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Plato's Cave - The Orlando Philosophy Meetup Group Message Board › Is there a moral foundation behind Objectivism?

Is there a moral foundation behind Objectivism?

A former member
Post #: 1
Hello everyone,

I am looking for some much needed feedback on this dilemma. Being that I am a college student, I feel that I am extremely vulnerable in regards to my beliefs and moral foundation. I would like to know how you feel about topics like Rand's objectivism, capitalism, socialism, environmentalism, free markets. I feel that I am on the fence in terms of how I feel about the aforementioned topics and I'm looking for some much needed insight. I am currently reading "Atlas Shrugged," and Rand certainly has a way of convincing the reader, but I don't want to stop there. In order for me to know that I have a strong opinion of something, I must know what the opposing side is. Do you agree with Randian philosophy?

I am looking forward to reading!
Rami K.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 203
Reading Rand is something every college student probably should do. Watch the movie, "The Passion of Ayn Rand". I think it will help you in the decision making process.

A former member
Post #: 8
Immanuel Kant proposed that treating humans as the objective of morality rather than a means of achieving it was an objectively better way of approaching moral decisions. When you define morality as Sam Harris and many others have, as concern for suffering and well-being, you can make the best choice, though not always the preferred choice, given the limited number of actions one has in a given moral situation. We build values off of simple principles. I don't want to be killed, robbed, unjustly punished, so the best way to prevent that is to find others who share those values and create a society that discourages those acts. We can build a very complex moral system off of a few basic shared desires and beliefs.

So my overall opinion of the objectivity of morality is, yes there is an objectively best choice to take in a given situation in respect to values that may be derived from somewhat subjective desires and values. I think an argument could be made to point out that the desire to not be killed or robbed is objectively better. If this were common practice, the few criminals that may benefit from thefts would find they are being robbed equally and so the entire enterprise of thieving others becomes second to defending your own property. An objective compromise to mutual respect to goods would achieve the desired outcome for all parties.

I hope that helps with a different view. I enjoy this subject very much so I will be looking forward to a reply and your opinion.
Ben Forbes G.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 210
Ah, Libertarianism, the typical politics of Randian Objectivism... I actually used to be somewhat of a Libertarian, around Junior High to early High School age, right after I read all of Ayn Rand’s books for the first time as an adolescent... I was also reading a lot of existentialist literature at the time (Camus, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Nietzsche, etc.). Incidentally Lee Noto, do you agree with Ayn Rand’s more general philosophy of Objectivism? Or simply with political and economic “Libertarianism” more narrowly? And who is John Galt anyway?

The anecdotal answer to why I have rejected Libertarianism (after brief flirtation with it in my youth) is that most people in the world are patently NOT half the master of their destinies that, for example, someone like my father is. I admire my father greatly; he’s a good man, and he’s formidable in multifarious ways: worthy of respect too — but it’s a cruel philosophy to expect the ignorant masses to either compete on his level or suffer exploitation and mediocrity, or even sink into abject poverty and destitution if unforeseeable and inexorable misfortunes should ever strike (you should read La Peste, by Albert Camus, if you haven’t already). Of course, I’m not putting my dad up as some sort of paragon of a “self-made man” or Nietzschean Superman; he had many advantages others don’t, but he worked hard too and rose far above where he started. My point is that my dad is quite exceptional, and a compassionate person should recognize the abhorrent suffering of “common” people for what it is when and where he sees it — and empathize with those less fortunate: because, almost invariably, “There but for fortune, go you or go I.” ~Phil Ochs

My less anecdotal (and more impersonal) critique of Libertarianism is as follows...

If one views the world as a zero-sum entrepreneurial-capitalist rat-race, and one’s attitude to the suffering of the poor is “tough shit, they should have worked harder” (when most are inexorably losing an almost impossibly unfair competition through no fault of their own because of an accident of birth), then I call such an attitude both foolish and cruel. It’s almost Darwinian, it’s so savage.

Moreover, if one truly believes that such tropes as the “American dream” and the “self-made man” are anything more than monumental exceptions to widespread oppression and injustice (even in the richest and most powerful nation in world history), then one is quite sheltered from real suffering and sadly ignorant of its tragic history. The attitude that: hey, look, a few people managed to transcend their circumstances, so I guess anyone can if they work hard enough, is what psychologists would recognize as “confirmation bias” (a logical and psychological fallacy). People don’t choose or deserve to be abjectly poor!

