The Instigator
TheSkeptic
Pro (for)
Losing
40 Points
The Contender
Danielle
Con (against)
Winning
41 Points

Objectivism fails to describe an adequate meta-ethical answer for the is-ought problem.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 9/30/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 9,756 times Debate No: 9508
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (50)
Votes (17)

 

TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank theLwerd for accepting this debate challenge, and I hope it becomes an enriching debate for both of us.

I have specifically made this a 4 round debate because of the following reasons: since there are some hefty terms included in my resolution, I will define and elaborate on them. Then, I would like for my opponent to give a defense of Rand's Objectivism in her first round - this is not so much because of laziness, but rather so I don't have to presuppose anything my opponent does not believe in. Unfortunately, I am not so well-versed in Objectivism as to know whether or not there are differing views about it; so as a precaution, I ask of my opponent to supply her defense of Objectivist meta-ethics.

So as stated, I will define the terms I have used, await my opponent's argument, then continue on with this debate as a normal 3-Round debate would:

====================
Definitions of terms and phrases
====================

[Objectivism]
[http://www.aynrand.org...]

To define Objectivism is quite hefty, but all I will say is that it's the philosophy developed by the Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand. A good summarization of Objectivism by Ayn Rand herself can be found in the link supplied; I will thus using my arguments in conjunction with this idea/definition in mind.

[Meta-ethics]
[http://www.iep.utm.edu...]

"Metaethics investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean. Are they merely social inventions? Do they involve more than expressions of our individual emotions? Metaethical answers to these questions focus on the issues of universal truths, the will of God, the role of reason in ethical judgments, and the meaning of ethical terms themselves."

[Is-Ought Problem]
[http://en.wikipedia.org...]

"In meta-ethics, the is-ought problem (also known as Hume's guillotine) was articulated by David Hume, who noted that many writers make claims about what ought to be, on the basis of statements about what is. However, there seems to be a significant difference between descriptive statements (about what is) and prescriptive or normative statements (about what ought to be)"

====================
Conclusion
====================

I know theLwerd won't play semantics, but I just want to make it clear to avoid it. We all know what "fails" and "adequate...account" mean, to fiddle with their definition is to avoid the bigger problem at hand - Rand's philosophy.

Also, I want to point out that I don't mean to argue here that the is-ought problem is still undefeated, but rather that the Objectivist position fails to answer it.
Danielle

Con

[ Introduction ]

I'd also like to thank TheSkeptic for challenging me to this most interesting debate. As requested, I will provide an oversight of which aspects of Rand's Objectivism I will be defending. I will also make the necessary clarification that I do not believe values are spirit-like objects or divine commands from God.

[ Objectivism ]

- Reality exists independent of consciousness
- Individual persons are in contact with this reality through sensory perception
- Humans can gain objective knowledge from perception through concept formation and inductive and deductive logic
- The proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest
- The only system consistent with this morality in respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez-faire capitalism

[ Meta-Ethics ]

The opposition to Objectivist meta-ethics is Moral Relativism. Individual relativism holds that individual people create their own moral standards. Cultural relativism maintains that morality is grounded in the approval of one's society, and not simply in the preferences of individual people. On the contrary, I will be advocating for the position that there are in fact objective morals which are often skewed by various factors, including individual psychology, biology, one's up-bringing (culture), emotion, egoism, etc. As much as I love Nietzsche, I will have to disagree with moral skepticism.

[ Is-Ought Problem ]

Objectivism seems to solve the is-ought problem. The fact that a living entity IS determines what it OUGHT to do. 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. What furthers an organism's life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil. An objective system of morality is both possible and necessary to protect rights.

[ Conclusion ]

The purpose of ethics is to provide a basis for morally condemning others; therefore, if it is possible for someone to act against the Objectivist ethics without the ethics providing a basis for condemning him, and that is an essential failure of the ethical system. With the parameters of this debate and and the meaning of objectivism defined, I stand in firm negation of the resolution. I'd like to wish TheSkeptic the best of luck -- I look forward to a great debate.

[ Sources ]

[1] http://www.absoluteastronomy.com...(Ayn_Rand)
[2] http://www.objectivistcenter.org...
Debate Round No. 1
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for her response - it should serve for quite the debate!

Seeing as how my opponent has made a brief case of Objectivism's meta-ethical merits, I will directly attack that in this round. However, my opponent has also included some claims that I find to be wrong, so I will touch upon those issues (though they won't be necessary for me to defeat Objectivism). That being said, my round here will play as follows: I will first make my clarifications and notes on some auxiliary things my opponent has said that I find to be wrong. After that, I will attack the meat of her argument for Objectivist meta-ethics, and demonstrate sufficiently why it is inadequate.

====================
Touching upon auxiliary issues
====================

1. My opponent's definition of Objectivism

My opponent has given a good list of the tenets of Objectivism, and she has done no wrong here. I simply want to clarify that the focal point of this debate should focus on the idea that "the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest", namely the justification inspiration for this normative dictum. The other tenets do not need to be discussed, though I thank my opponent for fleshing them out.

