Thursday, April 14, 2011

Induction and Reduction of “Values as Objective”

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The point of this essay is to induce and reduce the principle that “values are objective,” and we’re going to use Ayn Rand’s own life to reach this, since it was her identifications that led to the objective theory of values in the first place.

Here are two deductive (but not rationalistic) approaches to demonstrating that values are objective:

(1) "Value requires a valuer […] [Moral evaluation] is possible only if man chooses to pursue a certain goal, which then serves as his standard of value. The good, accordingly, is not good in itself. Objects and actions are good to man and for the sake of reaching a specific goal.

But if values are not intrinsic attributes, neither are they arbitrary decrees. The realm of facts is what creates the need to choose a certain goal. This need arises because man lives in reality, because […] the requirements of his survival, which he does not know or obey automatically, are set by reality (including his own nature). [Man’s evaluations] do not have their source in anyone’s baseless feelings; they are discovered by a process of rational cognition
Moral value does not pertain to reality alone or to consciousness alone. […] The good, accordingly, is neither intrinsic nor subjective, but objective.
[T]he good is an aspect of reality in relation to man. That is: the good designates facts—the requirements of survival—as identified conceptually, and then evaluated by human consciousness in accordance with a rational standard of value (life).”
[Peikoff, “Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand,” p. 241-43.]

(2) "The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness; the subjectivist theory holds that the good resides in man’s consciousness, independent of reality.

The objective theory holds that the good is neither an attribute of 'things in themselves' nor of man’s emotional states, but an evaluation of the facts of reality by man’s consciousness according to a rational standard of value. (Rational, in this context, means: derived from the facts of reality and validated by a process of reason.) The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man—and that it must be discovered, not invented, by man. Fundamental to an objective theory of values is the question: Of value to whom and for what? An objective theory does not permit context-dropping or 'concept-stealing'; it does not permit the separation of 'value' from 'purpose,' of the good from beneficiaries, and of man’s actions from reason."

What we want to answer is: how did Ayn Rand reach the theory of objective values from her own experiences in reality?

We should quickly realize that it wasn’t as if Rand had given no thoughts as to what values are before reaching her theories of concepts and of objectivity. If that were the case, not only would she have not lived very long, but she wouldn’t have had any values to apply her theory to. What must have happened is that she had reached an understanding about value’s status, source and validity well before forming her theory of concept-formation or of objectivity, and these latter theories allowed her to reach her final theory of values and other identifications (like the connections between objective values, capitalism, and force).

Rand had many explicit values, and she formed an idea of values at an early age. The fictional hero Cyrus Paltons from Maurice Champagne’s The Mysterious Valley, the works of Victor Hugo, skyscrapers she saw, American movies, and tiddlywink music. She also had intense disvalues: the small talk of the Russians of her youth, communism and its effects on her life, folksy, average protagonists, etc. Having intense values is the precondition to any further advancement in regard to values. If you don’t become passionate about your values at an early age, then the ability and motivation to understand their role in your life will never arise, or it will be very difficult to appreciate.

So, what inductions did Rand have to make about values from considering her own values?

By reducing the concepts “values” and “objectivity,” we can reach two inductions: The role of choice in values, and the role of reason and reality in values.

Human Values Involve Choice and Reason

Something that Rand knew as a kid was that her values were not automatic, and not self-evident. Many people did not have her values, and many did not agree with them. What Rand gleamed from this is that values are, in some way, personal to the person valuing; they require the decision of or input from the person. Values aren’t thrust upon people by reality or their particular situations. Some view or decision or input from the person who values is needed.

Another idea that Rand learned was that her values were not on the same level as that of others. She came to disagree with the prevalent idea that values are arbitrary, mere opinions, and that no one’s values are better than anyone else’s. She could give reasons for why she valued things, whereas she would note that other people who disagreed with her couldn’t provide any reasons for their values. Later on, she would induce that all ideas have to be reached by reason, and that this has a relation to the role of values.

In some sense, Rand grasped that values involve her choice and the functioning of her reason. She learned that values have some relationship to the facts and don’t pertain to just your wishes, that you have to understand these facts with your mind in order for your choices to be rational. On the one hand, she learned that values involved her knowledge and her thoughts, whereas on the other hand, those who disagreed with her would preach blind obedience to holy commandments or to some authority. She knew in an introspective way that if she didn’t understand the reasons for something, then she would openly oppose the view that it was a value to her because some authority said so. She knew that her values had to be reasonable, and that is why she would choose them. So when arbitrary commands were issued to her as duties, like “don’t read so much, be more social, stop being so intellectual and intense,” she would despise them and disobey them. Her view of reason and values, combined with the non-value of other people’s commandments towards her resulted in a generalization that she knew very well from her own experiences, that “nothing is valuable until or unless it passes the test of my own reason.”

