Posts Tagged ‘Objectivism’

Objectivism Alternatives…

June 15, 2018

So, Adam Lee is continuing to talk about Objectivism by looking at “The Fountainhead”, but as the series goes along there is more and more indication that he doesn’t really understand Objectivism at all, and often has no interest in doing so. In one post, he admits that he hasn’t been focusing on the interpersonal dramas and instead has been focusing on the architecture despite the fact that Rand clearly would want us to focus on the latter. I suppose he could be being sarcastic there, but since he hasn’t talked much about the relationships and has indeed talked a lot about the world of architecture, the evidence says that if he’s being sarcastic it’s because he isn’t aware of what he’s actually doing there. This is especially egregious in that post since, as someone else has pointed out, not understanding or looking at the interpersonal issues means that he doesn’t understand something that is at least easier to understand if someone actually paid attention to that.

So, I’ve pointed out in a number of comments there the errors Lee is making, which has led the usual morons to insist that somehow I’m really an Objectivist … despite my clearly being Stoic-leaning and those people knowing that I defended Kant far more strongly than I’ve ever defended Rand. There’s another regular commenter who is an ex-Objectivist who nevertheless defends Rand far more than I do. One of the almost reasonable points that was made is that the other person also criticizes Rand a lot more than I do. Since I’ve talked a bit about Objectivism here, maybe that applies here as well. So I want to reiterate here something that I have said repeatedly about Objectivism in those comment threads that, of course, the usual morons keep forgetting/ignoring: Anything that someone might find appealing about Objectivism has been done better by some other philosophical school.

Do you find Rand’s Enlightened Egoism appealing? You might want to instead look into Hobbes’ Social Contract Theory. Not only does he make a better case for Enlightened Egoism, he also isn’t bound by the strict Libertarian ideas that Rand pushes for. On the contrary, he actually advocates for strong government regulation of behaviour to ensure that it is, in fact, always in someone’s interest to keep the Social Contract, which is an issue for Rand (and, as I’ve said before, a lot of her opponents like Lee who often justify following the rules on the basis of self-interest). His view is also Psychological Egoism instead of Ethical Egoism, which thus allows for the view that we need social and legal restrictions because ultimately we don’t want to have our actions be totally driven by narrow self-interest, and that acting morally is not, in fact, about acting on our own self-interest. Thus, Hobbes does not need selfish behaviour to be seen as good and proper or even overall desirable, which Rand (and, again, some of her opponents) end up claiming, making it a view that better fits our intuitions of morality and that also can’t be used by people to justify acting selfishly and feeling themselves good for doing so.

Do you find her rational Virtue Theory appealing? Then the Stoics might be what you’re looking for, as they also define what is right by appealing to rationality, and are also Virtue Theorists. The big advantage they have — at least when you get into the Roman Stoics like Seneca — is their view of the indifferents: things that aren’t in and of themselves virtuous or vicious. Rand has issues inside all of her works with personal preferences and allowing people to do things just because they want to and happen to like it, which has pushed her into a position of insisting, at times, of insisting that even personal preferences have to have an objectively correct determination, which then leaves her struggling to justify the differences in preferences from her protagonists. This is because she doesn’t really have a notion of anything that isn’t, in and of itself, a moral position. But the Stoic indifferent angle is essentially, if understood properly, that as long as what you’re doing isn’t vicious and isn’t causing you to fail to achieve virtue, you should do whatever it is you most want. It’s okay to have lots of money as long as you aren’t getting it viciously and aren’t spending effort on getting rich that you should spend on becoming virtuous. And Stoicism also includes the idea that you should put being virtuous over anything else — including your life — without having to justify sacrificing your own self-interest by appealing to a deeper self-interest, and so more easily justifies refusing to work, say, for an immoral boss even if that might mean that you starve, which Rand has to introduce a — not unreasonable, but a bit unworkable — line that essentially has to boil down to that it isn’t in your self-interest to violate your “deeper nature”, either because living that way is the only proper rational approach or because once you let it be known that you will sacrifice that you will be taken advantage of even unto death and have no way out of that. The Stoics simply place virtue ahead of direct self-interest inherently, and so don’t have to rationalize self-interest in that way, and yet still retain the indifferents to allow you to pursue your own personal self-interest, defined by what you like, when virtue and vice aren’t direct concerns.