2. My opponent's claim about meta-ethics

To put it simply, moral relativism is not the only opposition to Objectivist meta-ethics. Whereas moral relativism is definitely at conflict with Objectivist meta-ethics, there are other schools of thought that conflict - such as Kantian ethics, Utilitarianism, Divine command theory, etc. These different theories, though they share the same characteristic as Objectivism in advocating objective moral standards, come to this conclusion with a different path. In other words, if I am opposed to Objectivist meta-ethics this does not predispose me to either moral relativism or moral skepticism.

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics
====================

Since in the following sections I will heavily refer to Objectivist meta-ethics, I will simply refer to it as Objectivism for the sake of convenience. Also, I'd like to add that since there is so many problems with Objectivism, I will simply list the ones I find to be more appealing to discuss about:

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics : Existence as the ultimate value of all living beings
====================

Though many times the grounds for meta-ethics is found in metaphysics, Rand claims to ground her philosophy in the facts of reality. What I find interesting is that though she claims it's an empirical fact that existence is the ultimate value of all living beings, this obviously is not the case. For example, there is the clear example of the male praying mantis'[1] who mate while knowing the end of the process sometimes concludes with their head being eaten.

"An animal is equipped for sustaining its life; its senses provide it with an automatic knowledge of what is good for it or evil. It has no power to extend its knowledge or to evade it. In conditions where its knowledge proves inadequate, it dies. But so long as it lives, it acts on its knowledge, with automatic safety and no power of choice, it is unable to ignore its own good, unable to decide to choose the evil and act as its own destroyer.[2]"

Obviously, Rand believes otherwise - which empirical evidence dictates to be WRONG. There seems to be no reason to suppose existence is the ultimate value of all life. However, this criticism is more trivial than the others, which brings me to the following:

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics : Life or death as the fundamental value choice
====================

Rand's philosophy is partially hinged on this claim, that "since life requires a specific course of action, any other course will destroy it. A being who does not hold his own life as the motive and goal of his actions, is acting on the motive and standard of death.[3]"

It's from this idea that Objectivists draw their belief that the initiation of physical force against the will of another is immoral. However, on further examination it can be seen that this proposal that life or death is the fundamental value choice is horrendously wrong:

If we are to interpret Rand as saying that there is a specific course of action required for life and any other course will destroy it, then we come with some problems. Reality begs otherwise. There are actions that have different degrees of preserving or facilitating death - if acting contrary to a specific course of action required for life puts us on the standard of death, then we'd commit suicide when the situation allows for us. In other words, only die hard Objectivists would be alive, which is obviously false.

On the other hand, if we interpret Rand as simply saying that if we don't choose life as our primary motive/standard, meaning we are drawing a higher probability of death, then this is true. However, it becomes irrelevant for her task at hand. This would make similar attempts at making other values fundamental the same, such as a utilitarian telling one who is acting in a non-utilitarian fashion that they are not acting in a way that maximizes the greater good. All one has done is simply picked up the same formula as Rand, and stuck it to another ethical maxim. It becomes evident, then, that there is nothing intrinsically motivating in Rand's thoughts here to view the fact of life as the foundation of a satisfactory meta-ethical theory.

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics : The shift from surviving by reason to Objectivist ethics:
====================

Objectivists will say that though actions like stealing from others may seem like it can be conducive to your life (after all, stolen money is still money), you have other worries such as having to escape the crime of stealing, etc., and that's why it's wrong (since it's contrary to the standard of life). The problem with this is that Rand is making an absolute claim from a generalization. There is no reason to believe that ALL acts of fraud will bring about a high probability of death/impediment of one's life, making Objectivism impotent.

Objectivists love to ask, at least on this website, why one would evade certain actions that bring a high probability of death to me (eating cyanide, doing drugs, etc.). They seem to imply that there is a moral dimension for preserving life, when I'd argue it's simply a preference.

====================
Conclusion
====================

When you boil down Objectivism to it's core and carefully examine it, you'll find that it's far from fulfilling the is-ought problem. Riddles with faulty presumptions, false connections, vague relations, hasty generalizations, and even some scientific errors, it's no wonder Objectivism is labeled as a "popular philosophy". Though an admirable effort, Rand has ultimately fell short of her goal.

Obviously, I draw large inspiration from reading arguments, articles, opinions, etc. from other people. The format of my criticism and general guideline in this round is reflected from this source[4]. I won't simply stick to this source; I am merely using it as a stepping point for the beginning of my argument. Clearly, I drew my opinions about Objectivism from more than just this source (I simply found it convenient for this debate since it's concise and neatly outlined) so if my opponent wants more reading material, I can reference more.

And as a last note, I reserve the right to add more arguments in my following round if the situation desires (though I likely won't stray too far, if any, from the arguments I have presented here).

---References---
1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
2. http://freedomkeys.com...
3. http://colveyco.com...
4. http://www.daviddfriedma...
Danielle

Con

Okay, here's what I would say to David Friedman if I were debating him... [ http://www.daviddfriedman.com... ]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Criticisms of Objectivism:

1) Existence as the ultimate value of all living beings.

Pro's argument is that not all living beings value their existence. There are several flaws with this argument. First, the example regarding the praying mantis does not adequately uphold Pro's point. While it's true that a male praying mantis does risk cannibalism as a result of mating, this in no way proves that he does not value his own life. In fact, the very article Pro cited goes on to detail explicitly the various measures that these mantises take in order to avoid becoming a victim of hungry females. This would prove that they ultimately do value their own lives.

