Re: Morality - crusoe

Technotranscendence (
Mon, 29 Nov 1999 19:42:57 -0800

On Monday, November 29, 1999 4:01 AM Rob Harris wrote:
> >I would quibble with two things here. First, I do not think "morality"
> >such is something only applicable to social beings. See Rand's
> >Who Needs It" -- the title essay in a book of hers of the same name. Her
> >basic notion is that philosophy and morality (which is part of philosophy
> by
> >her reckoning) are guides to living life. As such they do not just apply
> >when one has company over.:) They would apply to Crusoe before Friday
> shows
> >up. Of course, Crusoe would need no social morality or politics before
> >Friday shows up, but he would still need guidance in living.
> Only if he were kind of person that required "guidance" from some external
> dictator. This was not the point that Dan made, though. However useful
> certain arbitrary concepts are to our everyday lives, they exist only in
> head. No humans - no human morality. The stars and dust left behind
> doesn't give a flying toss about the abstract subjective tools once used
> a long dead race - hence an absolute morality is a pipe dream born out of
> our desire for cosmic "importance". Exactly like nematodes "looking" up at
> us, and trying to tie their existence into ours. It is most illogical,
> captain.

I never made the claim for _that sort_ of objective morality. It's obvious that Rob and I mean different things by the terms. I've tried to define how I use them.

First off, I did not start this thread and have not read all of it. Nor do I intend to read all of it.

Second, there are different meanings to "absolute." People who mean by it something that has no relation to anything else are rightly labelled as intrinsicists, whether we are dealing with their notions of morality, epistemology, art, politics, or what have you. This sort of absolute is something which can really have little meaning for an objective view. "Objective" after all has to be within the context of the mind's relation to the world. It cannot mean something outside of that relation. This applies to being an objective observer as well as to objective morality. The kind of absolute I would talk about is a contextual absolute -- i.e., something that is absolute in a given context. However, this is so at variance with conventional usage that I avoid the term.

Third, morality should not be a set of arbitrary rules. Just like the laws of logic or the scientific method, we must look for the aim of morality. We must not look at extant moralities and use only them for finding this aim -- just as we would not lump together theology with science in trying to come up with an objective view of the world. But before going further, let me define morality as a code of values which guide actions. This is morality neutral I believe. I.e., it does not define morality in such a way that a specific code -- such as JudeoChristian ethics, Aristotelean ethics, Buddhiest ethics -- is confused with morality as such.

Going back to a previous post, I gave Rand's definition of value as that which one acts to gain or keep. (From her and Branden's _The Virtue of Selfishness_.) Putting that together with the above defintion doesn't give us much. It doesn't tell why one holds particular values or even which values one holds should take precedence.

Rand's next step was to ask why values? What if anything makes values at all necessary? She thinks that values ultimately derive only for beings whose existence is conditional. I.e., living things. Thus, she can see nematodes as having values -- albeit not a morality. Morality is a code recall. As a code, it is meant to guide beings who can choose between actions. As far as we know, nematodes can't choose their actions or even be aware of the consequences of them. She believes the fundamental value, the one on which all others are based, is life itself. (There is some dispute over this, but I tend to side with this reading of her here.:)

Squeezing a lot of Objectivist metaethics into a small space, morality would guide Crusoe or Rob because it would be a means for them to organize their values. This is not a set of arbitrary rules. An objective morality would have life as its core value and this would not seem to be arbitrary. Granted, what helps me to live and me to live well might not be exactly the same thing as what helps Rob to do likewise. We have different skills, levels of knowledge, etc. But given these differences, we can both use logic. Does the fact that we might use logic for different proximate goals -- debating morality, trying to reach a conclusion on some personal issue, etc. -- mean logic is subjective and arbitrary? I believe not.

Regarding "No humans - no human morality," I agree and believe Rand and Objectivists (people into her philosophy of Objectivism) would also. (I'm not trying to defend her, by the way, just trying to make sure that people on the list know my sources. And if Rand and her seconds don't agree here, well, then they are just plain wrong.:) It's also obvious that "No eyes - no color." This does make color subjective. It makes it relational -- i.e., depenent on the relation between perceived and the perceived. It's not at all arbitrary. You have a certain type of visual system, you see certain colors under certain conditions.

Even more telling here, if all conceptual consciousnesses ceased to exist in the unvierse, "The stars and dust left behind really doesn't[sic] give a flying toss about" logic, which is only a tool of consciosness, after all? Again, does this make logic subjective or arbitrary? Nematodes (and trees and bacteria) certainly can get by without it!:)


Daniel Ust