caro2: Greetings, friends. Are you here yet? Notice that I am caro2 here. (OK, we can see that the next speaker has lost the use of his reason already, so he may as well open six more browser windows as well....)
robert: I think Irfan is quite right when he says that the mainstream moral philosophy literature ignores egoistic life plans. There is a good disussion of this issue by a philosopher in Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community, by Loren Lomasky--Lomasky calls life plans "projects."
caro2: Is there a question for Irfan, Robert?
chris: Irfan, long time no speak! In keeping with some of our earlier discussion about scholarship, I was wondering if you could provide a bit of discussion about something that was lacking in Tara Smith's book, namely, the similarities and differences between her approach and that offered by the neo-Aristotelian, and Rand-influenced eudaimonistic theories of people like Den Uyl, Rasmussen, Hunt, etc.
robert: In his Appendix on Categoricity vs. the Choice to Live, Irfan says, "Life's conditional character becomes a guide for action when and only when one chooses to value and live, i.e., chooses to engage in goal-directed actoin, and chooses to promote one's life by goal-directed action." Psychological question: who chooses to live, when, and how? Objectivist philosophers often talk as though the choice to live is explicit--we aware of making it when we make it. We could read Irfan's remarks differently, however--in terms of a choice to live that is implied by (lots of) more specific choices.
caro2: followup, Chris?
chris: you're welcome... but what interests me here is this: is Smith offering something different from Den Uyl, Rasmussen, et. al., or is it a new formulation of the same idea?
breese: I'm also most interested in the "life plans" aspects of your paper.
You write: "The first is the sheer temporal extension of a human life. A full human life consists of the total expected length of an entire lifespan—say, eighty or ninety years. So we need a code that will last the distance, and traits that will do so as well. The second is the unity of a human life. A human lifespan is not just a series of disaggregated and unrelated sequences, but an integrated whole, each of whose parts contributes to the sum. So we need a code that will serve to integrate the parts into a whole, and traits that will do the same."
I see a lot of possibly great places to explore from this quote. To start with, what is it about 90 years that matters? Is it something like number of processor cycles or feedback loops of some sort during a lifespan?
caro2: I'm going to take Robert's question next.
robert: Since the moderator prefers a question, let's put it this way: Irfan, are you familiar with Loren Lomasky's discussion of "life projects" in Persons, Rights, and the Moral Community? Do you think this goes any part of the way toward remedying the lack of interest in egoistic life plans that you find the mainstream moral philsophers guilty of?
caro2: Andrew: Can you rephrase a bit? I can guarantee you that Irfan is not talking about processor cycles or feedback loops, and will have no clue what you mean.
frank: The question why we *need* a value system sounds circular, for needs seem to be something to be explained inside the system. Wouldn't it be better to ask how it came about that certain animals *evolved* emotions that drive the animal in pursuit of values? It is not obvious why there would be extra calorie-eating brain circuitry to handle emotions and desires. Why doesn't the animal just do what promotes its survival and reproduction directly--a lot of lower animals seem to--rather than to have an emotional urge and then go about trying to satisfy that urge?
breese: frank: good question! i'm interested. i'd actually like to see YOUR best answer to it here in the unmoderated forum.
breese: caro2: thank you for reminding me about my unsupported jargon! i'll work on a rephrase or another starting angle for irfan.
caro2: Frank, Andrew, I will have to ask you not to do that, please; otherwise, I won't be able to tell what's going on.
breese: caro: No problem! I'm still figuring out the intended and evolving rules here ;).
caro2: All the rules are ad hoc. We are making history here. (I will let you have a free-for-all at the end of the session.)
robert: Is choosing to live implicit in goal-directed action? Or in choosing to engage in goal-directed action (a meta-choice in relation to the first?). Or in choosing the sort of life that consists in choosing goal-directed action (now a meta-meta-choice)? (I'm using these examples because they fall out of Irfan's text. It would be more natural, I think, to plug in something a little more concete as the object of the second and third-level choices...) How often, for that matter, does someone who is capable of recognizing a relationship between various other choices and a choice to live actually explicitly choose to live?
caro2: I'll take Robert's first rephrased question next, unless Andrew's prior question rematerializes in a computer-illiterate form.
caro2: No, I changed my mind--Robert's last question is more relevant now, and I'll do that next. We can return later if you still want to ask it, Robert.
