[Note: Jacob T. Brunton is philosophically sophisticated and usually argues civilly. These characteristics led me to give him the benefit of every doubt when it came to intellectual honesty. I am not one who is quick to judge such a person an incorrigible evader or intellectually dishonest, since I think that there are many deep, yet honest errors that smart people can make in thinking about philosophy. But through argument with Mr. Brunton on multiple occasions, I have been given the evidence to conclude, beyond any doubt, that he is not honest in his philosophical viewpoints; especially in his regard for the Bible.
My past discussions with Mr. Brunton can still be informative to others, and so I will leave them as they are. But he will no longer be allowed to comment on this blog, and I will make no further comments in direct response to him on any blog. — 6-27-2013]
By the nature of the following refutation of determinism, it can also be considered a proof (1) of (libertarian-type) volition. It is a refutation of any theory that would deny the existence of non-necessitated events–in the form of fundamental, agent-controlled choices–located in a conceptual consciousness, including incompatibilist determinism and compatibilism.
Here is a short video (by someone else) explaining the general outlines of the argument:
(1) The argument shows that volition is a prerequisite of all knowledge and that the denial of volitional choice implies self-contradiction, thus establishing volitional choice as an axiom of epistemology. Strictly speaking, I think, by Leonard Peikoff’s definitions, this is not a proof, but an axiomatic validation. It establishes the axiom as absolutely and unquestionably true, but does not involve the specific process of logical proof of the positive proposition. The positive proposition is self-evident in each individual’s experience of existence.
The following article is not a general proof of the Objectivist principle that the initiation of physical force is destructive to human life; but it will show that taxation is equivalent to robbery and, when carried out for wealth redistribution, is actually more harmful to more people than the robberies committed by criminals in First-World countries. (A general proof of the destructiveness of initiated force does exist, and I may go through it at some point in the future.)
The Hypothetical Showing the Connection
If I have earned, say, $1,000 this week through my own labor, and another man comes up to me, points a gun at me, and tells me to give him the money, so he can pay his rent, is this robbery? Is it legal for him to do it? What if he tells me it’s for his friend’s rent? Is that robbery/legal? What if he gets 9 of his friends and they all tell me I need to give him my money? Is that robbery/legal? What if the 10 men write up a document that says I have to give him my money, and they include me in a vote to affirm or reject the “law” that says I should give him my money? They all vote “yes” on the “law” and I vote ”no.” “Now,” they tell me, “we as a society of 11 have drafted a law that says that you have an obligation to give us the money. We have taken a vote and you have been outvoted. As a part of our society, you now owe us this money. If you don’t give it to us, we will imprison you at gunpoint. If you don’t like what we are doing, you can leave our territory.” Is THIS robbery? Yes, the same forcible imposition of the wills of others upon me has been made. Is it legal? Yes, actually; it is now “legal,” because a law has been voted on and passed. It is legal robbery. So, the question is: How many people does it take before this practice ceases to be robbery? A hundred? A thousand? Ten million? Continue reading →
After a brief introduction to Atlas Shrugged, this essay provides a very good overview of the alternative between altruism and egoism. While not a work of technical philosophy, it is substantial: it quotes philosophers and textbooks that explain the meaning of altruism and clearly differentiates what rational egoism means for one’s life, versus what altruism means. It also generally outlines Ayn Rand’s argument for life as the standard of value and for rational egoism.
If human beings wish to live, they need morality because only certain types of actions will lead to successful life as a human being, while others will necessarily lead to suffering and toward death; yet human beings do not automatically choose life-promoting actions, and they do not automatically know what is life-promoting for them, especially in the long term.
A certain fundamental happiness is the marker of a flourishing life, and the fullest, long-term happiness is an individual’s proper purpose in adhering to moral principles. What serves his own flourishing life (and thus, long-term happiness) is what defines an individual’s self-interest, (i.e. his proper values.) Interactions with others are part of morality, but are not the central concern; the central concern is the reality of the individual’s condition with respect to the attainment of life-sustaining/enriching values.
Rationality is the fundamental virtue that subsumes all other virtues. Its being the fundamental virtue means that reason is the means by which an individual discovers what is in his self-interest, and that action based on reason is the only means by which he can achieve his proper values, (thus building happiness.)
The six subsidiary virtues that Ayn Rand identified are aspects of rationality. They are: honesty, independence, productiveness, integrity, justice, and pride. Pride is not boastfulness or foolhardiness, but a dedication to excellence and moral self-improvement.
Attempting to sacrifice the rational interests of others as a means to one’s own happiness, whether done through force or deception, is doomed to fail. One’s own happiness cannot be built on the robbery or enslavement of others, because human life depends on the production of values that sustain it. Those on whom the parasite feeds are worn down or destroyed, and find it in their rational interest to sabotage and get rid of the parasite. By using force or deception, the parasite is working to sabotage the victims’ motivation and rational judgment, and it is their motivation and rational judgment in the production of values on which he is depending for his livelihood.
The rational interests of individuals in everyday life in society do not conflict, because life-sustaining values are not a static quantity to be fought over, but are created by effort based on reasoning, and are thus variable and potentially unlimited.
Human beings are a combination of the physical and mental, and an individual’s self-interest includes psychological values. Self-interest is not to be reduced to only the physical, such as money. Other people can be of tremendous psychological value (i.e. friends, lovers, children.) That an individual’s ultimate standard of value is his own flourishing life does not mean that he disregards others, or that he simply uses them for material gain. He can gain major psychological benefits from contact with other people of good character who reflect his values.
Objectivist moral principles allow for a vast range of optional values within their practice. They allow for different career choices, (including full-time parenthood,) different tastes in art (literature, movies, music) and different amounts and types of social contact. One’s own emotions about different options are typically among the relevant factors to consider in deciding which optional values to pursue.
A basic (non-self-sacrificial) benevolence toward others is in one’s own interest in an essentially free society. This typically includes being courteous and respectful to strangers, and considerate to friends. This is due to the fact that others are potential values to oneself, whether as trading partners, friends, lovers, or simply as general innovators whose ideas can improve one’s own life. In a free, rights-respecting society, strangers are much more likely to be allies than enemies, in fundamental terms, and it’s not in one’s interest to push such people away without good reason. (Business competitors are not enemies; see Atlas Shrugged.)
Just like principles of physics and free-market economics, principles of morality are contextual absolutes. This means that they are not like Biblical commandments that are supposed to always apply, no matter the situation. Proper moral principles apply only within certain circumstances, but when they do apply, they are absolute, and cannot be violated with impunity. For example, the principle that “the initiation of physical force is immoral/evil (destructive to human life)” does not apply in the face of an immediate physical threat to someone’s life. Initiating force to push one’s unsuspecting friend out of the path of a falling boulder is a good act. In ordinary circumstances, when human life depends on the free exercise of each individual’s mind, the initiation of force is evil because it destroys and/or paralyzes the minds of victims and subverts the mental functioning of the perpetrator, to the extent it is initiated.
(1) Dictionary definition of: egoism – 1. the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one’s personal interest; selfishness (opposed to altruism). … 3. Ethics. the view that each person should regard his own welfare as the supreme end of his actions [Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1973]