The Arbitrary (from The Objectivism Seminar)

The Objectivism Seminar is a podcast series that features informal discussions of the works of Ayn Rand, Leonard Peikoff, and others, (mostly Objectivist intellectuals.) It takes the form of a conference call between a number of Objectivists/Students of Objectivism, where they summarize, discuss and mull over the ideas presented.

This episode features a nice discussion of the section of Leonard Peikoff’s Objectivism (OPAR), titled “The Arbitrary as Neither True Nor False.”

The Objectivism Seminar: The Arbitrary

Here’s the TalkShoe page for the podcast.

Here’s the Ayn Rand Lexicon page on the Arbitrary.

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Related Posts:

Objectivism vs. Intrinsicism vs. Subjectivism: A Short Summary

The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

A Refutation of the Argument from Design

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Why a Proper Ethics is Not a Set of Social Rules, But a Complete Way of Life

ayn_rands_normative_ethics_the_virtuous_egoist_300Note: I recommend reading the entire article, but if you really need just a summary, scroll down to the bottom of the post and see the “Summary” section. Also, the image on the right is not meant to imply that this article is from Dr. Smith’s book. This is my essay.

Many people today–especially in the atheist/skeptic/naturalist subculture–think of ethics as a set of rules that applies only to interactions with other people. They don’t think that primarily personal decisions can be considered immoral, but only actions that harm (or don’t help) others.

One will find, however, that a great many historical philosophers considered ethics to encompass a complete way of life; both the personal and the social aspects. Aristotle, Epicurus, the Stoics, Thomas Aquinas, Immanuel Kant and Ayn Rand all regarded ethics as defining the proper way to live. Indeed, the dictionary definition of ethics as “the branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of actions and the goodness and badness of motives and ends,” does not specify that “goodness and badness” must be “social.”

Were all these philosophers wrong in their idea of the basic place of ethics in human life? Were they fundamentally misguided in their whole approach to ethical questions? Is the dictionary definition of ethics wrong? Here I will examine the facts of the case for morality as a set of principles that provide guidance for a complete way of life, versus morality as a set of rules for promoting “proper” social interaction. Continue reading

The Bible (New Testament) as Evidence

It should not take a professional historian to know that the Gospels are inadequate as evidence for their miraculous/bizarre claims, just as it should not take a legal scholar to observe that the claim of a trial witness, that the defendant resurrected a corpse, needs corroboration by physical evidence.

When we weigh evidence for a claim, the physical evidence that is closest to our first-hand experience should be given the greatest weight. Physical evidence further removed from our experience (say, a photograph in an old book, or a digital photo that could have been altered) should be given a somewhat lesser weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a well known and trusted friend should initially be given moderately high weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a stranger should be given a low weight. The testimony–without immediate physical evidence–of a known liar should be given no weight. Claims that produce no further evidence when reasonably investigated should be dismissed as baseless. (A large amount of mutually consistent evidence that is far removed from one’s first-hand experience can still be properly convincing.) Continue reading

The Theme

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.

Why Each Person Can Have Only One Ultimate Value

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.

An example of a hypothetical value tree. This tree would be possible for someone to attempt, but would be unsustainable. Click to enlarge.

An example of a hypothetical value tree. This tree would be possible for someone to attempt, but would be unsustainable. Click to enlarge.

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 (Link) 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.

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Related Posts:

Values Are Relational But Not Subjective

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Atlas Shrugged, Altruism and Egoism

On Fairness and Justice: Their Meanings, Scopes, and How They Are Not the Same