Thursday, September 9, 2010

Induction of Egoism

[Previous post in the series: "Reduction of the Principle of Egoism"]
The purpose of this essay is to show that one should adhere to the principle of egoism: a person is the proper beneficiary of his own actions, he should be selfish, pursue his own interests, etc. All acts of self-preservation are proper, and all acts of self-sacrifice are improper. I'll also present some of Dr. Peikoff’s views about how to properly induce principles when we can't explicitly rely on Objectivism.

In the reduction of egoism, we concluded that in order to reach egoism and the issue of beneficiaries of action, there were three other issues we had to confront. In order to know who benefits from values, we have to know who the valuer is, how the values are achieved, and what the standard of value is. The induction, accordingly, takes four steps:

(1) You choose values.
(2) You achieve values.
(3) Life and the enjoyment of life is the standard of value.
(4) Therefore, you should be the beneficiary of values: an egoist.

The point of the induction is to show that egoism is the logical outgrowth of answering the prior questions: who chooses values, who achieves them, and by what standard? The question of who should benefit is the implication of these, and a consideration of two other moral theories should clarify this point.

Consider Christianity: (1) Who chooses values? God, of course: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away...” (Job 1:21, King James Version.) The story of Job is an excellent indication that God chooses the values in this religion: God destroys all of Job's values as a bet to Satan of Job's unconditional piety, laying waste to his livestock, servants, house, and even family. Job's response is to basically note that he came into the world “naked,” i.e., with nothing, and he is content to die with nothing: God gave Job everything he had, and it is His right to take it all away. (2) Who achieves values? God does: in the story of Noah's ark, God grows weary of the sinfulness of humanity and wants the world cleansed, so He wipes out humanity along with all living things, save for Noah's family and two of every animal, those whom He considers “pure.” (3) What is the standard of value? Love of God, devotion to God's Will: what accords with God's Will is of value and the good, and what detracts from it is sinful and evil. Satan is the epitome of evil in Christianity because he is the leading angel who opposed God. Considering this, then (4) who is to benefit? Not God directly, but His Plan is to benefit, and His ultimate plan is to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, to eternally reward the righteous and punish the wicked on Judgment Day.

(The main purpose of Jesus' life on earth, of the Bible, and of all Christianity, is to spread the Gospel, i.e., the “Good Word,” which is the tale of the time when people will truly worship and serve the Lord and are rewarded in this life and in heaven, and the wicked are punished. The essence of Christianity is then a prayer that Jesus taught: “Let Your kingdom come, let Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”)

Now, imagine believing all of this, and then claiming that the beneficiary of all this isn't God or His Plan, but you, values are for your selfish enjoyment. Such an answer is ridiculous: you're practically a zombie in the entire presentation. God creates and chooses values, He sets the standard, it's all designed for Him to benefit, and now you want to claim that values are for you? Your wanting to benefit would be a complete non-sequitur—this is the chief error and sin of Lucifer—Satan—the sin of pride, of wanting the greatness and perfection that only God possessed. (Incidentally, I hope one can see from all this why Christians are adamantly opposed to selfishness, egoism, and those who represent such positions—strictly speaking, an egoist would be very similar to Satan in his perspective on values, that values are for him.)

Another example: Socialism/Communism/Collectivism. (1) Who creates values? The group, mankind, the proletariat or the race, etc. (2) Who achieves values? The group does: the individual merely steals from the group and exploits them, like the bourgeois capitalists of Karl Marx's philosophy. (3) What's the standard of value? The fulfillment of the group's wishes. (4) Who's to benefit: It's evident that the “public good” is to benefit, the group is the beneficiary. It would be unfathomable to hold (1), (2) and (3), and yet say that you should be the beneficiary of values, when the whole argument implies that anyone focused on themselves is the enemy of the group.

The same logic applies to egoism: If I create values by my choice, if I'm the one who achieves them, and if the standard is somehow based on me, then I'm the one who should benefit from them; if values are my choice and my achievement and defined by my need, then who else could be the beneficiary of my actions, other than myself? Just think of the injustice and absurdity of saying “You choose, achieve and define values, and Vicky gets them, she benefits.” So it's the same, basic pattern.

Now, I'll present a sketch of an induction of egoism, using myself as an example.