Do you find the “I won’t live for others or ask others to live for me” line? Then you might like Kant, although Kant is far more different from Rand than the others are. Kant’s basic morality is that you can’t never treat any moral agent, even yourself, as merely a means to an end, but always also as an end in themselves. This, then, stops you from merely using people to get what you want, and as this is the basic principle it doesn’t need to be justified in terms of your own self-interest, which Rand has to do since her basic principle is self-interest. Kant’s view is also strongly objective and also relies on reason to make most of its claims.

So I don’t defend Objectivism because I think it a good philosophy. I think that pretty much everything that might be appealing about it is done better by another philosophy (and if there are other ideas of what makes it appealing to some I’d like to hear about them so I can see if there are other philosophies that are better at that). But there are, indeed, things about it that are at least philosophically viable, and Lee and the other opponents there often attack those things in their attempts to undermine it, and don’t actually understand what those things mean. Obviously, I’m going to encourage people who like Objectivism to take up the Stoics instead, or Kant, or even Hobbes. That doesn’t mean that some of their criticisms aren’t philosophically invalid, philosophically dangerous, ignorant, or just plain wrong.

The Prisoner’s Dilemma in Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward

December 15, 2017

So, I recently picked up the Vita version of “The Nonary Games”, which includes two games: Zero Escape: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward. I’ll talk about the games themselves a bit next week, probably. But today I want to talk about part of Virtue’s Last Reward. Since the game isn’t that old, I’ll put discussion of it below the fold because it will contain spoilers.


Objectivism: Capitalism

May 27, 2016

So, continuing on from my discussions of Objectivism started here, here I’d like to talk about how Rand comes to decide that capitalism is, in fact, the best economic system and the one we must follow. A common misconception about Rand — although some of the scenes in “Atlas Shrugged”, if read shallowly, support this — is that for Rand money itself is some kind of ultimate ideal or ultimate goal, and that money is worth having for the sake of having money. This misconception, I think, follows from the numerous times were Rand talks about money in very reverent terms, almost as if it was an object of worship, but also — and probably more strongly — from the idea that strong capitalists do in fact care about money for its own sake. This confusion is only deepened by the fact that Rand doesn’t think of money as either an end it itself or merely as a means to other ends. Instead, she reveres what money represents, and what that represents is something crucial to her underlying philosophy.

As I noted last time, for Rand everything boils down to self-interest. We, as individuals, can have no other ethical obligations than to our own self-interest. And we, as individuals, have needs; definitely basic survival needs but also, as conscious beings, other needs. And we need to be able to achieve those needs if we are going to have any kind of meaningful and appropriate life. But how can we go about achieving those needs? Rand starts from the idea, that follows from Egoism, that no one is required to provide our needs for us simply because we have those needs. If we can’t rely on people to just give us what we need because we need it, then we have to go out and get what we need somehow. And then it becomes clear that the only way we can achieve our needs is to work for it, to use our physical and mental labour to in some way “produce” the things we need. If we can live all on our own and can provide for our own needs completely on our own, this becomes simple … but we can’t provide all of our needs ourselves, and so need other people, at least at times, to help us get what we need. And this help must be purchased through our labour, and in a sense we trade the fruits of our labour for the fruits of their labour.

But of course this immediately raises a question: how do we determine what our labour is worth? Obviously, we all want to maximize the return we get from our labour, and so get as much for our labour as we reasonably can. But since this applies to everyone else as well, we need a way to determine how much is reasonable in a way that respects everyone’s desire to maximize what they get for their labour. This isn’t out of any kind of overarching principle of “fairness”, but simply a recognition that if someone isn’t getting full value for their labour and discovers that, they are likely to stop trading with us and seek out other options that maximize their return on their labour investment. So if I really do need what they can provide, and I don’t want them to do that, I definitely want to ensure that they are paid fairly for their labour, just as I want to make sure that I am paid fairly for my labour.

But we have to return to the question: how do we know what our labour is worth? We need some kind of objective system so that we can determine what the market value of our labour is so that we know what to focus on if we want to get what we need. If we can just trade directly — I need some milk, you have a cow that you milk, you need some turnips, I grow turnips — then this is easier, as we can negotiate between the two of us, but if there are more stages involved things get complicated. Additionally, even there we need some standard to appeal to in our negotiations. And if you start from that simple model, you’ll start to see what standard we end up applying, which is the standard of how much we need each others’ services, which ends up being the standard of supply and demand.