From an early age, Rand knew that both choice and reason-recognizing-facts are involved in values properly.

“God Said: ‘Take What You Want and Pay for It.’”

With the knowledge that values involve both human choice and reason grasping facts, she could successfully deal with opposing views in philosophy that she would encounter in high school and in college. The “Duty” school of the Kantians and Christians: they are very similar to the people in her neighborhood who would tell her to do something simply because she “has” to, that it’s her “duty” as a girl or a child, etc. The school of subjectivists-skeptics whose view was that nothing is certain, so anything goes or is equal to anything else: she believed that some values were better than others; some values are based on reason and facts, and some were not. Values for her were not an issue of “do whatever you want,” and not an issue of uncritical obedience to someone’s edicts or commands.

Eventually, the question arose, “how do I reconcile these two, values involving choice, and values involving reality?” The history of philosophy basically split on this question, taking one side or the other. If values are based on choices, then values are subjective, it’s essentially up to you to decide them, and reality has no say in the matter. If values are based on reality, then it’s like the law of gravity, and you have no choice in the matter, you just have to obediently accept the values that reality hands down, and that’s the intrinsic school. She learned something about both choice and reality that allowed her to combine the two while not getting trapped in one side or the other.

What she learned that allowed her to advance in this issue was a form of causality, represented by her favorite Spanish proverb: “God said: Take what you want and pay for it.” In her interpretation, this means that you choose a goal, an object that you want (the role of choice here), and reality sets the course to reach the goal, and the consequences of the achievement that result. Reality sets the cause-and-effect, the means required and the consequence, and one’s choice sets the ultimate purpose for acting. At this stage of her thinking, a choice was rational when you knew your reasons for doing it, when you knew the means required to reach your goal, and when you knew and accepted the consequences that would result.

(Later on, she would connect this thinking with Aristotle’s doctrine of final causation:
In order to make the choices required to achieve his goals, a man needs the constant, automatized awareness of the principle which the anti-concept “duty” has all but obliterated in his mind: the principle of causality—specifically, of Aristotelian final causation (which, in fact, applies only to a conscious being), i.e., the process by which an end determines the means, i.e., the process of choosing a goal and taking the actions necessary to achieve it. ( ))
In some sense, she knew that this didn’t completely answer the status of value, because it left open the question, “What is the status of the basic goal or decision or choice?”

Could the Spanish proverb mean:

“Choose whatever you want as the goal of your life, and then follow reality in reaching it?” If it did mean that, it would be a complete surrender to subjectivism. Joseph Stalin could say, “I pick destroying millions of people,” and his regime carried that out in reality, he took whatever steps were necessary to accomplish it. He also accepted the consequences: if socialist revolutionaries, conspirators, freedom fighters, etc. tried to kill him, he ordered thousands of his guards to protect him while living in his country house, and had food tasters at every meal to ensure that he didn’t die of some hidden poison in his food or drinks. So if the test of the proverb was, “consistency with the goal you choose, no matter what it is,” then Stalin would have passed it. And that’s why the proverb alone can’t be the basis for values in reality: it gives far too much emphasis on the “choice” component of values as a primary, and not enough emphasis on the fact that reason or reality should be guiding your choice, even in the case of a basic choice.

“Life” Makes “Value” Possible and Necessary

If we reduce “values are objective,” we’ll reach something that points back at that question I posited, about the status of the basic choice or goal.

“Values are a means to an end.” This is something established by the reality of cause-and-effect, and by simply introspecting on one’s values. Rand probably reached this induction by thinking about what goals she wanted to accomplish by reading Victor Hugo’s works, or watching American movies, or listening to Tiddlywink music, as they were means to an end of hers in one way or another.

The problem, which she didn’t solve until her 40’s, was “what is the ultimate goal that will serve as a standard of value?” and further, “how do we relate it to reality?” Discovering the ultimate goal would allow us to tie all values to reality, and if it turns out that it is an issue that we have a choice about, then everything can be integrated together because it will be choice and reality together with values in some way.

From there on out, she would be on a course to find an ultimate goal and standard of value that we have a choice to adopt or not, but was required by reality in that it still had to be discovered. The results of her search can be read in Galt’s speech and in “The Objectivist Ethics.” Through a series of identifications, she realized that living things have needs, and they have goals that require actions on their part to satisfy these needs—living things are goal-directed, and face an alternative of life or death, existence or non-existence. Inanimate objects don’t require anything to remain the way they are (they only need to be left alone), and nothing matters to them, even if they are reduced to ashes (or subatomic particles)—they have no needs, and so they merely react with no negative or positive consequences for them. At some point, she connected this train of thought to her earlier identification that “values are that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” Combining these points, she discovered that values are what living things act to gain and/or keep, ultimately to remain alive (through fulfilling whatever subordinate end the value exists for). Life, she reasoned, is a series of actions generated by the living thing itself, designed to sustain the thing’s existence, and the means of sustaining itself is successfully satisfying its needs through value-achievement.

