David’s Brief Case for Objective Morality:
October 15, 2002
Introduction to Objectivist Ethics
(Notes for my presentation on Nov 13, 2002)
What questions does ethics answer? – 3 fundamental yet interrelated questions:
What have been traditional answers to these questions? This depends on the source of morality various philosophers have used.
Objectivism says that morality is derived from the nature of reality, and answers the fundamental questions as such:
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.