If you have the only cow that can provide milk, and lots of people can provide turnips, then your milk is more valuable to me, specifically, than my turnips are to you. Given that, I’ll have to make you a better deal on my turnips than you have to on your milk in order for you to agree to the trade. However, if I know that there are a lot of turnips around, I might decide to grow potatoes instead and thus provide a protect that fewer people are providing. If that’s the case, then I might have something that you need more than I need your milk, or at least as much as, and so then I don’t have to provide as good a deal. Also, it might be the case that I need your milk, but you don’t care for turnips and so don’t need them. Thus, I won’t be able to trade my turnips to you at any reasonable price. But if there’s someone who needs turnips and has lots of potatoes, I might be able to trade my turnips to him for some potatoes, which I can then trade to you for some milk.

So the idea is that you end up trading things you need but have lots of for other things you need but don’t have enough of. And since all of the things you produce are things that you produce with your labour, you always want to get the best possible return on that labour. So if you have lots of something, you won’t simply hoard it — or, at least, not most of the time — because you need to use those products of your labour to get what you want. You would only hoard it to drive up the price if the exchange is so low that you take a “labour loss” on the deal; you work too hard on it to trade it for that price. Otherwise, even a low price still gets you the ability to get things that you need in exchange for things that you don’t need at the moment, and so the products of your labour still work for you, to your benefit.

Now, we can immediately see how this fits into the common path of the development of currency. Once I start dealing with lots of other people, it starts to become inconvenient for me to have to trade my turnips for potatoes, and then the potatoes for milk, and then the milk for bread, and so on and so forth. It’d just be so much easier here if I could just trade my turnips to the first person and get something that I could just take directly to the person with the bread and then let them take that to the person with the milk if they want milk. And that thing is commonly called “money”.

But for Rand, the use of money doesn’t stop there, because we have to trace all the way back up the chain to see what money represents here: not some abstract value or promissory note, but instead it represents my labour. Under this system, if I have a lot of money it doesn’t (just) mean that I have a lot of purchasing power and so can achieve a lot of my needs (or even desires). No, it also means that my work is, in fact, particularly valuable. I produce a lot of things that a lot of people really want or need, and so they are willing to pay me a lot to provide it. Note that this doesn’t make it “valuable” in the sense that we argue that a doctor’s services are, say, more valuable than Britney Spears’ (even as she makes so much more money). Everyone will agree that I generally need doctor — when I need one — far more than I need to listen to Britney Spears. But this is reflected in how whenever I go to the doctor I, generally, am willing to pay them far more than I’m willing to pay to listen to or watch Britney Spears. However, the nature of Britney Spears’ work is that she can provide that service efficiently, in that she provides relatively cheap services to thousands of people a day, which a doctor simply couldn’t. Thus, Britney Spears is full value for the money she has, because she simply provides services for more people than the doctor does. That doesn’t that we don’t value the doctor’s services more than hers, because at the individual level we clearly do. It’s only in the aggregate where Spears wins.

Thus, the constant wondering about why Rand’s producers don’t just gouge people and try to make as much money as they can has a simple answer: in doing so, they’d devalue their own labour. Remember, money only represents the value of our labour. If we allow it to be the case that people can make more money without in some way having their labour be more valuable, we devalue the system, but that system is the very system that we use to determine what our labour is worth, and we need to know what our labour is worth in order to be able to properly pursue our needs. If we undermine that system, we undermine the very thing that we need to ensure our survival, either basic survival or our survival as conscious beings. Additionally, if we try to extract more money from the system than our labour is worth by gouging others, we are admitting that our labour just isn’t all that valuable. But that, in a real sense, is critical to who we are for Rand. So no True Objectivist will admit that they are trying to extract more value from labour that is less valuable, because it means that the others are in a real sense better than they are, but they are trying to appear more valuable than they really are. At a minimum, such fraudulence is dangerous when or if they get found out, and it also reveals an irrationality in them that they must pretend that things aren’t really the way they are.

So, when Rand and her characters revere money, it’s not money they revere, it’s productive labour. And, in Objectivism, all people should take pride in and try to maximize their actually productive labour, because it’s all they have to make their way in the world.

Objectivism: Enlightened Egoism

April 8, 2016

So, Adam Lee is reading and review “Atlas Shrugged”. He seems to be trying to do it as both a literary reviewing and as a philosophical review, but I find that the series doesn’t do a very good job of either. I’ve been reading along with the series, but haven’t read the book itself. Instead, I dug through her actual philosophy, and so can confirm that, yes, Lee gets a number of things wrong in his zeal to mock Ayn Rand, which is one of the reasons why I hate the “Let me mock my opponents!” style of posting/argumentation; too often, it ends up being a way for people to ignore reasonable arguments in favour of cheap “Gotchas!” that are easy to patch up. And philosophy is full of cases where an original philosophy gets patched up in response to criticism.