One's role as a valuer is the subject of the first induction: (1) All the things that I treasure and value are things that I chose, as opposed to things that I merely accepted. As I grew up, I had my favorite activity (drawing), a favorite color (red), my favorite music (A Tribe Called Quest), show (Dragon Ball Z), person (Richard Huynh), and book (Catcher in the Rye, and then later Catch-22). I valued reading, writing, explaining things, learning, and various sports, and a whole host of other things. And now I value Objectivism, understanding induction, philosophy, certain anime programs, and peace. I wasn't just passively accepting of these things or simply letting them come into my life without pursuing them; rather, I deeply cared about them and thought they were very important to me.

In the “Objectivism Through Induction” lecture course, Peikoff tells us what a young Ayn Rand would have said in response to certain questions, and I'd like to do so, too. So, let's say I was stopped here as a kid, and was asked, “what do you think the essence of egoism is?” I would say: “I choose my favorite things, I decide what I like and what I love.” That sounds like subjective values, and I had that kind of mindset until Objectivism taught me the real origin of values and why we choose them. That values perhaps start out subjectively makes sense, since the reality of values is experienced first, it comes from within your soul, and it's very personal. The discovery of the objective criteria for values (e.g. that life makes value possible) comes later on; you discover that the nature of value is dictated by facts, not merely by your wanting something, but the knowledge of the wanting and desire comes first.

Now, the role of the person as an achiever: (2) All my values require action by me of some kind. This later leads to the identification (and definition) of value as “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” I chose all sorts of things to sketch and color, I practiced different drawing techniques and attended art classes that I picked out; I bought red clothes and played with toys that had red apparel; I bought albums made by A Tribe Called Quest and listened to them; I read more about philosophy, induction, and Objectivism, and I shared my interests with my friends. All of these and more lead to this induction. Every time I chose a value, I had to act in some way to gain it and keep it. (The present induction is not discussing automatic values, like the assimilation of nutrients that goes on inside our bodies, as we're dealing with conscious, chosen values, the realm of ethical behavior.) Now, if you stopped a younger me at this point, and asked me what I thought egoism is, I would have a better answer: “I choose and go after all of my values.”

Now, we can approach the third stage: The common denominator of values, its underpinning. How can I reach this? I see all sorts of things that I want, and the things that other people want: how do I distinguish valuable things from things we mistakenly try to gain? It's helpful to note that I can't just observe whatever someone or myself pursues and say that it's selfishly good—I can't forget the question of whether their choice or value is rational or irrational (like the values of a heroine addict). Since I'm trying to reach the conclusion that egoism is good, I can't just pick values at random, genuinely good and genuinely destructive alike, and then decide what is good or proper—that will only lead to confusion. Before I can know that egoism is good, I need to know in some terms what "the good" is.

A lengthy aside: So here we need some rule which governs all normative induction (any induction which goes “you should do X”)--we can't simply observe things without evaluation. When I carried out the induction regarding values and choice, or about the actions I needed to take to achieve them, I didn't need any normative information; the first induction was merely a generalization that I choose all of my values, and the second induction was the generalization that all of my values require action to gain or achieve them. They were both about what is the case, plain descriptions of reality, but this third induction is different. We have to already know how to judge what is good in some sense in order to reach normative conclusions or principles. In determining what we already know about the “good,” we're not assuming egoism or Objectivism here, but something else: the assumption that, by the time we reach the field of ethics, we already know a great deal of virtues and values, and many vices and disvalues—just not technical issues, like the issue of egoism.

So it's assumed that you would know the elements of ethics, that people choose and pursue values, the difference between good and bad. You would know that courage is what a person uses to fight to keep their values (e.g. a princess) while under hostile opposition, even if the person is afraid. And you would know that being honest with a person shows him respect, while dishonesty is disrespectful. You can't set foot within ethics until you know that there's a difference between virtuous and vicious, between good and bad, proper and improper: you can't induce moral principles in a moral vacuum. We haven't produced a theory of how virtues like courage and values are all good, or the standard of value, or presented a defense, but it's assumed that we know some information pertaining to what things are right, and what are wrong. So we already need to know in some terms the difference of food and poison, of a thief and of someone stopping him, of a torturer and a rescuer, of someone listening to you play the violin and of something destroying your violin, of traveling as rest from working and of traveling as an escape from the authorities. We need to start with elementary things, and we form our principles on what we know or believe is proper behavior. Years later, we use our more advanced knowledge to spiral back and validate these beliefs, but we take them for granted in the beginning. Once we discover that something is wrong, we go back to the original beliefs and change it, which is the corrective aspect of induction, but this doesn't alter the fact that without moral distinctions at the beginning of this induction, you'll never figure out what is proper or improper.