Unregulated capitalism is evil, as are the corrupt corporations that perpetrate it and seek to unleash it. Even very capitalist nations like Germany can provide adequate social services to their citizens, along with some healthy progressive reforms — while still maintaining the important incentives and ideals of capitalism for talented people to work hard and “succeed” (rewarding trained professionals extra compensation, but taxing the super-rich lots extra too because THEY can afford it).

Furthermore, Libertarians are naive to believe that private charity could ever be sufficient (in quantity) to solve serious social problems. Most people are naturally too selfish, so their hands must be forced to contribute to the common good according to their ability, since most would obviously refuse to privately support sufficient basic aid to the poor, if given the choice. Reforming welfare to close loopholes is all well and good, and I certainly do support it, but for every lazy hustler who games an inefficient bureaucratic system, there are many more legitimately suffering families denied desperately needed services.

If people are realistically to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, sheltered, and protected the government must necessarily have a major role in this — and none should dare to doubt that it’s in all of our common interest to see that these things happen: anarchy has not worked out very well historically, and the rich actually have the most to lose whenever the poor suffer too badly and get tired of taking it (which is why the New Deal was absolutely necessary, whatever the cost and consequences); after all, what is one less yacht, Mercedes, or country club membership if “successful” people can be reasonably sure that mobs of desperate poor people will not rob them at gunpoint, loot their favorite stores, and start a chaotic and dangerous revolution to create a communist dictatorship of the proletariat? What’s a higher tax bracket cap for the super-rich worth compared to stability, safety, and peace of mind?

A good government, on my view, is NOT a minimalist Libertarian nation — it is wealthy, powerful, and beneficent: using its wealth and power responsibly for development, reciprocally beneficial trade, and progress — NOT for empire or exploitation. For defense, yes: certainly, but NOT for insanely expensive F-22 Raptors and ICBMs. I think that proper checks and balances, constantly updated and reformed, and combined with thorough and efficient bureaucratic oversight as well as transparency, free press, and whistle-blower watchdogs can (and should) do better than the old excuses of power corrupting. I’m an elitist, and I don’t trust the “average” American to promote sound policy any more than the Federalist founders of our nation did. Trust me, as a teacher, I know much of what there is to know about peoples’ ignorance (both parents and students), and I’m a constructive part of the only solution every day — but the inexorable reality remains that something fundamental about average human nature or nurture would need to change in a big way before it would cease to be true that “the best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.” Interestingly, though, Winston Churchill also said that “democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.” And I’m certainly not an authoritarian... Even the very wise cannot see all ends. In example after example, throughout history, republics are either transformed into or overthrown by EMPIRES! Nevertheless, I don’t want a global superpower (metaphorically, I would prefer a military “scalpel” versus a “rapier” — and I’d settle for a “rapier” as opposed to a “tank”), but a minimalist Libertarian state ultimately will not suffice for a nation like the U.S.
Ben Forbes G.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 211
For the record, I’m no radical communist like my uncle Joel (and the only “revolution” I’m trying to start is one of ATHEISM in particular and education, in general), but I DO have some seriously liberal political leanings. Frankly, the typical conservative’s “Red Scare—paranoia style” knee-jerk reaction constantly decrying “socialism” (and suggesting that liberalism is somehow “un-American”) is totally ignorant and absurd: especially when it happens EVERY time anyone even suggests SLIGHTLY more of a “mixed economy” with a few more prudent fetters to restrain otherwise unbridled and dangerous capitalism — i.e. we NEED an economy with much MORE government oversight or involvement in ensuring greater fairness, as well as encouraging or requiring more progressive, healthy, and sustainable business practices (as opposed to rapacious, unchecked, and unstable corporate greed).

