or False? True. I think that everyone in these debates including you have agreed to this assertion. There is no debate here.

Now you must prove your own statement.

Which is that we pursue happiness of others on equal footing with our own. So now we move onto where your proof is for this statement? You say that even when we are making other people happy, it has nothing to do with our own value heirarchy but just for their own sake. Where is your proof for this statement? If someone claims that they can do this (via a group mind or something of the kind), then are they being truthful or not? Do they have the ability to jump outside of themselves and value something for someone else irrespective of their own value heirarchy? Where is your proof for making this statement? Is it rational to make these sorts of claims? Where is your proof?

We know that it is possible and rational to do what Ayn Rand is talking about because nobody doubts that we all have our own internal values heirarchy, and that we are in full contact with that mechanism at all times. This is self-evident to everyone.

What you are asserting is NOT self evident, and so you need to prove it. You cannot assert the inability to prove you are wrong as prove that you are right. The burden of proof is on the one who asserts the positive.

by mtmynd on

Re: "Ayn Rand was right that her philosophy is the only rational position for a human being to take. Her system required that you think for yourself."

It's not enough that one thinks for themselves but what it is that they think of themselves... something that was amiss with Ms Rand. If someone acts on their thoughts regardless how others may think of those thoughts does not necessarily make an authentic individual worthy of respect, wouldn't you agree?

Additionally, thinking FOR yourself always requires outside influences that add to one's own personality. One is unable to think for oneself in complete isolation successfully.

Say, Subject Sigma, are you familiar with Project Sigma of which William S. Burroughs wrote about in his letters?

by Levi Asher on

John, I'm happy to present several inferential proofs that my proposed ethical position (which contradicts Ayn Rand's) is possible and probable. First, there's the most obvious evidence: human behavior as we all observe it. Every society on earth is highly group-oriented -- families, ethnic tribes, nations, political parties, churches, social identities gained through artistic affinities, etc. etc. -- and the behavior of these groups invariably shows a high degree of group-directed motivation. That is, members of a group don't act in such a way as to maximize private individual happiness within a group, but rather act in such a way as to further the goals of the group. The evidence for this is all around you. Ayn Rand saw this too, and raged against it -- but for some reason she was blind to the fact that members of a group do not act for the group in order to maximize private happiness, but rather that they act for the group because they relate directly to the goals of the group.

Second, I'll cite the cultural historical evidence of well-known religious texts from the beginning of time to now, so many of which emphasize notions like "the universe is within you" or "love thy neighbor as you love yourself". I'll also cite the similar evidence of political groups which also emphasize group unity -- "E Pluribus Unum", etc.

Along with this, I'll mention again the three proofs I presented in my book "Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong".

John, you may object that all my proofs are inferential rather than logical. I am sure that it is not possible to prove logically or a priori what the ethical purpose of human life is. In the absence of a logical or a priori proof, we look for empirical evidence to help us find the best answers. (This is exactly the point of my Premise #2 in the original blog post above.)

by Austin on

I've enjoyed this back and forth.

As far as rigor goes, I'm afraid Mr. Woods has you over a barrel Mr. Asher. That however, does not make his position infallible. I would suggest you avail yourself of alternative metaphysical premises put forward by the likes of Deleuze and Derrida, et al. There are some very seductive systems of thought that place relationships, as opposed to entities, in a primary position in the makeup of reality. This, I think is the crux of your argument. You've got some all star thinkers on your team Levi, pull them off the bench.

by Levi Asher on

Austin, if you can help my argument with some Deleuze and Derrida, please jump right in. If my argument seems to be lacking in rigor, that's because it's hard work writing these blog posts and fielding some very smart responses that come my way. I can use help, sure. I'll check out Deleuze and refresh my Derrida ... but feel free to present some relevant quotes here yourself.

Also, in terms of rigot -- I presented three premises and a conclusion above. If you think there is a weak premise here, please tell me which it is. I see plenty of rigor in this argument, and I don't think anybody's laid a gove on any of the three premises. So I feel pretty good about my side of this argument.

by phil on

At the risk of really sounding idiotic, I would like to inject my reaction. I get both points. The Randian view seems to want rigor, while Levi's view wants something a bit more real. Its almost as if Levi wants to prove at what level philosophy can and should be thought of to make it truly useful. With respect to ethics (lower case intended), complete rigor is almost beside the point. In the end, who computes life decisions based on the ability to reduce their decision to complete personal terms? And if you could, how would that make any difference?

I've been following Litkicks for years and have grown fond of Levi because I can see some very deep parallels between our lives, everything from age to our technological professions to a great appreciation for literature and particularly the Beats (though I still think Gatsby is about the best piece of 20th lit every written).

One of the perspectives I think we share comes from growing up in the fruition of the wide societal changes in the US, witnessed by Vietnam, free love, women's rights, civil rights, the list of amazing changes (and ones which are ridiculously overlooked these days) is huge. Take for example, a supreme court made up of older white men determined that reparations should be made to a class of people (blacks) at the expense of their own kind (e.g. the Civil Rights Act of 1964). One could argue that their hand was forced, but I believe that if you looked into the hearts of these people, they understood the deeper ethics of votes like this, and those ethics had nothing to do with their own personal lives. You might also argue that they had in mind their own legacy and got from that the required Randian personal pleasure.

I quote The Whiskey Priest from Graham Greene's novel The Power and the Glory: "Hate is a lack of imagination." What this tells me is that if, instead of hating someone, you look deep enough into the mind of someone you hate, you'll find reasons for why they behaved in a hateful way. Not that punishment would be eliminated by this knowledge, but that understanding would be gained, and from that solutions could be found. This is where a more practical view of what I see as the Randian point of view falls apart. Who, with only so much time and attention, would seek this kind of understanding of others, if their approach were mainly informed by Egoism?

by John Woods on

Phil,

At the risk of making enemies here, your post is totally and completely ridiculous.

First, the whole point of an "objective" philosophy is so that it will actually work in reality. So there is no dichotomy between rigor and real. Unless you are suggesting that some method other than rigor will get you to the real. Like some sort of an ineffable trance?

But the latter part of your post is what is so unbelievably horrid. The idea that to segregate people based on their race (which is the stupidest criteria on planet earth) is somehow in alignment with Ms. Rand's philosophy of self interest is a ludicrous proposition!

What an terrible implicit slander and sluring of her ethics, either that or a complete and total misunderstanding.

There is no part of her philosophy that either grants status or takes it away from an individual based on their race. Only their ideas, their ethics, their production, only the real fundamentals, and even then her philosophy does not take away their freedom, it just points out logically that wrong ideas can lead to nothing but wrong practices and terrible consequences.

I just want to be very clear on this point that the underlying implication of your post is highly inaccurate and offensive to me in particular.

by John Woods on

Levi:

Allow me to demonstrate to YOU, some cultural historical evidence of political groups which also ephasize group unity. Then I will allow you to draw your own conclusions regarding the long range consequences of your doctrine or creed.

Pay particular attention to the ephasis on the "unobservable metaphysics" which is required to get off the ground with and perpetrate this great lie. For the record I place the concept of a "group self" in this same category, which would lead to the same result.

"The world seen through Fascism is not this material world which appears on the surface, in which man is an individual separated from all others and standing by himself, and in which he is governed by a natural law that makes him instinctively live a life of selfish and momentary pleasure. The man of Fascism is an individual who is nation and fatherland, which is a moral law, binding together individuals and the generations into a tradition and a mission, suppressing the instinct for a life enclosed within the brief round of pleasure in order to restore within duty a higher life free from the limits of time and space: a life in which the individual, through the denial of himself, through the sacrifice of his own private interests, through death itself, realizes that completely spiritual existence in which his value as a man lies."
-- Benito Mussolini

"To be a socialist is to submit the I to the Thou. Socialism is sacrificing the individual to the whole."
-- Joseph Goebbels

"In the hunt for their own happiness, people fall all the more out of heaven and into hell."
-- Adolf Hitler

by John Woods on

Levi:

Finally my point is not that men behave and have behaved in collectivist ways all through history, there is no doubt that this is true, and you are correct that Ayn Rand did rage against this concept. However, she did not rage against it on the grounds that it was impossible, but on the grounds that it was irrational.

