Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Posts Tagged ‘Rights’

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 »

Audio: The Absurdity of Libertarianism

Posted by Jerry on May 22, 2008

Since I really can’t find the time to blog, or when I do have the time, can’t find the inclination to sit up and write something, I thought I’d speak into a voice recorder and post that instead!

This is totally experimental, and it’s my first time. So, my recording is very unpolished: I stammer, stutter, ramble, grapple for words, my voice sounds funny, my modulations are whacked, and basically, it all sounds totally ridiculous.

But that’s all I’m willing to give–until I can get myself to write again.

In this recording, I discuss the following:

I find a pleasant coincidence in the topics discussed in Leonard Peikoff’s podcast of May 15.

I talk about my argument with a couple of libertarian friends: their contention was that individual adults should be allowed to murder each other if that is so consensually desired. Of course, one of them was also in favor of pedophilia. They argued that since the government has no place interfering in the private, consensual activities of adults, particularly if it occurs within a person’s private property, the governmen should therefore not interfere in the consensual violation of rights between two adults.

I fully and ferociously disagreed. In the recording, I discuss why and how Objectivism is in agreement with me. Objectivism does not permit even the consensual violation of rights–even if it is on private property. I discuss why and how this is justified.

I also criticize the nebulous, free floating notion of liberty that libertarians hold on to: basically, they just want to be free to do whatever they want, without a care for morality, existence, human nature, reason, or self-esteem.

Click the following link to go to the host site of my recording:

boomp3.com
 

Posted in My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Controlling the Media

Posted by Jerry on March 21, 2008

Dr. Yaron Brooke has an excellent article–I mean a remarkably clarifying, coherent, logical, and lucid article–on Forbes.com entitled “War on Free Political Speech.

Following Ayn Rand, Dr. Brook exhorts those who assume that in a free society, the rich will mostly be in control of all the media, and that presidential races will be funded by the extremely rich people who will promote their pet candidates through all means available, to “check their premises.”

Here’s just a hint:

“What is the actual effect of wealth on political speech? Is it true that a diversity of political viewpoints would be shut out without campaign finance restrictions? Clearly not, when wealthy Americans include a vast diversity of individuals, and when we are free to watch Fox News or CNN, read the Wall Street Journal or The New York Times, listen to Rush Limbaugh or Air America, visit Instapundit or Daily Kos.”

This article reinforces a thought I’ve had in my mind for a long time now: there is simply no one from any philosophical school of thought who understands the entirety of the concept of rights–particularly, the right to free speech–as comprehensively, cogently, and non-contradictorily as an Objectivist does (for example, just read this post about two philosophers arguing over what free speech is). The flipside of this is, unfortunately, there are only so few people in this world who know what rights are and can defend them objectively without being driven towards a fatal contradiction.

Posted in 2008 US Elections, Ayn Rand, Culture, Economics, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Right to Migrate

Posted by Jerry on March 10, 2008

The right to migrate–that is, to move from one nation or society to another–is a derivative of the right to liberty and the right to own property wherever it is possible. Ultimately, all of these are derived from an individual’s right to his own life. Objectivism upholds a policy of open immigration for America–and not impractically so. It is impossible for a moral principle to be impractical in reality.

The Objective Standard–an Objectivist journal of culture and politics–has a new article on how the moral right to immigrate is not only consonant with individual rights but also fully and consistently practicable in reality. People wrongly associate issues like illegal immigration, over-population, competition in jobs and wages, cultural erosion, and so on as challenges to open immigration. What they do not realize is that these problems arise precisely because the U.S. government rampantly violates human rights by not permitting open immigration and instead legislating arbitrary immigration quotas and ethnic lotteries. 

The article in the Objective Standard explains in detail how current immigration policies give birth to greater security concerns and rights violations than a moral and objective immigration policy. Here is a particularly striking excerpt from the opening paragraphs of the article:

Morally speaking, if a person rationally judges that immigrating to America would be good for his life, he should immigrate; a rational morality holds that one should always act on one’s best judgment. But does a foreigner have a right to move to America? And should America welcome him? Yes, he does—and yes, she should.

And here’s another juicy bit from the article:

America’s border is not properly a barrier for the purpose of keeping foreigners out; it is properly a boundary designating the area in which the U.S. government must protect rights.

Posted in Culture, Economics, Immigration Issues, India, Objectivism, Philosophy, Political Issues, Rights and Morality, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 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 »

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 »

The Incoherence of Rationalistic Rights

Posted by Jerry on November 29, 2007

I’ve been thinking about Christine Korsgaard’s article in defense of animals rights (I have a printed copy, but the link is inactive). Korsgaard employs a radical reinterpretation of Kantian duty ethics to mount her case for animal rights. This is unique because Kant himself was explicitly against granting rights to non-rational beings, i.e., animals.