Free markets and capitalism are important, because they can admittedly “efficiently” spur growth and provide essential economic incentives for people to attain multifarious necessary professional qualifications (and consequently earn greater wealth as fair compensation). But the “private sector” is NOT the panacea that economic conservatives claim it could be for solving large social problems (which private sector resources are simply inadequate for tackling); just look at the great depression and the revolution that would have certainly ensued without the New Deal. There is more to life than efficiency and profit. Moreover, wealth doesn’t “trickle down” (it accumulates in the treasuries of the rich as they profit from the labors of the poor) and there is no such thing as “compassionate” conservatism; when allowed to do so, government (small or large) tends to collude with corporations to exploit the labor of the working poor and rob them of what little wealth they can spare, but corporations (if left unchecked) would prefer to do worse — the ages of “square deals” or “welfare capitalism” are long gone now... Contemporary conservatism feeds on the exceptional myth of an “American Dream” waiting at the end of a rainbow few will ever reach — and further dupes the masses into supporting regressive economic policies which will ensure their wage-slavery and generational poverty by manipulating their ignorant religious prejudices regarding hot-button social issues to convince them to unwittingly betray their class and vote against their own interests. At least that’s how it works for most poor conservatives (who also happen to be sadly ignorant people). As for the rich, it’s patently in their interest to be conservative, which is why so many naturally are — so as to support economic policies which will better preserve their own wealth (which many feel they have “earned”) for themselves, and for their dependents and heirs...

When left unchecked, capitalism leads to dangerous inequities and injustices — such as our nation’s current trend of regressing back toward a growing gap between rich and poor reminiscent of the Gilded Age! For the record, I’m not arguing that an “unskilled” janitor, assembly-line worker, or clerk should be paid on par with a doctor, lawyer, or executive — but, rather, that the often obscene RELATIVE DEGREE of wealth possessed by the richest Americans in comparison to the working poor is morally unacceptable and ethically unjustifiable. Karl Marx was admittedly wrong about a great many things, but he was correct to argue that unchecked supply and demand can create states of wage-slavery that CAN lead to revolution — and that workers’ pay, rights, and product costs should (at least partially) be based on the amount of LABOR that goes into creating their value. That is to say: the rich should NOT be allowed to get ever-richer on backs of others’ sweat, toil, and suffering.

Concurrently, although I’m certainly not a naive pacifist, I’d absolutely like to see LESS of our nation’s wealth squandered on maintaining a hegemonic geopolitical empire and unprecedented superpower — so that MORE of our resources could be devoted to beneficial social programs... However, that is a whole other complex issue of budget allocation, and where to cut spending is somewhat of a separate (albeit related) problem from how to increase revenues; nevertheless, our nation will clearly need to do considerable amounts of both in the future if it hopes to survive, cut the deficit and debt, and continue to thrive. For example, “hawkish” neoconservatives are hypocrites when they claim to generally favor “small government” and fear “big” government EXCEPT when they blindly fawn upon the bloated military industrial complex and ignore Eisenhower’s prescient warnings, all while basking in the luxurious pockets of corporate lobbyists!
Rami K.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 209
Or as I have heard it described of late, the "Industrial-military" complex. As our major export appears to be war and machines thereof.

Rami K.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 210
Back in the day, Economists were known as Moral Philosophers...

user 11174629
Casselberry, FL
Post #: 97
As a novelist, I find Ayn Rand to be very enjoyable (for what it's worth, I liked The Fountainhead quite a bit more than Atlas Shrugged).

Philosophically, Objectivism is underpinned by a few commitments. Briefly, I’ll outline those commitments as I see them, and the problem I have with the project as a whole.

Firstly, Objectivism is a kind of moral realism in that it holds there are objective moral facts. Accordingly, there is some preference-independent basis by which one’s behaviors and ethical claims can be evaluated. Contrast this with, say, some version of relativism, in which moral ‘facts’ are indexical to local norms, or non-cognitivism, in which moral statements are on par with emoting as opposed to being truth apt.

Secondly, the praxis of Objectivism is very much in-line with consequentialism in that it organizes moral properties as a relation between actions and the realization of a particular value. In other words, given a particular value, moral properties like ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are derived backwards along predictive lines. If instantiating cheesecake, for instance, is the inescapable value, and [x] leads to cheesecake, then [x] can objectively be said to be ‘good’. On this account, the property ‘good’-ness literally means ‘leads-to-cheesecake’-ness. Within a consequentialist framework, moral evaluation is indexed to outcomes and is leveled against actions that lead to those outcomes. This differs from the rival frameworks of deontology (in which moral evaluation is indexed against following rules simply for the sake of following rules) and virtue ethics (in which moral evaluation is of the character of the actor rather than his actions), and I think it satisfies some of our moral intuitions in ways that those rivals can not secure.

