Objectivism is a valid ethical system.
Objectivism: The philosophy of author Ayn Rand, and mainly, for this debate, the idea that all individuals should act in their own rational self-interests.
Valid: True, or, in other words, pertaining to the facts of reality.
Ethics: The study of how any given individual (or group) should act in life. This debate will focus on the ethical claims made by Objectivism, as well as any metaphysical or other such claims that directly support the arguments being given - try to keep everything relevant to the resolution, if you can.
In this debate, PRO will argue that Objectivism, as defined above, comes to true and correct conclusions about ethics and accurately describes how one should act in reality.
The first round will be for acceptance only - I will present my argument in the second round, and my opponent will present his, along with any objections to my arguments that he sees fit to write. The third round will be used for counter-arguments and defences, as well as new arguments. The fourth round will contain no new arguments, and will only serve to allow the debaters a chance to both give final counter-arguments targeting the already-established arguments put forward earlier in the debate, as well as letting them conclude their arguments.
I hold the majority of the BOP - CON only needs to explain why my arguments are invalid to win the debate. He does not have to directly support any other ethical system.
You will have 72 hours to post a round, can use up to 10,000 characters per round, and the debate will be in the voting period for two weeks.
I don't care much about voting, but please be fair.
There are two different mutually exclusive states that an entity can be in at any given time – they are the states of life and death, or the states of the animate and the inanimate. The dead cannot act with direction – they are subject only to the external forces outside of their bodies or the matter that once made up their bodies. They cannot move towards anything with a goal in mind – they are completely passive in all aspects. The living, on the other hand, are capable of choosing their values, acting to achieve their goals, etc. This does not, however, imply that plants are able to grasp the concepts of anything – neither does it imply that an animal understands what it is trying to gain by pursuing values. The lower living entities are able to act without knowledge – they are instinctual creatures, able to survive by sucking water out of the soil or by pouncing on a passing rabbit.
In determining what a human should do, one must first find the goals of whatever actions will take place. One cannot call blind and goalless acting a code of ethics – it would only be able to tell us that we should do something, not that we should something because of any particular reason. A system of ethics needs to be clearly defined, with specific situations being paired with certain correct courses of actions in order to achieve a certain outcome in a non-contradictory and non-self-defeating way – for example, if a system of ethics were to say that the correct responses to seeing an unlocked car are to steal it or walk away, it can be rightfully be called out as a fraud, because it is not consistent – there is no reason why the same situation would call for two courses of actions that are based on premises that, if all from both are accepted at once, will certainly be found to contain contradictions. In this way, it is shown that any true ethical system will only have one objectively correct answer for each individual scenario – and that it will definitely have more than none.
What, then, are the goals one should strive towards? In order to answer this question, one must recognize that there is a hierarchy of goals or values – for instance, if one claims that being able to see the colour green is a value, that person must also accept that seeing anything at all is a value, and, by extension, that eating in order to stay in the physical condition necessary for sight is a value. Naturally, the deeper into this chain you go, the more basic the values become. You will be able to search until you hit the “bedrock” – the foundational value without which any other value would be possible. This value will serve as the standard of value, or the “ultimate” value – all other values rest directly on this one, and it is necessary for this to be recognized as a value for any ethical system to be considered to be solid. This standard of value is life itself – one cannot value anything at all if he is not alive. In this sense, it can be shown that, since going against life would be going against all the values built on it, and doing so would render an ethics system without any descriptions of ethics itself, the only values one can hold in a logical manner are those which maintain and further one’s life.
Man, contrary to lesser creatures, is not built in such a manner that he can live on primal instincts or by automatic processes alone – he is the rational animal, a creature able to use reason in order to understand reality. Even the most powerful brute would not be able to live on a deserted island or in an empty field without rationality – you cannot beat a seed of wheat in order to make it grow, and, likewise, you certainly cannot determine how to build a house by smashing logs together. It is the use of his mind that makes Man unique, and that mind is the only thing allowing the species to thrive in the way it has been for thousands of years. The mind is what is able to comprehend basic facts of reality – it is able to form concepts via the interpretation and categorization of the data of the senses. It is able to recognize that A is A, that contradictions cannot exist, and that the denial of any of these or other fundamental logical axioms will destroy the mind.