So, to reach the kind of common denominator needed for the induction, we need to start with common-sense examples of what we think is good. This doesn't mean that one can start with anything one wants and call it “common-sense.” All of these common-sense values were known to civilizations for centuries and were known even to children, way before Objectivism ever existed, and it was more than enough information for thinkers to know what is proper and improper to some extent. These examples are: food, as against starvation; strength, as against weakness; being awake and alert as opposed to being asleep and in danger; knowledge as opposed to ignorance; praise as opposed to being ridiculed; some understanding of the golden rule as a way to treat others (“I wouldn't want to be treated like that by others, so I shouldn't treat them that way.”); entertainment as opposed to boredom.

It's a mistake to claim that you would need Objectivism to value these things: you don't need Objectivism to value food, clothing, or even friends, which is an abstract value. To give the final, definitive standard, you'd need to reach the conclusion that life is the standard of value (e.g. food is a value because of its impact on life), but you can't reach that principle without first having a large amount of preliminary values, and you can't judge these values in the beginning with such an abstract principle. So the stage we have here isn't complete ignorance or an arbitrary list of values, but neither is it Ayn Rand's philosophic identification of values. To make it through this induction, or any induction, or to understand Objectivism, you have to make peace with the fact that you have to start off with common-sense examples and observations, partial understandings and the fact that you might reach errors and mistakes. If you follow the inductive method, you'll eventually end up with a complete understanding and with all your errors corrected, and that's something you can either live with or you can't. Induction will thus seem like a waste to a polemicist, as he's doing this not to gain knowledge, but to argue; he'll get into trouble when he carries out inductions and it turns out that he's wrong about something.

Back to the issue at hand: What would constitute a list of common-sense values (once we know what a value is), sufficient for defining well-being? And what could we do with this list to get to the idea of a standard of value and thus of well-being?

I gave some examples of such values above, but here's another list: Art, food, clothing, shelter, entertainment, fame, a job, friends, health, transportation, sex. Art—it affects me by showing what I like, and it gives me joy and inspires me. Food—without it, I'll starve and die. Shelter—without it, I'm not protected from the environment. Clothing—it keeps me warm or cool, and it allows me to express myself. Entertainment—without it, life would be boring and joyless. Fame—without it, I might not make a lot of money and I won't be able to enjoy whatever money can buy. A job—I produce to stay alive and gain money, it gives me purpose and meaning, and I use money to enjoy my life. Friends—they wipe out loneliness, boredom, and they enhance my other values, like clothes (or playing a video game cooperatively). Health—without it, I might die, and I wouldn't be able to enjoy many things in life, like traveling the world. Transportation—without it, I would never be able to enjoy the wonders of the earth or do any exploration, or perhaps I would never get a chance to visit my family or enjoy a new start in a new location. Sex—without it, I have far less of a chance of having kids, or if I don't want that, I won't be able to experience certain pleasures and miss out on the entertainment and other benefits of that activity.

What's the common denominator in all of this, in somewhat loose terms? A full, rich, happy life, as the Greeks would call it. Life plus the enjoyment of life, life and happiness. That standard is sketchy, but it will serve the purpose of the induction. Some of the values don't directly support life, but enhance the quality of life, make it more enjoyable, like how friends can make problems in life more bearable, etc. It can't just be “happiness,” as that would be plain hedonism. If you say, just do whatever makes you feel happy, then you've closed the door to philosophy, as you're saying that we don't need any ethical guidance and that we can just rely on our emotions and whatever evaluations we've already made. So to bring the three inductions together:

I choose and achieve objects according to the standard of: that which fosters life and the enjoyment of life. Well-being means: that which fosters life and the enjoyment of life. Values are: the things I choose and achieve which foster life and the enjoyment of life. The definition of egoism used in the reduction was: each person should hold his own well-being as the supreme end of his actions. Now to reword it: each person should hold life and the enjoyment of life, which he himself has to choose and achieve, as the supreme end of his actions. This last sentence is what egoism means: you should be the beneficiary of your own actions, your values should ultimately improve life and its enjoyment. Now that we understand that, the last question is: is this legitimate?

