Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Discussing Sexuality on CNN IBN

Posted by Jerry on November 2, 2009

Watch me and my friends discussing sexual minorities on CNN IBN.

Posted in Culture, Homosexuality, India, Love and Romance, Mumbai, My Friends, Personal, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Government Stimulus During a Recession

Posted by Jerry on May 22, 2008

Question:

While you’re waiting for the free market to correct itself in the event of a depression or a recession, there are real people facing dire situations–going hungry, losing their jobs, struggling to make ends meet, and so on. In such situations of widespread economic crises, shouldn’t we allow at least for a temporary stimulation by the government in the form of investments, bail-outs, jobs, infrastructure projects, etc.? It would only be for the short-term, till the recession or depression is over, and then we can revert to free market normalcy. The problem with the free market is, while it is self-correcting, we can never guess how long or how quickly it might take to rectify a situation; in the meantime, we cannot leave people helpless, jobless, and starving. Can we?

My response:

From all appearances, the above question seems to be focusing on a pragmatic situation–specifically, a concrete economic scenario of nationwide economic depression or recession. The question seems to be about politics and economics and about the role of government. The question implies that it is in agreement with free market capitalism, but wants to allow for some government concessions in times of emergencies.

However, if you carefully consider this question, you will realize that it is actually a question about ethics–philosophy. It is asking about the proper ethical response that society must provide in times of economic crises. This is not primarily a discussion on the concretes of an economic crises but a discussion on the merits of rational egoism.

The question has already conceded the grounds to altruism; it mounts a challenge to rational egoism from the platform of altruism and the terrace of politics. The only proper response to this kind of a question is to offer an ethical alternative to choose from: does one man’s dire suffering morally justify the enslavement or sacrifice of another man? The answer to this will inexorably lead to an answer to the above question.

No amount of need in this world justifies human sacrifice. The only consistently logical foundation for laissez-faire capitalism is the ethics of rational self-interest; no other ethical system can logically justify capitalism without inherent contradictions. Thus, if capitalism is your goal in politics and economics, then rational self-interest in your means to get there. You cannot shortcircuit the ethical means and replace it with altruism and still hope to achieve the goal of capitalism. It just won’t work.

Now, specifically, with regard to those suffering the most during an economic crises, if you discard the hidden assumption that only the government can provide the best aid in such times of need–if you discard the altruistic premise that one man’s need becomes a moral obligation on another man–then you will be open to innovatively imagining how the free market can mobilize enterprising individuals and corporations to voluntarily, generously, perhaps even profitably, help those in dire need until normal conditions are restored.

My friend Dexter once pointed out to me how the Catholic Church–the richest Church in the history of human civilization and the one with the largest membership–is fully funded on a voluntary basis. Every church-goer is a voluntary contributor to the functioning of the mega-monumental church that the Universal Catholic Church is. Think about it: the Catholic Church owns its own country, even! And it manages to control, mobilize, and deploy funds to practically any corner of the globe; and all of that money comes from regular, faithful, individuals who enjoy the value of their religion and their membership in the Church.

Posted in Economics, India, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The Nature of Emergencies

Posted by Jerry on April 2, 2008

When discussing the ethics of emergencies, I have encountered the objection that if a moral system is unable to properly address life-boat scenarios, then the system is at least inadequate if not completely worthless. The argument is that a significant number of people actually do face emergency situations on a daily basis; if a philosophy is unable to address and offer moral prescriptions for such people in such situations, then—effectively—the philosophy has ignored a huge chunk of the human population and is inapplicable to them.

Let us consider the validity of such an objection. Here are some statements that highlight the dire plight and struggles of a large number of people around the world: 

  • Across the world, one child dies every five seconds due to hunger-related causes.
  • Nearly one in three people die prematurely or have disabilities due to malnutrition and calorie defeciencies, according to the World Health Organization.
  • In 2005, about 10.1 million children died before they reached their fifth birthday.
  • 25 million people have died from AIDS, which has caused more than 15 million children to lose at least one parent. Approximately 39.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the world.

From the above, one would surmise that the world is indeed in a chronic state of emergency—that human life qua life is essentially always in a chronically anxious and uncertain mode of living. Are we always in an emergency?

This line of thought is grossly fallacious: it confuses the categories of the metaphysical and the empirical or man-made. A given state of affairs in empirical reality does not determine the metaphysical nature of reality. Reality is as is. Human life—by virtue of human free will—often diverges from the norm and ideal of its own nature. For example, while external reality contains and permits no contradictions, human minds and actions often involve contradictory ideas or behavior.

The emergencies faced by a large number of people around the world is a description of the actual state of affairs in the world; in other words, it is am empirical observation. This, however, does not mean that life qua life (in the metaphysical sense) is chronically in a state of emergency. It is meaningless to speak of emergencies without some reference to normality or normal conditions; it is an aberration from normal conditions that is regarded as an emergency. In the context of this discussion, “normal conditions” refers to the identity of reality as it is. Examples of an aberration in reality would be when you face a contradiction due to incorrect premises or irrational actions, or when natural or man-made disasters make nature hostile and threatening to your life.

An emergency situation, therefore, by definition involves a divergence from the normal state of affairs in accordance with the identity of reality. For example, a normal human heart functions in accordance with its identity, i.e., it does what it is metaphysically equipped to do. A malfunctioning heart is an aberration from this normality because its proper functioning is hindered. This creates a state of emergency with regard to the heart.

As a thought-experiment, imagine that 90 percent of the human beings on this planet suffered cardiac arrests at the same time. Would we be philosophically justified in stating that the essential identity of the human heart has now changed? That is, would it make sense to redefine the essential identity of the human heart? Hopefully, this comes across as an absurd suggestion. It is not the number of cardiac arrests that determine the metaphysical nature of the human heart; likewise, it is not the innumerable instances of crises in human lives across the world that determine the metaphysical nature of life and this universe.

Therefore, to claim that human life qua life is always an emergency is to plead for a redefinition of the essential identity of reality and human life. It is not just a particularly sloppy error in thinking but a grossly malevolent perspective on life and reality.

