A musical theme for this blog. I choose it not because it’s my favorite piece of music ever, (though it is fairly high on the list) but because it fits how I feel about the blog. I only wish it were longer. This theme music for the blog has been added to the About page, and may change from time to time.
A value is, in Ayn Rand’s words, “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” It is a goal of a set of actions. Most values are pursued for the sake of gaining other values. For example, a new hammer may be pursued in order for someone to build a scaffold. The scaffold is itself pursued in order to allow the construction of a house. The house is pursued in order that the builder may live there and thus have a richer, more comfortable life. The hammer is valuable in order to get the scaffold, the scaffold is valuable in order to get the house, the house is valuable in order to improve one’s quality of life. This progression can be termed a “value chain.”
A value chain cannot go on infinitely. A person must have some ultimate value that serves to justify and motivate the others. A set of value chains that converge on a single ultimate value may be termed a “value tree.” The ultimate value is an end-in-itself that is never pursued purely as a means to something else.
So the question I will answer is: Can a person be committed to more than one separate value tree, each leading to a separate ultimate value?
Having two different value trees means that two different sets of actions are required to achieve each ultimate value. The actions required to achieve one will continually conflict with the actions required to achieve the other. Thus, a choice will be required to select only one of the two appropriate actions at a given time. As one obvious example, consider a man who has Ultimate Value 1 (UV1) as “freeze apples” and Ultimate Value 2 (UV2) as “bake cakes.” He has just obtained eight hundred dollars. He owns neither a freezer nor an oven. If he wants to pursue UV1, he should buy a freezer. If he wants to pursue UV2, he should buy an oven. How is he to decide where to spend his money? The way one decides with a single ultimate value is by determining which option better promotes that ultimate value in the current situation. But with two distinct ultimate values, there is no way to decide rationally. The man making the choice might as well flip a coin. There is no rational way to decide which ultimate value to pursue at any given time.
Having an ultimate value means that every decision should be weighed by how much it contributes to that ultimate value. It means that the person should plan in advance for how best to achieve as much of the value as possible. It means ruthlessly cutting out any value that is not a part of that particular value tree, because only values that serve the ultimate value are justified. In the case of UV1, this means freezing as many apples as possible while one is alive. For UV2, this means baking as many cakes as possible. But if a man holds these two “ultimate” values, then he cannot plan in advance how to achieve either one to the best of his ability. There are necessarily many situations where he does not act to gain and/or keep each of the purported ultimate values. The very fact that there are two “ultimate” values means that they violate and contradict each other. So, in a very real sense, he does not actually value either of the “ultimate values” as ultimate values.
Therefore, having two ultimate values is, in a strict sense, self-contradictory and impossible.
More realistic examples of attempts to posit more than one ultimate value will be discussed in upcoming articles. One article will deal with one’s own life versus socialization as ultimate values and another will discuss an example of life vs. flute playing.
I also recommend Viable Values: A Study of Life as the Root and Reward of Morality and Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith.
One example of interdependence is the set of critical organs in a human body. Taken as units in themselves, the brain, heart and lungs are interdependent: removal or destruction of one of them necessitates the destruction of the others. Another example of interdependence is the caste system in eusocial insects like bees, ants and termites. The reproductive caste and worker caste are each needed to keep the hive (and thus the other) productive and alive.
A division-of-labor society of human beings takes on a superficial appearance of interdependence. Different people do different jobs and rely on those in other specialties for raw materials and general trade. But unlike real interdependent systems, individuals in a society can exercise independent judgment and change occupations. An individual’s job is not set for life in his genetics, but chosen by the individual. People can and do get promoted, change jobs, change career types, etc. Companies in a free market can and do expand into new fields of business.
If, in a hypothetical, laissez-faire capitalist society, all those who performed one sort of productive job were suddenly removed, then it is still possible for those in other professions to take over the job and maintain a similar division of labor. There might be great hardship for a while from such a sudden displacement, but since most other individuals would be able to adapt and survive, the society fails the test for interdependence. (This is to say nothing of the more realistic, gradual removal of people from an occupation, which a capitalist society can undergo with most people hardly noticing. In contrast, if lung tissue were gradually removed from your body, it would become harder and harder for your other organs to function, and your heart would not transform to replace the missing lung tissue.)
Moreover, not all activities undertaken by all other individuals in a society are valuable to a given individual. In fact, some are positively harmful, such as dishonest schemes, irresponsible investment plans, and theft. Since each individual has free will–the choice to think or not, to judge or not, and the capacity to behave destructively toward self and others–it is up to the independent judgment of each individual to determine friend from foe. Other people can’t be dissolved into an undifferentiated mass of beneficence, let alone all be considered critical to one’s own survival. (Easily observable facts refute this collectivist notion.)
If one individual is physically injured to the point of mental damage or paralysis, then that person can become genuinely dependent on other individuals who provide his care and sustenance. But this metaphysical dependence goes only one way: the injured is dependent on the uninjured, not vice versa. There is no “interdependence” here.
Ordinary, healthy, adult human beings are fundamentally independent creatures, and intonations to the contrary are spurious. I have only ever heard vague assertions of “interdependence” from people. I have never heard “interdependence” defined, even though such a definition is a prerequisite to any rational argument about whether or not a society of human beings is “interdependent.” (2)
(1) This is metaphysical interdependence. The common definitions of “interdependence” and “dependence” are philosophically vacuous.