Additionally, what Pro excluded from this example is the reason why mantises go on to risk being eaten for the sake of mating anyway. Since most other animals do not have sex for pleasure, we can see that these insects clearly engage in this type of risky behavior because they are biologically inclined to reproduce and further their species. This is one of the main concepts behind evolution in general. Since Rand's philosophy is mainly about protecting rights, she would probably argue that if praying mantises had rights - which they don't - then they would have the right to engage in this type of risky behavior if they felt so inclined.

In Atlas Shrugged, Rand writes, "It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil." In other words, a non-living thing or one that does not exist cannot provide a sufficient determination between right and wrong. Because of this, existence IS in fact the ultimate value of all living things. Life makes values possible. Regardless of what values or ethics Pro would present as a basis for morality, the reality is that unless a living being existed to implement these values or benefit from them, then they would be completely useless. Thus sustaining life is the ultimate value to implement other ethics, and choosing good over evil as a means to live that life is obviously preferred. We can see again that the praying mantis example is flawed insofar as these insects' choices are biologically determined to perpetuate life - not destroy it. I'd argue that because human beings don't need to endure these types of risks for reproductive success, that this argument is therefore irrelevant.

A re-cap quote: Because values derive from life, and because only particular living organisms exist, ethics is inherently egoistic. Values are survival needs; they are ends required by a particular entity for its survival. To sustain and further one's life, one must pursue and achieve one's own values. What is or is not to one's interest is not self-evident -- it must be determined by reference to his survival needs, which, in turn, are determined by the kind of entity he is. [1]

2) Life or death as the fundamental value choice.

This is actually a horrible example in support of the resolution. My opponent proposes that if one chooses an action that promotes death over life, such as a utilitarian accepting death for the purpose of a greater good (or rather not having their own life as a motive for their goal), then this disproves Rand's overall theory. However, this would only be relevant if my opponent has proven that utilitarianism - or any other proposed values of thought - were superior to Rand's regarding the self. Pro has not. Instead, he points out that sustaining one's life may not be their goal. While this is certainly true, it doesn't necessarily mean that it is the most ethical standard. Thus Rand's philosophy still applies.

Pro attempts to defend this idea when he says that a utilitarian could easily argue Rand by pointing out that as a non-utilitarian, and by not acting in the way that maximizes human happiness, one is choosing a little misery. This is incredibly flawed logic. Obviously this example would only apply if maximizing human happiness in general involves maximizing one's self-happiness as well. For instance, as a business owner, I might be able to maximize happiness by raising my employee's salary. However, doing so might make me less happy, and as such, the utilitarian argument would not apply to my own misery and thus not successfully combat Rand's.

3) The shift from surviving by reason to Objectivist ethics.

First, Pro suggests that an Objectivist would argue that stealing is wrong because you'd have to escape the crime of stealing. That is a complete fabrication of Objectivist beliefs and I have no idea where my opponent came up with that conclusion. Instead, an Objectivist would argue that a harmony of interests exists among rational individuals, so that no one's benefit need come at the price of another's suffering. Because one person's happiness does not come at the expense of another's, a life of mutual respect and benevolent independence is possible for all [2]. So, I have absolutely no idea where Pro is getting the idea about this so-called claim from a generalization. What claim? And what generalization? Also, what does fraud have to do with any of this?

Additionally, Pro claims that Objectivists on this website wonder why one would avoid doing things like drugs. He then says that he doesn't believe that there is a right/wrong code of morality, and instead, that morality is subject to preference. There are several more problems with these claims. First, so-called Objectivists on this site are irrelevant to this debate. Second, I have an extremely difficult time believing that Objectivists would question your decision to avoid doing drugs let alone challenge it. The Objectivist position on drugs is that drug abuse is an immoral abdication of reason and profoundly self-destructive, though there is nothing about it demands the initiation of force against others. This is just one of many reasons why they feel that drug use shouldn't be illegal, but again, this seems irrelvant.

That said, we move on to the issue of moral relativism vs. moral objectivism. Believing in moral objectivism does not necessarily mean that one particular action is always right or always wrong, so Pro's introductory argument about meta-ethics is wrong. It doesn't matter if other theories support objective morality or not. Instead, moral objectivism holds that values are part of the fabric of reality; that is, there is some actual state of the physical world that corresponds to a value judgment. Whether an action is right or not depends on the nature of that action. The moral choice in every situation is to uphold one's own values without infringing upon the rights of others. For instance, a hunger strike to prove a point or uphold one's values would be ethical, whereas a suicide bombing according to Rand would be wrong. You cannot destroy things that are not yours.

Conclusion:

Ayn Rand's philosophy is that it is not necessarily your existence, but rather the perpetuation of your values that is of utmost importance. That is why she believes it is okay to sacrifice your own life for something that you extremely value or believe in, which completely negates Pro's first and second arguments even further. His third and final argument can be dismantled simply by considering the true objectivist rationale in terms of morality, which holds that the purpose of morality is to define a code of values in support of one's life. Morality isn't subjective; values are subjective. You have to support your values in a moral way; that is, not infringing on other's rights.

References:
[1] http://www.noblesoul.com...
[2] http://www.objectivistcenter.org...
Debate Round No. 2
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for her fast response. However, in her speed it seems she has misunderstood much of my arguments, so I will do good to clarify and elaborate in this round to demonstrate why the criticisms are currently insurmountable.