Every moral theory—of any philosophical system—has to rest on a metaphysical view of existence. It has to begin with a set of premises that define the nature of reality and then build a moral theory that prescribes moral actions that will indeed work in such a reality, because it is based on the way in which reality functions.

A moral system cannot be constructed on premises derived from emergency situations because emergencies do not determine or change the metaphysics of reality as such. One example of an emergency situation is wherein no volitional choice by the human agent is possible; therefore, in such a situation, no moral prescriptions can exist as well. However, it is a self-evident fact that we are regularly faced with alternatives in normal conditions and we certainly do make choices; therefore, a moral system must respect and recognize this metaphysical fact in the kind of prescriptions it offers.

Another example of an emergency is wherein a man acts to save the life of another person—perhaps even at the cost of his own life; to apply this as a principle of behavior even in normal state of affairs is to condemn every man to matyrdom—as a sacrificial animal for the other. I hope there is no need to speculate about the consquences of such a moral prescription.

Thus, to fabricate a contorted moral system on the premises of such emergency situations will result in disastrous consequences. A logical system of premises that is based upon the metaphysical nature of reality and human life is the only foundation for a proper code of morality.

Posted in General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

The Evil Obamas

Posted by Jerry on March 4, 2008

The disgusting racket of self-sacrifice and self-abnegation that the Obamas run must be exposed and condemned harshly for all its evilness. If ever I heard anything downright evil explicitly offered as virtue, it has to be these words of Michelle Obama–the wife of US presidential candidate Barak Obama and perhaps the next first lady of the United States:

“We left corporate America, which is a lot of what we’re asking young people to do,” she tells the women. “Don’t go into corporate America. You know, become teachers. Work for the community. Be social workers. Be a nurse. Those are the careers that we need, and we’re encouraging our young people to do that. But if you make that choice, as we did, to move out of the money-making industry into the helping industry, then your salaries respond.”

And you thought Ayn Rand exaggerated the evilness of her altruistic villains in her novels? The Obamas are right out of the pages of Atlas Shrugged. If Barak Obama is elected as the next US president, it will be the end of an industrial and financial powerhouse that literally holds the continent of Africa and many nations afloat, and the start of a self-sacrificial, tribalistic, village economy that will surely bleed to its own death.

I picked up this story from The Undercurrent, which has written up its own harsh condemnation of Michelle Obama. I encourage bloggers to blog this story on your sites as well.

Posted in 2008 US Elections, Culture, Economics, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments »

The Right to Property

Posted by Jerry on February 28, 2008

There’s an interesting discussion on the free market and individual property rights raging on Daylight Atheism. Tim (from Evanescent) had alerted me to the discussion. The post is a review of Michael Shermer‘s recent book “The Mind of the Market.” Most of the commentors there are mixed-economy cultists and Socialists.

I have posted two comments there so far. I encourage other Objectivists to do the same; I believe that blogs play a pivotal role in the dissemination of ideas at the grassroots level; it is how I explored Objectivism (by discovering Diana Hsieh’s blog very early on, among others), I know of several people who have been introduced to Ayn Rand and have even become Objectivists through reading my blog, and I believe it may be how many people (particularly the young) investigate and learn new ideas these days.

Below is one of the comments I left on Daylight Atheism, on the nature of the right to own property. I tried to make my comment as simply stated as possible so that readers who are utterly unfamiliar with the Objectivist theory of rights can grasp the premises easily:

The right to own property is the right that makes all other rights *practicable*, that is, possible to be practiced in reality.

The above principle is the political parallel of the metaphysical fact that humans are integrated entities of mind and body: there is no dichotomy or dualism between the two.

Since only individuals can think, the thoughts are undeniably and inextricably an individual’s *own*. The practical manifestation or implementation of his thoughts, therefore, are also his own–they are borne out of his actions motivated by his reasoning abilities.

However, while a man can never be denied of his thoughts, man can indeed be denied of the products or manifestation of his thoughts by the use of force or fraud from other individuals. This raises the necessity of establishing a moral principle among men that will objectively protect one man’s ownership (each man’s ownership) to the product of his thoughts, namely, the right to own property. This is the basis of the right to property, in brief.

The right to property is the moral principle that protects man’s ownership to the products of his thoughts (like, the right to own the book I wrote). To deny this right to the product of one’s thought is the political parallel of metaphysical dualism–to divorce man’s body from his mind, to invent a soul (religion), to invent a collective Borg (Socialism/Communism), to condemn man to brute physical existence (dictatorship, Statism), to divorce man’s faculty of reason from its practical uses and applications (Idealism).

To live, man must use his mind in dealing with reality. He must therefore be permitted to act freely on the directions given by his mind, his reasoning faculty, in order to tackle the task of survival. This includes being left free to create, fabricate, invent, or procure by means of free trade property that he believes might help him in achieving his goal. He may end up acting irrationally or erroneously; but he must be free to do this as well. He is however not free to initiate force or act fraudulently, because this undercuts the very basis of the freedom upon which he himself seeks to act.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Economics, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Philosophical Nonsense

Posted by Jerry on January 15, 2008

If you want to look really crazy, you should go up to a doctor and say, “I understand that if I consume poison, I will die; but I don’t understand why I ought not to have poison just because I choose to live.”

Go tell an architect who is constructing a skyscraper, “just because of the fact that constructing a skyscraper requires steel, concrete, and building materials, it does not mean that you ought to use steel, concrete, and building materials to construct your skyscraper.”

Is it really hard to grasp that values are a species of facts? If the architect has identified the fact that constructing a building requires certain specific methods, tools, and materials, then the architect has to (ought to) obtain, acquire, and use those specific methods, tools, and materials to meet his purpose. The identification of the first factual premise necessitates the identification of the second: if you choose to build, you ought to get your tools and materials ready; both statements have the force and quality of stating a fact about how reality functions–in equal magnitude.

