Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 4 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
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Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 4 with David Gordon - Mises Academy



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    Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 4 with David Gordon - Mises Academy Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 4 with David Gordon - Mises Academy Presentation Transcript

    • Ayn Rand Lecture 4 Ethics (2)
    • Strengths of Rand’s View of Ethics ●Rand is right to question theories that define ethics as service to others. Altruism, in her sense, has had bad effects. ●She is also on strong grounds if she can show that doing certain things is essential to our survival. Survival is a powerful motive. ●But it doesn’t follow from this that Rand has given us the whole truth about ethics, or that the particular details of her arguments are correct.
    • Does Objectivist Ethics Give Us the Whole Truth? ●How can we assess the Objectivist claims about ethics? ●The obvious way is to go through the steps of Rand’s argument. The most important critical assessment is Robert Nozick, “On the Randian Argument”. ●We can also see test Objectivist conclusions against our moral judgments in particular cases. Objectivists wouldn’t accept this method.
    • The Biological Argument ●Objectivists argue that human beings do not have instincts. We need to use reason in order to survive. ●Therefore, the purpose of reason is to help us survive. ●Is this a good argument? If Rand is drawing an analogy from biology, the analogy can be questioned. On some views, e.g., Richard Dawkins, survival of one’s genes is primary and this can lead to individual sacrifice, in some circumstances.
    • More on Biology and Function ●You might say, even if Dawkins is right, so what? Why should this matter for ethics? But the point is that Rand can’t unproblematically appeal to the biology point to support her argument. ●Suppose she is right---the purpose or function of reason is to enable each person to promote his or her survival. Does it follow that you ought to use your reason for this purpose?
    • The Meaning of “Ought” ●On Rand’s theory of concepts, this does follow, if the concept “ought” has been correctly abstracted from experience. ●But how do we know that this correct? It seems that she is giving a theory about the nature of ought-terms, rather than an uncontroversial explanation of what the term means.
    • More on the Meaning of “Ought” ●We can see this by asking the question, “Ought we to do what will promote our survival?” If Rand were correct, this question would be equivalent to “Ought we to do what we ought to do?” ●But it isn’t. This is a variation of G.E. Moore’s famous “open question” argument.
    • Still More on “Ought” ●Rand’s view is that how you ought to use reason is determined by reason’s function. (See Harry Binswanger, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts). ●Is it wrong to use something in a way not determined by its function? Aquinas gives the example of walking on your hands. ●Not every use of something against its function is an abuse or misuse. If you use your reason primarily to help others, is this an abuse?
    • Eric Mack’s Argument ●Eric Mack, a philosopher at Tulane with Objectivist sympathies, has an argument that strongly supports Rand on “ought”. ●If we reject subjectivism and think that moral judgments are true or false, then we have to show that moral judgments follow from facts about the world. Rand’ s definition of “ought” achieves this.
    • Counter to Mack ●Mack’s point is that, to be objective, ought judgments can’t be freestanding. They must be derived from the facts. ●Is this true? Another view is that some ethical truths are directly grasped as true. They aren’ t deduced from something else. E.g., “It’s wrong to kill people for fun.” This position is called intuitionism. Intuitions are immediate judgments, not hunches or feelings. This goes against Rand’s theory of concepts.
    • Is Objectivist Ethics a Natural Law Theory? ●Neil Parille asked this excellent question. At first sight, it appears that it is straightforwardly a natural law theory. One account of natural law theory is a theory that claims that the requirements of human nature enable you to deduce “ought” from “is.” ●Objectivism seems to pass the other requirement , i.e., that it give laws of nature, since it teaches rules for behavior.
    • The Other Side ●There is an aspect of Objectivist ethics that is not in accord with usual natural law theories. ●In her view, everyone faces the choice of whether to live or to die. ●But in standard natural law theory, what you ought to do isn’t dependent on your choosing something. You simply ought to do it. ●If you have a choice, then morality consists of hypothetical imperatives: if you choose to live, you should. . .
    • Difference of Opinion ●Among Objectivist philosophers or sympathizers, the question of the importance of choice has led to controversy. ●Some Objectivists, e.g., Tara Smith in Viable Values, stress the importance of choice. She thinks that without the choice to live, one would have a version of intrinsicism: there are some actions that are things-to-be done in themselves. ●Doug Rasmussen and Doug DenUyl emphasize ought over choice.