Anyway, the biggest thing that I’ve taken from that series is that if you want to understand Rand, you have to start from Hobbes. Once you’ve grasped Hobbes, then you can understand one of the main — if not the main — pillars of her philosophy, which is Enlightened Egoism. Now, I’m not saying that she knew about or was inspired by Hobbes in her philosophy, but if you start from Egoism a la Hobbes, then you can understand the difference between that and Rand.

So, what did Hobbes say? Hobbes is what I’ll call a Psychological Egoist. He argued that we, as humans, are inherently self-interested, and so never act altruistically. No matter what action we take, it’s always because it benefits us, and so, in his words, we are inherently selfish, and never selfless. Now, you can take this stronger or weaker, with the weakest claim being that an action has to benefit us in at least some way or else we won’t take it, without having to insist that it be the action that most benefits us. So if we take an action that helps others because it makes us feel good, then by Hobbes we are not acting altruistically, but instead selfishly. The response to this is that Hobbes equivocates on selfishness here, but I don’t really think that charge sticks to Hobbes, mostly because it’s only those who insist that acting selfishly is really, really bad that are equivocating, as Hobbes doesn’t have to think that acting selfishly in that manner is inherently bad, and in fact his system kinda relies on us doing that.

So what does his system say? Well, since we are always self-interested, you can’t rely on us not acting that way. But no one can guarantee their own self-interest — and the most important thing for Hobbes, our lives — completely on our own. Even the strongest person can be tricked out of their resources, or even overpowered if enough people band together, even if only temporarily. And smart people can be overpowered. The state of nature is where everyone thinks only of their own direct and immediate self-interest, protecting themselves from others and taking from others if they can get away with it. This is Hobbes State of Nature, and according to Hobbes it is characterized by being nasty, brutish and short.

But as thinking beings, we can come to see that this is the result of unrestrained self-interest, and so the Social Contract is born. We get together and agree to restrain our self-interest in some ways in order to have an overall better life. In short, we restrain our short-term self-interest in order to form a society where we might have to sacrifice our interests now, but are far better off in the future. Hobbes thinks, it seems to me, that we always need to have a reason to give up seeking our own self-interest, and that if we are at all rational the only thing that can constantly motivate us to give up our own self-interest is a threat to our life, which is what pushes us to accept the contract in the first place. Thus, Hobbes places a sovereign over everyone with the ability to kill anyone who breaks the Social Contract, ensuring that everyone always has the most reason to follow the contract even if it would, in the short-term, benefit them to break it.

This is where Rand parts ways with Hobbes. She is not, in fact, a Psychological Egoist; she thinks that we are, in fact, psychologically capable of acting not only not in our self-interest, but in fact in ways completely opposed to our self-interest. We can, indeed, act altruistically. But she thinks that we ought not act altruistically. It is immoral according to Rand to act altruistically. We are morally bound to act in our own self-interest all of the time. Thus, Rand is an Ethical Egoist.

So, how, then, does she propose to escape a Hobbesian State of Nature? Well, she is an Enlightened Egoist, taking the starting point of Hobbes — that we form these contracts because we rationally understand that this is in our best interest. If we understand this, then what do we need the sovereign for? Ought we not act in our own proper self-interest and work to preserve this Social Contract that so obviously benefits us? The only reason for us not to do so is that we are in a situation where we can indeed act in our own specific and immediate self-interest and can maintain the Social Contract benefits. In short, the only issue is when we can legitimately cheat and end up benefiting in the short-term without costing us anything in the long-term. But as Rand is an Ethical Egoist, this means that the sovereign — or the government — only have benefit or value in cases where they need to force us to act against what is, in fact, in our own rational self-interest, and for Rand that is absolutely immoral. Thus, for her, we don’t need a sovereign.

Thus, the constant arguments in those posts and comments that Rand is wrong about what is in our self-interest and that there are a number of things that it is better for us for the government to run aren’t arguments against Rand. If those arguments are successful, Rand will merely expand the role of government in her society … or, at least, she’d do that if she’s any kind of reasonable and rational philosopher. To attack Rand, then, you have to undercut the pillar of Egoism out from under her. If you get into arguments about what’s really better for us, you’ve pretty much accept her Ethical Egoism, and now are just trying to shake out what exactly that entails. And people like Lee, certainly, don’t want to accept that we are ethically bound to act only in our own self-interest, and that altruism, in and of itself, is immoral.