ETHICS - Objectivist Ethics
(PD) Ayn Rand
Copyright ©2009-2020 - updated August 23, 2020
"The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics - the standard by which one judges what is good or evil - is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man." - Ayn Rand - The Objectivist Ethics
A brief definition of Objectivist Ethics: "The philosophical view that an individual should live for one's self and base one's beliefs on what is observable in Reality."
Jewish-Russian-born Ayn Rand (Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum) wrote The Objectivist Ethics in 1961 within a similarly direct and authoritarian tense as did Jewish-Russian-born Boris Sidis write Philistine and Genius in 1919, and Rand's use of the English language held numerous similarities to the mental structurings within Jewish-Russian-born Sarah Sidis' The Sidis Story circa 1950 (Boris Sidis' wife). As the Stanley Milgram Experiment verified, about sixty to eighty-five percent of all humans will harm another human if told to do so by an authority figure, and so it is to be expected that a large percentage of the population would accept The Objectivist Ethics as valid, not because of there being a validity to the philosophy, but rather the acceptance would be upon the individuals' submissiveness to the author's authoritarian tone as well as for some individuals finding the philosophy to be an intellectualized excuse for selfishness.
Due to there existing a difference of mental patterning within individuals whose native language was one different than English, The Objectivist Ethics should be read with the carefulness of interpretation that the intended meanings of the author's words might not be fully compatible with the meanings that a native English speaking individual might give to the same words. All theories will contain flaws and incomplete research, and though the several key theories within The Objectivist Ethics are not rational, still it is necessary to give carefulness and a small degree of latitude to the possibility that the author had intended something other than what was written.
The most favored thoughts within the essay are contained within two statements:
(1) "But man's responsibility goes still further: a process of thought is not automatic nor "instinctive" nor involuntary - nor infallible. Man has to initiate it, to sustain it and to bear responsibility for its results. He has to discover how to tell what is true or false and how to correct his own errors; he has to discover how to validate his concepts, his conclusions, his knowledge; he has to discover the rules of thought, the laws of logic, to direct his thinking. ...Nothing is given to man on earth except a potential and the material on which to actualize it. ...But everything he needs or desires has to be learned, discovered and produced by him - by his own choice, by his own effort, by his own mind."
Man must participate in his own life, and not merely be a memory machine who believes that the memorizing of words and beliefs is sufficient to deem one's self educated or even useful. Rand was very correct on this topic although it is useful to note that each culture creates within itself a style of thinking that is not the same as other cultures'. An individual born into a Jewish style of logic based on debate, especially one that lived during the revolution of early twentieth century Russia, will not be easily compatible with the logic sequencing of an individual's who was born into a peaceful Nature-based American Native culture of latter twentieth century North America. The general concepts behind Rand's statement are correct, but her reasoning for the conclusions did not arrive through a similar sequence as what a native English speaking person might use to arrive at similar conclusions.
To better explain the paragraph above, if an individual were figuring square roots of numbers, the person might start at 81, then sum 9, and then sum 3 before summing 1.73. Another person might be figuring cubes, and go from 1 to 3 to 9. At one point both individuals will have arrived at the same answer of 3, but the reasoning and purpose behind the answers were not the same. Objectivism's general view in statement #2 is that man should choose values based on the facts of Reality, which is generally a correct view, but it is all but certain that Rand held no concept of nor so much as a twinkling thought of the how and why the human mind must rely on the observing of the laws of Nature. If Rand had knowledge of how man's psychological structuring was founded upon sensorial perception, then Rand would have also known the origins of ethics, virtue, quality, and all the other related topics, and the knowledge would have necessitated a different conclusion within objectivism's theory. Plainly stated, the theory behind objectivism is not in agreement with the physics of Reality.
Rand's conclusion was invented as an attempt to substantiate the book's other claims, and the conclusion did not present any hint of it having been established upon objective evidence. A conclusion - regardless of whether it be true or not - must be in sequenced harmony with the whole of the theory, else the true fact becomes false relative to the theory.
(2) "Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality."
Very much agreed. The facts of Reality are what the mind has no choice but to rely on for information of what might be true or false. It is unknown if Rand intended the sentence to be interpreted as such, but the sentence is correct as it stands. Creation created man, man did not create Creation, and man can do nothing that is outside of the laws of Creation, including thinking. It has for too long been the method of philosophy to ignore the physics of Nature, as well as to ignore the psychology of the human manner of thought processing, and never will philosophy discover an answer to ethics until philosophy accepts the reality that man is fully ruled by Nature.
Though there are dozens of serious flaws of reasoning within The Objectivist Ethics, especially that of there being almost no objectivism nor objective evidence to support the objectivist philosophy, the following few examples will suffice to illustrate that the beliefs behind Objectivist Ethics are not sound.
"What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions - the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.
The first question that has to be answered, as a precondition of any attempt to define, to judge or to accept any specific system of ethics, is: Why does man need a code of values?
Let me stress this. The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all-and why?"
Ethics, as they are commonly interpreted and referred to today, can be many things from codes of conduct to being mere synonyms of good and evil. The essay criticized previous philosophers' theories of ethics, but the essay presented no alternative explanation of what ethics might be. As has been customary among philosophers for over three-thousand years, The Objectivist Ethics created sophisms and circular definitions, as if much talking while saying nothing were somehow the method of discovering answers. Just because an individual insists that their words are the answers to a question, if the answers do not exist then the person's claim is not true: The Objectivist Ethics did not present objective answers, and there is no reason to claim otherwise. It has been said that Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged contains more information about her views, but there exists a difficulty in the Objectivist movement being born upon the foundation of fiction rather than on a foundation of solid objective evidence. There is sizable humor in the folly of an individual who proclaims religious books as fiction and unworthy of believing, and yet the same individual follows a system of beliefs based on Rand's known works of fiction.
"An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means - and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil."
The concept of 'ultimate value' is not an easy thing to unravel. I invested several years researching the question before finally validating the answer. There is a humor in that only a few days after my discovering the answer did I find the same conclusion written in a book by Edgar Cayce: the ultimate value is what is generally thought of as creativity. Though the answer had been previously available, still I remain thankful for my having discovered the answer on my own, because now I know the reasons why the ultimate value is creativity, and I do not have to rely on the believing of what another person might write.
Without the attribute of creativity nothing would exist, including the humans who might believe that value begins and ends within themselves. Rand's idea of values existing only in the human is an idea that only sees a molecule but not the atomic components, nor the quarks, nor the elements of quarks. Before the concept of value can exist, there must first be components that combined to create the sense of value, and without Rand listing the components of value, then the article failed to deliver a reasoning superior to any of the thousands of philosophers before Rand.
The whole of Objectivist Ethics collapses here within the single topic of values. The Objectivist Ethics claims that value begins and ends in the human: "It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible." It must require a mind narrowed to a tiny smallness before it can believe that a concept named value might only apply to humans or even only to living creatures. The end-product is not the origin: man is not the origin of life, man is not the creator of thought, man is not the creator of the physics that decides how Nature is to be interpreted, and man is not the source nor the judge of values.
The essay frequently fell into circular definitions: "An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means - and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil." Without the essay first clarifying what is meant by goals, standards, good, and evil, the claim of an ultimate value was meaningless.
"Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of "value"? By what means does he first become aware of the issue of "good or evil" in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation."
Rand leaped to a conclusion without first having empirical evidence nor even a memory of her own first thoughts. Among my first thoughts of what was 'good' were those of my having a purpose in the life to follow, of the body's wondrous design, and then of the ability of having sensorial sensations of the body itself. Pleasure and pain as sensorial perceptions were unknowns until a much later date, and never will it be believed that my awareness of good and evil were created upon "the physical sensations of pleasure or pain." Pleasure and pain indicate that a child has lived long enough to have experienced pleasure and pain, but before a child can sense and recognize pleasure and pain the child must already have an established neural system of sufficient development to receive and evaluate the sensations of pleasure and pain, which necessitates that the child was capable of recognizing pleasure and pain prior to the events of pleasure and pain, and therefore the child may have already established a classification of good and bad long before the child first experienced pleasure and pain.
In part, my sense of evil was formed upon the analyses that a person's behavior was destructive, that is, the behavior created a situation that could only result in grief and strife among all living things, as well as causing an imbalance within Nature's creative harmonies. Rand was correct that sensations might be the first steps in the realm of cognition and evaluation, but just because the correct statement exists, the correct statement does not necessitate that it validates the previous statement of pleasure and pain being the origins of rationalizing good and evil. The Objectivist Ethics is a "...typical mixture of inaccuracies and invention plus one or two facts." (a descriptive quote from Kathleen Montour's "William James Sidis, The Broken Twig", American Psychologist - Journal of the American Psychological Association, Volume 32, April 1977, number 4, pages 265-279.)
To further clarify, it is not necessary that the sensations be those of perceiving things external to the self, but rather the first sensations will be of the self, and be self-generated similar to how emotions are created, but there would not yet be a necessity that a thing be interpreted as pleasure or pain, but rather be only observed to exist. To classify a thing as pleasure or pain the person must first have the mental capacity to form such a classification, and the mental capacity must be composed of its own components that existed prior to the classification.