The physical world exists outside of the human mind – if all humans were to die at once, suddenly, the world would still exist without being perceived. It is only through perception, though, that Man is able to come to conclusions about reality, and it is, more importantly, reason that allows the sense data to be made into anything even close to a concept. Without reason, no valuable information about the outside world can be gained, and, as such, reason is directly responsible for human life to the extent that it is found in the modern day.
The only way for a code of ethics centered around reason and life to be useful is for a man to be able to apply it in his life – it is here that the issue of rights come up. If Man is to survive via rationality and productivity, or, as Rand put it, as “man qua man”, he needs to recognize that he, by the virtue of his nature, he has several absolute rights – the right to his own property, as any action in physical space constitutes a claim to that property in some regard, the right to personal autonomy and freedom from outside aggression, because living via rationality entails being able to make your own choices – otherwise, you would be living on your faith on someone else’s level of rationality or dead. Man needs to be able to evaluate each situation and choose the best course for him – a gun revokes this ability of his, by forcing him to act as a slave to someone else’s mind. At the root of all of this is the right to life – not meaning the right to live, but the right to not have your life ended, whether by enslavement or by death. It is only if these rights are granted to man that he is able to live and value, at all.
A properly rational man would recognize that, if these rights are reasonable for him to have, they also apply to all other humans – meaning that any sort of aggression that violates any one of the individual rights of another is wholly immoral, as it goes against a construct that was previously accepted as being rational (and, therefore, that aggression would be anti-life). The right to life is a protection against aggression, not a claim that allows one to override the right to property of someone else. Man is needed to recognize that, by killing another man either mentally or physically, they are shooting themselves in the head – they are revoking their own right to anything in the world. If one is unable to respect a right of another, they should not expect that right themselves.
To the rational man, it is their life that matters the most – it is only their specific life that gives them the ability to value at all, so, logically, their own life must be put above the lives of all others, else ethics as a whole would be rejected. This man would also recognize that, much like with rights, if this argument applies to him because he is a man, it must apply equally to every other man – therefore, he will live for himself, and will not expect others to do differently. He neither offers himself up as sacrifice, nor does he allow the blood of others to run down his cheeks.
The rational man would not be a recluse – he would still be able to have interactions with others. He would not demand that others give him that which they value for nothing in return, however - that would go against his ethical code. Imagine a scenario in which two people are trading – both have objective reasons for why they value certain things, but they might not hold the same values – this does not mean the values are subjective, rather, it means that they recognize that they are different people in different scenarios. They can still hold objectively correct values, because they can still rationally evaluate their own individual positions – they can just come to different outcomes (but, if two men were clones of each other, one of the pair would have to be objectively wrong if the pair had a disagreement in terms of values). Because of this inequality in the evaluations of certain things between the two people, a trade can be made – one that mutually benefits both participants. If, say, one were dying of thirst in a desert, and the other was in need of money, it would be absolutely moral for the water to be sold to the man – it is not some type of extortion for two reasons: firstly, the man in the desert has no claim to the water in the first place, and secondly that both men directly benefit – there is a net positive exchange in values between the two.
The importance and moral worth of trade has been made obvious, and it can be shown to extend past material goods – two people in a relationship, for instance, are in a long-term trade – each is giving to the other what they can in payment for what the other can give that person. All human relationships can be modeled this way, and all human relationships can result in mutual benefit, assuming complete rationality.
I've almost ran out of space now, but I think I’ve at least laid out the most important parts of the ethical portion of Objectivism, and I really can’t wait to read the case that CON’s going to make next round! I hope everything goes smoothly, and I wish CON the best of luck :)
Rand is clear on the foundation of her moral philosophy: “[t]he standard of value of the Objectivist ethics – the standard by which one judges what is good or evil - is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man”. Morality is founded upon the “metaphysical fact” that not only must we be alive to have values, i.e. to have ideas of good and evil, since we must be alive to think, but that it is this “alternative” between life and death which enables us to conceive of good and evil, as if this “alternative” was not present then we would have no conception of “for or against” our interests. This provides us with a moral standard, which is that “an entity's values are determined by its objective life-needs”, because life is the “ultimate value”, the “end in itself”. Ultimately, for an organism, “that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil”. Good and evil are therefore objective truths validated with reference to facts about reality – specifically, facts concerning what it is to live, and what promotes the continuation of that life.