The fact that you are a living entity, determines a series of facts pertinent to your survival: the fact that you are, determines what you ought to do–or how reality factually functions in relation to your existence, i.e., matters of facts. For example, your immune system cannot withstand the fatal effects of poisonous venom; therefore, the fact of the matter is, if you consume it, you will die; or, staying alive requires–by force of fact–that you ought not to consume the venom.

The concept of value applies only to living beings–and in greater pertinence, to rational beings–because goal-directed action toward an ultimate end is only possible to living entities. Thus, values (which are a species of facts applicable to living beings) are inextricably linked to living entities and to the specific facts pertinent to their survival.

It is hard to believe that there’s so much nonsense permitted in philosophy. When you begin to understand ethics as a science–as a subject dealing with very fundamental and clearly bounded facts about human existence and all that makes such existence possible–you begin to realize that you cannot permit any of the  philosophical nonsense that is commonly accepted today, such as consciousness invalidates itself as a tool of awareness, the mind is wholly separate and distinct from the body, values are mystical, non-rational, not factual, and non-objective, etc.

The applied and physical sciences are fully dependent on the philosophical framework it chooses to work within. If philosophy itself is so incoherent, chaotic, irrational, and subjective, then how can it possibly provide a coherent, rational, and logical framework for the applied and physical sciences?

If an engineer cannot permit his crew to be subjective about their notions of numbers, measurements, laws of physics, motion, gravity, the existence of steel, the fragility of glass, the identity and nature of physical elements, then how can he be comfortable with a philosophy that preaches that there is no absolute truth, certainty is impossible to human cognitive tools, the noumenal realm is forever beyond our direct perception, the evidence of the senses is illusory, that a bridge ought not require certain methods of construction, etc.?

As Rand said:

“It is not the special sciences that teach man to think; it is philosophy that lays down the epistemological criteria of all special sciences.”

But if such irrationality passes as philosophical thought today, then Wittgenstein was right in insisting that nothing but nonsense can be said about philosophy and vehemently disparaging philosophers as foolish men entangled in a confused web of their own making.

You know that the state of modern philosophy is not healthy when philosopher Quee Nelson has to present her defense of objective reality under the name “naive realism” in her new book The Slightest Philosophy, because, apparently, it is “naive” in philosophical circles to hold that there is an objective reality and that we have direct perception of it.

Aptly enough, therefore, the voice in defense of naive realism in Nelson’s book is that of a young student engaged in a dialog with a more erudite and sophisticate professor. Here’s an excerpt (taken from John Enright’s article on The Atlasphere), where the sophisticate professor wonders whether we really see apples or only patches of the color red; the student replies:

Student: “I wonder why you don’t switch it the other way around, and say that you can only perceive sense data like colors by means of physical objects? Why does the ‘redness’ get the place of pride, instead of the apple? Why don’t you put things the other way around, and say that ‘redness’ is merely derivative, since it is obtained by a secondary process of intellectual abstraction from the apple, which is epistemologically more primary?”

Posted in Ayn Rand, Books, Culture, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments »

Medical Ethics and Moral Dilemmas

Posted by Jerry on December 19, 2007

A story came up on Yahoo! News today about 49 highly infectious tuberculosis patients in South Africa who escaped from their hospital isolation units where they were being forcibly confined for treatment.

The last paragraph of the story evoked some interesting thoughts on the moral nature of this situation:

Although forced confinement of patients violates most medical ethics, authorities say they have no choice but to put the wider public good above individual rights. Confinement for XDR-TB is at least six months.

I can reasonably assume that the South African authorities are functioning on a utilitarian ethical system in their decision-making: individual rights are dispensable in the name of “public good” as defined by authority. 

Is having an infectious disease grounds for limiting–or even denying–the right to liberty? Is it a crime to live in a society with a highly infectious disease?

I am not entirely confident of the answers I am about to offer and of all their implications. My aim, however, in writing this post is to clarify the moral and legal dilemmas that arise from health-related conflicts of interest. More importantly, I wanted to examine these apparent conflicts from an Objectivist perspective because, largely, the field of medical ethics has been dominated by utilitarian, altruist, and religious moralities–often proposing grotesque solutions that makes one wonder if the situation hasn’t been worsened further.

I believe that the Objectivist theory of rights offers by far the most robust framework of principles against which such moral dilemmas can be analyzed and successfully resolved. Having said that, what follows is my own application of the Objectivist ethics to the situation being discussed; this does not mean that my application is accurate or that this is what Objectivism prescribes.

The Yahoo! news report only states that the individuals have highly infectious tuberculosis. There are several kinds of tuberculosis and it should be clear that to have a highly infectious disease is not necessarily to have a contagious or communicable disease. Tuberculosis of some kinds are highly communicable, but not all of them are.

Individuals with fatal, life-threatening, and communicable diseases pose a real and direct threat to the lives of healthy individuals in their normal surroundings. In this sense, the existence of such a disease in a general environment can be thought of as the existence of force or threat to individual rights in society. To illustrate:

A person who walks on a busy street with a knife in his pocket has not committed any crime and is well within his rights. However, the moment he draws his knife menacingly at another unsuspecting and innocent individual and stands poised to attack, he has created a context of force, introduced a threat to life, and has abandoned the context of freedom that makes rights possible. Therefore, at this moment, even if physical contact between the attacker’s knife and the other individual has not occurred, and even if he has not lunged forward with his knife to attack, the man has committed a punishable crime.

Likewise, an individual with a highly infectious but non-communicable disease existing in a public environment has committed no crime and remains well within his rights: he is like a man walking with a knife in his pocket. However, if the individual is aware that his infectious disease is communicable and life-threatening, then he properly should choose to or be forced to separate from healthy individuals in his environment.

Further, despite his knowledge that his disease is life-threatening and communicable, if the man makes a deliberate, careless, or negligent act of transmitting the life-threatening disease to another unsuspecting or unwilling person, he has introduced the threat to life and relinquished his right to live freely among healthy individuals in a non-threatening environment in society.

Yet, this does not mean that the person with the disease should be imprisoned as a criminal; it certainly does mean, however, that such a person with a life-threatening and communicable disease must be isolated and quarantined. And then, it is up to the victim of this person’s actions whether or not to pursue criminal or civil charges against the infected individual for his negligent or deliberate endangerment.

