Monday, July 20, 2009

Objectivity in Truth and the Good

Ayn Rand describes three theories of the good in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:
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.
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.

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.

Intrincism is wrong because it omits the relationship of value to valuer, which I will describe as an impersonal theory. Subjectivism is wrong because it omits reality, identity and causal relatonships, so its assertions are necessarily arbitrary. Objectivism includes both the personal relationship of valuer to value and recognition of causal relations that create value. It struck me that there was one combnation missing that would complete the taxonomy of possible theories: a combination of an impersonal theory of value and causal relations. Is there is any actual theory that has these perspectives? Yes there is, we call it determinism.

Determinism is not an actual theory of the good so Rand was correct to omit it above.

The evaluation above takes these ideas at face value, i.e. literally. In actual implementation practice does not match the theory. For example, there is no such thing as an actual intrinsic value even though there are intrinsicists. The things intrinsicists assert to be intrinsic values are arbitrary, which makes them subjectivists. There are such things as subjective values, for example the relationship of a drug addict to his drug is one of valuing. Valuing is an action which if not willfully directed to be objective will default to being subjective. Subjectivism creates values which are good in theory but not in practice by evading identity and causality. Determinists are rationalists spinning a theory from an arbitrary starting point in science; the arbitariness relegates them to a species of subjectivism.

A diagram:The perspectives and methods of thinking described above can be fleshed out with concrete examples of content compatible with each for other fields of philosophy. (Given in epistemlogical/ethical/political order.)

Impersonal/arbitrary: intrinsicism
holy relics/religious duty
divine totalitarianism

Impersonal/caused: determinism
dialectal materialism/evolutionary psychology/social duty
scientific totalitarianism

Personal/Arbitrary: subjectivism
primacy of emotions/whims
anarchy and then obedience to a totalitarian

Personal/caused: Objectivism
perception/integration/contextual knowledge
personal values/virtues

Objectivity is a personal perspective on causal relations. Objectivity rests on you identifiying the causal factors that make something true or valuable or lawful. Impartiality or the third-person perspective is not necessary to objectivity and will actually make objectivity impossible to apply to your own life.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Theme

This blog will be about applications of objectivity as understood by Ayn Rand and her philosophy of Objectivism. To be "objective" is to willfully adhere to reality by following certain rules of method, a method based on facts and appropriate to man's form of cognition. The quote below is from the Ayn Rand Lexicon entry for objectivity :

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness and can be obtained only by a certain mental process which is required of every man who seeks knowledge—that there is no substitute for this process, no escape from the responsibility for it, no shortcuts, no special revelations to privileged observers—and that there can be no such thing as a final “authority” in matters pertaining to human knowledge. Metaphysically, the only authority is reality; epistemologically—one’s own mind. The first is the ultimate arbiter of the second.

The concept of objectivity contains the reason why the question “Who decides what is right or wrong?” is wrong. Nobody “decides.” Nature does not decide—it merely is; man does not decide, in issues of knowledge, he merely observes that which is. When it comes to applying his knowledge, man decides what he chooses to do, according to what he has learned, remembering that the basic principle of rational action in all aspects of human existence, is: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means that man does not create reality and can achieve his values only by making his decisions consonant with the facts of reality.