[Note: I was unable to completely replace all instances of "man" and "his” with gender-neutral alternatives without sacrificing clarity.]
JG then Ayn Rand said:
I know things exist and that they will always exist until they are broken down into their constituent components to be rebuilt again as something else. A chair is a chair. A stone is a stone. . . If that which you claim to perceive does not exist, what you possess is not consciousness.
Is a hallucinated mushroom a mushroom? Let's say I take some LSD and start seeing a psychedelic mushroom. When the drug wears off, I stop seeing the mushroom. Was this hallucinated mushroom a mushroom? If not, what was it? Does it exist and has it stopped existing? Was it perceived by my consciousness?
Another example: Is what most people see as a yellow house still a yellow house to a tritanope
What I'm trying to get at is that human consciousness perceives a distorted version of reality (an extreme example of this is synaethesia
) Another example is seeing a wall and perceiving it as solid when it fact it is mostly empty space (protons, neutrons, and electrons take up a very small fraction of the space the wall occupies).
It's also not true that matter will always exist as matter. Matter can be converted into energy (a process which happens inside the sun and inside nuclear reactors).
I live by the concept that I, as a human being, must do what is needed to survive since the alternative is my death. Dead, I would not feel, move, breathe, or enjoy the greatest gift of the universe: existence.
If there is an alternative to life, namely choosing to die, then it isn't true that one must
live. Are you saying people don't have the freedom to choose death? Or are you saying that one must choose life if he is to "feel, move, breathe, or enjoy the greatest gift of the universe: existence." (Picking the former option means you will have to grapple with determinism; picking the latter option means your moral system is subjective rather than objective.)
*You who prattle that morality is social and that man would need no morality on a desert island. It is on a desert island that he would need it most. Let him try to claim, when there are no victims to pay for it, that a rock is a house, that sand is clothing, that food will drop into his mouth without cause or effort, that he will collect a harvest tomorrow by devouring his stock seed today—and reality will wipe him out, as he deserves; reality will show him that life is a value to be bought and that thinking is the only coin noble enough to buy it.
Surely, Ayn Rand meant "deserted island," right? Yes, a man on a deserted island has physical needs he must satisfy if he is to continue to live, but this is just a statement of fact, not a moral statement. The paragraph you quoted does absolutely nothing to dispute the idea that morality is social. More on this later.
Whatever robs me of my rights is immoral.
But as you've defined them, your rights only extend to that which you need to survive. Consequently, under your moral system, if you have 10,000 units of food but only need 100 units to survive, it is not immoral for someone to steal 100 units of food from you.
Also, you ultimately fail to explain why someone shouldn't commit murder if it is in his best interests to do so. You say that killing another person would cheapen the life of the murderer, but in so doing you appeal to some undefined concept of the worth of life. You've implicitly said one should uphold the worth of his life at the expense of making it more difficult, if not impossible, to obtain that which he needs to physically survive. This contradicts your axiom that the basis of human morality is physical survival, since upholding the worth of one's life is now more important than acquiring the resources needed to survive.
It's worth noting that Ayn Rand apparently recognized this dilemma and resorted to a tactic that's all too common in her writings. She redefines 'life' and sets up an absolute jewel of a circular argument:
OE, on p.24, said:
Such is the meaning of the definition: that which is required for the survival of man qua man. It does not mean a momentary or a merely physical survival. It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a mindless brute, waiting for another brute to crush his skull. It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a crawling aggregate of muscles who is willing to accept any terms, obey any thug and surrender any values, for the sake of what is known as 'survival at any price,' which may or may not last a week or a year.
She never defines 'Man's Life' and never does more than a superficial exploration of what separates 'Man's Life' from the common meaning of 'life.' This alone smacks of an unsatisfactory foundation upon which to build a value system. Moreover, she then proceeds to equivocate between these two different concepts of life, thereby rendering many of her future arguments invalid.
Now, let's look at that absolute jewel of a circular argument I mentioned: Man's ultimate concern is to ensure his physical survival, but if he does so by acting brutish, he is not living the life of a man. (If we take the conclusion out of the premise, she has argued as follows: physical survival is the ultimate value, but physical survival + non-brutishness is an even more ultimate value.)