breese: I'm also most interested in the "life plans" aspects of your paper. You write: "The first is the sheer temporal extension of a human life. A full human life consists of the total expected length of an entire lifespan—say, eighty or ninety years. So we need a code that will last the distance, and traits that will do so as well. The second is the unity of a human life. A human lifespan is not just a series of disaggregated and unrelated sequences, but an integrated whole, each of whose parts contributes to the sum. So we need a code that will serve to integrate the parts into a whole, and traits that will do the same." I see a lot of possibly great places to explore from this quote. To start with, what is it about 90 years that matters? Should ethics be much different in a world where lifespans are only 20 years or are 2000 years? Or would it take even more variation to produce different best ethical systems?
breese: caro: If my last question makes it, this will be my chance to find out how Irfan feels about arbitrary hypotheticals.
bryan: Irfan: I found your discussion of O'ist meta-ethics the most thorough and well-
considered I've read so far, but I'm decreasingly convinced by the argument each time I read it. It seems to me that a crux point sits here in your paper:
"What the conditionality thesis asserts is that the alternative of life and death is the most fundamental alternative underlying the entire structure of needs. Life, in other words, is a kind of second-order need—not merely a need, but the basic need that explains why all other needs exist and exert practical pressure on us."
But it seems that this is false, as a matter of biology. Organisms, to whatever degree that the pressures of natural selection rather than genetic drift or piggybacking play a role in shaping their structure, has not designed us to live but rather to reproduce. It seems that the ultimate goal in terms of which valuation makes sense is actually the goal of reproduction, and that living is a mere means to this end in every organism but us. If the O'ist ethics is going to be based on our nature as the sort of organism we are, and the sort of organism we are is one which functions to maximize reproductive success and not at all to maximize length of life, why does O'ism ignore our natural function in favor of a subsidiary alternative?
caro2: I think the two topics on the table are big, and I'd like to see them through. First, Andrew; then, Bryan. If the rest of you, and you two, can focus on those until we finish them, that would be great.
breese: Bryan: I wonder whether you actually advocate Natural Selection as your objective ethical standard. I hope you'll say one way or the other at the end of the discussion.
bryan: Aside related to last remark: this claim of Irfan's seems to show the problem I was complaining about:
"Non-human organisms are, in short, automatic, deterministic value-trackers that automatically take life as their ultimate value, and an automatic awareness of, and propensity to act on, their needs."
This seems wrong for the reason I mentioned.
breese: Caro: Sounds good. Thank you for telling us where you'd like to focus. I know you know the participants better than I do and can predict fruitful areas.
caro2: clarification, BRYAN: Did you mean you are less convinced by Irfan's argument each time you reread it, or less convinced by SUCH arguments each time you encounter them?
bryan: Less convinced by such arguments.
caro2: Andrew: :-) Follow up?
breese: Irfan: Next, I wonder whether our being social animals should work its way at all into metaethics. It's at least striking to me that most discussions of ethics (even Objectivist discussions of ethics) focus on social situations or social virtues. In the same qualitative way that lifespan appears in your metaethical summary, should anything involving Others or language-as-communication appear?
frank: Not for sending up, Caro, since we've moved on, unless you want to anyhow.
Ifran, you seem to be telling me that you don't need to answer the question of the evolutionary origins of emotions. But in your reply to Robert about whether one needs to *explictly* chose to how to live, rather than just acting as if one does, you say it doesn't matter. Why are we here, except to consider just such questions? One of the charactertistics of humans is that they can engage in such self-reflexive reasoning. (Indeed a great deal of Agnes' paper is given over to the sociology of self-reflection.) I am just maintaining that it would help me a very great deal if I knew where I was, evolutionarily, coming from, since I could more intelligently pursue my desires.
caro2: Frank: Sorry: Why are we HERE on Earth? Or why are we at this conference?
robert: I don't think that people explicitly choose to live very often. An explicit choice becomes necessary when deciding whether to commit suicide, or whether to fight to survive an illness or an accident. But even major decisions about our direction in life are usually made without explicitly choosing to live. Irfan, what is the role of psychology in addressing questions about the choice to live? Cognitive psych, in characterizing what is implicit vs. explicit? Developmental psych, in establishing what you have to know in order to choose to live (even implicitly)?
caro2: Not kidding.
frank: Sociobiologists have spoken at length about the implications of our sociality and disagree heatedly among themselves. If we would get a better understanding of the evolutionary origins of our desires, we would know better why it is that guilt and shame work, why certain norms of fairness are adopted, why, indeed, we seem to be moderately altruistic (I have aruged repeatedly for group selection on various lists), and so on. A biologist can help answer the question of what are desires really are and how to go about satisfying them. I said help answer. I did not come up with all the answers.
breese: Irfan: I think I agree with you about too much unusable "information" in the world.
