Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Values as objective

What makes something good? Is it how you feel about it, how the universe "built" it, or how something in the universe relates to you?

These are 3 different philosophical approaches to "the good", which are Intrinsic, Subjective and Objective:
  • Intrinsic: "Eating a banana is good because food is good"
  • Subjective: "Eating this banana is good because I feel like it"
  • Objective: "Eating this banana is good for me because it gives me energy, health and enjoyment"

  • Intrinsic: "Religion is good because that's the nature of reality as dictated to us by god"
  • Subjective: "Religion is good because I feel good whenever I read the bible"
  • Objective: "Religion contradicts reason, which is requires for my survival, therefore it's bad"

A description of the three approaches by Ayn Rand, from "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" (in blue):
"There are, in essence, three schools of thought on the nature of the good: the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective.
The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, regardless of their context and consequences, regardless of any benefit or injury they may cause to the actors and subjects involved. It is a theory that divorces the concept of “good” from beneficiaries, and the concept of “value” from valuer and purpose—claiming that the good is good in, by, and of itself."
"Intrinsic value" is the approach of the man that says that what makes something good is how the universe "built" it.
Examples of an intrinsic approach to values:
  • "The elimination of the human genes in the process of evolution is good because this is the nature of the universe, or the will of the universe, if you will"
  • "The existence of living things is good" (This implies that something can be good regardless of someone for which it would be good)
  • "Having sex before marriage is bad" ("Why? Because god said so" - or "it simply IS")
  • "Cutting down plants is bad because it hurts mother earth"
The Subjective approach:

"The subjectivist theory holds that the good bears no relation to the facts of reality, that it is the product of a man’s consciousness, created by his feelings, desires, “intuitions,” or whims, and that it is merely an “arbitrary postulate” or an “emotional commitment.”

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."

Subjective approach examples:
  • "Religion is good because whatever makes the person happy is good for him"
  • "What I see as good is not the same as what you see as good, therefore, there is no real concept of "good" or "bad"; In your worldview, a killer is bad, but in his worldview, he is not."
  • "Nobody really knows what is good or bad for anyone - it's a matter of individual feeling."
  • "I am good because I am me, and every person thinks of himself as good." (implies that a person is good because he wants to be good, not because he has some criterion to judge himself by)

"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."

Objective approach examples:
  • "This medicine is vluable to me because it will cure my illness"
  • "I value independent thinking because it allows me to create material good necessary for my life"
  • "Listening to this kind of music is good for me because it uplifts my spirit and inspires me to acquire the success I dream of having"
  • "Listening to this kind of music is bad for me because it drives me further into despair, despite the fact it provides temporary emotional relief" (a dis-value)
  • "This woman is no good for me because she is a liar and a cheat who will end up hurting me" (again a dis-value)
Notice that in each case a fact of reality is identified, which is relevant to the person's well being - not just his momentary feeling, but that which allows good feelings in general. He holds his own life (not someone else's) as the standard to judge what is good and bad for him, and ultimately it his his choice and understanding that makes something a value to him.

In summary:

If the intrinsicist followed his idea of the good to the fullest, he'd be like a robot acting to satisfy the universe or "god" or some unquestioned moral code. In one example, he'd be trying to eliminate himself in favor of the next step in evolution, or in favor of preservation of "mother earth".

If the subjectivist would follow his ideas to the fullest, he'd be looking only at his inner state to decide what is good for him - never at reality. If he craves food he'd be fat, and if he's fat, then he'll say that being fat is good, because he decides what is good.

Only the objectivist (denoting here: a man who uses the objective approach to values) lives with his eyes open, considering both the facts of reality, how they relate to his well being and to the satisfaction of his spiritual needs.
What makes something good for someone is not just how it makes him feel, nor how the universe is built - but his own identification that the thing promotes his physical and spiritual well being.

Like the subjectivist - he strive to enjoy things - to give his emotions satisfaction and achieve pleasure. But unlike the subjectivist he uses reason to identify how to achieve enjoyment, not mere emotions.

Like the instrincisist he strives to follow a moral code - but unlike the intrinsicist he does not take a moral code from "the universe", from god or from society as a given - he develops his own moral code by discovering the principles necessary for his life and happiness.
Personal experience, books and other people can be of great aid in this process, but essentially the process is done with his own judgement.

Under this process the values he chooses are objective: They are his choice, but not an arbitrary one: They are a result of correct identification of the facts of reality in relation to him.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Values without a valuer

What is "important" in life? A commonly accepted answer is: Getting your name down in history books, bringing progress to humanity, helping people, changing things on a major scale. 
Then, there is a sub-version of what is "important": the idea of what is "successful". "Successful" means being famous, having a triple degree in something, rich, popular, good looking.

Even though this concept of "important" refers to an individual, and what an individual should do - What it fails to consider is the actual individual. It prescribes what is "important" to an individual while making irrelevant the actual opinion of an individual person. 