Korsgaard’s article is lengthy and technical, but her reversal of Kantian ethics in support of a position Kant himself was explicitly against is impressive. Briefly, Korsgaard argues that human rights are derived from our nature as living organisms who seek to pursue things that are good for ourselves; further, she argues that all living organisms that pursue the good for themselves are acting as ends-in-themselves. Humans are different in that not only do we pursue the good, but we pursue it out of choice and reflect upon our choices. We ascribe value to our pursuits of the good and protect it (legislate it) in the form of rights.

Korsgaard argues that this ability to legislate our pursuits and protect it is not a sufficient condition to retain rights exclusively for humans, because we do grant rights to those humans who cannot legislate and protect the good for themselves: for example, little infants and the severely disabled cannot demand or legislate their right to pursue the good, yet we extend the protection of pursuits (i.e., rights) to them. Likewise, women and slaves at one point were not allowed to legislate for themselves and demand protection for their pursuits–yet society extended certain protections (rights) to them.

Therefore, the criteria for having rights–Korsgaard argues–is not our ability to reflect upon our pursuits and protect them by legislation but our ability to pursue the good which is necessary for our survival as living beings. Korsgaard argues that this necessity is a common feature among all living things–whether or not they are consciously aware of their acts in pursuit of the good. She admits that such an argument may result in an absurd reductio whereby the rights of even microbial organisms and plants would need to be recognized. However, she does not consider this a weakness of her argument, rather a matter for us to grapple with, to reexamine the alleged foundations and nature of our concepts of rights.

In my post Veals Are Not Innocent, I responded to philosopher Joel Marks’ defense of animal rights, which is based on utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer’s argument of minimizing suffering in the world; particularly, eliminating the unnecessary suffering of sentient beings.

Korsgaard’s approach is unique because it makes no appeal to the philosophically murky notion of suffering as the standard of morality. However, the problem with her approach is its rationalism–dropping the context of reality.

The problem with rationalism–of the philosophic kind–is that it can be put to argue any position that is deductively derived and logically consistent: for rationalism, reality is hardly a contraint to an argument, only logic is. Afterall, it’s noteworthy that Kant believed his ethical system did not permit the extending of rights to non-rational beings, and yet, it is precisely the Kantian ethical system that is used by Korsgaard in her logical argument for animal rights arising from the nature of living entities as ends-in-themselves. What does this say about the Kantian ethical system or the rationalistic method it employs?

By situating itself solely in the abstract realm of logically deductive analysis, rationalism perpetuates the false dichotomy between deduction and induction, analysis and synthesis; the price it pays for appearing to have mathematical precision is the context of reality.

Objectivism is fundamentally a reality-oriented philosophy: From empiric observation, Objectivism extrapolates its general principles in conformance with the laws of logic. Note that Objectivism is not identical to Empiricism, just as it is not Rationalism. Objectivism does not deduce from a set of first principles nor does it generalize from any number of empiric instances. It does not look at how many times a certain event by an entity has occurred in nature to form a general principle of the event or the entity.

Objectivism integrates empiric observation with logical and deductive principles in non-contradictory fashion to examine the nature and quality of the event-causing entities. The validity of a principle is not in how often it appears in reality but in its fundamental nature and adherence to the laws of logic.

Thus, induction is not merely a matter of extrapolating a principle from a large number of unfalsified observed instances; it is a matter of discovering the nature of causality of the event by ascertaining the identity of the entity (i.e., applying the law of Identity and its corollary the Law of Causality to the context: An entity acts only according to its identity).

In the context of reality, granting rights to animals is an undeniably incoherent position if you discard rationalism: if rights are intended to protect one’s pursuit of necessary values for survival, how does one safeguard the rights of one animal from being violated by another animal? For example, whose rights should one enforce–that of the prey to its life or that of the predator to its food as a means of survival? Reality offers no room for contradictions; therefore, our epistemic policy should also be to permit no contradictions in our formation of concepts, principles, and knowledge.

Likewise, to highlight the weakness of empiricism, just because we observe that human pursuits of the good are routinely and rampantly violated or thwarted by governments, dictators, societies, and other individuals across the world, we cannot legitimately conclude that rights do not exist or that human rights inherently conflict with each other or that rights are artificial constructs relative to cultural norms.

Only Objectivism offers the most robust foundation and defense of human rights–not on rationalistic or empiric grounds–but on objectively valid and universalizable grounds. For Objectivism, rights do not exist in a vacuum; it is not intrinsic to living entities; it does not exist on a platonic realm; it does not apply to a lone man on a deserted island. Rights arise from a specific existential relationship between man–because of his identity–and other men in his surroundings. What this results in is a notion of rights that is coherent, logically consistent with other rational principles, valid in reality, and universally practicable without conflict.

Posted in Animal Rights, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Tehelka

Posted by Jerry on October 29, 2007

I was just browsing through some of the articles on Tehelka, a newspaper that bills itself as “public-interest journalism.” For the most part, Tehelka is the voice of the Indian left and disillusioned socialists who still cry shrill over the injustices of class warfare.

In any case, I found this shocking piece of LTE in response to an article on the site; my impression is that the writer is serious about his view, but I am so eager to be wrong on this. The letter to the editor says:

We know there is complete chaos in society. All of us can now afford cars and add tonnes of CO2 everyday to the atmosphere. Modern amenities are making us lazy. The worst offenders are medicines, which are forcing people to live longer and adding to the geriatric population. But we have democracy. Have a look at Pakistan and China and you’ll know why life in our country is certainly not as bad and hopeless as you make it out to be. Always remember, it is better to be an optimist and contribute to society. Dr Kapil Paliwal, Kanpur [all bold mine]

Did this fellow just say that modern medicines are the worst offenders?! Offenders against whom–the sick and the dying!?! 

I should really stop being so surprised. The newspaper is such that it does attract its crowd of lunatic Malthusians and Marxists.

Nevertheless, some of its articles are thought-provoking–precisely because the writers of this paper understand the value of ideas in a society (like all Marxists do), adhere to an ideology, and write their arguments on the basis of principles they wish to defend. For example, I read an article that argued the view that Indian tradition and ethnic chauvinism were the roots of rampant mob violence in India. While I agree that all forms of collectivism breed violence against and disregard for the individual, I do not see how the author of the article can logically arrive at the conclusion that mob violence can be impeded by correcting social inequalities, which was the point implied throughout.

It’s a naive and superficial view that social inequalities are the cause of struggle and disharmony within a society. The view is itself a collectivist one and therefore assumes what it wishes to prove. It seeks to replace a chauvinism of ethnicity, class, or caste with the chauvinism of an amorphous and undefined collective called humanity. Therefore, while it condemns social injustice arising from classism or religious warfare, it does not mind the sacrifice of an individual if one can engineer social justice for the greater good–for mankind, for humanity.

If one were to check the premises, one would realize that whether the social field is leveled at the top or from the bottom, some will be trampled at the expense of others and the strife will merely simmer right below the leveled surface until the next bloody eruption.

So, is strife inherent in society and one should not bother to tinker with it? Not at all! I am pointing out that the lens with which you look at this situation is itself skewed–because it is collectivist. A society is *not* an irreducible unit: an individual is. A proper concern for social justice, therefore, should begin at the level of an individual, and devise a system of ethics that is based on the realization and maximization of an individual’s rights! What is proper and moral and just for an individual is necessarily proper and moral and just for a society of individuals.

The answer to social justice, therefore, is not to replace the tyranny of one group with that of another (be it of the poor over the rich or of the lower castes’ over the higher) in order to level the playing field, but to discard the very lens by which humans are viewed as interchangeable and disposable units of an amorphous humanity in the pursuit of an engineered social equality.

Posted in Culture, Economics, General Work/Life, India, Mumbai, Philosophy, Political Issues, Religion, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 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 »

Why Choose to Live?

Posted by Jerry on August 8, 2007

In the ensuing discussion on Ayn Rand on a liberal blog that I linked to in my previous post, a commentor–apparently sympathetic to Objectivism–made the following remark:

There is nothing that I’ve read in Objectivist literature that suggests that the philosophy dictates that one ought to *want* to live; the philosophy begins after that fact has been decided by the individual. The choice to live is prior to any philosophy (could one “love wisdom”, but not want to live?). But in particular, Objectivism is explicitly a philosophy for living life.

I think this issue needs to be clarified: is Objectivism fundamentally based on an arbitrary injunction to live? Is there no normative injunction to choose life and not choose death? Is the choice to live, arbitrary? If Objectivism is fundamentally based on a choice that is simply arbitary, then doesn’t that bring the entire edifice of Objectivist ethical theory crumbling to the ground?

To my knowledge, this criticism of Objectivism was first raised by the philosopher Robert Nozick in his book Socratic Puzzles. In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dr. Leonard Peikoff discusses this matter very briefly, concluding that the choice to live is indeed a premoral choice, in that moral evaluation can only function within the domain and context provided by life as the standard.