For the record, my third question wasn't clear. I know this because you did misunderstand it. But, you did inadvertently answer what I meant along when you answered my second question!
Following up on your reply to my second question, then: You say that our hominid ancestors, if they had free will, would have a different ethic than us because they can only live to 20 years or so. How would their ethic be different?
caro2: Once we finish with the life plans / Others thread, then reproduction as the goal, then we'll come back to the perennial implicit choice thread with Frank and Robert.
breese: If we lived only 20 years, would the implicit choice thread still be perennial? hahahah
robert: By the way, Irfan's reference to "philosophical anthropology" opens the door to questions about psychology. Is philosophical anthropology dependent on the data and findings of the social sciences?
bryan: Andrew: (and this isn't for the main page): no, I don't take natural selection as my ethics. But I don't know how I could help but do so if I accepted central elements of the O'ist meta-ethic. (Just which ones, I can't remember just now. Sleepy.)
frank: Andrew, our homonid ancestors didn't live much longer than twenty years! Just what their ehtics were, no one can say for sure, but we know that primitive peoples today don't hold Objectivist principles and are much more community oriented. Indeed, my book interpreted Hayek as saying that we have to stiff our biological urges about such things as "social justice" in order to make the Great Society (free market) one work. What is the optimal ethic is Soviet Russia, or in Klinton's Amerikkka? You get the idea. More seriously, there is an optimal vector of virtues to cultivate. In a world of large corporations, cultivating a large dose of Cover You Behind is necessary. In Franklin's America, it is frugality. In an entrepreneurial age, it is risk taking. Anyhow, I have urged the vector of virtues before.
michelle: How would you rank the evolution of language in enabling prehistorical people to resovle their conflicts without resorting to force?
Would you say that the emerging of rationality required language as a vehicle to manifest itself?
breese: Irfan: I appreciate your good clear answer on sociality appearing in metaethics. I'm most surprised to hear you say: "rationality is practically tantamount to possessing linguistic capacity." Do you see this as generally uncontroversial, or just in Objectivist circles?
breese: Irfan: On hominids, fair enough! One final question on it: I read you as saying that hominid ideal ETHICS is a province of "a bona fide empirical science" (anthropology). Do you mean that how they lived is the best evidence we can have on how they SHOULD have lived?
monart: Hi Carolyn, I'm taking a break from my 28th anniversay celebration to join in for a while. My first question is unrelated to the conference topics, and has to do with the browser refreshing every few seconds. This ends up scrolling the text to the bottom, making it hard for me to read what has transpired before. I suppose I can just jump in midstream--so here goes.
At this point, 5:45pm MST, it apppears that I've missed Chris' spot and now it's Irfan's turn. I had some comments to address to Chris, but I'll just move on and ask Irfan about his statement, in the 2nd last paragraph of the section "Moral Value: Who needs it", where he listed benevolence as among the rational virtues stated by Rand. I know that Kelley has argued for benevolence as a major virtue, but I don't recall Rand ever did. Would you explain this?
bryan: (Not for main page): Monart just complained about the same problem I was having. I switched to internet explorer and no longer have the same problem.
caro2: I know it is going to be very tempting to get into issues of proper concept formation at this point, given Irfan's strong claims. But I think we would do well to stick to ethics.
breese: Irfan: Thank you for your good clear answer on rationality in humans requiring language. I've had a special interest in this ever since reading Nietzsche on the origins of language--and since noticing more and more of how incredibly much my subconscious mind does quite rationally without conscious linguistic involvement. I've asked several friends to report carefully on their mental linguistic habits when no one else is around them. Some report that they have very, very little by way of internal dialogue despite doing superrational things all day like computer programming. How does your model (of rationality requiring language) make sense of such data?