What we have above is a fairly standard circular argument, but she elevates it to jewel-like status by making the incredible claim that "there are no conflicts of interests among rational men," (and therefore behaving brutishly towards other men is never necessary to ensure one's own physical survival.) For Ayn Rand's argument to this effect and a proper debunking of it, click here
you add something interesting to Objectivism: the concept that one can take on an obligation to another human. You concede that at times one ought to risk his life to fulfill his obligation to protect his children. However, this is just another way of saying that the value of fulfilling the obligation is more ultimate than the ultimate value of ensuring your own survival.
Now, after trying to explain some of the problems I have with the Objectivist value system (or more accurately the Objectivist 'reasoning' process), I think it may help the process of understanding each other to give an introduction to my view on the subject of what humans regard as moral and immoral behavior. (It's worth noting that the system I'm about to explain doesn't depend on whether humans have free will -- in fact considerable support for it was gained using deterministic computer simulations. Some of the more advanced simulations have a probabilistic component to the agents' actions, but the pseudo-random numbers were generated using a deterministic process.)
Basically, I think that human morality did arise out of the desire each human had to ensure not only his own survival but also that of his offspring (and perhaps to also live a fulfilling life). However, along the way something amazing happened to guide us toward cooperation.
Okay, actually this is taking longer than I thought it would so I'm mostly just going to quote what others have said on the subject. I'm going to draw from two sites:
1) Prisoner's Dilemna
2) Is Moral Behavior Your Best Strategy
I'll quote some of the more interesting paragraphs and hope that they're understandable when read on their own. If not, it shouldn't take long to read both web pages in their entirety. In these experiments, the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma was used.
Each of two players has the option to cooperate or defect (double cross). A player that moves to cooperate might honor an agreement or merely just refrain from stealing. A player that moves to defect might cheat on the agreement or commit theft.
For this first part, it probably would help to look at the payoff table in my first link:
Why are any of us moral at all? If my trading partner has decided to cheat me, I could get nothing, and so I should return the favor to at least come away with my measly point (and some vengeance). But if my partner has chosen to honor our agreement, I should still cheat--it doubles my profit. So, no matter what my opponent does, it seems I benefit by cheating. In fact, for the first three trading partners, I consistently do best if I cheat every time (even with Ann, who will only occasionally honor our agreement).
But we don't cheat every time in the real world. In fact most of us feel a strong aversion to it; we fret about it, and do all we can to be seen as and to feel as though we are trustworthy.
The situation of this game is a lot like those we experience every day. In these situations, one party's loss is not always the other's gain and cooperation can sometimes get us both more than we could otherwise obtain. It's also a lot like the situations our progenitors experienced in the history of our evolution. For example, if I go out with my buddy to kill a moose and he happens to plant the death blow while I was distracting the animal, can he then take all the meat? If he does, would I distract the beast tomorrow, or give him any share if I later found myself in his position?
This applies to other species as well of course. Why would a wolf "agree" to hunt in a pack if the gains went only to one wolf? Why would a flower feed the bee unless the bees did their part? Symbiosis is simply successful. You could even see this dynamic as applicable to the cellular world. Why would the cells in my gut graciously give up sugars and proteins to the cells in my legs and brain? Well, my legs and brain get the stomach to kitchen.
Amazingly TIT FOR TAT, the simplest strategy submitted, won the first computer tournament. On the first round you cooperate, and for the following rounds you simply do what the other player did the round before. A curious property of TIT FOR TAT is that in a head to head battle against any other strategy it can never win. This is because it is never the first to defect, and it forgives the other player after only one round. What happens in the computer tournament is that when aggressive strategies meet, they get locked in a cycle of double-crossing, and destroy each other. The power of TIT FOR TAT is that it forces competitive strategies to cooperate.[
After publishing his results, Axelrod ran a second tournament. TIT FOR TAT won again! Axelrod ranked all the strategies. What separated the high scoring entries from the low scoring entries is the property of being 'nice', that is not being the first to defect. Amongst the high scoring entries, there was a second property that separated these. The lowest scoring nice program was the least forgiving. After more analysis, Axelrod came up with the following four maxims on choosing an effective strategy:
1) don't be the first to double cross
2) defend yourself, but be forgiving
3) don't be envious (if someone has more points than you, don't try to slip in an unprovoked double cross)
4) be clear (make sure the other player understands the consequences of their actions)
It has not been lost on those involved that these [maxims] have a religious quality to them.