Going by the above framework, a communicable disease that is not life-threatening does not meet the criteria for isolation from society or legal charges, because there is no actual threat to life, which is necessary to invalidate the existence of rights. Likewise, a highly infectious individual with a non-communicable disease poses no threat to the lives and rights of other individuals and therefore cannot be denied any of his own legitimate legal rights.

Thus, it is not matter of public good versus individual rights but an issue of force (or threat to life) versus rights.

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Immoral and Illegal

Posted by Jerry on December 6, 2007

The distinction between immorality and illegality is the distinction between that which applies to the private sphere of a man’s mind and that which governs the behavior of men in a social setting. However, because man is an indivisible entity possessing both mind and body, the specific nature of his thoughts can certainly inform the nature of his actions. In other words, a man can have immoral thoughts and act upon them, which would make his actions also immoral; nevertheless, his immoral actions may not necessarily be illegal or criminal acts.  

All that which is immoral is not necessarily also illegal. For example, it is immoral to pleasureably fantasize about plundering your neighbors home, raping their 10-year-old kid, and then hacking them all to death. Insofar as these remain merely fantasies, no crime–no act of force or fraud–has been committed and therefore there is nothing illegal or criminal about the thoughts. Nevertheless, in the privacy of his own mind, this person is an immoral–possibly deranged and psychopathic–individual; and if these thoughts were ever expressed in words to another sane individual, the proper response would be to condemn such fantasies as disgustingly immoral. One cannot respond with a neutral or amoral evaluation.

Morality is a private, individual affair: each man requires (and has) a moral code to guide him in living his life. His life can only be lived by him. His thoughts–about morality or anything else–can only be thought of by himself in his own head. Thinking–the process of cognition–is a private affair. Thoughts, therefore, belong only to an individual. Evaluating the morality of thoughts, therefore, is an evaluation of a private process of cognition.

Virtues, for example, are qualities and actions of an individual in pursuit of his values in reality. The virtue of honesty is a policy set by a man in relation to his mind’s grasp and acknowledgment of reality and facts–it is his commitment to never fake or evade the matters of fact as they objectively exist; only derivately is the virtue of honesty related to man’s interaction with others: a man could very well lie to himself and evade certain facts in the privacy of his own mind. Such a person is not practicing the virtue of honesty–even though he has lied to no one else; and to that extent, this person is immoral and irrational. His immoral thoughts, however, are not criminal or illegal.

Objective law does not punish a man for holding the wrong ideas or for being an untrustworthy character; usually, the punitive consequences of private immorality and irrationality arise from reality’s own exacting nature, from the requirements of survival, and the nature of an entity (for example, a man’s immoral thoughts may create a reciprocal relationship with feelings of self-disgust, repulsion, low self-esteem, psychological insecurity, repression of certain motives and emotions, evasive psychology, unhappy relationships, etc.).

Now, only when man puts his morality into practice or expresses his thoughts in explicit actions, is he stepping out of the private sphere of his mind–and even then, unless man is not surrounded in a social context with other men, the physical manifestation or practice of his immoral thoughts does not amount to a crime, they remain his own immoral actions.

The concept of crime exclusively denotes a certain set of actions in a social context, namely acts of force or fraud against others:

A crime is a violation of the right(s) of other men by force (or fraud). It is only the initiation of physical force against others—i.e., the recourse to violence—that can be classified as a crime in a free society (as distinguished from a civil wrong). Ideas [even immoral ideas], in a free society, are not a crime—and neither can they serve as the justification of a crime. — Ayn Rand

A social context is necessary for human flourishing, because–among other benefits–it provides the framework within which a division of labor society can emerge and thrive. Thus, man has to live in a society with other human beings and derive the benefits of voluntary trade in order to achieve flourishment. The concept of rights are the conditions that allow a man to enter a social context with a guarantee of life and liberty; rights allow man to practice his moral code and pursue his values (and disvalues) in a social context.

Therefore, the concept of rights is a political and social concept and applies exclusively to actions–not thoughts. That which is illegal necessarily requires the violation of rights, i.e., an action that mitigates or suppresses someone else’s rights by the introduction of force or fraud. In contrast, the immoral is not judged primarily against a social context, but against the context of an individual and his relationship to reality.

Therefore, the business of government is not to interfere in the advocacy or suppression of whatever ideas it considers moral or immoral. The purpose of the government–and of law enforcement agencies–is solely to examine individual actions to ascertain whether a crime (force or fraud) has been committed, and act in response to the severity of the crime. When the government punishes a criminal, it is not for his immoral ideology or set of beliefs that the punishment is awarded but specifically for his crime–the act and its severity.

To claim that the government can punish a man for his ideas is to grant the government legitimacy as a moral arbiter. Once this is granted to the government, it is only a matter of a few more rationalistic deductions thereafter to argue that the government should get into the business of ideological advocacy or suppression, i.e., become the thought-police of society, or institute a Communist state (see “Enforcing Moral Values“).

Few would defend the view that the government should reward men who have moral ideas by granting them (say) free property, health care, trips to the Bahamas, etc. Then, on what grounds can the government legitimately punish a man for immoral ideas, or what it may consider to be “thought-crimes”? On what grounds can the government punish people with immoral ideas (like racism or Nazism, which motivate so-called “hate crimes”), monitor the “moral fiber of society,” and censor certain ideas (like pornographic stories)? If it is not sufficient–or even permissible–to convict an individual for homophobia or racism, then why should there be special status granted to actions motivated by such thoughts that are clearly out of the bounds of legal punishment? Why are crimes motivated by homophobia or racism considered particularly heinous “hate crimes” that require special legislation and sentencing?

There is simply no legitimate ground for such government interference in the realm of ideas–be they moral or immoral–unless one subscribes to the notion that the government is a legitimate authority on morality and is the ultimate arbiter in moral affairs; this notion, in turn, has no other foundation other than the basis of collectivism, according to which, morality is not a private individual affair but a collective one and that an individual alone has no use or need for a moral code of principles.