    • A Possible Compromise ●One way to lessen the difference between these two positions is to say that morality does consist of hypothetical imperatives, but that everyone, or nearly everyone, chooses to live. ●In Kant’s terms, this would be an assertoric imperative. ●This position is the same as that of Ludwig von Mises
    • The Choice to Live ●Rand seems obviously correct that the choice to live is important to nearly everybody. ●But she goes further. She says that if you don’t choose to live, nothing else could matter to you. The immortal robot example is supposed to illustrate this. ●The immortal robot example seems flawed. Why couldn’t things matter to the robot? Suppose that it could feel pain. Wouldn’t it have an interest in avoiding this?
    • The Objectivist Reply ●One Objectivist response is that pain is an evolutionary response to help animals survive. Pain wouldn’t exist for an immortal robot. But why does the evolutionary origin of pain in the actual world determine the meaning of pain? Again, Rand’s theory of concepts is crucial. ●My “heaven and hell” counterexample. The Objectivist response is again that these concepts aren’t properly formed.
    • A Deeper Challenge ●Suppose Rand is right that everything , or nearly everything, that anyone acts to gain or keep has a necessary condition that one is alive. Does it follow that everything we can value depends on the choice to live? ●Of course, on the Objectivist definition of value, it does follow, because a value just is “what one acts to gain or keep.” But can’t we value states of affairs that will exist only after we die, , in the sense that we think these states of affairs will be a “good thing”? What is wrong with intrinsicism?
    • Internal Problems ●Eric Mack has noted an important internal problem in Rand’s ethics. ●Sometimes, the purpose of ethics is said to be, for each person, his survival, Other times, it is said to be his survival under certain conditions, e.g., his survival as a rational being or as someone who acts virtuously. Parasitism isn’t allowed. ●These two goals need not always dictate identical courses of conduct. What if you can, in some cases, best secure your survival by not acting virtuously?
    • Rand’s Response ●Rand’s response to this kind of objection is that it rests on a false premise. ●In fact, acting virtuously always will best promote one’s survival. ●Is this true? In answer to an example of John Hospers, who imagined a bank employee who embezzles money once and lives happily ever after, Rand suggests he would always live in fear of being found out. But why think so? It appears that Rand has just written a story in line with her own views. Tara Smith also adopts this line.
    • Self-Sacrifice ●Rand herself that there are cases where self- sacrifice is justified. Someone else’s life may count as so high a value for you that your life would not be worth living without them. Rand said, e.g., that she would “stop a bullet” for her husband. ●Clearly, in this sort of case, you are not acting to secure your physical survival. Nozick has raised a related point: is it in fact true that you couldn’t live without the other person? Would you kill yourself after they die?
    • Objectivist Self-Sacrifice and Altruism ●Rand says that the type of self-sacrifice she allows isn’t altruistic. Her principle is, don’t sacrifice a higher value for a lesser value. Thus, you shouldn’t sacrifice yourself for someone you regard as of less value than yourself, e. g., a stranger or an enemy.
    • Limits of Rand’s Principle ●Rand’s principle doesn’t rule out as much as you might think. ●Let’s take an extreme case of acting antithetically to Objectivist ethics: A Nazi who believes he should sacrifice himself to carry out Hitler’s will. ●Rand’s principle would tell the Nazi not to sacrifice himself if he really didn’t care about Hitler but just thought that it was his duty to do so. But it would not rule out the actions of the Nazi who really did value Hitler.
    • Objectivism and Moral Intuitions ●Does Objectivism come up with the correct answers, according to our considered moral judgments? ●Objectivists think we have no moral duty to help others. You can if you want, and Rand thinks that sympathy for others and the desire to affirm life might lead us in many cases to act on others’ behalf. But this, she thinks, isn’t of major significance. Is this correct?
    • Michael Huemer’s Criticism ●The point just made has to be distinguished from the libertarian claim that we have no enforceable moral duties to help others. ●Michael Huemer has criticized Rand in this way; She says that respecting the rights of others best advances self-interest. But what if it didn’t? Then, she would as an ethical egoist have to say that you should take advantage of others. ●She could reply that she isn’t advancing egoism as a theory for such situations. She is concerned with the actual world. On her