So far so good, as far as I’m concerned. Now, what is required is a sufficiently objective moral value or set of first principles around which to order behavioral evaluation. Note that this is perfectly consistent with the is/ought problem of Hume’s Guillotine. David Hume never said that there are no objective ‘oughts’; nor did he argue that descriptions of what is can not inform our prescriptive behaviors. What he argued was that an objective value, if it is objective, must be necessarily valuable. In other words, its value has to be intrinsic and inescapable.

Objectivism here offers survival as the penultimate value. To support this claim, Ayn Rand asserts that it is the intrinsic behavior of all life. That is, living is what all life is busy doing, and since living creatures are the only sorts of things that can consider moral relations, moralizing must ipso facto be the valuation of survival.

The problem, as I see it, is that survival is NOT, in fact, an intrinsic behavior of all life. A survival instinct is but one of many complex phenotypes selected for by evolution. Instincts for altruism and self-sacrifice also abound, both in humans and in the rest of the animal kingdom, and as such can be said to be just as ‘intrinsic’ a behavior as selfishness and survival. Most animals seem to express both behaviors contextually, which is what one would expect from the dynamism of natural selection at work.

Altruism seems to be mostly a genetic artifact, meaning there are ‘genes for altruism’. While we suspect this is true of the higher primates, it is a verifiable fact in the case of rodents like the Prairie Vole. The genes we suspect are responsible can be ‘blocked out’ (meaning we can block them from being expressed in the prenatal building-phase of development). Doing so yields a population that, unlike others of their kind, do not exhibit the altruistic behaviors we expect (specifically, the apportionment of resources during times of scarcity differs sharply between the control group vs the experimental group).

The Objectivist has to face the fact that most animals possess genes that ‘want’ them to either die or sacrifice their fitness benefits in many circumstances, and needs to come up with economic benefits for the altruistic organism if the Objectivist is going to maintain survival as the preferential behavior underpinning all behaviors of all life. Biology does find an economic benefit for such things as throwing yourself in front of a bullet for your buddy or using yourself to distract a predator from your nest, but the benefit doesn’t go to the organism. It goes to the gene. The genes for altruism can benefit from dying if those genes (or, more likely, alleles for them) are also present in the recipient of one’s sacrifice. This is, essentially, one account of how a gene for altruism can spread in a population.

I do think the first two commitments listed above are important points that any moralist must consider (namely, that moral facts exist and that they are ordered around a value that is intrinsic to any and all cognitive system). I disagree with the third commitment, however. For an explication of my own moral view, if you’re interested (and I realize how arrogant that sounds haha!), check this thread for the main thesis or this thread for a lengthy critique of it by Ben and our subsequent discussion.

Rami K.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 212
Greetings Lee et al.,

Regarding the ideas of Ayn Rand and others, subsequent events and further thoughts, I recommend you check out Adam Curtis' latest documentary series. Here are clean links to the trailer and three 1 hour episode video files

  • Ep1 Love and Power
  • Ep2 The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts
  • Ep3 The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey

Ben Forbes G.
Orlando, FL
Post #: 212
Not to hate on Rand more than I already have, but check out the following AlterNet article, which also has several interesting embedded videos about Rand...
Ayn Rand's Poison: GOP Faces Backlash for Their Obsessive Worship of a Psycho

In summary, Randian Objectivism is cruel and wrong: we are not Übermenschen, and none of us deserve to inexorably lose an unfair capitalist rat race dominated by plutocratic robber barons (whether "self-made" or not). F.Y.I. world, not all atheists are Objectivist disciples of Ayn Rand's abhorrent (and naïvely unrealistic) philosophy.

Radical "freedom" ISN'T "free" at all; rather, it leads to the worst sort of anarchy, oppression, corruption, and exploitation: a Hobbesian state of nature that is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."


Anyway, I'm not sure which is more frightening or misguided between the Neoconservatives and this new (Randian) direction that many in the G.O.P. / "Tea Party" seem to be taking lately... But I do want to keep the discussion civil, and I'm certainly open to any serious and respectful political / philosophical debate on these issues (since my earlier posts on this thread should have already made my own positions quite clear).
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