It involved surrendering their thinking to the group, by such concepts as a group self or a group mind. Let me ask you a very practical question. What happens when you have a group of 20 people, and all 20 of them "outsource" their thinking process to the group or the "group mind"? Who then is doing the thinking?

If the answer is either NO ONE, or a STRONG MAN who claims to speak for the group. Then is it any wonder that in the first case that men lived on the brink of starvation and just before they perished they resorted to all sorts of desperation and even cannibalism all over the world for thousands of years? And in the second case of the STRONG MAN, is it any wonder that entire populations who swallowed this doctrine were swept into movements such as Nazism, Communism, or Socialism or any other variant of collectivism? What do these cases have in common? The victims surrendered their means of survival until disaster was directly upon them and by then it was too late.

by Subject Sigma on

Bill, no, I am sorry but I am not familiar with William S. Burroughs. I'm not that Sigma!

Mtmynd, the tHoughts of others can be useful but also very detrimental. What if people during the South African apartheid considered more the thoughts of white people rather than their own? What if a soldier reprimanded for no reason by a "Sgt Hartman" gave more importance to the sergent than to his self esteem?

It may be good to take into account also other people thoughts and point of view, but to relinquish the final decision to other people can be a leap into the void. John Woods explained this many times.

Phil, it is not question of reality versus theory or rigor. Objectivism may sound very rigorous and difficult, but this does not change the principles. I am almost sure it is not to get an "easier" way than Levi is criticizing Ayn Rand. Objectivism, also if rigorous and difficult, can be useful in real life. This principle is valid also for religions: it is very difficult to follow strictly a religion, if you do it you are "a saint"; so in your opinion there is no point in being religious if you cannot achieve the complete sanctity?

I really like the quote from Graham Greene, but I think it is completely unrelated to Objectivism. Randian egoism is not against trying to understand other people or to help them or to avoid solutions useful for both.

Again, I feel like many people are misunderstanding the Objectivistic principles and the meaning of "egoism" term, as intended by Ayn Rand. I feel like, when many people criticize the Objectivistic principles, they have in mind "egoism" like a little child that cries because he wants to keep for himself his own toys, and does not want to play with other children because he is afraid of losing his toys...Objectivist egoism is not that. Definitely not. Objectivist selfishness does not means thinking only about himself and acting like the only human being on the whole planet. Definitely not.

Subject Sigma, you have a good point when you say "Ayn Rand never said that you need to pursue 'only' your individual happiness." Thank you.

by Levi Asher on

This has been a great conversation -- and I hope it continues (though we also may wish to pick up on subsequent blog posts, when they are on similar topics).

I have a lot to say about several comments above.

First, an important point: Ayn Rand is very fuzzy on the question of "do we only pursue individual happiness". Whenever she addresses the question directly (which is not often, because she seemed to be uncomfortable with it), she seemed to employ a model in which a pursue other people's happiness only in so far as by doing so we are pursing our own individual happiness. Therefore, I definitely disagree with Subject Sigma that "Ayn Rand never said you need to pursue only your individual happiness".

John Wood, I absolutely agree that there is no racism in Objectivism or in Ayn Rand's ethics, and you're correct in defending her on this point. However, I think your reaction to Phil about this was a bit over the top. Why couldn't you simply correct him, without all the vitriol? I was just recently praising you for your ability to remain calm and patient while defending Objectivism (an ability that many Objectivists, and in fact many ethical philosophers of all persuasions, badly lack). I wish you had been calm and patient with Phil, who really only hinted at the possibility of a racist agenda within Objectivism, and was expressing a sincere (if mistaken) belief that there is a strong connection there.

And, John, yes, it's certainly true that collectivists have been responsible for many of the worst horrors of recent history -- and this was exactly the point of my latest blog post, which went up just before you posted these quotes. This is why I've been saying all along that, when I argue for greater understanding of collectivism, I am not arguing for a dumb descent into collectivism. I am arguing for a greater understanding of collectivism. The Ayn Rand approach to collectivism -- total rejection, as if we could just throw the human instinct to collectivism in the garbage and be done with it -- is too narrow and simplistic, and thus is often a barrier to this greater understanding.

by John Woods on

Levi,

You first have to understand that Ayn Rand was begining with the self-evident and proceeding from there, and she saw reasons to believe that we have our own internal value systems and we have direct access to that faculty. She did not see that we have direct access to others outside of our own value system and that is why she didn't raise the issue. You are trying to begin with her framework and extend that framework into something which I do not believe is supported by the metaphysics. So what you are trying to do by saying "she never said that we pursue only our own individual self interest" is to expand the theory beyond what I believe you have any evidence to support.

On the issue of Phil, I want to be clear here that we are talking about two elements of rhetoric: the first is substance and the second is style. What I found so revolting was the substance of his message rather than the style, and what you found off putting in my response was the style of my message and not the substance. However, my contention is that to slur the substance of a person's entire philosophy is FAR MORE offensive than to address someone very directly for such an egregious offense, because it is a fraud, and I would think that someone would be far more careful before they just started making those kinds of suggestions. Why? Because what Phil did is no different than a malicious software developer writing a virus to infect every computer on the internet. I don't know about you, but when a virus tries to infect my network, I usually do not play very nice with it. The goal is to shut it down. Phil's comments were the antithesis of every single thing that Ayn Rand stood for, so the attempt was to smash it from the inside using falsehoods. I felt like the situation called for a strong reaction and that is why I responded the way I did. My personal opinion is that he should retract his statement and apologize.

Finally, on the issue of collectivism, I must not allow you to get away so scot free on our latest round of arguments. You state that you are not calling for a dumb descent into collectivism, first we do agree that collectivism is a "descent" but on the issue of whether it's dumb or not you and I could not disagree more, because I think that is exactly what you are calling for you just do not realize it.

After all Levi, what would be the opposite of a dumb descent into collectivism? Would it be a rational individual being, making choices about which relationships to enter into and which relationships you shouldn't enter into? Wouldn't those choices need to be made based on some criteria? Like your own value heirarchy? Or else how would you know which relationships were proper between men? In each case wouldn't you have to consult your own values in order to determine whether you were making an "intelligent descent" into collectivism.

Yet you remove all morality, choice and rationality from this entire discussion and try to force everyone into a "dumb descent" by arguing for a "group self" which is metaphysically true whether we choose it or not. If it is determined. Then according to your philosophy, it cannot be dumb or intelligent, it does not involve reason or rationality or choices on our part. it just is. Metaphysically so.

That my friend, is precisely a "dumb descent" into collectivism and it follows the exact trajectory of all those before you that attempted the same thing, a few of which I quoted above.

Respectfully....

by Levi Asher on

John and all, I just read an amazing New York Times psychology article, published this weekend, that says several things remarkably relevant to all the discussions we've been having. It's called "The Brain on Love" and it's by Diane Ackerman. Here are a few passages:

First, on the moment a baby is born: "Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose."

Then, on what happens when two adults fall in love: "When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths. The brain knows who we are. The immune system knows who we’re not, and it stores pieces of invaders as memory aids. Through lovemaking, or when we pass along a flu or a cold sore, we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her."

(Does this all sound familiar, John? It's your bete noire, the "group self"! And the New York Times is finally catching on!)

Here's the entire piece. Essential reading.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/24/the-brain-on-love/

by John Woods on

Please note the key passage in the article:

"but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone".

And it is precisely that they cannot "show"it, means that it is not science, and it is not knowledge, and there is no basis for even discussing it.

I mean if they cannot show "it" then how do they even know what the "it" is that they are trying to show?

Psychology is still in a state of pre-science.

by mtmynd on

Interesting quotes you've furnished. However, I trust that neither Mussolini, Goebbels nor Hitler actually lived these ideas throughout their lifetimes.