Thus, maintaining clear boundaries between the spheres of the individual and the social, the domain of morality and legality, the concepts of morals and rights, the concepts of thought and action is as crucial as choosing between life and death, slavery and freedom, a dictatorship and a free society.

[Edits: Added a paragraph on the necessity of a social context for rights and human flourishment and an elaboration on hate crime laws.]

Posted in Ayn Rand, Culture, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

Ideological Allies

Posted by Jerry on November 23, 2007

At the culmination of a convoluted debate that’s been raging on this thread, the commentor Db0 finally stated some premises explicitly. The commentor is an atheist, moral subjectivist, collectivist, and is obviously influenced by evolutionary empiricism a la Dawkins, Hitchen, et al. to a great extent.

The fact that a person is an atheist does not say anything about his commitment to rationality. This is what undercuts Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkin’s attempts to blame all evils on religion and argue that Hitler et al. were not in fact atheists. The point is it simply does not matter whether you’re an atheist or not.

Picking your ideological allies just based on atheism–or, to use another prime example, the non-initiation of force principle–is a fundamental error. This is why Objectivists refuse to align with ideologies that on the face of it seem reasonable but are fundamentally incomplete or flawed: like secular humanism, naturalism, evolutionary empiricism, libertarianism, and others.

If you read the comment thread on that post, you will notice how the influence of evolutionary empiricism is infused in Db0’s view of morality. Db0 commits the naturalistic fallacy of arguing from the view that what is given by nature is the way it should be. Notice the dismissal of the volitional faculty of man’s mind to make choices autonomously.

I do believe that this is the side-effect of Dawkins et al. who have been so vocal in criticizing the morality offered by religion but have not been able to provide a consistent, robust, and rational alternative instead. They are creating a vacuum in morality, which permits people like Db0 to conclude that morality is ultimately a fabrication of society, the fad of the day, the need of a pack, subjectivist, relativistic, etc. In essence, while throwing out the dogmatic morality of religion, they throw out the notion of objective morality itself.

Somewhere in all this there is a lesson for those Objectivists who seem to think that libertarians are a benign bunch of people who share pretty much the same views; the religious libertarian Ron Paul may not be quite your ally as you think he is.

Posted in Atheism, Ayn Rand, Culture, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Veals Are Not Innocent

Posted by Jerry on October 1, 2007

When I started reading this article by philosopher Joel Marks, I almost felt a delightful sense of surprise. It was like a breath of fresh air after a long time. Ayn Rand has been particularly criticized for her “black and white” view of life; for stating that matters in life–and particularly moral issues–are black or white; that there are no grey areas if you look closely enough and think carefully enough, and while it may be incredibly difficult to arrive at a proper conclusion, know that one exists, it is certain, and the conclusion is attainable through the use of reason.

Therefore, when philosopher Joel Marks made the following comments that are so very similar to Rand’s own insight (although minus her unique flair and incisive precision), I was smiling in delight. Here are the particular comments I am talking about:

Life is so simple. I know somebody who complains about being overweight. She also keeps ice cream in her freezer. I suggested that she might stop stocking the stuff. “Oh, but I don’t eat it every day.” I mean, what more is there to say?

The good life, as I conceive it, consists in perceiving the truth by rational means and then acting accordingly. But is everything really so simple? I don’t mean that the right thing is always easy to do. It can be difficult to give up a habit, resist a temptation, stand up to evil, etc. I am talking in the first instance about knowing what to do to achieve these aims.

But is that simple – to know what to do? Can one just ‘perceive’ the truth of living, as one can see if it is daylight by opening one’s eyes (indeed, even through closed lids)?

I think it often is. But there is a method to it, which must be learned and practiced. Walking is simple too – put one foot in front of the other – but not at first. The rational method involves procuring and assessing reasons for what one believes.

Unfortunately, my optimism was squashed immediately thereafter. Having read the above, it came as a particularly sharp disappointment to see Marks advocating the right method but reaching a terribly false conclusion due to a failure in following his own advice. This is where he goes from the above:

The stakes are raised in reasoning when the issue is a moral one, by which I mean something that significantly affects others. The kind of case that comes most readily to my mind is the human treatment of other animals, who as a group are probably both more innocent and even more abused by us than the members of our own species.

Take the notorious case of veal. The calves are raised in pens so small that they cannot even turn around… for their entire lives! The purpose is to produce a tender meat for human pleasure. I cannot conceive of any good justification for such a practice. It strikes me as wrong pure and simple, indeed criminal (in the moral sense; but I would also make it so in the legal sense). The argument is simple: To inflict tremendous suffering on innocent creatures for a purpose that is ultimately frivolous, is very wrong. The production of veal does this. Ergo Q.E.D.

Note that Marks is not lamenting the wanton mistreatment and slaughter of animals for some pathological delight in bloody animal sports or some such malevolent end. He is railing against the treatment and slaughter of animals–veals in this case–for food, for nourishment, for the delightful satisfaction of human desires (which he calls frivolous), and even argues for making the act of killing veals for food a legal act of crime. This is a case of emotionalism gone haywire, not a case of rationality applied to reality. A concept like “innocence”–which is properly applicable only to humans not animals or even Gods–is used to confound the issue and emotionally appeal to one’s response of justice.

What does it mean to say that a cow is innocent? Does the cow even have the potential capacity to be non-innocent? Or guilty? Or sly? Or subsversive? Would you regard a tiger that killed a doe “guilty” of murder and therefore not innocent?

Marks’ use of this concept is as meaningless as saying God is a morally perfect being: well, if you mean in the way that a dead man is perfect because he can never do anything wrong, then yes, God in that sense is a morally perfect being. But, you see, it’s utterly meaningless!

Further, what about the slippery slope conundrum of the next in line to be criminalized: the slaughter of cows for steak? And then? 

Marks’ argument injects the emotionalist response to animal suffering to muddle the rational fact that there is no legitimate basis for criminalizing–or even morally condemning–the act of killing animals for food, even if it requires what may seem to be extreme measures of treating the animals before killing them. This is not to make the “end justifies the mean” argument, but to point out that there is no moral conflict at all between the end and the means.

