1. Introduction To This Critique
Most criticisms against Objectivism focus on Rand’s support for selfishness, her condemnation of altruism, and her support for Capitalism and Libertarian principles. They are naive and misguided about human nature, but this essay is not your typical critique of Objectivism.
It’s impossible to talk about all the problems with Objectivism in a single essay, especially for a philosophy that’s described over multiple books and hundreds of pages. It’s also redundant when I have already written about these topics in depth on other webpages. For these reasons, most of the sections on this page only give a short introduction into their respective topics, while linking to other webpages that talk about these issues in sufficient depth, compared to what’s being displayed here.
To provide context and to present Rand’s views accurately, there are quotations from Rand’s works all throughout this essay. If anybody thinks that I am misrepresenting Objectivism, please message me and explain why using my contact page. My goal is to present Rand’s philosophy correctly, not to misrepresent it. I’m only interested in what’s true. I accept what’s true, and I reject what’s false.
Some people may believe that the criticisms on this page may boil down to semantic disagreements with Objectivist terms. Even if this is arguably the case, we still insist that the language that we’re using here is better than the Objectivist jargon because it better describes a rational philosophy. Many of these semantic details are likely to influence how we think about philosophy because language is very vulnerable to the Sapir-Whorf Effect. So it’s important to be as careful with our language as possible.
Now we shall begin the critique.
2. Valid Conclusions Made By Objectivism
Compared to most philosophers, Rand was one of the best to have existed (so far, anyway). She identified many good positions:
- There is no such thing as supernatural phenomena (including a supernatural God).
- The primacy of existence before consciousness.
- All knowledge of reality originates from the senses.
- The integration of Empiricism and Rationalism.
- She had a good theory of concept formation, empiricism, existents, percepts, and concepts. She makes some mistakes, but it’s otherwise spot-on.
- She formulated explicit standards for deeming concepts “possible”, “probable”, and “certain”, while rejecting arbitrary notions.
- Reason is the only valid source of knowledge, and a human’s tool of survival.
- Rationality must be applied to all aspects of one’s life.
- All life is (or should be) selfish. However, we justify this differently. Mine is more sound since it uses biological and evolutionary reasoning.
- Free markets and negative rights are good policies for a society.
- Her proposed virtues of: independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, egoism (or selfishness as she calls it), and pride are good virtues, aside from how all their descriptions inherit the flaws of her imperfect theory of value and moral assumptions.
- She probably didn’t realize it, but Objectivism has had considerable influence as an ideology because it has good memetic properties, especially with how it markets itself as a “philosophy for life on Earth”. I support using memetics for spreading rationality, and the Rational Humanism value system.
3. The Goal Of Philosophy
Philosophy [is the science that] studies the fundamental nature of existence, of man, and of man’s relationship to existence. The task of philosophy is to provide man with a comprehensive view of life. This view serves as a base, a frame of reference, for all his actions, mental or physical, psychological or existential. This view tells him the nature of the universe with which he has to deal (metaphysics); the means by which he is to deal with it, i.e., the means of acquiring knowledge (epistemology); the standards by which he is to choose his goals and values, in regard to his own life and character (ethics)—and in regard to society (politics); the means of concretizing this view is given to him by esthetics. – “The Chickens’ Homecoming”, Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, 45
A good philosophy should indeed study the nature of reality (to the extent that we can do so) and give humans a comprehensive view of life, but that shouldn’t be the only goal of philosophy. It is equally important that a quality philosophy examines and evaluates assumptions that people normally take for granted. Many philosophies aim to affirm assumptions instead of questioning them, and Objectivism unfortunately does this to a great extent, as we shall see in the rest of this essay. An example is how Objectivists affirm life as being an objective or “ultimate” value, without questioning it further.
Philosophy is the foundation of science; epistemology is the foundation of philosophy. It is with a new approach to epistemology that the rebirth of philosophy has to begin. – “The Cognitive Role of Concepts”, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 74
If philosophy is the foundation of science, then philosophy can and should apply to scientific matters. Every subfield of knowledge is ultimately a subfield of philosophy that specializes on a particular subject.