It is far easier to write one's beliefs down on paper than to live those beliefs on a daily, 24/7 basis. Any philosopher, any believer in Ayn Rand's works (including Ayn herself), any side one chooses to pick is merely a one-time choice and rarely a belief system one would adhere to throughout their lives without becoming a complete fool. Nobody can be completely happy and healthy living off a strict diet or a strict lifestyle that does not include the variety an authentic life provides.

It's apparent that the discussions on this thread ultimately wish to connect one's dots with others beliefs. In so doing there is a corral being philosophically constructed which confines one's theories in a neat little package, easy to see and digest, but hardly realistic with the world outside that corral.

Every philosophy, every theory, every idea is but a morsel to try, a bite out of life which one may either enjoy or negate at the time. To break the self-imposed barriers of a strict singular belief system is to deny your own potential, which is unhealthy at best and detrimental to one's being at it's worst.

by John Woods on

Mtmynd:

So according to you, there is no right, no wrong, no values, no reality, no striving, no integrity, no point.

What a worthless nihilistic view of life.

It certainly isn't true.

If my philosophy is a corral, then it is one corralling me into right principles where causes have outcomes/effects at the end of my struggle. Anyone who has ever achieved anything worth having in life knows that you get there by following principles.

Good luck with your philosophy, as for me I personally have dropped it in the trash can where it belongs, along with every other morally bankrupt philosophy.

by John Woods on

Mtmynd:

Anyone who thinks those men did not follow through exactly with their collectivistic philosophies is simply blind. They followed what they were saying with unbelievable precision and accuracy.

by mtmynd on

You're putting words into my mouth that even I don't believe. What point is there in that? You certainly sound like a person that needs the 'corral effect' in order to connect all the dots in your belief system. I seen nothing wrong with that, per se, as many, if not most adhere to the principle that if your don't believe in something you're not true to yourself. Reverse that John: if you don't believe that your life is dependent upon a philosophy that quite a few participants on this thread have a difficult time adopting, that tells me that you're not as interested in Truth, as your are in believing in a feel-good ideal that helps you connect the missing dots in your life.

I certainly am not nihilistic in my views on life but rather a realist who doesn't rely on belief systems that are unable to hold a cup of water for any length of time. Try questioning your own belief systems and do not short change yourself when the answers are not sufficient enough to make a lifetime of beliefs. That is the way to true growth that will not only inspire you but rid yourself of mimicking the words of others and disregarding your own self-evolving beliefs. I trust you are more than capable of doing so. You are a thoughtful person but your thoughts are limited by the ideals of others you have read. Where is the real John Woods? I'd like to meet him. We'd have a great deal in common.

by mtmynd on

Re: "Anyone who thinks those men did not follow through exactly with their collectivistic philosophies is simply blind. They followed what they were saying with unbelievable precision and accuracy."

Do you really believe Mussolini followed thru with his fascistic philosophy? Remember that the basic system is "centralization of authority under a dictator" and with Mussolini it is he who is the self-appointed dictator trying to enforce others into his vision of an ideal Fascism. He certainly attempted to be a dictator and did for only a limited amount of time. But "corralling" others into his own beliefs, something that Fascism has to do in order to maintain a semblance of it's philosophy, Mussolini struggled because he was dealing with a collective mentality that found his own oppressive and unnecessary.

And regarding Goebbels... he corrupted the socialist philosophy of Marx, who believed that economic systems go through a growth period beginning with Capitalism which would eventually weaken and no longer fulfill it's promise to the state. That is when Socialism comes in... on an evolutionary necessity for the people to maintain their civilization that grew thru Capitalism. When Socialism no longer fulfills the needs of the society, the final transition is Communism where the need for currency is no longer a measure of success or failure of mankind. But Goebbels took it upon himself to force a unnecessary economic system that had a short life, again due to it's failure to provide fairly to the Nation. It never was a socialistic ideal that served the people.

And Hitler's ""In the hunt for their own happiness, people fall all the more out of heaven and into hell"... confused happiness with power and we all know his ending.

If you really feel each of these three madmen followed what they were saying with "unbelievable precision and accuracy" I must say they all missed their target taking with them their beliefs of ego-driven maniacs who believed in nobody greater than themselves.

by Levi Asher on

I think that's all very well said, Mtmynd, thanks. You know, when I critique Objectivism based on the economic damage done by Ayn Rand's good friend Alan Greenspan, I invariably hear that the former Federal Reserve Bank chairman was "not a real Objectivist". I think I've even heard this from John. So, likewise in this spirit, I think a person sympathetic to collectivism should be able to fairly say, with about 35 million times more emphasis (for the 35 million Europeans killed in World War Ii) that Hitler, Mussolini and Goebbels were not "real collectivists".

They were militarists, guerrophiles, who could have only come to power on a continent left morally desolate by the World War I. If you want to criticize a collectivist that collectivists actually admire, try Mahatma Gandhi, perhaps, or Martin Luther King, and then we can evaluate your criticism on fair terms.

by John Woods on

Mtmynd:

Either you do believe what I said you believe, or what you said in your previous quote was untrue, because that "IS" the meaning of what you said. I will quote:

"Any philosopher, any believer in Ayn Rand's works (including Ayn herself), any side one chooses to pick is merely a one-time choice and rarely a belief system one would adhere to throughout their lives without becoming a complete fool."

In life, you have got to identify what values you want to achieve, you have to start with the reality you have, you have got to build goals to get to those values, and you have got to follow principles in order to get there, and you have to follow them consistently and each day.

Nothing about Ayn Rand's philosophy was a "one-time choice" that is the exact opposite of following principles. Imagine I wanted to get in really good shape, but I decided to go to the gym "one time". What does this mean? It means you do not believe in principles. But principles are based on reality, and the identification of right and wrong principles, in order to achieve values. So when I said your philosophy proposes that there is no right, no wrong, no values, no striving, no integrity (holding true to principles), no reality, and no point. I meant exactly what I said. Your stated philosophy wipes out all of the above, even if you are unable to see that. So if you meant what you said, then I did not put words in your mouth, I just told you the meaning of the words you said.

Philosophy is NOT a one-time choice, and in the people who are dedicated to a strict philosophy all their lives (provided it is a true one) are anything but fools, the opposite is true, is it the people who do NOT stick to a set of fundamental principles or that try to treat different philosophical systems (derived from totally different fundamentals) as a grab bag of anything and everything that is the fool. His life will produce nothing but massive contradictions.

Finally regarding the three example I gave, I am saying the common element in all of these three rulers and in their victims was one principle. Self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice (such as sitting around the fire singing cumbaya and smoking weed together and entering into ineffable trances and promoting philosophies of co-dependeny worse than alcoholics because at least the alcoholic has a chemical excuse and is not fully drinking the coolaid with a rational mind and eyes wide open --- having detailed discussions a "group self" which doesn't even exist). This is the morality that these three men cashed in on in their countries, and the whole population swallowed it hook line and sinker because their individualist streak was blasted into an oblivion by the bankrupt morality of their day.

Strong individuals which neither sacrifice themselves to others, nor allow others to sacrifice themselves to them is the only "rational philosophy", would have never allowed these men in to positions of power, because the strong individualists would have never swallowed their soaring rhetoric, instead they would have saw their words for exactly what they were which is a lie. Good relationships require NO VICTIMS and that is certainly a philosophy that I am willing to follow the rest of my life.

Finally I must address this quote: "When Socialism no longer fulfills the needs of the society." Again, here is the "awful" conception of a group self. Society doesn't have any needs, only individuals have needs within a society, and meeting their needs is their own responsibility and requires their own hard work. Nobody OWES anyone ANYTHING and this is the exact doctrine of self-sacrifice which you have implied here, that allowed the three men I mentioned above to sneak into power, and it is this ignorance that proves Karl Marx's theory right which is that capitalism will collapse. But it is not because it has too, it is because of ignorant people who are always thinking they are getting something for nothing and they collapse the system and we fall all the way down into a "dumb descent into collectivism" or communism which turns a society into a butcher shop of humanity and removes all incentives for any individual to strive for values.

