David’s Brief Case for Objective Morality:
October 15, 2002
- The are two forms of matter in the universe: living and nonliving, distinguished by the fact that living matter is mortal
- All lifeforms, including humans must satisfy certain needs (ie food, air, shelter, etc) in order to stay alive These needs are specific to the particular nature of each being: i.e. fish need water and worms, man needs air and meat/veggies
- Hence, all lifeforms have certain values (needs) they must achieve if they are to stay alive.
- For non-human animals, values are automatic: ie, their instinct tells them automatically that they must act in a certain way (hunt, run, reproduce) in order to remain alive. Humans however, are unique in that values are not automatic to them: unlike plants and animals they may choose to starve and die, and sometimes do.
- Man is also unique in that the means of survival is not automatic for him: instead of instinct he must learn to think and choose to do the things that prolong his life. He cannot (speaking generally) stay alive without using his mind. Thus, he must not only choose the values needed for life, but he must also use his rational faculties to achieve them.
- From 4 and 6, survival for man is dependent on the unique and necessary ability to use reason as his primary (actually, only) means of survival. Man cannot wish or pray for his food. He may steal it for a while, but someone, somewhere must create his daily sustenance by using his mind as the tool of his survival.
- The requirements for survival are objective (from 2) hence (from 6) the requirements for survival are the same for each individual and require the use of his mind to achieve objective (universal) goals in order to remain alive.
- Humans can choose other goals and ends during their life, but in order to accomplish them, they must remain alive (at least as long as death isn’t the goal they’ve chosen, in which case no values or actions would be needed at all.)
- Thus, in order to stay alive and accomplish any other goals, man must satisfy the requirements needed for his life: the use of reason to accomplish the needs of his survival.
- Since reason is a necessity of survival (from 7) and survival is the prerequisite of all other goals (from 9), all goals beyond mere survival must be analyzed to see how they affect survival. (For example, one can decide to risk his car as a race car driver, but since being a successful race car driver requires one to stay alive, he must take some minimum safety precautions.)
- Since the great majority of people have values that require their long-term survival (even when engaging in risky behavior) they must place their life as a primary means to all their other goals.
- Irrationality and mysticism are not a valid means of survival (from 6), and irrational values necessarily lead one towards death, since they do not accomplish the actions necessary to stay alive. (Not to mention not having any basis — which is another argument)
- Hence, “Reason is man’s only proper judge of values and his only proper guide to action. The proper standard of ethics is: man’s survival qua man — i.e., that which is required by man’s nature for his survival as a rational being (not his momentary physical survival as a mindless brute). Rationality is man’s basic virtue, and his three fundamental values are: reason, purpose, self-esteem.
- There is no other rational end (no possible rational justification for acting against self interest) – For example, not altruism since altruism goes against the rational requirements necessary for life.
- Thus: “Man — every man — is an end in himself, not a means to the ends of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; he must work for his rational self-interest, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.” Thus Objectivism rejects any form of altruism — the claim that morality consists in living for others or for society – because altruism is the irrational state of acting against one’s own life and towards death.
Introduction to Objectivist Ethics
(Notes for my presentation on Nov 13, 2002)
What questions does ethics answer? – 3 fundamental yet interrelated questions:
- For what end should we live?
- What fundamental principle, if any, should guide our actions?
- Who should profit from our actions?
What have been traditional answers to these questions? This depends on the source of morality various philosophers have used.
- Individual subjectivism
- No basis for morality at all (since we can’t go from an is statement about reality to an ought)
Objectivism says that morality is derived from the nature of reality, and answers the fundamental questions as such:
- Ultimate value is life.
- Primary virtue is rationality.
- Proper beneficiary from actions is oneself.
Before we can get into what values man should have, we must ask what values are, and what their purpose is.
The meaning of values is derived from observation of how people act in everyday life.
Ayn Rand said that values are something “is something that one works to gain or keep”
This implies that values have a specific goal to be achieve and an alternative, that is an alternative outcome is possible.
This implies that values imply choice, as only one outcome may actually be possible in reality, but it does imply that the entity possessing values perceives an alternative where the value is not achieved. If some value is automatically guaranteed, it is not in our power to achieve or fail to achieve it, and this it is outside the scope of morality.
For example, one may value gravity and food. However, the law of gravity is an aspect of nature that you have no control over, while all animals, including humans, must act to pursue food if they are to survive.
The only entities that we know to have values are living organisms. A rock or a chair does not pursue values because it has no alternative other than to sit there.
Living organisms on the other hand, must pursue self-generated and goal-directed actions in order to survive. From the simplest amoeba to a human being, it is our mortality that gives us the alternative between life and death, and gives us the ability to have values.
In short, goal-directed entities do not exist in order to pursue values – they pursue values in order to exist. Or, as AR says in Atlas Shrugged, “it is only the concept of life that makes values possible.” Life is thus the proper target of all goal-directed actions, it is not just a requirement for all other values to be possible, but the goal of all other values.
When applying this principle to man, we observe that man is fundamentally different from animals and plants. For all other varieties of life on earth, values are automatic, while man is the only being capable of choosing the values by which to lead his life.
Some people in this group have brought up dolphins as an example of an advanced “thinking” species of animal. Suppose this is true – suppose that dolphins have a limited vocabulary, highly developed communication skills, and complex social orders. Even if true, this the purpose of a dolphins is always the same – to survive. A dolphin may have a limit knowledge of the world and limited reasoning skills. But whatever abilities it may have, it only can only use them for a single purpose: to continue its own and its species survival.
Man on the other hand, is a being that developed a volitional, conceptual consciousness. We do not have an automatic course of action, no overwhelming desire for self-preservation. The evidence for this is not only in many suicides but our hostility to many life-sustaining processes by self-destructive actions.
Like all other animals, man has a specific nature he must act in accordance with in order to survive, just as a lion must hunt, and a fish must swim. However, for humans the process of survival is not automatic, and the knowledge does not come to us without a mental effort.
The specific nature of man is that he must use the faculty of reason in order to survive. Reason involves the ability to form long-range goals, to sacrifice short-term gains for long-term goals, to continually use his faculty of reason. Man, like all living organisms must continually act in accordance with his specific means of survival, and when we stop using our means of survival, it’s as if we let go of the wheel while driving a car down the road of life. We can pray and hope to get to our destination, but without using the facility required to do so, we’ll only end up in a ditch.
Because unlike animals. we have no instinct to guide us at every stage of life, long term planning become a necessity for all human beings, this is where the need for principles arises. Principles are not an idealistic luxury but a requirement for all human beings in order to achieve their long term values.