This brings us to the beneficiary question: who is to get to benefit from this process? Whose life and enjoyment of life should be the paramount concern of the person who acts? Should the life involved be of the person who chooses and achieves things and does so by the standard of promoting life and the enjoyment of life, or should someone else's life and enjoyment be promoted? Here, we need a contrast: what do we need to differentiate egoism from here, in order to validate it?

The genus method would be very helpful here: the larger issue is the beneficiary of human action. Well, are humans the only ones who benefit from actions? Obviously not. Humans, animals, even plants act to gain values for a beneficiary. That's different from the mechanical actions of inanimate objects, like a rock, which has no beneficiary for its action of rolling. The next difference is between that of volitional and non-volitional living beings, as the non-volitional ones are excluded from the field of ethics. Now, among volitional beings, people, there aren't just egoists or altruists (who hold that someone else should be the ultimate beneficiary of your actions): the majority of people are eclectic, unprincipled. The benefit of the genus method is that we can now separate principled men from unprincipled men, and say that an ordinary person isn't an egoist or altruist but is eclectic, and does some egoist things and some altruist things. We're trying to validate something that is principled. So the genus method brought us from living things to volitional things to principled down to principled egoists versus principled altruists versus eclectics, and since we only want principled people, the ultimate contrast is that between principled egoists versus principled altruists. So in order to validate egoism, we need to contrast those whose principle is to aim at yourself as the ultimate beneficiary, versus those whose aim is something else as the ultimate beneficiary of action.

In general, there's three broad classes of altruism to consider, three things to which men have devoted their actions towards: God or some deity (religion), the group or class or race or society (communism, collectivism), or nature (environmentalists-ecologists). So, we need to induce from direct observations of men gaining values with themselves as the ultimate beneficiary as opposed to those who gain values with something else as the beneficiary—in other words, we want to observe egoism in action in contrast to altruism.

I'll start with egoism, and the point is to observe someone who chooses and creates values, achieves values, and has life and the enjoyment of life as the standard with him or herself as the beneficiary of the actions. As I did earlier, I'll use myself as an example, but the idea is to be able to observe a lot of instances of egoistic behavior, performed by multiple people in multiple contexts. It would be impossible to carry out every observation needed to validate this principle, so I'll only use myself as a sketch.

Food, clothing, and shelter are easy examples of values I would need as an egoist—without them, my well-being would be gone and my life would be in trouble. These values have myself as the ultimate beneficiary of my actions, not my friends, family, Objectivists, or anyone who reads my blog. Slightly harder cases would be playing with friends or drawing or reading a book, because I would need to understand abstract values as opposed to physical values like subsistence and coziness, and show how these abstract values are good for my mind, and thus good for my life, and that I'm the beneficiary of even these values. Even harder cases would be “love,” or “self-esteem,” as it isn't physically obvious what values are being achieved in those cases and they are more abstract than the values I've already named, I would have to think about the ways that I earn love or self-esteem through my actions and my interest in things, and then I'd have to make the connection to how these values are in accordance with my life's promotion and its enjoyment.

Such a procedure helps us understand how values that are usually thought to be altruistic, like love, can actually be selfish, and the reason why people don't think of it that way is because they don't understand “egoism,” and thus cannot determine how such values play into an egoist's life. Most people think that if you help someone and love someone, that's altruism. An egoist is not someone who does nothing for others, just as an altruist is not someone who never does anything for himself. Even the coiner of the term “altruism,” Auguste Comte, ate, slept, performed jobs, wrote and published essays, etc.--he did self-subsistent things too, but he would have said it was to accomplish the obligations he owes to others or something along those lines. By the same logic, Christians do self-subsistent things too but ultimately, it's to promote God's Plan, just as the communist proletariat do seemingly selfish things to ultimately benefit their own class as against the capitalists. The issue is really about the ultimate beneficiary and not the direct beneficiary.

Now, I can provide the best definition of egoism we've reached thus far: the pursuit in action, by your own creative effort, of objects chosen by you as necessary to your own life and happiness. This is what we have to validate, and this why we needed to work through the dictionary definition of egoism; it's hard to understand your well-being as the “end of action,” but easier to understand that it's your life and happiness' promotion as being the goal of objects, values chosen and pursued by you. There had to be some amount of content to egoism in order to validate it, and I've more or less provided the content: egoism consists of values, of choosing values, achieving values, determining the standard and the goal of values, and then it becomes a simple task to induce it.