The only way to prevent Karl Marx's philosophy from coming true is to embrace a rational philosophy like Ms. Rand's.

That is what I think.

by mnaz on

--- " . . . capitalism will collapse. But it is not because it has too, it is because of ignorant people who are always thinking they are getting something for nothing and they collapse the system and we fall all the way down into a "dumb descent into collectivism" or communism which turns a society into a butcher shop of humanity and removes all incentives for any individual to strive for values."

yeah. for example, the current corporate welfare state we're living in. various corporate syndicates and their stranglehold on government essentially "crashing the system" in pursuit of profit at any cost.

perhaps we can allow that society should be based primarily on objectivist-type principles, but ultimately it seems a bit unrealistic or even naive to say that society should be ruled entirely by the pursuit of profit with no consideration given to larger-picture long-term effects of such single-minded pursuit on the collective system, or that a society should be devoid of any socialistic elements for the greater good.

by John Woods on

I am going to give everyone an example of how I am living out this philosophy.

The other day I arranged a contract with a vendor who was providing us with some services. We agreed on a price that was good for him, and good for me.

When he sent me a bill and I was over charged. I called him up and explained to him that I was not paying that bill because he over charged me. He promptly apologized and sent me a revised statement.

This time he under charged me.

Holding to my principles not to sacrifice myself or others to myself. I called him back and explained that I would not be paying this invoice either because he had just shorted himself.

I asked him to please send me a new invoice charging me for the exact right amount.

I then got another bill which was VERY close to being right, but the vendor had still undercharged me by a qty of 1.

I called him back and asked again that he revise his invoice to the exact number, which he did, and then I promptly paid him.

This is what I mean by objective. No sacrifices. Only justice.

Was it hard? Yes.

Would it have been easier to take advantage of him the first time he sent me the low-ball invoice? Yes.

But was it rational? Yes.

Long term, I will have built a solid relationship on trust.

If anyone does not follow these rules either in business or at the personal level, then they are the looters who are destroying our society.

This goes for small time people who are collecting welfare and corporations alike. Welfare is LOOT, they stole that money from someone. If they didn't deserve it, then they shouldn't take it.

I understand that reality doesn't work like this when you have people who do not hold correct principles, but that should be an excuse to compromise our principles. Ayn Rand said that what she held as her fundamental philosophy was the only "rational" course of action. I agree, and I am following that principle in my own life. As indicated by the situation above, I am now doing this in all of my contracts everywhere I can think of, and I think my business and my individual well-being will be best served by these principles.

To do anything else, I think is very short sighted and irrational. I could cheat him, or allow him to cheat me, but eventually that is not going to get either of us anywhere.

Ultimately, I think I also gained this man's respect. We are trading values for values. Every human being on earth has something of value to offer, so there is no "rational" reason to make victims out of anyone.

by mnaz on

i like your example, john. i would have done the same. but we should not turn a blind eye to how "randian" philosophy has been distorted to in effect "justify" questionable aspects of corporatism, especially as related to government policy, especially within the defense/security and financial sectors--- the dimension of raw greed. and i'm not sure i can swallow this statement in its entirety:

--- "Society doesn't have any needs, only individuals have needs within a society, and meeting their needs is their own responsibility and requires their own hard work."

is this basic premise entirely true? am i responsible for building my own roads? my own law enforcement and fire protection capability? educating my own children? am i entitled to degrade the environment, ignore public safety and fleece the public because i've perhaps "worked hard enough," or are powerful and/or clever enough to pull it off, all in the name of pursuing my own happy fortune, unfettered by any dirty rotten "socialistic" interference? highly debatable.

by mtmynd on

John: "In life, you have got to identify what values you want to achieve, you have to start with the reality you have, you have got to build goals to get to those values, and you have got to follow principles in order to get there, and you have to follow them consistently and each day."

You have placed a great number of "got to's" and "have to's" upon yourself and pointed your finger proclaiming that I, mtmyd1, must follow the identical path as yourself. That sounds to me the proclamations of a singular-minded person that loves to wrap themselves in rules and convictions and don't like or trust those who do not want to enter your corral. I well imagine Mussolini, Goebbels and Hitler place those same "got to's" and "have to's" upon themselves as well as those who were under their spell, which is not to say you are dictatorial, amigo, but bound and determined to build yourself into a reflection of those your admire and long to become. This is not a game I'm thoroughly immersed in, which is exactly why I find your remarks rather offensive. I don't admire those qualities in hu'man nature. They lead to a superiority attitude when compared to those that you feel are out of the loop of the way things should be. Just ask John Woods!

Re: "Strong individuals which neither sacrifice themselves to others, nor allow others to sacrifice themselves to them is the only 'rational philosophy', would have never allowed these men in to positions of power, because the strong individualists would have never swallowed their soaring rhetoric, instead they would have saw their words for exactly what they were which is a lie. Good relationships require NO VICTIMS and that is certainly a philosophy that I am willing to follow the rest of my life."

You are unabashedly a strong individual, I take it by your comment, which is fine given the fact that you have choices and you see strength as far superior than anything less. You wrap this belief in what you call a "rational philosophy" that would NEVER allow these men (from your list which you emphasize: "They followed what they were saying with unbelievable precision and accuracy." This sounds like you admire their individuality despite the (latest) comment : "strong individualists would have never swallowed their soaring rhetoric, instead they would have saw their words for exactly what they were which is a lie.") Perhaps you're attempting to deceive me..?

Indeed, John, I concur with that when I wrote: "I must say they all missed their target taking with them their beliefs of ego-driven maniacs who believed in nobody greater than themselves." I must be one of those strong people you admire but yet, in your apparent state of confusion, say "Either you do believe what I said you believe, or what you said in your previous quote was untrue, because that "IS" the meaning of what you said."

Re: "Philosophy is NOT a one-time choice, and in the people who are dedicated to a strict philosophy all their lives (provided it is a true one) are anything but fools, the opposite is true, is it the people who do NOT stick to a set of fundamental principles or that try to treat different philosophical systems (derived from totally different fundamentals) as a grab bag of anything and everything that is the fool. His life will produce nothing but massive contradictions."

There comes a time in everyone's life when a choice is made and made with the greatest of belief that "this is it! I'm following this path until I friggin' die!" Apply this to any philosophy and you will find that out of the thousands of books that have been read regarding, let's say, Ayn Rand, there are only a handful that come out of that read filled with images of being just like her, Ayn Rand, who hit the philosophical nail on the head." The majority who have read her enjoyed her slant, many learned something about her philosophy, some stayed with her beliefs for possibly years. But those who remained devotees of Rand are few. Those that didn't stay fervent believers cannot be lumped into people who live lives of contradictions. That is the belief of a fool.

The biggest challenge there is in life is not to do what others have told you to do as being good for you. The biggest challenge is not choosing a philosophy that you must live be the rest of your life or you may consider yourself a failure. The biggest challenge we (the collective 'we') face as hu'mans is knowing our Self. Who we are is what we are and what we are is nothing short of knowing as much about our Self as is possible. If we get sidetracked on another's philosophical path (which more do than not) we very well may lose direction on that one path of knowing our Self.

You wrote: "Ayn Rand was right that her philosophy is the only rational position for a human being to take." THE ONLY RATIONAL POSITION! What has happened to your own LIFE when you make those foolish declarations? Has this petty belief Ayn Rand has put out engrave in stone by her? Is this philosophy of hers the horse you ride in her stable?

I find it much more rewarding for me to take what I instinctively feel is being said parallels my own beliefs. Rarely, if ever, is there any one philosophy, one religion, one musical group, one artist, one author... one anything that has within it all my answers or share all my beliefs. If I did so, it would be me calling myself foolish as I would anyone who thru all their baggage on the wagon of one hu'man being. When you, John Woods, state that Ayn Rand is the only rational position for a hu'man being to take is ludicrous. The world is 7 billion strong and hardly anyone of them has ever heard of Ayn Rand but yet you feel everyone is irrational because they don't embrace her as you have. Who are you, John Woods, to make such a sweeping statement about every single hu'man being on earth. But, I trust you don't care about those 7 billion folks because your too occupied by the words of Ms Rand..? Are you a proselytizer for this woman's philosophy because you have no philosophy of your own that your proud to stand for? It's okay... your in good company, my friend... that of the common man hell bent on becoming so much more than you know your really are, but so much better than what you think of yourself.