Further, I’ve always been perplexed by the view that one can breed and eat animals as food but not breed them in particularly “harsh” conditions, and that one must treat them “humanely” till the moment they are butchered.

Here’s my point: there is no reason to be wantonly cruel toward animals unless you are a deranged psychopath with violent tendencies, which then makes you a threat to human society as well. Animals–as pets or as the object of our study, for example–can provide immense and enriching values to human life, like fostering a sense of responsibility in caring for one’s pets.

However, certain foods require a particular kind of treatment or preparation that some of us might emotionally consider “harsh” or “inhumane”, like Marks outlined in the case of veals and like in the case of foie gras.

Now, if we assume that animals have no rights (which indeed they don’t), and if we assume that the animals we breed for food are indeed going to be eaten anyway, then I fail to see the logic in depriving humanity of delectable dishes of veal and foie gras only to spare the animals (who will end up as food anyway–some stewed, some canned, some deep-fried, some dehydrated, some roasted, and then plucked, chopped, cut, diced, sliced, chewed, swallowed, etc.) of “mistreatment and harsh conditions” in the interim before they are chopped up and sent packing.

Far from being grounds for criminal prosecuting, the rearing and breeding of animals according to the necessary requirements of a particular culinary recipe is not even morally condemnable.

In fact, it is wonderful and admirable that man is so inventive, imaginative, and creative in offering this world such new pleasures of the palate to add value to our lives. Fine cuisine is inextricable from an experience of fine dining on expensive china; and this experience can function as an important landmark of your productive success, an evidence of your achievement, a celebration of your self-esteem, and a reward for a life well-lived.

Having said all that, I will whole-heartedly agree with Joel Marks’ final remark in the article, and it should be clear why I do. In typical Objectivist-speak, Marks says:

Thus, there is not only a right way to live, but also a right way to figure out what that is.

[Edit: A commenter raised the issue of “suffering of sentient beings” as the standard for determining the morality of killing animals. To get a full sense of the commenter’s argument, which is essentially Peter Singer’s utilitarian argument against killing animals for food, read the discussion below. My response takes off on two levels: on the basis of the nature of rights and on the basis of the purpose of morality. With regards to the latter, here are my views: 

A reason why suffering of sentient beings cannot be used as a standard by which one decides whether or not it is moral to kill animals (i.e., your standard of morality) is because it reverses the cause and effect of morality.

The purpose of morality is to show you how to live your life on this earth, since this knowledge is not automatic to humans. Thus, the ultimate purpose of morality is to show you how to achieve your happiness rationally, i.e., live this life happily, which includes, as just one aspect, how to avoid suffering in this life.

Thus, happiness and suffering are effects of the kind of morality you practice, the result of your actions–be they virtues or vices, which are the result of your moral premises. They are not the cause of your actions, nor are they the standard by which you determine your actions or the moral nature thereof. Those who use happiness as the standard are hedonists; those who use suffering as the standard are worshippers of death–like Christians who worship the crucifix as their most cherished symbol of virtue.

Thus, suffering is an invalid standard of judging moral actions.]

Posted in Animal Rights, Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments »

Moral Evolution

Posted by Jerry on September 20, 2007

My previous post discussed how altruism has come to broadly represent even the most general sense of benevolence toward others. Also, given this understanding of a badly defined and broad conception of altruism, biologists have been recently finding evidence for some kind of biological root to an “altruistic instinct.”

First, altruism is a conceptual principle, and as such, it is impossible for any concepts to have physical-genetic roots in the human body. The most sensible way of me to comprehend any possible genetic roots to the “altruistic instinct” is to consider it as a genetic tendency or rudimentary impulse–certainly not as a genetic predisposition like having the genes for black hair is.

Second, whatever genetic basis of “altruism-type” impulses that may have been discovered (I’m not conceding that they have been, yet), may be the evolutionary vestiges of the survival instinct in pre-modern man. Hunter-gatherers and nomadic men quite possibly evolved with instinctual motivations to live, hunt, and congregate in groups or tribes; early savages (uncivilized men) were faced with innumerable threats from other savage nomads, tribesmen, animals, and the natural elements. It makes sense that grouping (or roaming and living in herds) was a survival strategy for the early man, and over time, this grouping tendency became internalized as an evolutionary impulse for survival.

However, civilization is the process of setting men free from men; it is a progression from a nomadic life lived in the open spaces of a jungle to settlement in private and discrete spaces for individuals. The climb to privacy and the realization of individualism is the progression toward civilization.

Notice that the less civilized a section of society, the more public are their activities and general existence; economic wealth plays a peripheral role perhaps in how civilized a culture is–a rich man can also be highly uncivilized and mutatis mutandis for the poor man.

In this light, the impulse to be in groups or herds is an obsolete concern today. To borrow Ayn Rand’s insight, today we don’t protect ourselves from savages or tribes by ganging up into groups; we draft the Bill of Rights. Man’s nature today has evolved into being a conceptual and rational one. Reason is our most competent tool for survival–not groups, herds, claws, sticks, or clubs. The supremacy of reason and its efficacy in human life has been firmly established by the advancements following the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution.

Therefore, recourse to rudimentary, biological impulses of groupism or other-centrism should be properly evaluated by our faculty of reason to assess its validity and relevance in our present nature and conditions of living. Moreover, remember that what some biologists and altruists are eager to subsume under altruism need not necessarily be altruistic in the proper sense. Therefore, if biologists find that we have genetic impulses to gang up into groups or mobs, we must use our reason to evaluate the relevance and the moral status of these impulses before we choose to act on them.

Since we know that altruism cannot be practiced consistently, we must note that if the principles of reason are consistently applied to the problem of survival, egoism will be the only logical, rational, and moral outcome.

[Related post: Morality in the Jungle; Altruism and Egoism]

Posted in Culture, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, On Collectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Moral Dilemmas

Posted by Jerry on August 21, 2007

Philosophers love to conjure up thought experiments that create exceptionally improbable–even impossible–situations of moral dilemmas and then test out their moral theories. I suppose, since they believe that this method comes closest to emulating the method of controlled experimentation in scientific inquiry, philosophers derive some sense of psychological confidence and satisfaction.