Another commentor responded to the abovementioned quote as follows:

I believe this pre-moral chioce [sic] is quite wrong for two other reasons:

1) What does the choice to live really mean? Is it the chioce to live as long as possible? Is it the choice not to commit immediate suicide? Is it the choice to carry on as usual? This choice is simply far too vague to yield such a specific set of conclusions as the tenets of Objectivism. It’s like saying that if you want a car, then you have commited yourself to a Toyota.

2) Men have reasons to pursue their existence, that is, there are ends in themselfs that makes life worth living. Thus, the choice to live can be conditioned by the particular reasons people have for pursuing their existence. If morality is dependent on the chioce to live it is also dependant on the reasons people have for making this choice. Thus those reasons (be it becoming a dictator or what have you) are outside any moral or rational evaluation. What is left is pure subjectivism, with as many moralities as reasons for living.

I felt that since even people sympathetic to Objectivism can be confused about this most fundamental and crucial of issues, it is important to examine and explore the fundamental basis of Objectivist morality. What follows is entirely my own understanding of Objectivism, not an exact account of Ayn Rand, although I believe it best captures her intent.

In response to FO:

It is a contradiction to first state that man can make choices in life that make life worth living, and then give an example of such a choice as “becoming a dictator or what have you.” The contradiction is in the fact that choices that make life worth living have to also be consonant with the requirements of life, i.e., life-sustaining or life-supporting.

The agent of action here is an individual, conscious, living being faced with choosing an option that will make his continued survival worth it. Choosing an objectively life-negating option (or at the widest, an option that is not consonant with life-sustenance) undercuts his primary motive of deriving a value from that choice which is supposed to make his continued survival of some worth.

In other words, choosing an objectively life-negating act existentially and factually undercuts (or acts against) his desire to continue living–whether he is aware of this effect of his choice or not.

The requirements of continued survival imposes certain necessary and objective decisions upon the individual; of course, the whole point of ethical theories is to guide the individual towards making choices that are consonant with life-sustaining requirements, thus allowing him to pursue his desire to continue living and acquire values that make living worth it for him.

FO, I argue that the choice to live is actually not pre-moral in the sense that it occurs at some point along a chronological chain of choices. It is a metaphysically given fact that we are living beings–we live from the moment we are born, and this is not a matter of our choice. This is a metaphysically given fact. The ethical choice to continue living and pursue life is a choice that is implicit in the ethical nature and sum of all and every other choices we make in our lives as we go on about our daily lives. This implicit choice to live (or not) is internal to (and made in) every other choice we make in life.

It is this implicit ethical nature of the sum of our choices that need to be brought to the realm of explicit moral evaluation, which can then be scrutinized in accordance to moral theories and standards of evaluation. Rand pointed this out by stating that life qua man’s life is a *standard* of evaluating the moral status of our choices and values.

This does not mean that the choice to live is amoral or is made at some actual moment in our lives–although one can give it explicit, verbal form–but that the choice to live (or not) is implicitly made at every juncture of our daily activities–in our pursuit of values–and is implicit in the ethical nature of those activities; moreover, by making our individual daily choices, we are thereby–inescapably–either upholding the choice to live or the choice to die in the kind of values we choose to pursue. Thus, in a sense, our daily activities, pursuits, goals, values, and choices are various forms of realizing the same implicit choice to live or the choice to die; often, we are even explicitly aware of this fact.

Therefore, if the choice to live or die is indeed a choice that has a moral status, then what is the answer to the question “Why ought we to choose to live?” Or, “Why should we choose to live?” Observe that the question is seeking an answer that needs to lie somewhere outside of the system of life; in other words, the answer should be external to the conceptually hierarchical system of morality and values. Just as existence cannot be evaluated by reference to a standard outside or beyond existence, life cannot be evaluated by reference to a standard outside or beyond itself. Life itself gives meaning to evaluation by providing both a context and a standard.

The logical error being committed, therefore, by raising the question is that of the stolen concept: concepts such as morality, values, and choices are logically dependent upon–and internally related to–the concept of life. One cannot derive morality and values outside of the domain of life. Chairs and tables neither can have morals nor a need for them.

It is only because we have life that the need for a system of morality and values arises. We must realize that the choice to live is internal and inextricable to the morality of the rest of our choices and values, which means it lends meaning to the rest of our choices and values.

Just as it would be a logical fallacy to steal the concept of “cause” out of its logical hierarchy by asking “What caused existence?,” it is a fallacy to steal the concept of “ought” (a normative concept of morality) by asking “Why ought we to choose life?”

[Edit: Some significant edits to enhance the clarity of ideas, and included a reference to Dr. Peikoff’s discussion of this matter in OPAR]

Posted in Ayn Rand, General Work/Life, My Theories and Ideas, Objectivism, Philosophy, Rights and Morality, The Best of Leitmotif, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , , , | 37 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 »

 
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