4. The Structure of Knowledge
4.1. The Problems With Ayn Rand’s Axioms
An axiom is a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others, whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it. – Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 155
Basically, Ayn Rand considers “axioms” to be the same thing as propositions that can be proven by performative contradictions. However, she contends that propositions that can be proven by performative contradictions are implicit in all statements. This is not true because anything can be questioned. Rationality is a game that people agree to play. There is nothing that compels people to accept the results of a proof by performative contradiction.
Moreover, this isn’t even the standard definition of “axiom” that most people use. Wikipedia and most dictionaries define “axiom” as:
A statement that is taken to be true, to serve as a premise or starting point for further reasoning and arguments.
Axioms must also be as parsimonious as possible. The goal is to derive as much knowledge as possible from as few propositions as possible. Knowledge is information compression.
An axiomatic concept is the identification of a primary fact of reality, which cannot be analyzed, i.e., reduced to other facts or broken into component parts. It is implicit in all facts and in all knowledge. It is the fundamentally given and directly perceived or experienced, which requires no proof or explanation, but on which all proofs and explanations rest.
The first and primary axiomatic concepts are “existence,” “identity” (which is a corollary of “existence”) and “consciousness.” – Axiomatic Concepts, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 55
As stated in the first quote, Rand’s goal was to identify the base for knowledge, which she partially accomplished through the axioms that she identified, along with her support for empiricism and rationality being the only valid sources of knowledge. However, she still fell short on multiple points:
- For starters, the Axioms of Classical Logic are a far superior set of axioms for philosophy. And they actually count as real axioms, by the standard definition.
- There are many other performative contradictions that can be made besides the ones that she identified.
- Supposedly, the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC) is a corollary of the Identity Axiom. It would be more appropriate to establish the LNC as a separate axiom. In order to conclude the LNC from the Identity Axiom, you would have to assume (or implicitly assume) what you’re trying to prove.
- It would be more appropriate to establish existence and consciousness as corollaries instead, since they are proven using performative contradiction proofs.
[A man’s] means to establish the truth of his answers is logic, and logic rests on the axiom that existence exists. Logic is the art of non-contradictory identification. A contradiction cannot exist. – Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 125
Logic does follow from the existence axiom. Logic exists because it’s built into how the humans think. It’s not possible for humans to think without assuming the laws of logic, even if they don’t know them or aren’t using them explicitly.
The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature . . . . The law of identity does not permit you to have your cake and eat it, too. The law of causality does not permit you to eat your cake before you have it. – Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 151
Causality is not derived from the identity axiom. Causality is built into how the humans think. Same with time. There’s no way for a human to ever think without implicitly assuming the existence of time and causality. We cannot escape them because we cannot escape our subjectivity.
4.2. Tabula Rasa Is Not A Straight-Forward Question
Since man has no automatic knowledge, he can have no automatic values; since he has no innate ideas, he can have no innate value judgments. Man is born with an emotional mechanism, just as he is born with a cognitive mechanism; but, at birth, both are “tabula rasa.” It is man’s cognitive faculty, his mind, that determines the content of both. – “The Objectivist Ethics”, The Virtue of Selfishness, 28
4.3. Knowledge Is Structured According To Coherentism, Not Foundationalism
Objectivism is correct to embrace empiricism, and it proposes a good theory for how concepts are constructed, but it doesn’t go far enough in completely rejecting foundationalist theories of knowledge. Everyone has assumptions because they are necessary in order to think, but Knowledge is ultimately not foundationalist. Knowledge is gained by Empiricism and structured according to Coherentism.
Read More: Solving The Munchhausen Trilemma.
Read More: Belief Networks and the Structure of Knowledge.
Nothing is self-evident except the material of sensory perception. – “Philosophical Detection”, Philosophy: Who Needs It, 13
I would go a step further that nothing is self-evident at all since anything can be questioned.