(2) Dictionary definitions are unhelpful: “interdependent – mutually dependent; depending on each other.”
“dependent – relying on someone or something else for aid, support, etc.”
Relying, in what way? Aid from whom? What happens if the support doesn’t come from whomever? This definition is useless philosophically, since it can encompass everything from an appointment with one doctor out of many to have a wart removed, to being fed through a tube because you’re paralyzed for life. The required definition is one of metaphysical (inter-)dependence, which is philosophically significant, and is the definition I gave at the start of this article.
In this segment of his morning radio show, Bill Handel talks about the benefits of the concierge doctor service, Atlas MD. It’s a glimpse into the quality and efficiency of free-market healthcare. The only thing that’s missing is an unregulated, unsubsidized health insurance industry that mostly provides benefits for large/catastrophic medical expenses, rather than everyday expenses. This segment really is great to hear.
At root, subjectivism, intrinsicism and Objectivism are theories of the nature of concepts or “universals.” Here, I summarize them in regard to their view of the nature of truth and knowledge. Since truth is a quality of statements composed of concepts, each school’s view of truth is a direct outgrowth of its view of concepts.
Subjectivism holds that truth, in effect, resides only in the mind. For a subjectivist, a particular statement can be true for one person and false for another. (Kant (by implication), Wittgenstein, James, Sartre, etc.) “Truth” amounts to whatever one believes, and there is no such thing as “knowledge” of reality; only some sort of “experience” inside one’s own mind.
Intrinsicism holds that truth resides disembodied out in the world. Typically, intrinsicists hold that all people have to do is somehow “open their hearts to God,” or “pay attention to their intuitions,” or “open their minds to the light of truth,” and the “external truth” will infallibly push its way in. If the truth is already “out there,” then there’s no reason to think that any special processing is required to reach it; one merely has to absorb it. (Plato, Aristotle (partially, in regard to essences), Apostle Paul, Augustine, etc.) For an intrinsicist, conceptual knowledge is whatever external truths one happens to have absorbed. A particular statement is “true” for everyone, whether they have any evidence or not. (And it’s an arbitrarily answerable question whether various people can be held responsible for not grasping all the “floating truth” out there.) (1)
Objectivism holds that truth and falsehood are aspects of conceptual knowledge. Truth (and perceptual knowledge) is a relationship between a consciousness and reality. Truth is reality, as conceptually processed by a consciousness. Truths do not exist disembodied in external reality. Only physical entities (and their aspects–including other consciousnesses) exist in external reality. I can only reach a truth when I choose to conceptually process percepts by reasoning (by the method of logic.) For an Objectivist, a particular statement cannot be true for one person and false for another, (2) but it can be arbitrary for one person and either true or false for another. People can have different levels of evidence that change how the statement ranks on their “epistemological determinacy” scale. (From arbitrary, to possibly true or false, to probably true or false, to certainly true or false.)
There is much more to be said about this topic, and I recommend Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, by Leonard Peikoff, for more.
(1) To be clear, most modern, intellectual intrinsicists (and many such subjectivists) go to great pains to cloak their theory of knowledge in the appearance of reasoning from observation. They use the language of natural science and the formalism of deductive arguments. But this is all rationalization or inconsistency, because, for intrinsicists, the ultimate basis of “knowledge” is just to “feel the [allegedly external] truth.” For subjectivists, whatever their pretenses about subjectivism being necessitated by objective science, that self-contradiction wipes out objectivity on their part, and they thus imply that there’s no such thing as knowledge of reality. (What distinguishes knowledge of reality from fantasy is that knowledge is objective.)
(2) So long as the statement actually has matching referents in both cases. The same words referring to different people aren’t actually the same statement, because the words have different referents in each context.
General evidence can prove generalizations. Specific evidence is required for specific propositions. The scope of sensory data that can tie a statement to reality (serve as evidence) varies with the scope of the statement.
If I make the statement, “All men have heads,” then the scope of potential, direct evidence for this statement (and counterexamples) is all men. I can observe a few random men and have a sensory basis to at least hypothesize that “All men have heads,” is true. (Exactly when I can logically say that a generalization is proven, is the subject of the epistemology of induction. While the principles of general induction are not yet fully known, the philosophy of Objectivism and the principles of modern science/technology show that induction works. I recommend Dr. Peikoff’s course, Objectivism Through Induction.)
If, on the other hand, I make the statement that “Julius Oglethorpe III lives at 10 Warkworth Terrace in Cambridge, England,” then I can’t gain a basis for hypothesizing that statement (let alone proving it) by observing a few random men. I need evidence that pertains to the specific statement at hand. To hypothesize, I need to see effects of the fact that Julius Oglethorpe III exists, or the fact that 10 Warkworth Terrace exists. To prove this statement, I need to see a set of facts that all evidence shows can only come from the fact that a man with this name lives at this address.
In both cases, the evidence that warrants the hypothesis or conclusion reduces to sensory data. But the evidence for the specific statement is much more specific than that for the general statement.
[Note: This short article was derived from a longer comment I made at "The Christian Egoist" blog: D'Souza vs. Bernstein: Is Either Good for Mankind?]