As far as I can tell, that exposition coheres with that given by my opponent of Rand’s Objectivism. The political conclusion of such a philosophy is apparently that of laissez-faire capitalism, so as a socialist anarchist I clearly disagree with the philosophy in terms of its application, i.e. the world it would create if adhered to, but I shall attempt to refute the metaphysical/ontological/meta-ethical grounds, as given above, of the philosophy.
Strangely, I shall start first by agreeing with Rand. She defines ‘value’ as “that which one acts to gain and/or keep”. Even more strangely, she then proceeds to contradict this definition. My understanding is that ‘X is good’ means that ‘I approve of X’, that X is somehow ‘desirable’ to me, as an individual. As Sartre writes, we are each ‘the unique basis of the existence of values’, and thus ‘nothing – absolutely nothing – can justify me in adopting this or that value or scale of values’. Indeed, to make such a judgement is impossible as it is ‘itself a judgement of value, and accordingly outside the scope of argument’, as A.J. Ayer argues. Value, then, is something projected onto the world by a unique individual (clearly I am a subjectivist). This is not a line of argument I believe Objectivists would question, were it not for their belief that there is the aforementioned ‘metaphysical fact’ which necessitates us all to hold life as an end in itself, thereby enabling an objective account of value. My opponent elaborates on the argument for this position: ‘there is a hierarchy of goals or values – for instance, if one claims that being able to see the colour green is a value, that person must also accept that seeing anything at all is a value, and, by extension, that eating in order to stay in the physical condition necessary for sight is a value’. The conclusion of this analysis, of course, is that life is the ultimate value, the end in itself.
The error that has been committed, it appears, is that of misunderstanding the nature of value and existence. Simone de Beauvoir explains that existence, life itself, cannot be evaluated ‘since it is the fact on the basis of which all evaluation is defined’. To illustrate this is as simple as conducting the same analysis upon an experience which is deemed undesirable and bad. If it is the case that I must value life because I value being intoxicated, then I can only see that it is similarly the case that I must despise life because I despise being sober. The desired experience, intoxication, requires that I exist, that I live, but so does the undesired experience, sobriety. The idea that life is an end in itself is absurd in the face of the concepts of good and bad experiences; they make it clear that experience, and thus existence, must be qualified by its specific content in order to be good or bad. A content-free existence is unconsciousness, which is not an experience that can be evaluated, as it is not an experience. To conclude: only existence with a specific content can be evaluated as good or bad, therefore the idea of existence as an ‘end in itself’ is incoherent.
Addendum: I am not a drug addict. How could you say feeling good is an addiction?
 Rand A., op. cit.
 Blackham, H.J., Six Existentialist Thinkers, pp. 155-6
 Ayer, A.J., Language, Truth and Logic, p. 147
 de Beauvoir, S., The Ethics of Ambiguity, p. 15
 Schoolboy Q, Prescription/Oxymoron (http://rapgenius.com...)
Before addressing any of my opponent's particular augments, I first have to say that his overview of Objectivism in his first paragraph was on-the-money, and expanded an important point that may not have had a fully explicit explanation in my previous round - that morality is only applicable when there is an alternative. A system of ethics (where ethics is defined as the study of what an individual should do or how he should act) cannot work in a void. It presupposes that there is a choice to be made, since it is impossible to choose how to act where you are only able to take one course of action. It cannot be applied in a situation where there is nothing to choose. This is why morality cannot be applied to anything other than life - in a state of death, no choices can be made and no actions can be acted out.
I think that there is a distinction to be made between an individual giving approval of X, and having X be desirable to that individual. As my opponent goes on, he says that something is only of value because an individual says it is, and no further justification is needed. An example of the wrongness of this statement can be found in a man who thinks that he can fly, and, as such, jumps off a bridge. Just because he "gave approval" to suicide does not mean that suicide was truly valuable to him - just because of the very nature of value, it is known that death cannot be valuable, since ethics cannot apply in death. The fact that death cannot logically be said to be a value reveals something incredibly important - that some things are not valuable, and, by extension, some things are valuable (i.e.. those that keep the individual away from that which is not valuable), and there exists some way to judge whether something is valuable or not. As said in my previous round, this standard can only logically be life, so that which is the good furthers the life of the individual, and that which is bad destroys it.