Ethics taken as duty are experienced as an end in themselves: A person is honest for the sake of being good, he does well in school for the sake of being good, he goes on a diet for the sake of being "successful" etc'.

Philosophically he views morality as duty: as a set of rights and wrongs dictated to him from something outside himself (like society or god). 

 this view of morality puts a wedge between his self esteem and desires; because he needs to choose if he wants to be good and obedient, or pursue his own desires and goals and give up being good (which means to give up self-esteem). 

Philosophically, a proper moral code depends on man's choice to live and achieve his needs. It's opposite, a moral code prescribed as duty, makes personal goals and thinking irrelevant, and is therefore improper as a guide to life (which is what ethics in essence IS).

Psychologically, the distinction between morality from choice or from duty is not between following good morality or bad morality - rather the method by which a man accepts his moral code and why he accepts it. 
Does he choose his moral code to better his life, or does he accept it unquestionably, as something above himself to live up to? 
If a man sees morality as "the good" (i.e. "this is what I should do to be good!") and not as "the good for me" ("I should do X if I want good things for myself") then he accepts morality as a matter of duty, regardless of how good the moral code is philosophically. 

The person with the first approach ("be good!") has no explanation of why these things are important. It seems to him like there is no explanation - those things simply ARE important, even though he never reached this conclusion himself nor recall ever choosing those things. His concept of "important" is divorced from his desires and ideas. 

For many it can be difficult to grasp that a proper moral code actually depends on their choice; Many of us are educated to accept what is "good" or "bad" as irrelevant to our choice and beyond our reasoning.
Kids are taught what is "important", such as; it is important to get good grades, important to keep a safe, traditional path vs. pursuing a "hopeless" dream, important to have friends, not to upset anyone, to "get along". It is important to do "great things", to have money, important to share, important to be modest, nice, etc'. All this is demanded from a child as measurement of how good he is, without providing an explanation what makes these things good 
for the child. Without giving him incentive or reason to choose this course of behavior himself. [Additional note at the end regarding this point]

This sort of "education" sets the psychological state of mind for having values without a valuer. To pursue "important" things that one does not enjoy and that are not part of individual self-fulfillment, rather they stand above one's self, as a test of his worth. 

What kind of psychology leads a man in one direction or the other? I find that the answer lies in the trait of selfishness. 

A selfish person is primarily motivated to achieve his own enjoyment. And unless some enjoyment logically follows in exchange for the effort of acting - he does not move an inch. When there is something he values - he does not give it up. 
A non-selfish person gives up his pleasure and his values easily if he is taught that the good is to do so.  He does not act to achieve pleasure - rather he acts in a "moral" way for the sake of not disappointing himself - for the fear of being bad or the attempt to be good, without any further purpose - without attempting to gain something of personal importance to him, something he enjoys. 

For example: Suppose someone enjoys romantic relationships. And some day he learns that according to an accepted ethical principle, this kind of behavior is bad. If he is selfish he will say: "To hell with this principle, it's taking away my enjoyment. Unless I understand in what way this principle is good for my life, I say to hell with it". 
The person who sees morality as duty, however, will think: "Well, to be good I must give up my pleasure from dating. Being good is more important than my pleasure". 

In what way, then, can morality be selfishly chosen? 

As we grow up we learn that a certain course of action is required to achieve the things we aim at getting. We look for some guidance for the kind of person we want to be in order to deal with the difficulties in our lives and enjoy it, we look for some ideal or role model for guidance of the kind of person we want to be. Most people do not realize that this is their first step to choose a moral code - and not what they were taught to believe is "the good". 

The correct method to choose a moral code is highly personal: It is acting as the kind of person you are inspired to be, for the sake of achieving things you enjoy. And the process of integrating a chosen moral code to one's life goes through one's ability to understand it.


Most of us get educated with one bad idea or another. It is therefore important to make sure what we consider as important actually serves our enjoyment and well being. 

If there is one advice I could offer someone who wants to get rid of morality from duty it would be - focus on your pleasure, use the fullest capacity of your reasoning mind to maximize your enjoyment through the whole of your life. Learn to notice what you enjoy and what you drag yourself through in order to be "good". 
One cannot chose a career or personality that are good for him and yet make him self-alienated and bored.

The purpose of morality compatible with human life is to provide us the principles to guide our lives: to teach us the kind of person we need to be in order to enjoy our lives and sustain them.

Don't give up your life for any purpose less than that. 

[Note: to some degree, a child always acts without fully understanding the benefit of some behavior to his life. It is the role of his parents to teach him to act in a certain way. But the right way to motivate him to do it, while he learns the importance of that behavior for himself, is to give (or take) values, and not by presenting the rule as a gauge of his worth.
For example: You can motivate a child to learn to read by promising a prize. But a bad way to motivate him would be to present the activity as an end in itself: in the form of "if you learn how to read you are good and I will love you, and if you do not you are bad and I will not hug you", which teaches him that "good" and "bad" are impersonal concepts.]