In 1993, Nowak and Sigmund showed that another very simple strategy WIN-STAY, LOSE CHANGE is superior to TIT FOR TAT in a few situations. This strategy is commonly called PAVLOV because of its reflex like response. Also, if players can make mistakes [ed: such as double crossing when one intended to cooperate], then a more forgiving version of TIT FOR TAT, called Generous TIT FOR TAT is superior. Laboratory experiments find humans use Generous TIT FOR TAT as well as sophisticated Pavlov-like strategies. Pavlov-like strategies are very popular amongst slot machine gamblers.
An example where both players play tit for tat but player 2) messes up on its first move and betrays (double crosses) when it intended to cooperate. On move 9, player 1) unintentionally double crosses when it had intended to cooperate.
1) C D C D C D C D D D D D D
2) D C D C D C D C D D D D D
But is morality only a conscious practical concern? I'd say certainly not. An instinct pulling us towards "fairness" is held in most people (The first rebuttal of an arguing child is often "It's not fair"), and, to keep a society of organisms successful, from wolf packs to apartment buildings, morality is obviously necessary. The fact that we feel a true urge towards morality, independent of other practical concerns, to help us negotiate the many benefits of cooperation and pitfalls of unconditional trust and deceit, should really come as no more of a surprise as having a pair of eye to help us negotiate a landscape. Evolutionarily, we would be an amazingly poor species otherwise.
But why not just play along when you're being watched, and cheat when no one is looking? Firstly, you can never know if no one is looking, and, by the mere shift in resources and the involvement of a victim, you're scheme will eventually be noticed and studied. Law enforcement, or worse, AMW's John Walsh, will be called and you, by all odds, will find yourself half dressed and pinned on your front lawn by a couple burly uniformed men while you slur curses in drunken confusion as to why the "dudes" won't listen to your perfectly fabricated explanations, all of it captured on tape just in time to appear on the next episode of TV's "Cops". You won't likely get away with it. We will find and get you! We're obsessed with it, and we have a great number of tools to help us in our dealings with cheaters (e.g. observing body language, seeking character witnesses, our love of gossip, punishment, logic, science, and so on). These tools are vital to the species and a society.
So, unless you are an amazing deceiver, you must yourself believe your intentions are honorable, else you may give yourself away. To keep this self-opinion up, conscience is continually weighing in on most our actions (and guilt when we have a moment of weakness).
For a person to be 100% sure to avoid retribution and get the full benefits of others, they must truly feel for others. This of course is easily seen in our near reflexive simulation of the feelings of others. For example, if I were to hit you on the thumb with a hammer, it certainly wouldn't hurt me nearly as much as it would you, but I would still feel a sort of pain. But the best example of this is love. In love it's vitally important for each person to honor the other, and so their feelings are best taken very personally; if your partner hurts, you too must hurt.
Simply put, morality for morality's sake on both sides is the only way to make the game work for sure; you must both want the other to do well and get what's fair.
None of this is to say morality is cut and dry. It's far from simple to balance the wills of 6 billion individuals. Nor do I mean to say morality can be summed up in a single game or reduced into a single process such as evolution.
No one can force another person to have genuine warmth and genuine regard for the well-being of others. However, if this person doesn't have these qualities (and isn't unusually good at deceiving people), he will be less trusted, people won't want to cooperate with him as much, and they will be less generous in what they're willing to offer him in his "value-for-value exchanges."
Example: Came up with a better example
Edited by Solar Wind, 05 December 2004 - 07:09 PM.