Saturday, January 23, 2010

Summary of "The Objectivist Ethics", 4/8

[This is the 4th in a series of posts summarizing Ayn Rand's 1961 article, "The Objectivist Ethics". The first post is here.]

Man does not have a built-in code of values which tells him how to survive, he must discover this knowledge. But his mind does not function automatically, it is volitional: he is conscious (or not) by choice.

There are no perceptual mechanisms or instincts by which man may survive; human life requires conceptual knowledge and conceptual values. A concept is a mental integration of two or more concretes, isolated via abstraction and united with a definition. It is by concepts that man is able to grasp facts beyond the range of the moment, and to plan his days ahead, but concepts cannot be formed or used automatically.

The process of concept-formation involves a method of using one's consciousness which can be termed "conceptualizing." It involves an active process of conceptually identifying one's perceptual impressions, and expanding upon one's integrated sum of knowledge. This is the process of "thinking," and the faculty that works by means of concepts is "reason." Reason is the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's senses. Thinking is not automatic: man is free to think or not, to focus his mind or not.

An unfocused mind drifts according to the chance stimuli of an undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and the random associations of the subconscious. An unfocused mind is "conscious" in a subhuman sense, but in the sense proper to man it is not "conscious." When someone chooses to not think, he is choosing to not be alive as a human. Human life depends upon the products of volitional acts of thought, such as agriculture, medicine, and law.

The responsibility for actively thinking includes discovering and using the correct mental methods and acquiring the correct content. A person is responsible for discovering and using logic, for choosing the right goals and values, and for the burden of any errors made.

Man is not given any answers automatically, and ethics is the science which answers the question of which goals and values are right. This is why man needs ethics. The doctrines which say that ethics is the province of the irrational, or of another world or another life, are dead wrong: man's survival objectively requires ethics.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Summary of "The Objectivist Ethics", 3/8

[This is the 3rd in a series of posts summarizing Ayn Rand's 1961 article, "The Objectivist Ethics". The first post is here.]

A human first becomes aware of the issue of "good or evil" through the sensations of pleasure and pain, which are experienced automatically according to the standard of his or her life. Pleasure signifies a correct course of action; pain is a warning to do something different. This is one form in which consciousness is a conscious organism's basic means of survival.

Plants automatically pursue their goals through biochemical mechanisms, drawing in their nourishment and processing it by built-in physical means.

The lowest forms of conscious organisms (such as worms) use sensations to automatically direct their actions and pursue their goals. A sensation is an automatic, fleeting product of a sense organ's reaction to a stimulus.

Animals are able to retain sensations in the form of percepts, enabling them to have much more complex behaviors than the lowest conscious species. A percept is a group of sensations automatically retained and integrated by the brain of a living organism. (ITOE 1.4.1) Perceptions constitute an animal's awareness of entities, an awareness it cannot avoid and for which it has no choice of how to react: an animal's instincts program it to pursue its own survival.

Next >>

Friday, January 8, 2010

Summary of "The Objectivist Ethics", 2/8

[This is the 2nd in a series of posts summarizing Ayn Rand's 1961 article, "The Objectivist Ethics". The first post is here.]

To challenge the basic premise of modern ethics (that morality is subjective), one must first discover: what are values and why does man need them? "Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The need for values and goals arises for living organisms from the constant alternative they face of life or death, existence or non-existence.

Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. The physical functions of an organism's body are automatic actions directed to a single goal, the maintenance of the organism's life. To survive, an organism must take in material or fuel from outside its body and use it according to the standard of its own life, a standard predetermined by its nature.

An organism's ultimate value, the final end to which all of its lesser goals are the means, is its life -- which is therefore its standard of value: that which promotes its life is good, that which threatens it is evil. Life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself, a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. All of the values for an organism are its means to its life. The concept of "value" thus derives from the concept of "life."

Next >>

Friday, January 1, 2010

Summary of "The Objectivist Ethics", 1/8

[This is the first in a series of posts summarizing Ayn Rand's 1961 article, "The Objectivist Ethics".]

Men have been damning themselves through the ages for not being moral enough, yet have never questioned the standard of their code of morality. Ayn Rand is the first philosopher to discover an objective moral standard and code of values.

A particular system of ethics is a code of values for guiding one's choices and actions. The science of ethics is for discovering and defining such a code.

Before defining a code of ethics, one must grasp whether man needs ethics and why. There are two types of answers: historically, ethics has been thought of as the province of arbitrary whims; Ayn Rand's answer is rather that the need for ethics follows objectively from man's nature. (A whim is a desire experienced by someone who does not know, nor care to discover, its cause.)

Most philosophers either inherited the idea that the standard of good is the "will of God," or substituted this with "the good of society." The latter ends up meaning that the majority or a strong minority is ethically entitled to do whatever it wants. Rather than reject this as unreasonable, modern philosophers have decided that reason has failed, and agree that ethics must fundamentally be a subjective issue. If unchallenged, this is the premise of modern ethics that will doom civilization.

Next >>