Trust in your path of "got to's" and "have to's" to fulfill that little voice inside you that keeps repeating "your not enough, John... you're not enough.." A day will arrive for you and that day will be the realization how untruthful you've been to yourself... a John that believed in others so much that he was unable to believe himself. That is when you will inherit the highest philosophy - knowing thy Self.

Take care, Mr Woods, and learn from all sources all things about this one life we all share, collectively... and with compassion and understanding share that knowledge. It does your ego no good to keep it within.

[enough]

by John Woods on

mnaz:

Thank you. Yes this is what I mean.

I mean that all relationships should be voluntary and based on mutual benefit. The only power the government has is the monopoly on the use of force.

I do not believe that it is ethical or rational to force anyone into any relationships which they do not wish to be in. This is the anti-thesis of freedom.

This means, that in a totally free society, private individuals would be responsible for and have to build thier own lives using voluntary relationships to mutual benefit.

It certainly is not anyone else's responsibility to educate your children, that is the most crucial responsibility on planet earth. You should take that extremely seriously.

by John Woods on

mtmynd:

I read your post and was impressed with the initial force of your arguments, while simutaneously they made me a bit nauseous in my stomach, then I was in my car driving home and started really chewing on some of your comments.

Although, I remain unmoved by any of your rhetoric, I struggled to find the words to counter your arguments, but those moments are over.

Now I will articulate for you the reasons, because I have identified them.

You and I disagree because you are a subjectivist and so far in my book you are a nihilist, your philosophy is irreconcilable with my own.

You are nihilist in my book because you have put forth no positive philosophy that I can see, you have only attempted (unsuccessfully) to destroy. What are "your" positive philosophical premises? And yet as soon as I ask you that question, I answer it myself. You don't have any. This is because by your own admission you do not follow principles. You use philosophical systems as a "one-time" grab bag of whatever you happen to be "feeling" at the moment. And by your own admission as soon as you stop "feeling" that it is right, then you stop and switch to another one. It is impossible to build a positive systematic philosophy on these terms.

You are a subjectivist because the subjectivist theory holds that the good bears no relation to the facts of reality, that it is the product of a man’s consciousness, created by his feelings, desires, “intuitions,” or whims, and that it is merely an “arbitrary postulate” or an “emotional commitment.”

Now I will demonstrate (and I'm paraphrasing):

1.) You are offended because I have told you which path you must follow.
2.) You state that I am trying to decieve you.
3.) You state that there is a time when everyone believes in a philosophy and then basically falls away after some time.
4.) You state that people who did not follow Rand could not be lumped into people who live lives of contradictions.
5.) You state that the biggest challenge is knowing yourself. (you've put some nonsense about the collective in here).
6.) You state, what has happened to my life if I agree that Ms. Rand's positions are the only rational positions to take.
7.) You state, that you find it more rewarding, to take what you "instinctively feel".
8.) You state, that no one group has all "your" answers, or shares "your" beliefs.
9.) You state, that to state that Ms. Rand's positions are the only rational ones, is ludicrous.
10.) You state, who are you John Woods to make such a sweeping statement?
11.) You state, that there are 7 billion other people on this planet.
12.) You state, that I have no philosophy of my own.
13.) You state, that I have a little voice stating that "you're not enough".
14.) You state, that I am a John that believed in others so much that I am unable to believe in myself.
15.) Then you wrap up by your sweep declaration that the "highest" philosophy is to "know thyself".

Do you remember my previous comments. No right, no wrong, no values, no integrity, no striving, no reality, no point.

I think nailed it the first time. Observe your COMPLETE IMMERSION IN SUBJECTIVISM BECAUSE IT FILLS EVERY SENTENCE YOU WROTE.

What I told you is that Ms. Rand's philosophy is the only "rational" path to take, I never told you what path you must take, I told you what path you need to take if you want to be rational. There is a huge difference. Obviously you can take any path you want, and the contradictions will be your own. I realize how "huge and bold" of a statement that is to make, but I am saying it anyways. But have you even stopped to consider that it might be "true". Primarily it is true because her philosophy has locked onto some extremely "wide" abstractions regarding basic philosophical premises, which allows for an "UNLIMITED AMOUNT" of variation from individual to individual. If you bring up ONE SINGLE fundamental premise of hers that you think it wrong, then I will have a hay day showing you where you are irrational to take the opposite position. Your turn.

Ms. Rand's conclusions she reached are not right because she wanted them to be or because I wanted them to be, they are right because they are objective fact. As bad as you don't want to name it, there is an "objective reality" which is independent of you, me, or her. But I realize this is lost in a subjectivist philosophy. If you knew this, then you would also know how to "check" whether I am trying to decieve you or not. Because this is what I would do to "check" the lies of Mousollini or Hitler, and it would start by identifying that a "group self" doesn't exist and so their collectivist philosophies are built on the metaphysically "untrue" and therefore they are lies, and this has been my contention with Levi.

I never said that people who do not follow Ms. Rand could be lumped into those who lead lives of contradictions, I said that if you try the "grab bag" approach to philosophy that you advocated you would wind up with contradictions because each philosophy is based on certain positions on basic fundamentals and arise from those. To mix and match those systems will undeniably lead to contradictions. Again, it doesn't matter how you feel about this, it is objective fact, if you don't believe me, just present an actual argument where you have grabbed a philosophy from one person, and another one from someone else where both people held opposite fundamentals, and I will show you the contradiction, objectively.

Who says that whatever group has "your" answers or "your" beliefs are objectively true? Based on what standard? Just because they "feel" good to you? Do you have any mechanism outside yourself to double check the premises you hold? Or are you just floating in a fog of emotion? Unchecked by nothing but your feelings?

On the statement about Ms. Rand's philosophy could not be the ONLY RATIONAL philosophy? My question is WHY? What specific arguments can you present? You have a bar to cross, you cannot state she is wrong, just because she is Ayn Rand, or just because she is one person up against 7 billion other unnamed persons. This would mean that someone couldn't reach objectively true conclusions based on their name? Or based on how many people agreed with her?

Or because there are 7 billion people on earth? (Now we switch here from just subjectivism to social subjectivism)

Have you not paid attention to how many times you talk about what you feel, what the "collective" feels (as if you are the spokesman), you try to slam my ego based on your hypothetical psychologizing, you try to encourage my ego to think like you do, you try to damn me for making sweeping pronouncements about rationality and then you proceed to tell me what the "highest" philosophy is? How is that any different than saying what the "rational" philosophy is? Have you ever thought that reaching an objectively correct answer is similar to reaching the mathematical conclusion of 2+2=4. That is has nothing to do with what you feel, or what I feel, or your ego, or my ego, have you ever considered that there is a reality independent of you or me and that we are both living inside of it, and that it has a certain properties, attributes, natures regardless of how you feel about it? It has everything to do with objective fact. I have yet to hear you give a single one.

I do have a philosophy of my own. It just so happens that when I view objective reality I happen to agree with Ayn Rand in all major philosophical branches, and I do not see any inconsistencies in the way all major branches are linked or the conclusions she reached. I think she learned from many very intelligent people before her by studying the past 2,000 years of history and simply expounded it into a fully consistent and integrated system and I think she achieved a work of genius. It has nothing to do with her name being Ayn Rand, your feelings about it or mine, her works stand anyways, it is objective.

Philosophy studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. In as much as it accomplishes this, then it is objectively true.

Knowing thyself is a part, but it is not necessarily the highest part and to say that it is the only thing that matters wipes out reality completely and pushes you into complete subjectivism.

This is why our philosophies are incompatible. This is why I believe your philosophy (which as far as I can tell is really no philosophy at all) is NOT rational.