====================
Touching upon auxiliary issues
====================

"Believing in moral objectivism does not necessarily mean that one particular action is always right or always wrong, so Pro's introductory argument about meta-ethics is wrong."

----> I stated that objective moral systems have in place an objective moral STANDARD - whether it be evaluating the consequences of actions or the actions themselves. For utilitarianism, the standard is the greater good while for Kantian ethics the standard is the categorical imperative. However, besides this impasse it seems that both of us agree that Objectivism is not the only objective moral system, so there is no further discussion needed on this point.

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics : Existence as the ultimate value of all living beings
====================

There is a distinct misunderstanding in my opponent's counterargument. I never stated that praying mantis' don't value their lives - they obviously do to some extent given the fact that they attempt various measures to avoid becoming meals. However, the key is that Rand talks of existence as an ULTIMATE value that animals and plants supposedly adhere to. If this was an empirical fact then mantis' wouldn't give a damn about their species propagation but rather fend for themselves (after all, what happens to their species in the future has no bearing on their life now). Furthermore, even if mantis' are inadequate examples there is a plethora in the animal kingdom. Take tigers for example; the male leaves the female after copulation[1], meaning the female is burdened with having to take care of cubs (resulting in more work and danger).

If Rand is attempting to ground part of her philosophy in empirical facts, then what she must realize is that because of evolution, it can be the case that one's survival is NOT the ultimate value - the end of all ends. Propagating your future generations mostly, if not always, has negative effects on your own survival. Just refer to my example of animals who mate and get pregnant, with knowledge that their partner will likely leave them. Obviously, we know that survival is not always an animal's ultimate value because of how evolution works.

"Life makes values possible. Regardless of what values or ethics Pro would present as a basis for morality, the reality is that unless a living being existed to implement these values or benefit from them, then they would be completely useless. Thus sustaining life is the ultimate value to implement other ethics, and choosing good over evil as a means to live that life is obviously preferred."

----> My opponent actually brings up an important point about Objectivism that leads to it's downfall. Objectivists state that since one would need life to have values, then life must be the foundation for value - the ultimate value one could say. Even if we are to accept this reasoning (which is ludicrous in itself), we are presented with a problem of choosing what to hold as an ultimate value. Is rationality not necessary for values, and the obtainment of them, to exist? You see, Objectivism reveres rationality as the primary virtue since it's what helps one sustain life but NOT as the ultimate value. Why should values be based on the achievement of one's own well-being but rather something to do with rationality? Even if life is necessary for rationality, there seems to be no reason why one should simply choose life as the ultimate value instead of rationality.

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics : Life or death as the fundamental value choice
====================

"My opponent proposes that if one chooses an action that promotes death over life, such as a utilitarian accepting death for the purpose of a greater good (or rather not having their own life as a motive for their goal), then this disproves Rand's overall theory."

----> NO. I clearly stated in my argument that this was not meant as a direct attack on Rand, but rather to demonstrate that Rand's reasoning, the idea of choosing either life or death as a suitable justification for Objectivism, is flawed. Let me elaborate:

As discussed before, Rand states that life is the ultimate value and subsequently the foundation for her meta-ethics. One of her ways to prove this is so is to point out that one either lives or doesn't. She then proposes that if one doesn't act with life as the ultimate value, then it's death. And since most people who are living desire to continue living, life then serves as the ultimate value for others. Here is where my criticisms come in:

I will take a charitable interpretation and assume she means that if we don't choose life as an intrinsic value (Objectivism believes in value monism, after all) then this means we put ourself in a higher probability of death -- after all, just because I do something that does not see life as my ultimate value does not mean I will automatically die or commit suicide when I can (otherwise the only people living right now would be consistent Objectivists). However, right away we can see this is a futile attempt to ground Objectivism; so what if one doesn't act on the standard of life? This doesn't lend any credence to the Objectivist philosophy - as my opponent aptly points out.

If a utilitarian came up to you and said you were acting contrary to the standard of Utilitarianism, and then used this as evidence for utilitarianism, you'd rightly call him out on a ludicrous argument. But once you submit to this, then you should also realize that Objectivism is guilty of the same crime.

====================
Criticism of Objectivist meta-ethics : Life or death as the fundamental value choice
====================

"Instead, an Objectivist would argue that a harmony of interests exists among rational individuals, so that no one's benefit need come at the price of another's suffering. Because one person's happiness does not come at the expense of another's, a life of mutual respect and benevolent independence is possible for all."

----> This explanation of the Objectivist view of stealing irrevocably boils back down to my point; you don't steal because of the negative consequences that happen to you (being sent to jail, societal backlash, etc.). You state one's happiness does not come at the expense of others, but what lends credence to this claim? For rapists and sadists, their happiness very well depends on the expense of others. In fact, this glaring problem is commonly addressed by ethical egoists - which Objectivism is - by following some sort of idea influenced by the social contract theory. If this is so, then the problem of getting an absolute from a shady generalization becomes VERY clear.

"Additionally, Pro claims that Objectivists on this website wonder why one would avoid doing things like drugs. He then says that he doesn't believe that there is a right/wrong code of morality, and instead, that morality is subject to preference."