However, the most crucial element in a moral dilemma is the moral agent, i.e., the human being. Therefore, if the purported goal is to test or validate some profound moral theory, it should necessarily be tested in scenarios and contexts relevant and probable to human beings, i.e., that in which humans regularly find themselves, because only humans are moral agents to whom the problem of morality is even applicable.

The goal should not be to have a moral theory that works wonders in an exceptional situation but is inapplicable to the mundane and the routine; rather, it should be the opposite. Exceptional situations may inform us of certain pertinent issues by starkly highlighting them in a certain context; but otherwise, they should not be used as a standard of assessing the validity of moral theories or the moral status of actions.

By its very nature, exceptional situations are rare and fleeting. Ayn Rand made this point in her essay “The Ethics of Emergencies.” Her argument properly asserts that moral principles are guides to behavior in the normal and predominant human situations.

However, in addition to testing out moral theories in relevant and probable scenarios, it is important to realize that no one scenario, action, or situation can be examined in isolation from the context that gave rise to it in the first place. Since reality is a totality of facts and relationships, our epistemological principles must mimic this existential totality in connecting and integrating all our knowledge about reality. In other words, all knowledge should be connected; thus, it is fallacious to test a moral theory or judge the morality of an action within some hypothetically isolated scenario that does not account for its causal conditions–be they human or situational.

For example, the following moral dilemma, which resembles the kind of thought experiment often devised by philosophers to test moral solutions, commits this mistake of isolating agents from their contexts and effects from their antecedents:

You are an inmate in a concentration camp. A sadistic guard is about to hang your son who tried to escape and wants you to pull the chair from underneath him. He says that if you don’t he will not only kill your son but some other innocent inmate as well. You don’t have any doubt that he means what he says. What should you do?

The crucial point that must be identified in the above moral dilemma is that whatsoever is the end resulting action you choose to do, the moral culpability does not reside within you because you would not be the moral causal agent of your actions–even though you would be the acting agent. In other words, your act is not a moral act but a forced act; it is an effect of the nature of your context (prison, sadistic guard, etc.): the fact that you are a prisoner in a concentration camp already limits the actions for which you can be held morally responsible; the fact that a sadistic guard issues an arbitrary threat and demands a certain arbitrary act leaves you morally impotent in the face of it.

However, if the above situation involved a free man asked to freely make the choice to pull the chair from under his son (in the absence of threat and coercion), then the free man becomes the causal agent of a moral action; i.e., he originates a moral act and should therefore be morally culpable.

Thus, these exceptional situations can become superfluous exercises in mental gymnastics if they are constructed to be so removed from human realities and appropriate contexts.

__________ 

[September 19, 2007: I’m including my comment up here in the post because it further clarifies the article and explicitly indicates the Objectivist approach to moral dilemmas]

In my article, I point out that the primary purpose of constructing ethical theories is to help men live their normal, daily lives in an ethical and fruitful manner. Exceptional situations–or ethical emergencies–are by definition rare, transient, and fleeting. Therefore, such situations require that men suspend their normal course of activities to engage in and resolve such ethical emergencies. However, to extract a moral theory of behavior out of these exceptional situations and apply them as the standard or rule in regular life is a logical fallacy and a moral travesty.

Therefore, what does Objectivism advise the person to do in this situation? The response is: Do whatever comes to mind as the most appropriate and swift course of action to immediately end, resolve, or minimize the urgency of the situation and return to normalcy. As I said, Objectivism offers a moral theory for *normal* and regular human life, not for exceptional situations.

However, note this very important point: the moral code you embrace as a guide for normal events will to some extent (perhaps implicitly) guide your actions in exceptional situations. For example, if you are normally a rational man, i.e., you are in the habit of thinking and acting rationally to the extent of your knowledge, then in a situation of crisis, you will most likely respond quickly and immediately in a rational and focused manner, because rationality has become a habit that you are most comfortable with. In contrast, a habitually irrational man will be an emotional wreck when faced with a crisis situation because his mind is utterly hopeless and impotent in confronting the situation; in the face of crucial or split-second decision-making, the irrational man may respond in the only manner he knows best–irrationally, to the detriment of his own cause.

Thus, note the importance of a proper moral code in normal life and its influence on how you tackle ethical emergencies.

Regarding the specific situation indicated in my post, I noted in the article that the man can choose whatever course of action that is available to him. Since the man is under the threat of force and death, he cannot make any reasoned or rational decision; whatever he chooses to do is a consequence of the unfortunate context he is trapped in. Objectivism does not (and indeed, cannot) offer any moral guide to this man because the situation does not permit any moral course of action. Indeed, no ethical theory can legitimately offer a moral course of action for the man. Where there is force, there can be no reason or rationality and therefore no moral course of action–at best, the action would have to be amoral. Thus, the man can do whatever he thinks is most appropriate or expedient at that given time based on his own best judgment–-whatever the tragic consequences may be.

Posted in Ayn Rand, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments »

The Right to Life

Posted by Jerry on July 5, 2007

A commentor asked me if I had written anything on the Objectivist standpoint on the right to life. Since Ayn Rand’s own works have exhaustively and explicitly covered the topic of man’s rights (in other places besides The Virtue of Selfishness), I had not written anything that directly touched upon the topic.

Nevertheless, in order to present a very distilled introduction to the Objectivist theory of rights, and to serve as a quick reference to general readers and passers-by, I wrote up the following. Of course, I cannot write anything like this without borrowing heavily from Rand’s own essays:

In Ayn Rand’s words, “life is a process of self-generated and self-sustaining action.” Rand pointed out that stillness and stagnation are antithetical to life. Thus, the only fundamental alternative facing living organisms is the alternative of existence (life) or non-existence (death). To live, one must act.