Is that enough?

by Levi Asher on

From "A Pluralistic Universe" by William James, here's what he calls pluralism:

"For pluralism, all that we are required to admit as the constitution of reality is what we ourselves find empirically realized in every minimum of finite life. Briefly it is this, that nothing real is absolutely simple, that every smallest bit of experience is a multum in parvo plurally related, that each relation is one aspect, character, or function, way of its being taken, or way of its taking something else; and that a bit of reality when actively engaged in one of these relations simultaneously. The relations are not all what the French call solidaires with one another. Without losing its identity a thing can either take up or drop another thing, like the log I spoke of, which by taking up new carriers and dropping old ones can travel anywhere with a light escort."

And here's what he calls monism:

"For monism, on the contrary, everything, whether we realize it or not, drags the whole universe along with itself and drops nothing. The log starts and arrives with all its carriers supporting it. If a thing were once disconnected, it could never be connected again, according to monism. The pragmatic difference between the two systems is thus a definite one. It is just thus, that if a is once out of sight of b or out of touch with it, or, more briefly, ‘out’ of it at all, then, according to monism, it must always remain so, they can never get together; whereas pluralism admits that on another occasion they may work together, or in some way be connected again. Monism allows for no such things as ‘other occasions’ in reality–in real or absolute reality, that is."

I think it's clear that John Woods is a monist and mtmynd is a pluralist (as I am too). I'd like to venture the idea that both pluralists and monists are in good company, and suggest we leave it at that. (Of course, this is a pluralist way of thinking).

by mtmynd on

John -

I'd like to say first off that your initial comment brought me a chuckle, i.e. "I read your post and was impressed with the initial force of your arguments, while simutaneously they made me a bit nauseous in my stomach, then I was in my car driving home and started really chewing on some of your comments."

I was immediately brought to the comment Rick Santorum had said about JFK and the separation of church and state, I felt like JFK for a moment listening to Rick commenting about what I had said. Chewing on my comments I found to be a positive in this thread.

Which brings me to a fundamental Truth (note the capitalization) that I totally believe in : duality (or the yin/yang principle). Duality is the 'force' behind every thing in our world. Today's political circus is completely driven by duality. The GOP vs the Dems, conservatism vs liberalism, Red states vs Blue states, the Conservative talking points vs the Liberal viewpoints. Even within the same parties there is duality rearing its head with the Old Conservatives vs the Tea Party.

The constant battle between two forces that, thru the laws of Nature, must exist for life itself to exist. The 'engine' of this duality can be expressed by the ancient symbol of Yin/Yang, to opposing qualities/forces that operate in close harmony, within the center of each a hint of the other. No matter what philosophy we choose to either live by or explore, there is always an opposing viewpoint. Many of us, if not most, seem to feel it is imperative to pick one side or the other in every circumstance. While this is seemingly true in our ordinary daily life, when it comes to our 'higher self', (that which transcends our ego-driven mundane life), it is this higher self which simply observes... a witness to life as it is. Some refer to this state as the Now, this instantaneous moment that connects Self to the realization that (as some Zennists have said...) "everything is perfect as it is."

I see life as a mystery, a grand and wonderful unknown to be explored and observed in order to continue our personal wonder of growth. For anyone to surrender to the idea that they have learned all they are able, or worse, they don't want to know anything more than that which they already know is not my forte.

Within the realm of duality, choice is a given. Always there, we are left to choose. We make our choices based upon the decision that appeals to our inner instinctual being. Or we make lousy decisions because we ignore that being within us... have no trust in it or even have no belief that such a principle exists within us.

But everything is perfect as it is... and that perfection is even found in our mistakes or our bad decisions. I see our hu'manity involved in it's evolution. We are inherently 'learning animals." From the time we are born until we leave our bodies, whether we acknowledge it our not (yin/yang) we are learning... ultimately learning about our selves... how we tick, why are we here, what is our purpose, etc.. As a race, a species on this singular planet, we are quite likely in our infantile beginnings... so much to learn, so much to know. I have often viewed our lives as child-like, in our sandbox creating/destroying (yin/yang) while on our voyage of discovery, not only of our world but the discovery of our True Self (our original face before we were born).

We learn from each other as well as teach each other. Some believe that exchange is to better not only ourselves but to better the lives of all of us. Naturally, in our dualistic world, some of just take our learnings and apply them to ourselves, others be damned, afterall the information is free for the taking and if Carla Careless doesn't want it, too bad.

From that journey of living we are all on, it is said by the wisdom of the ancients that we are doomed to repeat our lives if we do not learn what we need to eventually know. I'm not so bold as to suggest that idea is unrealistic. Like I said above, Life is a Mystery and we all love mysteries. But that is for another thread at another time...

I'm not sure if what I have said here falls into the category of 'subjectivism' or not. You obviously have concluded that and for myself tags are unimportant to me in this dialogue we're having, John. A cursory search for this 'subjectivism' revealed to me "is historically attributed to Descartes and his methodic doubt" among other things in the Wikipedia search. I'm somewhat amused to see so many differences and opinions under this search alone. So many ideas and so many philosophies giving way to so many branches. And yet, you are steadfast in your belief in Ayn Rands ideas, despite the buffet of choices spread before you to taste and sample, to learn about and digest to see what they bring you...!

"My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

I must assume that you are in total agreement with this quote..?

If so, perhaps you know the answer to my question, "if reason is (your) only absolute, what is the purpose of reason other than a tool for understanding life and all it's differences? I cannot acknowledge that reason is anything more than a tool which makes this 'only absolute'... absolutely false in my way of thinking. I'd enjoy your comments on this, Mr Woods.

I know this reply fall short of your varied questions, but I have answered fully and completely what I can share at this time. My arse is uncomfortable as is my back. ;)
Thank you.

by mtmynd on

I liked Mr James definition of pluralism. I may agree that I have a large part of that theory within my way of thinking.

by mnaz on

--- "I do not believe that it is ethical or rational to force anyone into any relationships which they do not wish to be in. This is the anti-thesis of freedom.

This means, that in a totally free society, private individuals would be responsible for and have to build their own lives using voluntary relationships to mutual benefit."

this sounds great. but it doesn't really address my questions/comments above. what happens when these various private relationships and concerns come into conflict with each other? or begin to do harm to the overall system? some degree of public sector is needed to balance the private sector-- to complement it, and provide some degree of oversight. the only question will be a continual debate over to what degree. hasn't history taught us that neither pure, unchecked capitalism nor pure (forced) socialism work well?

and if i'm off on a bit of a tangent here from "egoism vs. collectivism," then i apologize. yet it seems relevant, given our bitterly politicized public "discourse" of the last 30+ years on the role (or non-role) of government social functions and oversight/regulation in a capitalist-based economy and society-- a society supposedly founded on "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." and yes, i'm aware that it should perhaps "work both ways"-- the public sector should be "checked" as well. we could find examples of excess / negligence / poor function on both sides. e.g.-- the welfare dole was arguably a public sector overreach, a socialist tilting (although from what i understand, clinton's admin. tightened these programs significantly). at the same time, i'd hate to think of what cesspools we'd be living in now if the unfettered corporatists had gotten their way in opposing automotive pollution control regulation in the 1970s.

damn, now you guys got me on a ramble too! ... anyway, my $0.02. for now ....

by John Woods on

Mtmynd:

Your outlook on life is far too fluid or detached from metaphysical reality for my tastes, also I have never observed it work out well in reality, in family members, friends, and in my reading of history.

I believe that everything you think in the abstract, is reducible to objectively reality, so that you have a mechanism to check your premises.

To give you a different metaphor of my views of our two philosophies, which I think is far more attractive than Levi's/James's "log" metaphor. Imagine that you and I were in two separate boats, floating out into the ocean, about to go scuba diving over the most beautiful coral in Cozumel, we are trying to find our way. The only difference is that my boat has got a glass bottom on it (via Aristotle's law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, the tying of things back to a metaphysical reality as opposed to just floating without any metaphysical validation), and yours doesn't. You are guessing, you are wondering whether you are in the right place or not, you are wondering if you are being decieved, you are going off of your feelings, totally cut off from reality. In my boat (ethics, epistemology) I can just stare down through the bottom of my boat and stare at the metaphysical reality underneath me to validate where I am, and for the purposes of scuba diving over the coral (whether it is "good/rational" or not).