Ayn Rand also claims that “God” doesn’t exist, without ever defining “God”. The way Rand defines “God” is different from how a Catholic, a Hindu, a deist, a pantheist, etc each define “God” differently. Rand has to define what she’s talking about before she can claim that it doesn’t exist, because it’s entirely possible to create a definition of “God” that does exist in reality (e.g. defining God as “whatever created the Universe”). Theological Non-Cognitivism is a better, more general position that asserts that whether or not “God” exists depends on how “God” is defined.
5. Objectivism Misunderstands The Subject-Object Dichotomy And Its Implications
I can’t state enough just how important it is to understand the Subject-Object Dichotomy and its implications if one wishes to form a rational, accurate, and coherent philosophy. It will not be possible to fully comprehend the metaphysical, epistemological, or axiological criticisms made in this essay if the reader does not understand the dichotomy.
First we need to clarify some definitions. Objectivists define “objective” to mean “grounded in reality” and they define “subjective” to mean “not grounded in reality”. The primary meaning of “objective” in this essay has a completely different meaning that is reserved to talk about philosophical objects in the context of the subject-object dichotomy. The meaning of “subjective” in this essay is also completely different from the Objectivists’ notion, and it is used to refer to philosophical subjects.
A subject is a being who has a unique consciousness (will and awareness) and/or unique personal experiences, or an entity that has a relationship with another entity that exists outside itself (an object). A subject has a mind. Something is “subjective” if it is mind-dependent or perspective-dependent. Subjectivity is not random or arbitrary. Subjectivity is a concept for describing properties of the mind, like knowledge, truth, emotions, value, will, awareness, etc.
A subject can be viewed as both a subject and an object. An object is a philosophical term often used in contrast to the term subject. A subject is an observer and an object is a thing observed. Philosophy and psychology are the self thinking about itself. This is achieved by viewing subjects from the perspective as if they were objects.
|Knowledge / Truth||Reality|
Read more: What is Subjectivity? - Blithering Genius
Read more: Views - Blithering Genius
5.1. Mistaken Conclusions About Determinism
Determinism is the theory that everything that happens in the universe—including every thought, feeling, and action of man—is necessitated by previous factors, so that nothing could ever have happened differently from the way it did, and everything in the future is already pre-set and inevitable. Every aspect of man’s life and character, on this view, is merely a product of factors that are ultimately outside his control. Objectivism rejects this theory.
Objectivism rejects determinism in favor of Libertarianism (metaphysics), but this conclusion is not well-supported by modern physics. Rand’s definition for “free will” is a valid notion (and equivalent to my definition for Subjective Free Will). However, it’s not necessary to reject Determinism or Physicalism in order to affirm the validity of Subjective Free Will. Instead, we can resolve the conflict between free will and determinism using the subject-object dichotomy.
Dictatorship and determinism are reciprocally reinforcing corollaries: if one seeks to enslave men, one has to destroy their reliance on the validity of their own judgments and choices—if one believes that reason and volition are impotent, one has to accept the rule of force. – “Representation Without Authorization”, The Ayn Rand Letter, I, 21, 1
In this claim, we see that Rand’s conception of morality is interfering with her understanding of reality.
Since things are what they are, since everything that exists possesses a specific identity, nothing in reality can occur causelessly or by chance. – Leonard Peikoff
If anything, it is contradictory that Objectivists simultaneously accept causality, while rejecting determinism.
5.2. Mistaken Conclusions About Materialism/Physicalism
The Hard Problem of Consciousness was first published in 1995, after Ayn Rand’s death in 1982. However, we can conclude that Rand and most of her followers are likely to reject physicalism since Objectivism rejects determinism. Since Objectivism rejects physicalism, it’s not clear how it would resolve the Hard Problem of Consciousness.
Leonard Peikoff has written about this topic, so I shall critique his claims. I prefer the term “physicalist” instead of “materialist” since the latter is sometimes used to describe a consumerist ideology, but Peikoff used the term “materialism”, so I shall use both terms in this section.