If this objective standard is in place, it cannot be argued that, because some people judge certain songs or whatever else differently, morality is subjective - this ignores that the standard is still in place, no matter the individual's preferences. An individual might like painting more than engineering -this is still an objective judgement, because the individual is constricted into choosing that which aligns with their individual personality, genetics, etc. A weak child could either choose to be a writer or a mathematician - he could not rightfully choose to fight in a cage with a lion. There still exists a distinction between life and death, no matter how many individual paths to each there are. In every choice, the objective standard of morality is still implicitly lying. This means that individuals can have different values from one another, but each is still bound by the overarching standard. Any man can choose what fits him best in the range of the "good", but, if he chose something in the range of the "evil", he would be spitting in the face of ethics as a whole.
My opponent then goes on to claim that, because you would have to be alive to do both those things which Objectivism claims are of value and those which are not, you cannot say that life is an end in itself. He says that experiences within life have to be evaluated in order to claim whether the life itself is good or bad, and, as such, this means that life is not an end in itself. This, I feel, ignores a crucial idea - that those immoral actions, by definition, can only serve to go against life. You need to be alive in order to drink, but the end result is death via liver failure. You need to be alive to smoke, but the end result is death via lung cancer. You need to be alive in order to put a gun to your head, but the end result is the same as that of all the previously listed actions: death. The only way to stay alive is to perform acts that help you stay alive - anything else would be a contradiction in terms. As such, the only reason why any person is able to stay alive is the moral acts they commit - a gambler who throws away fortunes does not profit enough via gambling to stay alive. He gains no value from gambling - gambling, in no way, helps him stay alive. It is only the acts of finding food to eat, water to drink, etc., that keep him alive - if he was totally immoral, he would be dead within the span of a minute. If that which is immoral is that which destroys life, even more immoral than inactivity is acting directly to hurt oneself. In this sense, the only possible end to the road of immorality is death.
In other words, any immoral action can only be taken in spite of life, and in direct conflict with whatever moral actions the individual has also taken. It does not matter that it requires life - what matters is that it actively acts to achieve a state in which any value judgements become impossible. In this way, it is a contradiction in terms - if drinking was said to be good, the question of why must be asked. Drinking leads directly to death - and it is illogical to ascribe value to that which acts only to destroy value. It can act no other way, so how would it itself be valuable? It's almost like burning a forest in order to increase the number of trees in a given area.
My opponent says that "only existence with a specific content can be evaluated as good or bad, therefore the idea of existence as an ‘end in itself’ is incoherent", but he ignores the fact that the only way to evaluate that existence is via a standard, and any attempt to go about it otherwise is impossible. The only logical standard is life itself. In the same way, the claim that you cannot justify justifications of what justifications are because doing so would be circular doesn't recognize the fact that that statement is, in itself, illogical - no absolute statement can be made without implicitly having a standard by which to justify it, and, if this is true, the statement itself disproves what it claims. It is a bit like saying the following: "no words exist" - it is self-defeating because it, by virtue of being said or thought, already assumes that the negation is true. If it is said, then, that that statement is illogical, then there must be a standard by which to justify statements, and, like in other cases, that standard is that thing which is at the base of all other thought - life.
I hope I've made sense here, it's a bit difficult for me to write about these abstract things without getting carried away, hahah. I'm really enjoying this debate, and I really can't wait for what my opponent is going to throw at me next :)
Firstly, I am not a nihilist. I am not attempting to argue that nothing is true and everything is permitted, nor is that the implication of my critique. While rejecting that there is a standard given to us to enable us to evaluate existence, I fully realise that “the only way to evaluate that existence is via a standard”. As I explained in my previous round, that standard can only be that contained within our unique personality – it is our personal system of values. My opponent’s argument is that we should evaluate existence according to the axiom ‘Life is good’, and, referring again to my previous round, I attempted to show simply that evaluation assumes life but that life cannot be viewed as an ‘end in itself’ or as a standard for evaluation.
My opponent’s response is threefold. He argues that death is not valuable, and hence life is valuable, that you cannot logically be pursuing what you value by acting “in spite of life”, and that life is the only possible standard for evaluation, which I can only assume is the assertion that I have not adequately proven what I attempted to in my first round.