----> I mentioned the Objectivists on this website for the sake of rhetoric; I had no substantial meaning behind it (I did assume that the Objectivists here had a fairly accurate representation of Objectivism, so if you want to dispute that sure). Furthermore, I stated that the decision to live or not is a matter of preference, NOT MORALITY.

====================
Conclusion
====================

I'm not arguing that Rand believes one must value existence in all circumstances - but her support of this general rule (that life is the intrinsic value) is incredibly flawed and unsupported.

---References---
1. http://en.wikipedia.org...
Danielle

Con

[ Auxiliary Issues ]

Pro begins by clarifying that there are various moral systems which have an objective moral standard, and gives Utilitarianism and Kantian ethics as examples. The problem is that this is irrelevant to the debate. It has absolutely no bearing whether other standards of morality are objective or subjective. My position in the debate is to illustrate how objectivism provides an adequate meta-ethical answer to the is-ought problem. It doesn't matter if other beliefs systems do as well; the point here is that objectivism does.

[ Criticisms ]

1) Existence as the Fundamental Value Choice

Pro clarifies his position that Rand's reasoning of choosing life or death as a suitable justification for Objectivism is flawed. One critic said the same exact thing as Pro -- If a living organism's actions serve someone else's good rather than their own, they will die, and therefore the proper beneficiary of one's actions is themselves. This is BS. I don't mind people criticizing Rand's philosophy; however, it would be beneficial if the nay-sayer had actually read Rand's work. If he had, then he would know that Rand is not speaking literally here. This is the most common misinterpretation of Rand which is easily accessible to anyone who knows how to utilize a search engine. However, these criticisms are ridiculously off base. If you were to actually read Rand instead of just Googling criticisms of objectivism, you'll see that these criticisms are ENTIRELY misguided and gross misrepresentations of her philosophy. Her argument is that the purpose of one's life is to perpetuate their values.

If you are a Utilitarian but you aren't alive to utility yourself, or act to increase or ensure the utility of others, then your goal is affected and for naught. Her message is that you should live your life to further your goals (values). A dead nationalist can't triumph a nation. However, if you must die to further your goals/actions, then so be it. For instance, if I were a parent and forced to either save my life or my child's life, and I chose to save my child's life instead, that would be okay to Rand even though the specific action chose death over life. In actuality, I was furthering my value system by saving my child's life, and thus that action was acceptable. Again, this should be the goal of your life according to Objectivism so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others.

Moving on, my opponent's argument regarding the mantis is again completely flawed. He says that if they cherished their lives as the ULTIMATE value, then they wouldn't mate to procreate to avoid being possibly killed. However, again Pro misses the entire point of Rand's argument. As I've stated many times already, your life is supposed to further your values which is why it is of ultimate importance. Clearly the mantis have a desire to procreate and thus are willing to put their lives in jeopardy. Procreating here is their value and their lives are a means to achieve that goal or value. Their lives are of utmost importance because it is their means of achieving their goals... even through death. This is a very simple concept to understand. If procreating is my ultimate desire, but I might have to sacrifice my life in order to do it, then isn't my life of the most important value here? Pro fails to adequately defend this point against Objectivism at all.

Similarly, introducing the example of mating tigers only continues to weaken Pro's argument. He says, "Propagating your future generations mostly, if not always, has negative effects on your own survival. Just refer to my example of animals who mate and get pregnant, with knowledge that their partner will likely leave them." Well, obviously the bit about negatively impacting your own survival has been discussed at length by myself, so this is a moot point. Once again: The purpose of life according to Objectivism is to further your own values. You do that by being ALIVE which is why it is of utmost importance. And in cases where you must die to further your values, giving your LIFE allows you to do that, so it is still of utmost importance. Evolution is not an argument against this philosophy; it simply demonstrates that animals often have a strong desire or value to procreate. They have to be alive - or give their life - in order to do that. Period. Additionally, I fail to see how male tigers leaving female tigers once they're pregnant has absolutely anything to do with anything regarding this topic.

Now, Pro's attack on this philosophy is riddled in fallacies. For instance, "Objectivists state that since one would need life to have values, then life must be the foundation for value - the ultimate value one could say. Even if we are to accept this reasoning (which is ludicrous in itself)..." Hold on, Mr. Straw Man :) Why exactly is that ludicrous? You'll notice that Pro hasn't explained how or why that it is, but merely that it is, and as such is trying to sway the reader against Objectivism in a fallacious way. Furthermore, my opponent continues to note that rationality should be regarded as the ultimate value instead of life. Clearly my response to this is an obvious one: You need to be ALIVE in order to be RATIONAL, so why wouldn't life be the ultimate value?

I'll take it a step further. The philosophical definition of rationality is as follows: The key method used to analyze the data gathered through systematically gathered observations; A decision or situation is often called rational if it is in some sense optimal [1]. Now suppose you accept the concept of objective morality. Do you have to be alive in order to determine what is ethical? Yes. Do you need to be rational? Sure, but people use different methods of rationality to deduce what is or isn't the moral choice, through means of Objectivism, Utalitarianism, etc. Thus one can make a RATIONAL choice regarding morality but it can still be the wrong choice, and as such, the method of rationality in general cannot be definite quality of choosing the correct ethical answer. However, being alive IS a definite necessary quality, and as such, I have proven that life is the ultimate value over rationality. I have won this point.