breese: Caro: ok! I read your note just AFTER i posted headlong into experimental epistemology ;)
caro2: (There is a constant internal dialog in MY head.)
monart: My next question is this: It has been pointed out to me, in another context, that objectivist egoism isn't a maximizing theory, and that believing so leads one to intractable contradictions like the survival-vs-flourishing dichotomy. Would you clarify this for me?
caro2: OOPS! didn't close some blockquotes. I'll fix it in the Orthodox Version.
bryan: Not for Irfan: There's a constant internal dialogue in *my* head, but it's always with other people. A lot of my friends and professors have been party to a number of conversations they never knew about.
breese: not for Irfan: Bryan, that's the *trippiest* answer I've ever gotten to that question!
caro2: (TechNotes: This page has to keep reloading; it takes you to the bottom so you can see the latest instead of having to scroll down each time. To capture it, just select all, copy, and paste into Notepad or Word.)
bryan: not for Irfan: I aim to confuse.
caro2: Bryan: do you aim to follow up?
bryan: But Irfan: To whatever degree we're designed, we're designed because certain genes were selected for their propensity to get themselves reproduced. Never is a gene selected for its propensity to make the organism in which it exists live a long time.
Also, I don't understand why our basic goal wouldn't be that of all organisms. We're designed (let's say); and we're designed by a designer whose only design constraint was maximizing reproduction. Why wouldn't this be our natural function, too? (The fact that we don't experience it that way shouldn't mean much - too subjective.)
bryan: Yes, I aimed to follow up and had sent that message long before you asked me to. So there. And BTW, I think that this is going very well and is technically well-handled. So congrats, you're efficacious. 8^)
jamie: (this is for the crazy unmoderated forum)
I have raised the objection on ATL that musicians and physicists (for example) don't typically *think* in words. (BB on the tape in on "Efficient Thinking" in NB's _Basic Principles_ also mentions this problem, but does not go into it.)
breese: for unmoderated chaos: Bryan, I remember arguing with you at the '96 summer seminar about life-as-the-standard-of-value. At the time, I was a flourisher/subjective-experience-proponent and you were a Binswanger-style lifer. I wonder when and what inspired your change of viewpoint.
Frank: I am also very interested in culture/context-sensitive virtues. I totally agree with you about risk taking and entrepreneurship! More, I explain much artistic commercial success (like Harry Potter) as culturebearers for newly important virtues. I'd like to hear any more on this you'd like to toss out.
caro2: Bryan, you just made my day! Thanks!
breese: caro: I'll stop the chaos for now. Just realized that you're still moderating.
michelle: Thank you for your response to my question on langauge. I am glad that you hold language in high regard as I do. I would like to ask what is, in your opinion, the Objectivist evaluation of human reproduction. Is it a moral or amoral human function?
bryan: Nothing but chaos from here on out. Andrew: I was at the time under the impression that flourishing could be derived from survival, but I was wrong. But moreover and much more importantly, the basic logic which leads Rand to survivalism actually should lead her, as I'm pointing out, to the goal of maximizing reproductive success, not maximizing lifespand. Upon realizing that, I sort of lost interest in performing my natural function for its own sake now to Irfan.
bryan: I don't think I'm being clear. We're selected to perform a certain natural function; it's our relatively high level of fitness at that function that explains why we are structured the way we are, instead of our ancenstral competitors' descendants being structured the way they aren't. But we're selected for our propensity to breed, not to survive. (You can't be disagreeing with *that* claim, are you?) This implies that breeding is our 'natural function', and that success at this function is the basic alternative which organisms have faced, our ancestors' succeeding at explains our structures. This co-opts life in terms of fundamentality; level of success at breeding is the more fundamental explanatory feature of organisms' natures. Thanks for the discussion!
bryan: Okay; I guess we'll just disagree here. Or should we continue? You said 20 minutes....
breese: wow. This might be the time to ask what Irfan has read of evolutionary theory. Dawkins? Anything like that? I wonder whether we're on the same page background-wise.
bryan: off-page BTW: my own biology is largely Dawkins, but I took a seminar last semester by a philosopher of biology who's not very selectionist; this introduced me to non-selectionist evolutionary theory and non-selectional pressures. If Irfan thinks that organisms are selected on the basis of their propensity to live a long time, then we're definitely *not* on the same page.