The need to act, which is a requirement of life, gives rise to the question of how to act in order to continue living and what actions to take. Such knowledge of action is automatic to other animals in a sufficient degree, i.e., they automatically engage in survival or progenitive behavior only to the extent necessary and not more; that is, animals only act to survive and procreate, not flourish.

However, human beings do not have an automatic knowledge of the course of actions to ensure their own survival. Man needs to consciously identify, learn, know, and determine how to act, what actions to take, and to what extent. Thus, man faces a need for guidance in helping him learn and identify the proper courses of action to ensure his survival, i.e., man needs a moral or ethical theory that is consonant with the requirements of living life that is proper to him as a human being. 

Since morality requires the existence of alternatives and the ability to choose, the actions open to and possible to man are actions open to moral scrutiny, because they are acts that are chosen in the face of alternatives against the backdrop of survival. Thus, even if a man were to live alone on a deserted island with no other human beings around him, he cannot escape the need for a moral code, i.e., a system of moral principles that will give him the proper knowledge to ensure his survival qua human being.

Now, the concept of rights arise in a social context–when men live amongst each other. “Rights” are moral concepts that guarantee man’s freedom of action in a social context. Now, remember also that life is self-sustaining and self-generated action. Also note Rand defines rights as moral principles pertaining only to actions in a social setting. This is because in order to live (i.e., to act), man must be guaranteed the freedom to act (which can be denied him by others in a social setting), i.e., he must be guaranteed the freedom to live–this guarantee is his right to life. If he is denied the freedom to act, he is denied the right to life; as a corollary, if one man denies another man’s freedom to act, he has denied the other man’s right to life. In other words, rights define and sanction man’s freedom of actions. The right to life is the source of all other rights, and his right to property makes all his rights practiceable in the real world.

This is the Objectivist standpoint on rights in general–and the right to life in particular.

Posted in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Holy Order

Posted by Jerry on July 6, 2005

I have noticed this in me, a change; a very slow and deliberate journey that has changed the core of my identity.

In previous years, I was a very devout, religious Christian believer. My highest value was the knowledge of God and His intimate relation with me in my life. I will admit that there were many things I accepted on christian doctrinal faith, but there were also many more beliefs for which I pursued a rational and secular foundation. Nonetheless, my relationship with God had the quality of innocent acceptance and honest conversation. I called Him my father, my friend, my own. I walked with Him, I talked with Him, I joked with Him. God was like my own happy secret.

And yet, through all those years, I carried in me a very distinct feeling of worthlessness. In fact, I enjoyed my status as “unworthy” and “insignificant” — I thought I was practicing humility. In some strange way, I thought that the more I degraded my human spirit, the more I exalted the spirit of God — like He could only gain the affirmation of His highest spiritual ascension through my personal acknowledgment of self-descent. Before God, I thought, I am not even worthy of His pity, let alone His magnanimous love, which He offers me nonetheless.

God, I thought, loved me only because His nature was love, not because I was worthy of being loved by Him. I did not believe there was any inherent quality of goodness in me that made me lovable to God. It was He, in all His benevolence and mercy, that loved me, a poor, miserable, mortal sinner.

Ofcourse, the nature of this relationship with God can be seen as potentially very destructive to the human psyche; but that is the point.
The idea is in fact to invalidate the ego, reduce the identity of the self to the degree of such insignificance that there remains no shred of self-worth, self-esteem, or any definite concept of the self in one’s being.

Some might argue that this is not the goal of religious belief: to degrade the human spirit. However, I believe that recognizing the essence of the magnanimity of God invariably leads one to feel like how I felt: so utterly insignificant in this grand scheme of God’s awesome creation and His benevolence! Religion invariably makes you feel insignificant. Religious emphasis on the after-life and the soul invariably leads one to ignore or supress the experience of this material, real life, the personal concerns of this current world, the identity of the physical body, and the protection of one’s ego. This is what Kira Argounova in We The Living means when she says that anyone who believes in God does not value himself or life; he spits upon his own face.

The religious virtue of humility is best achieved not by making a pretense at being insignificant, but by truly and fully believing that one is not worthy and achieving complete emotional, psychological, social, and physical insignificance! Religious virtue is in honestly being able to say: I am nothing. I can do nothing. I am merely an instrument for God to do His works through me. I have no desires but to fulfill the desires of God. I am empty vessel; I am a blind and obedient servant. I do not deserve anything except that which God deems me worthy of having in His great mercy and pity. I do not even have the right to my life or my body, because I am only a channel for His will on earth and in my life.

It is a religious virtue to find your tongue licking the dirt of the ground… reducing yourself to dust, for that is what religion wants you to believe: You are nothing but dirt, and to dirt you shall return.

Posted in Atheism, General Work/Life, Personal, Philosophy, Religion, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Understanding Human Existence

Posted by Jerry on June 17, 2005

Merely having life and therefore existing should not be a cause for much awe and wonder. Though it definitely is a valuable thing – to have life, there is something immensely more valuable than living: Being radiantly aware of your life.

What is having life? Animals have it. Even plants have life. Animals and plants live. We are a kind of animal. And as such, we can exist as mere animals, living our life away, simply waiting for life to pass because that is what animals do. Or we can live life like humans ought to. As Ayn Rand said: “Living life is not the same thing as avoiding death.”

Just the mere act of breathing and living is not worthy of much praise. Dogs do that, and the trees do that. The scientific definition of death is not just the stopping of the heart, but also the ceasing of the brain waves. Technically, a human being could survive with just a beating heart and no brain activity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are millions on this earth who are doing just that: living as creatures that breath and have beating hearts.

The difference worthy of all awe, wonder, and praise is the witness of that human being who not only demonstrates a clear evidence of life, but also a celebration of that awareness of his life — manifested in his actions, movements, reflections, pursuits, and achievements. The awareness of life by the faculty of self-consciousness is only possible to humans, not to any other creature on this earth, and therefore it differentiates a self-aware and thinking human from any other creature (human or animal).

It is only proper for humans to think. To use his faculty of thinking and intelligence to realize his experience of living. Anything less is not good enough.

Posted in General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Personal, Philosophy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
%d bloggers like this: