Category Archives: Ethics

Sex and Objectivism

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Once in a while I will mosey on over to Leonard Peikoff’s site to listen to some of his podcast answers to questions submitted to him. Leonard Peikoff, for those who haven’t encountered every nook and cranny of American thought, is Ayn Rand’s successor. Ayn Rand was the author of Atlas Shrugged and of a quasi-philosophy called Objectivism. Rand was basically a good political thinker with a gift for writing very crisply and clearly, but not really a full fledged philosopher. Her philosophy basically reads as if she read Aristotle and Aquinas – stripped Aquinas’ metaphysics of theology, redefined his own terminology to omit God, and injected the rest with a hot dose of selfishness and capitalistic rigor.

The trapping of the philosophy, the net that gets you, is the coherence of the philosophy within itself. It could serve as a model example of the coherence theory of truth along side Hegel’s. Once you start buying a few of its premises – you could be hooked. Especially if, like me, you’re that logical type person that appreciates a straight line (I now prefer scribbles, thank you). The bait to get you to the hook is her axiomatical structure.

People say that the young are susceptible to her philosophy because it is natural to be selfish, ambitious and immature when you are young. When you are young you want to hear that life is about you, you needn’t think about the needs of others, go out and get that prize that is waiting for you. Now it has, at least, the virtue of putting forth some upstanding virtues for this end: honesty, integrity, hard work, etc, etc.

But this is not, I think, what attracts long-timers. It is the axioms that get you. Once you buy into them you start buying everything else she pulls from them. A is A, who the hell could deny it? Existence exists. Only a philosopher would explicitly deny it! And it hits a young person, a young person is also usually one who hasn’t had 1) a lot of life experience (especially in our cushion-padded society) 2) any philosophic training whatsoever.

Wow, you say, who is this God-like intelligence? Because you don’t know that someone basically already said these very things 2500 years ago. And when you finally do read this gentleman, he’s confusing, hard to read, there’s no explosiveness, its reads as the driest thing you’ve come across since your grandma asked you pumice her shins when you were a lad. And he doesn’t arrive at the same ends as she did. So you think as she did, he, Aristotle, started something…. and then 25 centuries later – that’s how long it took for another philosophical genius of that proportion to come along – she not only finished what he started but corrected all his errors.

Yes, that is in the sales brochure – I kid you not. Humility is not a virtue in Objectivism but a sin, or, rather, a vice. Boastfulness is not an explicit virtue in Objectivism, but, come on, when you’re making claims that you are the heir (and the better) of Aristotle, how are you not boasting?  Continue reading

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How is it Wrong with God, but Alright Without?

It seems to me that if there is a God who puts an immortal soul into a human being at the moment of conception, intending the resulting person to be born and live a life in “this world,” then abortion is wrong.

I pilfered this quote from a discussion on abortion over at Strange Notions. I don’t participate over there as my days are only 24 hours long while everyone else seems to have upgraded to the 48 hour day.

Here is what I do not get about such an argument. On the one hand one of its unstated premises is: if doesn’t have a soul, you can kill it. Apparently it loses an innate right once deprived of this soul. If the whole of this creature is mortal, then it is licit to kill it. But, if God made a part of us immortal, then it becomes an evil to end its life.

It is one of those “ironic” positions (at least to me) where if I were a creature from a different realm altogether and I learned of this debate, I would be perplexed that those who deny eternal life propose the ending of lives. But those that believe in eternal life hold the killing of the mortal part of life to be a black crime.

I would, coming from another realm, expect the unbeliever to wail out, “no! you’ll end its life forever, you are wiping it out of existence before it even has a chance!” Surely if this life is it, if there is nothing beyond the cessation of organic processes that start at the moment of conception to death, one would (coming from this other realm) expect the unbelievers to react with horror at such a thing.

Instead you see doctors calmly snipping spinal cords and amputating limbs, you see “mothers” calmly putting Friday night behind them as they would the recycling.

You’d expect, again coming from that other realm, the believers to, perhaps, lament such a thing but not have it cause them too much grief. After all, the victims are immortal children of God, not all is lost. It is a tragedy, but not too much. If you took it far enough, coming from that other realm, you could reason that perhaps these young children were being done a favor – they got to go home to their heavenly father that much sooner. Indeed upon looking at much of this Earth that is strange and frightening, full of pain and evil and tragedy, you can’t say for sure whether or not a favor isn’t being done for them.

But then you see that the believers are actually where you expected the unbelievers to be. They, that believe in the ultimate transitory nature of this life and the eternity of the next, they are the ones bewailing the black evil of this deed.

Now, I did snip this comment out of its entire context, but it does illustrate the base set. No God, no immortal soul – why not? How does it become right sans God and an immortal soul? Where comes the right and dignity of man if it is bestowed on us as a litmus test, a state of function to get to and maintain (by death’s grip lest they pull your plug) and not from our existence in a certain class? Where comes it if it’s bestowed by the State as such an argument must reduce to?

You see, it makes perfect sense to me that it should be twice the evil in an atheist light. But when I say Man, and they say Man, I don’t think we are talking about the same referent. I don’t think the modern atheist (and I am not merely picking on atheists because I think modern man in general is affected by the same mental parasite) means anything more significant than a chicken when he’s having this conversation – perhaps less than a chicken – perhaps an egg – unless, of course, it becomes about his life, then the false abstraction would break.


Is Morality Arbitrary?

In the previous post below, I asked what justification, under atheistic premises, would there be for selfless behavior. To merely assume its rightness would suggest (and strongly) a Christian premise, or one derived by two thousand years of its influence. But certainly not an atheistic premise.

A reader responds with asking why the feeling of empathy is not sufficient reason. And further goes on to state that morality is arbitrary. As blog owner I’m going to arbitrarily make my comment a post, because I can, and I thought it furthered a terminated conversation. I missed the first volleys due to work and will probably be doing so again as I only have a single day off until next Thursday.

I pick up after the declaration that morality is arbitrary: And note I did not settle the question definitely but merely showed where the argument led.

So, would you agree that your desire to live and your murderer’s lust to shed your blood have equal moral status? Or the mob’s lust for your blood, say, if you were an apostate in a Islamic state? If morality is arbitrary, your protests are pointless squawkings of no more import or meaning than the arbitrary preference for Skippy peanut butter over Jif.

Except to you, but I suppose even the gazelle has some say as it falls to the ground under the lion’s teeth. But the lion also has his arbitrary say in the growl of his stomach. Neither “opinion” contradicts the other – except that the lion wins by Might.

That is the project you propose for humans with an “arbitrary morality”.

Morality as arbitrary = Might makes Right.

“We are just speaking on this particular scenario, in which I am acting in my own right.”

Cherry picking and concept stealing. You are merely hiding behind a safe action, the moral import of which only an Objectivist would disagree. You are denying morality while hiding it in your back pocket.

Tai, and I as well, were talking about universal principles of human action (more popularly known as morality). You want to stick to one action only (the safe, non-objectionable one) and then to declare the whole field of morality as invalid – which is what is meant when someone says morality is arbitrary.

You do not leave anything open for discussion. You say your question was never answered after disregarding the entire subject. This is like presenting us with a question of mathematics, but that you don’t believe in mathematics so we will have to answer you by non-mathematical means.

Tai’s response to your declaration of the arbitrariness of morality, “Well, there it is then.”, was perfectly just and the only response possible. Suppose you proposed to enter into a discussion of epistemology and as your starting premise you asked the table to accept, as an axiom, that man is a wholly determined creature of no free-will, that he functions as a falling rock functions, or as the snail-darter functions. The conversation would be wholly senseless then – everyone would, on those premises, have to believe whatever the unfathomable forces that determined his mind made him believe – and yourself likewise.

A sounder foray into the field of morality, indeed one of its founding questions, is: Are there universal principles of right action (and the resultant finding of right action which we call virtue) applicable to all men at all times or are there not? The question of whether morality is arbitrary or not reduces to: Is there morality, or is there not?

An arbitrary morality is a contradiction in terms.

You are also smuggling in a morality while declaring it arbitrary. Where did your empathetic feeling come from? And is it just that the needy have to wait for your empathy to spring up? Or are you one of the rare breeds that bleeds with the pain of the world 24/7? Don’t have a day where the world can just go piss off? Or that you are just indifferent? Bored, cynical, spent? Rolling in your own merriment (a date, perhaps) to give two hoots about some stranger’s discontent on this fine day? After all people the world over suffer everyday. Can’t you have a day off, two, three, a hundred?

If it is all arbitrary, each of those feelings are just as valid. You can’t really blame the person who can step over the homeless man without pausing to look or care. He simply has not the special feeling that unerringly compels him into action. You can’t object to him not having it any more than a psychologist can cure a depressive by screaming, “JUST BE HAPPY!”

And there is certainly nothing to say to the person who takes advantage of the person in need (robbery, murder, etc) he obviously is responding to a different emotional response. You may not like his action, nor the feeling that gave rise to it, but so what? He has his feeling, you have yours. Now, if you are bigger than he is, or have better weaponry, or a bigger gang or mob, you may enforce your arbitrary empathy over his arbitrary lust and greed.

Or do you say it is wrong for him to take advantage of someone in need?

Wrong? By what standard? You have disregarded those by disregarding morality.


But Why?

I cannot present an intelligible account of my moral philosophy in the space of a single forum post. In the present context, it might suffice to say that if some people are suffering, and I have the means to alleviate their suffering without aggravating the suffering of other people, then that is what I should do.

I lifted this from an atheist’s post on a debating site. I grant that the person cannot present an intelligible account of a moral philosophy in a single forum post. But if this is what you do have to say, then it would be best not to say anything.

Why should you do it?

You can’t just take such things as the given.

I have never heard of a remotely sufficient reason for selfless behavior on atheist premises. I have heard countless, excellent reasons for selfish behavior, indifferent behavior, even have the question of helping others turned around on the person bringing it up as suspect.

We’re talking about helping complete strangers here, not your poor old grandmother. What, aside from feeling, would compel a real atheist to come to the aid of someone of whom it would be easier to cross the street and ignore than to waste one’s time, money and effort? Feeling is not an argument, and, besides, I’d want to know what gave rise to that feeling?

The only remotely reasonable explanation is a karmic/reciprocity one. Although he certainly didn’t get that from Nietzsche or Ayn Rand!