2) Life or Death as the Fundamental Value Choice

Pro begins his attack on point 2 by again misinterpreting Rand's philosophy. Since I have already corrected the flaw in critic's attacks, I'll move on to explaining why his example is wrong. Utilitarianism posits that moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility. If one acted contrary to this value, it would mean that their actions did not contribute to the overall good of society and there would be no way to use that as an argument FOR utilitarianism itself, so Pro's example is completely non-sensical. Now, this doesn't apply to objectivism because the goal of objectivism is to live to further your own values. If you act contrary to that, you are choosing a little death either in the death of your values or possibly even your actual life. This is bad and as such can be used as an argument for why you should support objectivism.

3) Reason and Objectivist Ethics

Pro writes, "For rapists and sadists, their happiness very well depends on the expense of others." First, too bad for them. What they do is not what they ought to do... and isn't that the purpose of this debate? Second, a murderer or rapist is mentally ill. Objectivism upholds RATIONAL egoism - not just doing whatever it is that you want.

[ Conclusion ]

I'm out of characters for now and will surely expand in the final round, but the bottom line is that objectivism DOES provide an adequate solution to the is-ought problem. Even if you disagree with the result doesn't mean that it doesn't provide one. Pro's own conclusion has nothing to do with the resolution at hand.

References:
[1] http://en.wikipedia.org...
Debate Round No. 3
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for this interesting and informative debate. I've always wondered why there isn't any debates on the merit of Objectivism when we have several prominent members in support of it - hopefully this debate can peak the interests of some who are willing to do the same.

====================
Auxiliary Issues
====================

Ultimately, I agree with my opponent that this point is irrelevant to this debate due to the current status of the debate. In fact, this entire section was started because I saw an error in my opponent's elaboration of meta-ethics in relation to Objectivism; she states that only moral relativism was the other option than Objectivism. If this was her argument, then she could conceivably argue that if I reject Objectivism then I must support moral relativism (which I think we both agree is an incoherent ethical theory). I simply wanted to avoid a potential strategy such as that. Since that's clear, no further discussion is needed here.

====================
Criticisms of Objectivism : Existence as the Fundamental Value Choice
====================

My opponent's lengthy response here can basically be summarized along the following lines: my arguments are misconstrued because they fail to realize that Rand's argument is that the purpose of one's life is to perpetuate their values. She states that since I have committed such a grave misinterpretation of Rand's work, I am in err. And one would think rightly so if this was the case - which is why I'll demonstrate otherwise.

I find it ironic that though my opponent accuses me of a strawman, she has in fact done the exact same thing upon me. You see, the focus of this debate and my argument is about the META-ETHICAL aspect of Objectivism. In other words, this particular argument is focused on her claim that life is the intrinsic value (again, refer back to value monism) and not so much of whether or not one should live entirely for themselves or their values. You see, I agree that Objectivism argues that the PURPOSE of one's life is to further their own values. However, what I am looking at is what reason do we have to believe that LIFE is the determinant and foundation of this stated dictum? Again, while my opponent is stuck in the area of normative theory I'm looking beyond that at meta-ethics.

So here I'll just concede the arguments about the animals - simply because the purpose of bringing them up in the beginning was begot as the discussion shifted. They were supposed to highlight something about the meta-ethical aspect of Objectivism, but now there's no character limits to do it (but whatever, I'll allow this to be a mutual assumption anyway).

""Objectivists state that since one would need life to have values, then life must be the foundation for value - the ultimate value one could say. Even if we are to accept this reasoning (which is ludicrous in itself)..." Hold on, Mr. Straw Man :) Why exactly is that ludicrous? You'll notice that Pro hasn't explained how or why that it is, but merely that it is, and as such is trying to sway the reader against Objectivism in a fallacious way. "

----> If you read carefully, I stated that I will assume this reasoning for the sake of my argument (about the connection between the necessity of life for rationality and how this supposedly creates a meta-ethical platform). So whether or not I agree with such a reasoning is irrelevant; I already gave this to you for the sake of argumentation. So take heed for this my main argument on which you actually touch upon:

"Furthermore, my opponent continues to note that rationality should be regarded as the ultimate value instead of life. Clearly my response to this is an obvious one: You need to be ALIVE in order to be RATIONAL, so why wouldn't life be the ultimate value?"

----> And here is another embarrassing logical flaw of Objectivism. Let's translate your argument into a syllogism, and once you see how the premises connect then the illogical conclusion can be seen. Furthermore, if we take a reductio approach you'll see even more bizarre results:

P1. Humans are rational beings.
P2. Humans are living beings (at least the ones that are relevant to this discussion).
P3. Humans need to be alive to be rational.
:. Life is the ultimate value.

There are two fatal flaws in this syllogism. First, it makes the non sequitur connection between the third premise and the conclusion - so what if life is necessary for rationality? Why would this mandate it to be an intrinsic value; why would it bear fruit to a coherent ethical theory? This glaring question is something Objectivists have failed to answer, let alone recognize.

Furthermore, if we take that same formula then we come across ridiculous conclusions. Sure, life is necessary for rationality, but isn't there many things necessary for life? There are precise physical fundamentals (and the existence of reality furthermore) that need to be in place for life, so can't we say that physical laws/the existence of the universe are the meta-ethical standard Objectivism is based on? Of course not, that's ridiculous and yet it's a consequence of this thinking.

