Re: SOC: Tractatus Theopoliticus

Technotranscendence (
Sat, 27 Nov 1999 09:41:11 -0800

On Saturday, November 27, 1999 12:06 PM Damien Broderick wrote:
> It seems to me that your ambition of finding an `objective or external
> morality' is based on a bafflingly simple error. You are seeking a
> teleological answer in a non-teleological cosmic substrate. You are asking
> after the ice-cream preferences of a dust cloud. Morality is an emergent
> program for guiding the behaviour of complex social beings.

I would quibble with two things here. First, I do not think "morality" as such is something only applicable to social beings. See Rand's "Philosophy 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.

Second, I would like to borrow Rand's trichotomy with regard to moralities. These are the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective. Intrinsic moralities are those based on the notion that the good is external, such as religious ones where the Good is doing some specific action regardless of its relation to the doer. The Decalogue of JudeoChristianity is an example of this. (This seems to be what most people mean by "objective" and, perhaps, the common usage is better than Rand's, given that it is placing the good in the _object_ apart from the _subject_. At the same time, "intrinsic" is not so bad because as a term it points to goodness being _intrinsic_ to something apart from any relation with anything else, whereas _objectivity_ is a relation -- specifically, a certain state of awareness with regard to the world.)

Subjective moralities are based on the subject alone, especially his, her, its arbitrary preferences. An example of this might be someone doing whatever they feel like doing at a particular time. This is sort like the flip side of intrinsic moralities. Now the subject, not external reality has full control. A special kind of subjective morality are social conventional moralities, such as those who believe the Good is whatever society (the majority, tradition, culture, the race, the nation, the proletariat, the intelligentsia, etc.) decides it is. For instance, if we all take a vote and decide it's okay to rape, then rape is good -- not just legal but moral, or, at least, not immoral.

The objective in moralities, using Rand's notions, is when the Good is a relation between subject and object. (See her and Branden's _The Virtue of Selfishness_.) Certain actions are good because of this relation. Now this might seem to only put the argument back further a step and move confusion to another level. After all, how does one decide what is good for a given subject in a given context? Couldn't it just be subjective? In that case, Rand's rattling on about _objective_ morality (note the singular here) is only thnly disguised _subjective_ morality.

However, she does go a bit further and some have built further on her insights. Specifically, her views of "value" and the purpose of morality. She defines "value" -- recalling from memory here -- as that which acts to gain or keep. This is a very neutral definition. However, she then goes on to look for why anything would need values. Rather than go on here, let me ask all on this thread who care to answer, Why would anything _need_ values? Is value just a useless concept, adding a layer of redundancy to explaining behavior or internal states?

> Such beings are
> not written ahead of time into the foundations of the universe. Any moral
> code is therefore prudential at best - that is, it is a set of ranked
> instructions for how to attain goals that have been set arbitrarily in a
> complex cascade of adaptations and evolutionary kluges. These can
> be tested by various criteria of effectiveness, but not against any
> universal, aboriginal dicta that preceded the (very recent) emergence of
> minds. Deal with it. Stop looking for some rule in M-Theory that tells you
> why choosing not to eat bluebellied flies on Tuesdays is objectively
> morally righteous.

I would quibble with one thing here which relates to my second point above. Morality, as such, need not be the same for each species or type of being. I would not take this as meaning morality is subjective or arbitrary. It merely reflects on the fact of being being (no pun intended) different. This applies withing species too. I have a certain set of traits that are different from Damien's. This means I can pretend to be him (or he me) and expect to wind up in the same state. I probably lack some skill or preferences that he has and vice versa. E.g., maybe he likes brussel sprouts. (I detest them.) Now, this might seem arbitrary, from the point of a Theory of Everything (TOE), but for he and I, these are just how we are. We must start with reality, not theory.


Daniel Ust