The idea that “death cannot logically said to be a value” is something I agree with, but my conclusion appears to widely diverge from my opponent’s. Death cannot be said to be good or bad, in itself, because you cannot evaluate unconsciousness – thus I say it cannot be valued, not that it is ‘unvaluable’. You may logically assert that ‘to die now would be bad, because I am currently very happy’, but the latter part of that statement constitutes a sufficient qualification for the assertion that ‘death is bad’ as it contains content (being happy is an actual experience, it is experiential content). Death is bad in relation to the lack of a certain valued content. This returns to the point I was trying to make in my first round – without content there is nothing to value, and ‘life in itself’ is not content, but the domain for the experiential content I am discussing. There is nothing good or bad about being dead or alive unless there is some reason to think that, and the only reason you would have is real experiential content. If you are dead, no evaluation will occur, but similarly, life itself is not something which can be evaluated since life without any content is unconsciousness, as I did point out in my previous round. ‘Life is good’ when what I experience by virtue of being alive pleases me – ‘death is good’ when what I experience by virtue of being alive is incredibly displeasing and hopeless. My opponent is mistaken in denying this.
The remaining strand of argument is summarised by his simile: “It's almost like burning a forest in order to increase the number of trees in a given area”. I interpret this to mean that if I desire certain experiences, it is illogical to act in a way which will bring about death, and thus the preclusion of those experiences, sooner. This is a fair statement, but it only serves to prompt someone to reconsider their plans for the future. Perhaps, on second thought, fifteen years of heavy drinking followed by death is not quite as good as it seems and I might prefer to live a longer life with a little more restraint regarding alcohol, but this seems to be my decision based on my values. If I truly wish to spend my life living dangerously, then I see no reason why, provided no one is unfairly damaged by my behaviour, that I should not do this.
To conclude, then, there does not seem to be any reason to live if there is nothing to live for. This captures both my response to the idea that life itself can function as a standard for evaluation, and to the idea that we must above all else strive to lengthen our lives. Should anyone find themselves regarding my sentiment here as childish, I would like to remind them that they in all likelihood do not live in a way which will ensure them the longest possible life. If by some miracle that is false, then I can only say that our tastes differ.
I just want to say that this was an incredibly fun debate, and I really enjoyed reading my opponent’s arguments.
Keep in mind that a value is “that which one acts to gain and or keep”, using the definition that Rand gave and my opponent agreed with,
My opponent has made the mistake, it seems, of putting the cart before the horse: he claims that, because life would not be worth living or that it would be meaningless without that which makes up life, life is not an objective standard. He ignores the correct order, here – life is presupposed before the content of life can be discussed. You cannot have ANY experiences without life, good or bad, so claiming that those experiences come first in terms of importance is absurd. Have I denied that an individual’s experiences and values matter? No, which is shown in my first round, where I write, quote, “Imagine a scenario in which two people are trading – both have objective reasons for why they value certain things, but they might not hold the same values – this does not mean the values are subjective, rather, it means that they recognize that they are different people in different scenarios.”
Just because these experiences exist does not mean that they have primacy – they are only able to be evaluated and even thought of or had if the subject is living. As I have pointed out many times, “life is good” is a necessary assumption in ethics, and I don’t believe that my opponent ever sufficiently challenged this point. The argument that “life itself is not something which can be evaluated since life without any content is unconsciousness” does not recognize that, following this line, content would be equally meaningless, because content without existence is a contradiction in terms. There is no way around the primacy of life, because any arguments against it, by definition, assume it. As such, it is an undebatably true fact.
My opponent then makes the argument that “[i]f I truly wish to live dangerously, then I see no reason why [I should not do this].” This, again, falls to the argument that life is needed to be held as a standard of value before any value judgements can be made, and, as such, any value-judgement that puts value on something life-destroying is self-defeating. The only way this argument can stand is if life is not the standard of value, which I think is something which my opponent has not shown yet.
That is, in fact, what I think is the main point of contention in this debate. If it is disproven that life is the standard of value, CON wins, but, if it is not, and my other arguments correctly flow from that standard, PRO wins.
Again, Wocambs, this was really fun, and I hope we debate something else in the near future.