====================
Criticisms of Objectivism : Existence as the Fundamental Value Choice
====================

"Utilitarianism posits that moral worth of an action is determined solely by its contribution to overall utility. If one acted contrary to this value, it would mean that their actions did not contribute to the overall good of society and there would be no way to use that as an argument FOR utilitarianism itself, so Pro's example is completely non-sensical."

----> WHICH WAS MY EXACT POINT. If a utilitarian came up to you and said you were acting not in accord with the Principle of Utility, and thus this is evidence for Utilitarianism, you'd give a crazed look and ask him how he could conjure up such an incoherent idea. Which I would agree with. But now look at Rand - she is guilty of the exact same crime.

She states, as do you, that if you act contrary to life being the intrinsic value that Objectivists adopt, then you are acting in a way that chooses a little death. A rational person would then ask...well so what? Yes I know that driving without my seat belt or taking cocaine is dangerous for me (a choice that picks a little death), but how would this amount to Rand's philosophy being coherent? IT DOESN'T!

====================
Criticisms of Objectivism : Reason and Objectivist Ethics
====================

It seems my opponent has failed to respond to me reasoning that since Objectivism is an ethical egoist theory, then I'd say that at it's core it will have to boil down to some idea of the social contract theory. In other words, what is immoral for Objectivists is that what threatens your life - and thus this mutual understanding bears fruit the idea of rights. What I stated is that this is gathering an absolute (rights) from a generalization (that certain acts will always end with a net loss on your part).

Her reply to my example of rapists and sadists fails to highlight my point about the social contract theory that practically every ethical egoistic theory takes inspiration from. She states that what they do is immoral - but that begs the question, why? It was exactly my point to bring up an example of those whose happiness can be derived from others, since my opponent said OTHERWISE. And even if she brings up the point of rational egoism, there are many rapists and murders who are rational or absent of mental illnesses (unless she wants to make the extraordinary empirical claim that anyone who commits a heinous crime is mentally ill).

====================
Conclusion
====================

Objectivism is an entertaining philosophy, and one that many people should look into. However, ultimately at it's core is has too many embarrassing mistakes and errors for it to pass as a coherent ethical theory.
Danielle

Con

[ Introduction and Auxiliary Issues ]

To clarify, obviously I acknowledge that there are other belief systems that are subject to objective morality. I apologize if my opponent thought I was saying that the only opposition to Objectivism was Relativism. I agree that since this meaningless issue has been cleared up, we can move on to the contentions at hand. I'd like to thank TheSkeptic for the fun debate; I wish philosophy were discussed here more often.

[ Contentions ]

1. Existence as a Fundamental Value

Pro begins by stating that I am stuck in the area of normative theory, while he is looking beyond that at meta-ethics. To clarify for the reader, normative ethics deals with what one ought to do, while meta-ethics is concerned with what is good. I've already explained my reasoning but will once more, by quoting Rand herself who addresses the issues that Pro has raised head-on in her work The Virtue of Selfishness:

"It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of "value" is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of "life." To speak of "value" as apart from "life" is worse than a contradiction in terms. "It is only the concept of ‘Life' that makes the concept of ‘Value' possible."

In answer to those who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought."

2. Logic Syllogism

Pro next introduces a syllogism which he claims to be false, and it is. The problem is that Pro completely misrepresented what the actual syllogism would look like thereby straw-manning the argument. He presented one that was disarranged and more importantly incomplete. The real, valid one of my argument would look like this:

1. Humans are living beings.
2. Humans are rational beings.
3. Humans need to be living in order to be rational.
4. Life is an end in itself (a value gained and kept by a constant process of action).
5. Rational living beings have values.
6. The concept of values are derived from the concept of life (life makes values possible).
:. Life is the ultimate value.

It's very easy for Pro to scrutinize the syllogism which he himself has created; he only had to provide a flawed one in order to accomplish this manipulative feat. He asks, "So what if life is necessary for rationality?" My 5th premise answers that, as does my 6th and my conclusion. So you see, Pro's insistence that "Objectivists" i.e. him and/or the people he stole his arguments from online are merely picking and choosing which aspects of Objectivism they'd like to critique without seeing that Rand herself actually addresses all of these issues (see quote).

3. Physical Laws and Meta-Ethics

To some degree, I would have to say that the physical laws of nature do play some part in meta-ethics. Rand definitely believed in obeying one's nature, but that does not imply merely obeying for the sake of being a slave to something beyond oneself. One isn't a pawn in a cosmic game of evolutionary progression, nor in the effective "spreading of genes." Rather, one obeys ones nature precisely because one is an individual, who has his own life to lead, and because one needs to know how to live it. Hence the expression, "Nature: to obey, so as to be commanded."