(Historically, she said that she didn’t fully understand how “value” depends on “life” until after “The Fountainhead,” so she likely reached her mature, philosophical argument for her ethical views while writing notes for “Atlas Shrugged.” For instance, she said that while writing “The Fountainhead,” she didn’t realize that even weeds have values. See “100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand,” p. 335.)

These identifications allowed her to change her understanding of the concepts of “life” and “value,” such that one would depend on the other. She notes that our automatic pleasure-pain mechanism indicates what is the right or wrong action in a given context, and that the standard being used is the conscious organism’s own life; she also states that our emotional mechanism has two basic emotions, joy and suffering, and that these operate under a standard of value that is chosen by us, determined by how we choose to live. Both pleasure and joy indicate that a value is being achieved, and both are indications that the organism in question is furthering his life (and the opposite for pain and suffering). From observations and reasoning such as these (and many more in addition), she came to the pivotal conclusions that both the reality and very concept of “value” is made possible and necessary by the reality and concept of “life.”

“Life” (that is, the existence of living things and the concept of “life”) makes “value” possible because values require the accomplishment of a goal in the face of an alternative, such that the action’s success or failure makes a difference to the thing that acts; inanimate objects have nothing at stake, and matter merely changes its form, never ceasing to exist—when living things exist, so do values. “Life” makes “value” necessary because living things do face an alternative of life or death, and can lose their lives if they fail to achieve their values—it is impossible for a life to continue without accomplishing the values that its nature requires.

In one grand-scale integration, she came to three important conclusions about life which would allow her to solve her problem about what the “standard of value” could be: she determined that life is the ultimate end or goal, life is an end-in-itself, and life is the ultimate value. Life isn’t a means to anything else except continued living, continued existence, so fulfilling life only results in more life that requires action to sustain, and this is why it’s an “end-in-itself,” not a means to any other end. It’s the ultimate end or goal, because all of the other goals are means to the end of keeping the living thing within the realm of reality, to keep it alive, just like one sleeps, eats, or drinks to remain alive. And it is the ultimate value because it is for the sake of life that actions are taken to achieve other values. With all of these inductions clear to her, she reached her seminal induction: “life is the standard of value.”

Life is the Standard of Value

A standard is an abstract reference point or principle that we use to measure or gauge things in order to guide us in carrying out a specific purpose. By taking “life” as the standard of value, we can observe the effects of our purported values on life, whether positive or negative, and thus determine whether it is a genuine value or not. This is the way in which Rand held that life, the ultimate value and end-in-itself, could set the standard by which all lesser goals could be evaluated. Whatever furthered the life of an organism is the good, and whatever threatened its life is the evil.

Once she reached the principle that “life is the standard,” she began the process of analyzing all of her accepted values, showing that they were all reducible to “life is the standard.” Reason, virtue, production, sex, happiness, art, self-esteem, purpose, morality, individual rights, etc., are all examined under this new principle of hers, and the principle became central to the philosophy of Objectivism as a result. Not only could she tie all of her values to reality with this overarching principle (in addition to the specific reasons she had before for holding those things as values), but she could also integrate this principle with her view that human values involve choice, too: “life being the standard” was something that a person had to choose. If a person didn’t choose life, then Rand was now in the position to show the person that the whole issue of what is good or bad for them became philosophically unintelligible without choosing life.

A proper value, Rand now believed, means a goal that was chosen in accordance with reality by comparison to an ultimate goal and standard of value, which is life based on reality.

Values are Objective

She was ready to advance another stage higher than even all of these previous integrations once she fully developed her theory of concept-formation and her reformulation of objectivity. Once her knowledge of objectivity grew, she only needed to integrate the process of forming concepts with the process of forming values. Both concepts and human values involve the awareness of something in reality in addition to something contributed by human consciousness—in the case of concepts, the contribution is measurement-omission; in the case of values, it is the choice to live. Rand could then say that values are objective because they are formed by a definite method, but not by some authority claiming that something in reality is an intrinsic value, and not by subjective, arbitrary feelings. This method involves two factors, just like in the case of concepts: existence and consciousness. Values are objective because the good is an aspect of reality in relation to human beings, just as our concepts are, and this means that logic can be used to evaluate what we claim to be our values using the standard of life. Rand reached the theory of objective values in 1965-66, soon after realizing the significance of her expansion of the concept of objectivity, and so she reached this idea at around the age of 60, and it was a theory that she pretty much worked her whole life to formulate.

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