breese: "I sort of lost interest in performing my natural function for its own sake." hahahaha great quote Bryan. i of course feel similarly.
caro2: I just ended the moderated session. Have fun: I must make some dinner! Thank you all!
breese: caro: Thank you! I'm glad you created all this.
breese: i've found Dawkins and Robert Wright (only _The Moral Animal_, not his latest) to be the best intros to evolution and sociobiology. Without the facts they point to, so much of the essential story of our world is simply unknown.
breese: i wonder whether any of you now here are much interested in Ted's paper. I won't be able to be here for that discussion, but it's the one I would most eagerly look forward to.
frank: I googled Agnes Koos, who will be on the session tomorrow morning and found her essay, Values and their Collisions," at http://www.buedu/wcp.Papers/Valu/ValuKoos.htm. It is far less allusive to sociological thinkers than the one on this site,and I recommend your grabbing it. I've been quite interested in postmodernist sociology lately.
I'd have participated much more, but I took a break. When I came back I tried to catch up. Unfortunately, when the screen refreshes, I get only about 15 seconds before it refreshes all over again! I have but haven't started to read Paul E. Griffiths, _What Emotions Really Are_, and Paul Ekman and Richard J. Davidson, eds., _The Nature of Emotions: Fundamental Questions_. There seem to be lots of competing theories about the nature and origins of emotions and which one or combination is correct will make a big difference in what Objectivists can recommend. Anyhow, do dip into Agnes' other paper, where she calls Christianity egoistic. A Christian does, after all, want to get *himself* into Heaven. He's a good Randian, ethics-wise, but a bad Randian, ontology-wise!
frank: Are we still on?
frank: We ARE still on, or at least I am. No one else is posting, so good night and enjoy your well-earned dinner, Caro!
jamie: The link for "Values and their Collisions" is:
agnes: Good morning, I'm here and I've brought my answers to Bryan Register. I tried the other browser window, but there is no possibility to send messages. Thus I'm sending here and you will have the opportunity to delete in the remaining minutes, if that was the case.
Thank you for your comments highlighting your problems with regard to "Values and science". Still, I would like to signal that you have perfectly understood my basic question "can we legitimately found science's competence for dealing with values" and the main problem of stating primacy relations between value, science and practice (human existence).
The example you used may substantiate the need to imply the third factor. Lysenko defended the environment's impact on living beings vs. genetic determinism (with an anti-elitist and anti-racist edge - silly but noble). Although his views were rejected and ridiculed, the problem still persists with regard to human beings, in the Anglo-American literature it is known as the "nature vs. nurture" debate. Morale: independently of cultures and traditions, science and (maybe to lesser extent or less directly) philosophy advance by addressing existential problems, and I dare say that the main problems of human condition are the same everywhere.
Thus when meeting new philosophical standpoints - as Objectivism was for me in November - I expect to find different formulation, framing and solution of some millenary old problems, but very grateful to discover valuable new perspectives and argumentation. (I believe completely new topics - problems - may gradually be surfaced by life itself only, e.g. environmentalism, IT, globalization.)
Further, I'm convinced Objectivists also know the phenomenon I call value-laden and ideological science, respectively, but currently you speak of "partisanship" with regard to it. Of course, our notions and contexts to seize the phenomenon are different. On the basis of the yesterday discussion about partisanship, I would say thus far you've only dealt with aspects of value-laden thinking and kept your optimism to eradicate it with rational criticism. (The arkhe- and ideal type of this epistemological standpoint is Francis Bacon's teaching about idola.)
A perspective that may shed light on my deeper worries concerning human knowledge is currently known as Popperian vs. Darwinist evolution of ideas. The second standpoint claims that the defeat of an ideology (or ideological science) may only be expected in virtue of the defeat of the bearer social group - e.g. historical disappearing, social transformation, decisive political defeat, as in the case of knight's culture, rural traditionalism, Soviet communism.
I think "pure" science is closer to the Popperian pole than ideologies (the main bearers of values in society), thus allowing science to deal with values may make smoother the Darwinian impact on them.
I finish by recognizing two assumptions attributed to me: that I take for granted "the constitutive goals of practice (subsistence and progress)" and that I dream of a consequentialist value theory.