Friday, June 23, 2006


Ayn Rand's Missing Pieces

Ayn Rand says "All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil". In other words, that which destroys the "life" of a rational being is evil.

Putting aside the question of defining "life", how do we know its destruction is evil? I mean really know? According to Rand's Objectivist philosophy, all of man's knowledge must be based on observation (man's concepts come from reality, because he is a blank slate at birth). For elaboration, see here and here.

But, if all of our knowledge must be based on observation (which reason processes into concepts), then what observation led Ayn Rand to form the concept behind the normative statement above?

IOW: How did Ayn Rand derive an ought from an is?

These links aren't working for me. Oh, well.
Rand appears to me to start with Descartes, "I think therefore I am."
Her ought is her "i" (lowercase to differentiate from "I" as in "I Am that I Am.")
What are your "oughts and where do they originate?

I think you migh be confusing the is-ought problem.

Think of it in terms of an example.

An "Is": Jane is killing Jeff.
An "Ought": Jane should not kill Jeff.

As Hume pointed out, you can sit and watch Jane kill Jeff all day, but there is nothing that you see/taste/hear/touch that will tell yuo that Jane should not kill Jeff.

And according to Ayn Rand, all we can know comes from our 5 senses. So what does she see/taste/touch/hear that tells her Jane should not kill Jeff?
I haven't read enough Rand to say.
Why wouldn't you kill Jeff?
I disagree completely with Student. The feeling that something is wrong or evil is just as much a real sense as anyhting you can smell/taste, etc.

I am not sure which way to take your complain

Are you saying that moral statements only express emotional responces?

Or are you saying that people have a moral intuiton that allows them to glimpse what is right and wrong?

Though, I can't see Rand herself making either argument. The first clearly leads to some sort of relativism, which certainly wasn't her goal. And I have never seen her make any mention of moral intution like the type used in the second.

So we are still left with the matter of how Ayn Rand would answer the question.
What I appreciate about Student's comment is its intellectual integrity. Okay, so we have a missing link here. We have a great many "is"es, but no direction for deriving any "ought"s from them. What is rational man to do?
I tried to speculate that Rand considered herself an ought: "I am. I ought to be. Everybody else ought to let me be me. We all ought to be free to be you and me." Let's sing Kumbayah.

But this method of reasoning, as had been said of Descartes' "I think therefore I am" is tautological. We therefore reject it because it breaks the rules of logic. Whence however come these rules of logic?...
What would become of Western culture if we banished Aristotle?

We encounter these tautologies frequently in life. Evil is an example. Buddah decided that the best method for thinking about it would be to stop thinking about it. Hmmm...
I have another word for tautology: Mystery. That for which the data concerning it encroaches upon itself (cf. Ravi Zacharias).

I am left with the Socratic solution: Ask other people what their understanding of the mystery is, and try to gain some wisdom out of the discussion.

Finally, I pose the question a third time to Student:

What are YOUR oughts?
Why wouldn't you kill Jeff, or steal my car?

I really don't have any "oughts". That isn't to say I don't think some things are wrong or that I am a moral relativist. I just can't consistantly justify my "moral beliefs" in a way that I feel is adequate.

I hope that will change, one day. But for right now I'm still making up my mind.
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