By your definition, you think you have found the answer (inside yourself), in a subjective manner, cut off from metaphysical reality.

By my definition, a person is ONLY good, relative to objective reality. Relative to the values he has identified and the virtues he has achieved in his character, based on his interpretation of the good, and the good is that which advances your life honestly, without sacrificing yourself or counting on it from others, but earning your own way.

How does this play out in our discussions? It means that since I am looking metaphysically (for a group self that Levi is talking about), and I cannot see it. Then I am accepting the metaphysically given, which is that it is not true. Therefore, I am against his attempts to build a philosophical system based on a lie. Then when I look back through history and see all of the collectivists who have tried it before, and I observe the results, I feel extremely justified in these conclusions. Not because I have "found anything inside myself based on my feelings cut off from reality" but because I am viewing the reality with eyes wide open.

by John Woods on

Mnaz:

We are in a massively degraded state right now. It's called a mixed economy and it is the worst of all, because it is a state where the evil (force) has the benefit of the good (reason), and doesn't have to face it's own moral bankruptcy or extinction, so people learn neither right or wrong but stasis. If the public sector was wiped out completely except for retaliatory force and everything was private. Then you would have nothing but voluntary relationships to voluntary benefit. The public sector is not needed to balance the private sector.

Allow me to present my idea to you, and then you can think of it on your own.

The government should only use it's monopoly of force against those who initiate force. It's proper role is retaliatory. Government's proper role is NOTHING except to banish force from relationships among men and to leave them free. So that they are forced to deal with each other based on reason alone.

If there were a law in place to seperate politics from economics completely. There would be massive strife and wars just like there were religious wars, when religion was seperated from the state. The wars would be property owners fighting for their own property, and people who were dependent upon the government sacrificing those people to their groups, getting angry and rising up and trying to "loot" the property owners, then it would be the rightful job of the government to step in and retaliate against those who used force in either direction.

But after a time, there would be peace among men, mainly because the initiation of force would be banished and each person would have to convince each other person that the "trade" they are trying to make is mutually beneficial. There would be no other way to get a deal done. Nobody would have the right to FORCE people into relationships they did not want to be in.

The only "purging" that would happen in an environment like this would be the "purging" of bad/irrational ideas, but yes it would ultimately be devastating to the people who held those bad/irrational ideas if they did not choose to give them up. But it wouldn't be force imposed by other people. It would be force imposed on each individual person by the needs of their own survival. Our government did not promise people happiness. It promised them the right to pursue it without anyone stopping them.

This would have an effect of "forcing rationality and logic" back to the top of people's minds, our entire people would be a thousand times more productive, and there wouldn't be a country on earth that could keep pace with us. Our whole country would be awakened from it's slumber.

But the socialist policies allow one person to start thinking he can have a free ride by voting someone's property away from them, that person in turn notices the theft and raises his prices or cuts wages to his employees, then the employees form unions, then unions get into bed with the government, then to counter that the corporations get into bed with the government looking for competitive protection, then the losses get pushed around and around the system until everyone has entered the crazy cycle and is dealing with each other by force ONLY, and everyone thinking he is getting a free ride, and none of them see that all of them are collapsing the whole society. After they have been dishonest like this for a number of years, then they start giving up on honesty in every other area, which has now spread into our debt, now we are all using this as the free ride. This is the opposite of civilization. This is uncivilized and irrational. Reality will catch up with all of us at some point. This irrational garbage cannot go on forever.

Then all the people who try to live their lives in total subjectivism cut off from reality, will see the full effect of their decisions, and they will realize that there really was no free lunch. It has happened many times over all through history.

Civilized people deal with each other with reason and logic to mutual benefit, the government does nothing but destroy that process.

That means men dealing with each other voluntarily and looking out for their own self interest and trying to make the most rational choices available to them at every turn.

Corporations would not be protected from market competition either, they would have to innovate, and if they did not, their markets would be totally unregulated and free for any up and coming person to start a business in that same sector and begin taking all their customers.

The only reason people have an impression that Capitalism didn't work, is that we have not had full Capitalism. We have had some deregulations but not all deregulations. For example. Bush removed alot of regulations, but how is it that Halliburton was getting no bid contracts in Iraq? That still wasn't Capitalism folks. Everytime you see the breakdown of Capitalism, you will find that it really isn't Capitalism. It is government protecting some corporation or some group of people and giving them an unfair advantage, usually in trade for votes.

In a totally capitalistic economy it would be terribly difficult for any company to maintain an monopoly on anything for very long. When profits rose up, it would attract new competitors quickly. If nothing was banning them from entering those fields the new competition would limit what those larger companies could charge. If they continued trying to charge high prices they would lose all their clients and go out of business.

Trust me, with every middle income family paying about 30%-40% of their money to the government, if you could get that back, you could afford to educate your children, pay some company to come and put out fires at your house if one happened, deliver your mail (like Fedex), and still have a ton of money left over in your retirement account at the end of your working life. If some business wasn't doing a good job, or offered you terrible service, you could simply spend your money elsewhere and they would go out of business.

A free society would raise the level of rationality, reason, logic, innovation, production, inventions and leave our retirements safe in our bank accounts rather than flying politicians around on 250,000 dollar plane rides.

There are no shortage of people in business who want to be protected from the competitive forces of the market, and there are no shortage of people on the consumer side who want to be protected from the reality of the requirements of their own existence. None of that is the business of the government.

by mtmynd on

You only confirm the Truth of duality, John, and like I have proposed to you, neither of us have or will overturn each others beliefs (or as you believe, your philosophy).

Your analogy of both of us, each in our own boats floating out into the ocean, yours with a glass bottom. How convenient for you! Why didn't I think of that? Was it my simple mind that rules out good planning? If that is so, why are the both of us floating in a vast ocean seeking a good scuba diving area..? Wouldn't a well prepared plan get us to this spot far faster than 'floating out to sea' in what your imply is an aimless endeavor?

No, no, my friend, you'll have to accept that each of us is dealing with a touchy subject and there are two sides of this subject. It's the way of mankind, two sides of the problem with each assured there is only one answer. That is a fact - one answer for each of us.

But rest assured, John... you will never be totally satisfied knowing there is always another side, and another side with an equally strong side to the argument regardless of what it is. If one persists in proclaiming their way is the only way (how many times have we heard that in various subjects and opinions!). We will have to agree to disagree and leave it at that. As your are more than aware, there are various philosophical ideas in this world, enough so that amongst the 7 billion of us, we can find a safe and comfortable harbor of belief where our dots connect in a pattern fit for ourselves in a camp of like-minded thinkers.

I have enjoyed our discussions and often call discussions such as these I've had over the years "mental masturbation" ... a self-fulfilling exercise that ultimately brings a level of satisfaction that can only be felt thru our exhibitions of ideas exposing our thoughts on various topics that perhaps we've not had the pleasure of speaking about. But then, I'm a dualist and will not be offended or seek defense from your own opinion on that. ;)

by John Woods on

Mtmynd:

The reason my philosophical approach is likened to a glass bottom boat is because mine is tied down to metaphysical reality based on the law of identity and non contradiction, yours is floating.

I have not seen you nail anything down to concrete reality. Only to talk about some abstract (floating) concept of duality. But in that regard we finally agree. There is definitely an opposite (other side of the coin) of a rational philosophy. I let you figure out what that is.

;-)

by Levi Asher on

Mtmynd, the last thing you just said is the first thing you've said in this entire discussion that I virulently object to. Mental masturbation? I couldn't disagree more!