It is irrelevant whether my own manner of first classifying a thing good or bad might be common or uncommon among humanity; the important item to observe is that there is no science nor Reality-based reason to believe that a human must interpret good and evil by the sensations of pleasure and pain, which renders the essay's claims as invalid.
"An animal is guided, not merely by immediate sensations, but by percepts. ...It is able to grasp the perceptual concretes immediately present and it is able to form automatic perceptual associations, but it can go no further. It is able to learn certain skills to deal with specific situations, such as hunting or hiding, which the parents of the higher animals teach their young. But an animal has no choice in the knowledge and the skills that it acquires; it can only repeat them generation after generation. And an animal has no choice in the standard of value directing its actions: its senses provide it with an automatic code of values, an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil, what benefits or endangers its life. An animal has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it."
The belief that nonhumans are non-thinking automatons is a false belief. Koko the gorilla is a useful example of a nonhuman that has been evaluated to not only be a thinking animal, Koko's IQ of about 70-90 is higher than the national average of many dozens of human countries. Most humans who have spent time outdoors know that animals are conscious thinking creatures, and are not automatons as the essay claimed. The topic of animal consciousness is not important for the immediate topic of ethics, but the quote from the essay illustrates but one of the almost continuous streams of false claims and contradictions that allegedly support the reasoning behind Objectivist Ethics.
"Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses. It is a faculty that man has to exercise by choice. Thinking is not an automatic function."
The essay statement is false. If a man's reasoning only occurred from effort, then there would exist almost no reasoning within humans. Almost all reasoning is performed subconsciously in humans, and never can it be believed that man must choose to reason. It may be true that man is able to choose to not consciously think thoughts, but the subconscious reasoning will continue regardless of the man's wishes. Walking requires the reasoning of stepping over obstacles, driving requires the reasoning of speeds and kinetics and distances and so much more, and except in the most drastic of circumstances, the human mind will remain in an almost constant state of reasoning its environment. Rand appeared to have possibly confused the two different words - reasoning and conscious thinking - as being synonymous.
"Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are "tabula rasa." It is man's cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. Man's emotional mechanism is like an electronic computer, which his mind has to program - and the programming consists of the values his mind chooses."
Tabula rasa is Latin for "blank slate", and Rand's claim that man is born with an empty mind is absurd and illustrative of the common theme throughout The Objectivist Ethics, that of it attempting to create a foundation of supporting evidence through invented fantasies that have no relationship to Reality. There is a quantity of truth that an individual self-programs their own mind, but the fetus is also influenced by other things in his/her environment that also provide forms of programming, and the healthy fetus will have already been thinking, dreaming, smiling and frowning, for months prior to birth. The careless inaccuracies within The Objectivist Ethics are simply too many for it to be reasoned that Objectivist Ethics could be based on a valid science.
"What, then, are the right goals for man to pursue? What are the values his survival requires? That is the question to be answered by the science of ethics. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why man needs a code of ethics."
No, man first needs an answer to what ethics are, and only then will man be able to rationally apply ethics to his own life.
It is a simple thing to observe Reality and to give notice of how Reality creates its creations. Elements combine, the combinations require a form of harmonious relationships, the elements do not consume the other nor do the elements stand alone with self-interests as Objectivist Ethics claims is the mirror of Reality. Reality increases the usefulness of each element when it combines with other elements, and ten elements acting in harmony each receive back about ten times (or more) of what was given, and the whole of the Universe is structured upon a manner of harmony and cooperation within a quality of union that is also in a manner altruistic but also accompanied with the necessity of reciprocation. In this sense, altruism implies the act that is composed of compassion, sympathy, empathy, logic relative to the specific situation, and of the numerous other components there will be the creation of a behavior that logically weighs the existence of value in the behavior of desiring to help make a better creation within the Universe rather than the individual consume what has already been created. Altruistic behavior without the reciprocation of other individuals' is not of usefulness, but altruism with reciprocation is useful and creative and productive, and thus of value because nothing would exist if the attributes of the union did not exist. The popular belief is invalid, that of altruism being a willingness to sacrifice one's life for little or no reason, whether for governments or for sect leaders. A creative altruism of value is one that gives all while others in the union also give all, creating a creativity that cannot be achieved in any other manner, and the effect can be empirically observed with as few as two individuals who love and surrender their selfish desires in favor of caring for the other, their receiving in return more than they could ever possess alone.
The evaluation of value is judged by the nature of Nature, what Reality dictates, and not by what Objectivist Ethics claims.