One Objectivist puts it, "The point of obeying one's nature is in understanding what it means to live qua man. It means, "Since I am a man, I can only live as a man. I can't photosynthesize, and I certainly don't have any instinctual method of survival." This investigation leads one to discover that man has a central capacity - reason - which can be applied in a certain manner - towards production (of live-serving values) - as well as a central purpose which gives purpose to all of that acting - happiness/flourishing/etc. [1]

4. Moot Point

Pro then writes that Objectivism is non-sensical giving a horrible example/explanation in noting, "Yes I know that driving without my seat belt or taking cocaine is dangerous for me (a choice that picks a little death), but how would this amount to Rand's philosophy being coherent? IT DOESN'T!" Actually, good sir, this is absolutely in line with Rand's philosophy. As I have already pointed out in R1, Rand would argue that doing drugs IS unethical (and just not worth prosecuting). I'm sure she'd feel the same way about not wearing a seat belt. So, what exactly is your point here?! Whether or not you agree with Rand's philosophy certainly doesn't make it incoherent. I see nothing but consistency here.

5. Reason and Objectivist Ethics

Pro says that Objectivism was essentially the Social Contract Theory. That could not be more wrong. The SCT implies that people give up rights to maintain a social order. With Objectivism, you are your own island, and you never relinquish any of your rights to anyone. An Objectivist is in full control of all of their rights, and thus this is completely in contrast with the SCT and Pro's point.

Also, I've already illustrated how Pro's point about rapists is irrelevant. Objectivism implies that it is a moral system that is applicable and enacted by rational minds. A rapist or murderer does not have a rational mind; they are parasites in need of others, and have severe, brain alterings from the norm that result in mental illness. Ayn Rand addresses this directly in her book The Fountainhead with the main disabled villain - Toohey.

[ Conclusion ]

Pro concludes with saying that Objectivism is a philosophy riddled with embarrassing mistakes. I think what's embarrassing is trying to argue Objectivism without understanding (probably not even reading) Ayn Rand, and resorting to faulty online critiques from novice philosophers instead, as Pro has resorted to in this debate. Also, note that the objective of this debate was to examine Objectivism in relation to the is-ought problem - not the philosophy itself. Pro wandered completely off topic in failing to explain how Objectivism didn't adequately answer Hume's silly "problem."

So, let's re-cap. The is-ought problem identifies the central problem in morality as being a choice. It essentially says that man is capable of choosing a lot of things, but that there is no justifying reason that compels him to any specific action. Objectivism counters that by saying "choice" is not the central concern here - life is. Ayn Rand takes note from Aristotle in pointing out that eventually all choices trace back to one essential choice - the choice to live. One cannot escape this choice; it's a choice which is inherently made when one chooses to act. Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff notes that choosing to die is simply to cease action. In other words, the fact that you exist (is) determines what you (ought) to do in consideration with Objectivist values of rights, and how morality pertains to those rights. As such, Objectivism provides an answer to the so-called is-ought problem and thus the resolution has been negated.

[ References ]

[1] http://forum.objectivismonline.net...
Debate Round No. 4
50 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by ShabShoral 1 year ago
ShabShoral
Oh wow, didn't know this existed. More good reading material.
Posted by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
TheSkeptic
"...the problem in the inference being the challenge of whether or not you can say something is morally wrong, but not act in accordance with your belief..."

Hm, isn't that more of a problem concerning moral motivation (the whole internal vs. external)? And your senior thesis sounds interesting :). But yeah, if you were to bring arguments such as those to the table it would be interesting -- I just don't find Objectivism's survivalist thesis to be as satisfying.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 6 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Right - the problem in the inference being the challenge of whether or not you can say something is morally wrong, but not act in accordance with your belief. I'm not actually familiar with Hume's guillotine model - we used mostly psychopaths - lol.

There is one way to solve the is-ought problem that was the topic of my senior thesis... basically you have to understand moral concepts to be non-cognitive, but based on cognitively formulated rules.
Posted by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
TheSkeptic
Mm, it's more complicated than that (if that version you stated was true, it would more akin to a problem of moral psychology). The is-ought problem is a an issue of how one can make an inference from declarative statements to prescriptive statements; as you probably know, Hume formulated the problem and his "guillotine" is the traditional picture of how he rejects such a connection.

So in regards to the folk, I suppose the moral skeptic or non-cognitivist would simply remark that they are misguided - as would be the case with any other situation involving persons holding false beliefs.
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 6 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Ah... well as I understand it, the is-ought problem is fundamentally a question about whether or not moral judgments are declarative or prescriptive. The folk generally understand them a declarative, and the truth of the declarative implies a prescriptive obligation...

I think that works better...
Posted by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
TheSkeptic
Er, my comment was probably misleading. I understand the usage of folk (i.e. folk psychology) - I was wondering how it was relevant o.O - perhaps I'm missing what you're getting at. And sure, I'd welcome the studies!
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 6 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
Folk meaning everybody in general... that's how they are usually referred to in studies on this topic. I'll see if I can find my metaethics book from the course I took so I can send some of the studies your way.
Posted by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
TheSkeptic
Folk?
Posted by JustCallMeTarzan 6 years ago
JustCallMeTarzan
The "folk" think in objective normative terms. Both sides fail? LOL.

No, seriously, metaethically, the folk adopt usually a constructivist or authoritative stance on morality, holding that they are expressing a cognitively true proposition when they say "You ought not have done that," and for most moral judgments, this is objectively true. So in essence, my position on this might be that you are both wrong.

And another 2 cents... the Fountainhead... great book =)
Posted by TheSkeptic 6 years ago
TheSkeptic
Lol :). I'll admit, my arguments were far from refined. However, I think with the further reading I can better express my arguments (i.e. contentions against a strict survivalist thesis); I still hold true to most of the arguments used.
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