Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy


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Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy

  1. 1. Ayn Rand Lecture 3 Ethics
  2. 2. Essence ●In the last lecture, I used “essence” the way it is usually used in philosophy, rather than in the Objectivist way. ●In Objectivism, essence is epistemological, not metaphysical. A concept means all the terms it applies to, and all their characteristics. The definition gives the properties that best account for these characteristics.
  3. 3. Essence in Mainstream Philosophy ●In mainstream philosophy, an object’s properties can be divided into two classes. One class is the essential characteristics. The object wouldn’t be the object that it is without these properties. ●The rest of the properties are non-essential. ●For Objectivists, an object must have all of its characteristics, excepting human choices. But Objectivists wouldn’t say, as I did last time, that all of an object’s characteristics are
  4. 4. The Spiral ●Objectivists such as Peikoff and Kelley stress that the various doctrines of Objectivism support one another. ●One principle leads to the next. In turn, later principles further explain, and add support for, earlier ones. ●A consistent system need not be true.
  5. 5. Fundamental Division of Ethics ●Objectivists say that all ethical systems can be divided into two categories: Those that are based on individual self- interest, and those that support sacrifice to a collective or other people. Egoism versus altruism. ●This division isn’t logically required. Systems of ethics can fall into neither of
  6. 6. Rand’s Great Contribution ●Rand’s criticism of altruism is one of her greatest contributions. ●Collectivist morality has had disastrous consequences in the 20th century. ●The Nazi slogan was “the common good before the individual good”. Individual lives were to be sacrificed for the good of the master race.
  7. 7. Communist Morality ●The Communists had an analogous view. Individual well-being should be subordinated to the goal of communist revolution. ●People should sacrifice themselves for the future generations. During the 1930s and 40s, the Communists were well aware that people at the time were
  8. 8. World War I ●Collectivist morality played a major role in World War I propaganda. ●People could achieve moral regeneration by sacrificing themselves for a cause. ●Rupert Brooke’s war sonnets. ●P.T. Forsyth---the sacrifice in war is like Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
  9. 9. Altruism and Christianity ●In the 20th century, an influential interpretation of Christianity claimed that the New Testament taught self-sacrificial love for others as the basis of ethics. ●Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, was the most comprehensive statement of this position. ●The counter to this emphasized, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
  10. 10. Peter Singer and Altruism ●Peter Singer has argued that we have a moral duty to give large amounts of our wealth to help the poor all over the world to avoid death by disease and starvation. ●His argument is utilitarian---if you can achieve a great good at little cost, aren’t you obligated to do it?
  11. 11. The Counter-Tradition ●Greek ethics, especially the ethics of Aristotle, emphasized that the goal of ethics is the individual’s pursuit of the good life. ●The term for this in Greek is eudaimonia. ●Mises also places himself in this tradition
  12. 12. Another Key Division in Ethics ●A related distinction to that between self-interest and collectivism has to do with the reason we should be moral. ●Here again there are two main answers. ●One is that it is in one’s interest to be moral. Since Rand thinks that the purpose of morality is to promote your own life, of course she fits into this category.
  13. 13. The Other Alternative ●The other view is that morality makes demands on you. You must do your duty, whether it is to your advantage to do so or not. ●H.A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?” (1912), said that to ask for a reason to be moral reduces morality to something else. ●Note that this distinction is not the same as the split between self-interest and collectivism. Someone who was not a
  14. 14. Egoism and Ethics ●Suppose, like Rand, you think that ethics aims to promote self-interest. Won’t this lead to a problem? What if everybody accepts and acts on this view? Won’t this lead to conflict? ●Not if people’s interest are in fundamental harmony. People advance their own interests by cooperating with others, not by fighting with them. ●This is a principal theme of Atlas Shrugged. It is also basic to Mises’s ethics.
  15. 15. Why Does Ethics Exist? ●Rand asks, why does the institution of ethics or morality exist? ●She finds the answer in biology. Animals survive by instinct. They automatically do what is required to ensure their survival. ●Human beings aren’t like that. We don’t have instincts but must rely on reason in order to live.
  16. 16. The Purpose of Ethics ●The fact that human beings need to use reason in order to survive gives us the point and purpose of ethics. ●A value is what one acts to gain or keep.The point we’ve just discussed tells us what we should act to gain or keep.
  17. 17. Is Ethics Objective? ●One of the most important controversies in ethics is whether morality is objective. As most philosophers understand this, the question means, “Can moral judgments be true or false”? ●To answer “No”, is to accept subjectivism. Suppose I like vanilla ice cream but you don’t. Neither of us is correct or incorrect. Subjectivists think that moral judgments are like this.
  18. 18. Rand and Objective Morality ●Rand counts as a believer in objectivity in the way just distinguished. She thought it wasn’t just a matter of opinion that the purpose of ethics is, for each person, his own survival. This is true, in a straightforward sense. ●She separates her version of objectivity from another position, intrinsicism.
  19. 19. Intrinsicism ●Many philosophers who accept moral objectivity reason in this way; If morality is objectively true, then the propositions of morality aren’t up to us. ●But if they aren’t up to us, then their truth holds independently of us. Things are valuable regardless of our relations to them. G.E. Moore said that a beautiful object would be valuable even in a universe without conscious beings.
  20. 20. Rand and Intrinsicism ●Rand rejected intrinsicism. Things aren’t good or bad in themselves: a value is what promotes someone’s life. ●When Rand talks about “objectivism” in morals, she has her own position in mind, rather than any view that takes moral judgments to be true or false. ●Rand takes her objectivist view to be in between subjectivism and intrinsicism.
  21. 21. The Fundamental Choice in Ethics ●Rand says that everyone has a basic choice: whether to live or die. ●If you don’t choose to live, no other choices have a rational basis. Being alive is a necessary condition for all other choices. ●If we didn’t have the choice to live or die, nothing could matter to us. The immortal robot example shows this.
  22. 22. Life As A Rational Being ●If we choose to live, we aren’t choosing bare physical survival but survival as a rational being. ●Each person chooses to live rather than to subordinate his life to some collective. But people should respect the rights of others to make the same choice in their own lives. ●Parasitism is out.