Now, we must contrast this to altruism. It's very important that we drop all qualifications for altruism (e.g. selfless service for two years, for the poor, only on Christmas, etc.); we need altruism as a rule or principle, and not altruism as a set of exceptions or in eclectic situations. If we're going to commit ourselves to induction, then we should use induction for altruism as well as for egoism. There's no double standard here: if we're going for universal egoism, then we should contrast it to universal altruism, and that means using the same examples for both. It's unfair for you to have to induce universal egoism, and then for your opponent to restrict or limit his altruism (like using only examples that show his theory in a good light), and never even properly induce it. We should use the same examples and look at the contrast, and the ones you use to provide support for your theory will refute his theory. The resulting contrast will become a triple assault on the opposition's side, no matter the variant: “It's better to give than to receive”; “love involves sacrifice,” etc.

Since all the instances of value are chosen by you, are achieved by your action as necessary for your life and enjoyment, then the rejection of egoism is an assault on and an affront to your choice, your achievement, and your life and enjoyment of it. It's an all-out destruction: if you already know the connection between your knowledge and choices, then you know that your mind is what makes choices and achieves values—therefore, an assault on your values and choices is an assault on your thinking and thus your mind. Altruism—the rejection of egoism—is an assault on your mind, your effort, your creative action. In effect, this is what altruism says: “You shouldn't get the result of your actions or keep it, or really even enjoy it—ultimately, your life isn't about promoting your life or even enjoying it.” Your choice made it possible for things to be values, your actions brought them into existence or made it possible for you to enjoy them, your life and enjoyment made it necessary to choose an act, and this is inherent in the pattern of creating values and pursuing them. Who could proclaim to have a stake here except for yourself? You won't see these things without making the contrast of the same examples between two opposing theories.

So then how would altruism affect my values?

 Let's take food: I choose certain foods as values, like eggs, chicken, grapes, cookies, etc. and altruism is against that selfish mindset. Altruism would mean something like a communist/dictatorial government forcing me to eat soy beans that they ration out to everyone, on that grounds that it's for the “public good” and to accomplish something that's “bigger than me”: it's a negation of my choice. How about achieving the values, since it takes action by me to gain them: would I be entitled to them? Absolutely not: altruism would say that I must give up what I've worked for to someone who hasn't achieved those values. So, altruism is a negation of my achievement. And what of my life and its enjoyment? Well, someone else may need my food more desperately than I do, and altruism would demand that I take food as if it were medicine, just enough to stay alive so that I continue to serve others. So it's a rejection of my life and its enjoyment, the notion that I'm entitled to live my life in a way which I find satisfying and enjoyable.

Altruism cannot give me values as a reward for following its edicts, as that becomes selfish and egoistic: that's a flaw within the Christian notion that you do good things on earth and are rewarded with heaven in the next life; philosopher Immanuel Kant's altruism, in which the moral man is motivated to do things “from duty,” i.e., because it's his duty, with neither himself nor anyone else intentionally benefiting, is more consistent in this regard.  Egoism means keeping my values because my life and its enjoyment are promoted; altruism means that I would have to give up my values in the name of nothing I value (else it might become an egoistic motivation), and it tells me to do this not because I gain from doing so, but because of some authority, such as the Kantian “categorical imperative,” or someone's intuition, or a commandment.

What about the example of friends? I choose them, and I love and esteem them by my choice. Altruism says: love all equally. I had to take actions to achieve these values, I had to do things to earn the benefits of friendship and their love. Altruism says that love is causeless and unconditional, that I must love my enemies, that I must love my neighbor as myself. I am friends with certain people because they enhance my life and its enjoyment. Altruism says to bless those who hate and persecute me, to feed my enemy when he is hungry, and give him a drink when he is thirsty, and to turn the other cheek. Altruism says value something and then throw it away, give it to someone else. It wouldn't be a value to anyone if I didn't value it, and then I'm supposed to abandon it.

In this connection, I could reach the conclusion that: Egoism is the affirmation of the conditions for value and thus the affirmation of value as such; altruism is a negation of the conditions of value while simultaneously demanding that you pursue values anyway.

A person should be an egoist because choosing and achieving his values promotes the standard of value, the standard of proper behavior: life, and the enjoyment of life.

[Next post in the series: "Reduction of Justice"]

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