With each entry in this conversation, we have each been listening to and trying (sometimes straining) to understand opposing points of view. Thus, we have each been improving our own level of understanding, becoming more intellectually flexible, spotting our own weak points and patching the necessary holes ... in essence, becoming smarter and more aware. Just like athletes, or musicians, or software developers, we gain excellence as ethical philosophers by the simple act of frequent practice. A wanna-be philosopher who does not learn by practicing would be like a wanna-be guitar player who never picks up a guitar.

We are conducting philosophy here, Mymynd. Just like Socrates did in the good old days. Ain't nothing masturbatory about it.

by mtmynd on

Levi -

I wouldn't go so far as saying "nothing" as the thrill of learning new licks on a guitar or exploring new avenues in painting, seeking a new vocabulary to express one's feelings in writing... each new path leads to an excitement that parallels the sexual experience.

Art is Sex is Art as the saying goes and it's no different than philosophical discussions or even religious experiences. They all are united in the singular notion of passion in which the fires of expression are unleashed. That is the lure of the arts and if we cannot agree that philosophy is an art, we are on different paths. Myself... life itself and all that it includes can be seen as mundane or even uninteresting, but to view life as art is to see the beauty of creation. Creation, my friend, is a sexual experience, not necessarily bodily, of course. All things begin in the mind, the fountain of wonder that makes our lives what they are.

by mtmynd on

John...

Re: "The reason is my philosophical approach likened to a glass bottom boat is because mine is tied down to metaphysical reality based on the law of identity and non contradiction, yours is floating."

"MY philosophical approach is likened to a glass bottom boat..." Sure, you're the one that wrote this line. But because you wrote it does not make my "boat" any less "see" worthy because you are unable to envision a glass bottom on my own boat. You are seeing what you are believing and you believe what your eyes are telling you.

Go deeper, John... go deeper. Don't just emerge yourself in scuba diving but put on a deep sea suit and seek out the deeper truths. It will do you a great deal of good, nourishing that within with new ideas, new ways of seeing that make your ego irrelevant in the greater scheme of things... the ultimate liberation of the hu'man spirit.

by John Woods on

Levi,

You and I come down totally on the same side on this issue.

To me mtmynd's response is exactly the kind of soaring rhetoric tied down to nothing that made me nauseous with his very first reply.

It is hard to explain what I feel when I read some of these concepts, but the only question that screams out of my mind, is the question. "Based on what?"

It all just sounds like pure emotion, pure subjectivism, pure Neitzsche, will to power.

It reminds me of many of the people I grew up around in the church, who got so thoroughly bored with certain Bible passages, that they had to start inventing all sorts of extra curricular meanings in order to keep from getting bored out of their minds, and many of them were total nonsense.

Reading Ayn Rand after listening to this stuff, takes my feet, and plants them firmly back on reality again, where things are objective, real, tangible, stable and permanent improvements can occur in reality.

by mtmynd on

John... you're so achingly dramatic with this "soaring rhetoric and nausea" tripe and yet you point out to me that you are unable to grasp what I am saying. (if I'm not mistaken, even Levi is following me, but you, my friend, seem to stuck in first gear fearing a leap into what lies ahead, perfectly comfortable in your Ayn Rand Zone.) The woman is dead. No matter what beliefs one brings to the table of man, we all reach the same end. Live your life according to Ms Rand, who was stained in her early life in Nazi era Germany. Granted she impacted many who were taken by her words, but regrettably, so were Hitler's soaring rhetoric. No, I'm not comparing the two directly, only connecting her dots with the era in which she was most vulnerable.

We are alive and well in the 21st Century, Mr Woods, and hopefully there will be those who acknowledge this era as one where mankind will take a dramatic leap forward and remake a sorely needed new experience that will realize the dreams that were left behind, forgotten... cobwebbed in the shadows of the 20th Century.

Yes, John, I hear your moaning and groaning over those words, but what I am saying will arrive at the doorsteps of this generation with a welcome mat that embraces the new age knowing full-well the disappointment that ended our recent past. What goes up must come down, and the greatness of the 20th Century collapsed at the end with a world shattering, ear splitting BANG! ending without an answer to save the horrendous losses entwined in both greed and selfish hatreds, working for the benefit of so few that all the rest were left defenseless from the madness that reduced the once invincible 20th Century into what we see around us today.

"Imagine all the people..." as they work together in building a life worthy of this new century, a life that is bringing with it a promise of new visions and new philosophies, new arts and new ideas to create out of the ashes a life respectful of all peoples inextricably linked into a cohesive civilization which will avoid the mistakes of the past.

The will is there and the hearts beat in unison patiently awaiting their turn to take over, cleaning up the mess and reinventing life into what has been only dreams floating on the ethers of the best of imagination, inciting the senses throughout our past. Those dreams will materialize into an unrecognizable future that we could only dream of. The Children of the Millennium who grew up under the Great Collapse, armed with their cell phones and I-pads, their Kindles and instant communications with any and all worldwide will be the "Silent Saviors" of Planet Earth, embracing the wisdom of Nature so long ignored by previous generations on an futile search for the "Lost Riches of the New World" which fizzled out draining the strength and our treasure from us, you and I, and all who were part of the Grand Deception so desperately wanting material gains to comfort us and keep us from the Truth we all secretly harbor within but refute and refuse believing there is something better... always so much better than what we are, not have mind you, but are.

by Levi Asher on

Correction to Mtmynd (I'm going to beat John to the punch on this one) -- Ayn Rand didn't grow up in Nazi Germany, but rather grew up in revolution-era St. Petersburg, Russia.

With that, can I suggest to my dear interlocutors John and Mtmynd that we now bring this discussion to a close, and each take a breather and perhaps meet again in a future debate? I think this one has run its course, and maybe gone an extra lap or two beyond. I hope that people who visit this page in the future (and many will -- these pages get lots of traffic) will want to read this discussion, so let's not overwhelm them with too much repetition of the same points ...

by John Woods on

Granted

by mtmynd on

Thank you, Levi and John for the stimulating discussion. I did indeed enjoy it. Sorry about the misinfo on Ms Rand's early years. No excuse for that.

by Greg Allwood on

I just read your book "Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong (And Why It Matters)." Your approach is right on - attacking the core idea that we are all naturally selfish. I always found this assumption to be out of sync with reality, and ironically, I think one canon of Randian style thought can be used to show why. As with Ayn Rand being popular among very libertarian thinkers, Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene also enjoyed a certain level of popularity on the right. Jeffrey Skilling of Enron infamy, for example, apparently said it was his favorite book. And the appeal for him was in the title, because he believed that it supported the right of him and others to be completely selfish. But he seemed not to have fully understood the idea behind it. The book wasn't called The Selfish Human, merely The Selfish Gene, and merely focused on the process by which genes successfully replicate themselves through human and animal carriers over time. What this means is that if altruism and pro-group behavior prove advantageous to a gene's replication, these too can become the norm as well as selfish behavior can. In other words, the Selfish Gene theory explains the reason for both selfish and altruistic behavior.

I think ultimately you also have to match up the current level of scientific understanding with broader common sense observations: We are a communal species, and it seems that our inner conflicts arise from the dueling needs to be both individualistic (or selfish) and communal (or altruistic). It may turn out that genes, as well as socialization, also might explain the reason why for some people Ayn Rand's egoism assertions are self-evidently true, and why for people like us reading and writing on this blog that they are so self-evidently bullshit, to use an obscure academic term!! (Brain studies done on liberals and conservatives already indicate increased activity in the amygdala in the latter). It also seems that balancing these two drives lines up well with observations made by those who study the recipe for creating lasting happiness - i.e. find something you love doing (selfish) that you can use to benefit your society (selfless). Perhaps the next step forward, as we gain more philosophical insights and increase our scientific understanding of genetic drives and social conditioning, is to refine this model of happiness so that it encompasses the possible genetic variations between those who naturally seem inclined to see the world through the eyes of Rand, and those of us who seem naturally inclined to see human nature differently.

by DaveMaven on

All groups are composed of people. So your argument falls apart. Also, I don't think this analogy is a good way to think about ethical issues. You could try...I don't know...thinking about the issues by looking at reality instead, maybe?

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