Ayn Rand describes materialists as “mystics of muscle”— “mystics” because, like idealists, they reject the faculty of reason. Man, they hold, is essentially a body without a mind. His conclusions, accordingly, reflect not the objective methodology of reason and logic, but the blind operation of physical factors, such as atomic dances in the cerebrum, glandular squirtings, S-R conditioning, or the tools of production moving in that weird, waltzlike contortion known as the dialectic process. – Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 33
Materialism is not mysticism, nor does it requiring viewing Man as a “body without a mind”. Consciousness can be explained via the Subject-Object Dichotomy. As subjects, we each have a consciousness that enables us to sense, perceive, and theorize about reality. As objects, our consciousness is ultimately a biochemical system of atoms and molecules.
Materialists sometimes regard the concept of “consciousness” as unscientific on the grounds that it cannot be defined. – Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 34
I don’t claim that “consciousness” is unscientific. Consciousness can be defined as will and awareness.
There is no valid reason to reject consciousness or to struggle to reduce it to matter; not if such reduction means the attempt to define it out of existence. – Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 34-35
As a physicalist, I do not reject consciousness. Consciousness can be scientifically analyzed as matter since it’s ultimately made up of atoms and molecules, just like everything else in reality.
Even if, someday, consciousness were to be explained scientifically as a product of physical conditions, this would not alter any observed fact. It would not alter the fact that, given those conditions, the attributes and functions of consciousness are what they are. Nor would it alter the fact that in many respects these attributes and functions are unique; they are different from anything observed in unconscious entities. Nor would it alter the fact that one can discover the conditions of consciousness, as of anything else one seeks to know, only through the exercise of consciousness.
None of these facts disprove materialism. Once again, we can accept both consciousness and materialism by explaining them via the Subject-Object Dichotomy.
The book, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (GEB) by Douglas Hofstadter, does a good job of comprehensively explaining how consciousness arises as a result of physical processes.
The materialist equation of physics with science is equally groundless. Science is systematic knowledge gained by the use of reason based on observation. In using reason, however, one must study each specific subject matter by the methods and techniques suited to its nature. One cannot study history by the methods of chemistry, biology by the methods of economics, or psychology by the methods of physics. At the dawn of philosophy, the ancient Pythagoreans in an excess of enthusiasm attempted, senselessly, to equate mathematics with cognition and to construe the universe as “numbers.” The modern behaviorists, with far less excuse, commit the same error in regard to physics. – Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, 35
Although it is possible in theory to use pure physics to describe how human brains work, no physicalist would ever propose that we should always analyze and understand it via physics and chemistry.
Every field of knowledge requires its own concepts after a certain level of complexity is reached, and those may not be reducible to its parent field’s concepts, lest the field of knowledge be too overwhelming and incognizable.
We can define types of order:
metaphysical presuppositional, physical, biological, psychological, cultural, social.
Each requires its own concepts and theories.
5.3. The Correspondence Theory Of “Truth” Is Taken For Granted
What is the meaning of the concept “truth”? Truth is the recognition of reality. (This is known as the correspondence theory of truth.) The same thing cannot be true and untrue at the same time and in the same respect. – “Philosophical Detection”, Philosophy: Who Needs It, 14
The Correspondence Theory of Truth is not a valid theory of knowledge because it doesn’t explain how ideas in the mind relate to reality. Objectivism ignores the difference in kind between ideas in the mind/brain and what they represent, nor does it explain the mechanism of correspondence.
Truth is the identification of a fact of reality. Whether the fact in question is metaphysical or man-made, the fact determines the truth: if the fact exists, there is no alternative in regard to what is true. – Leonard Peikoff, “The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy”, Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, 111
This doesn’t explain anything. Facts are the same thing as Truths, so this is a circular definition of “truth”.
A fact is a metaphysical concept referencing what is, independent of what we currently know.
Truth is an epistemological concept, it’s an evaluation of your judgments using correspondence to facts as the standard.
Facts pertain to reality, while “truth” pertains to statements.
If truth pertains to statements (which includes facts), and facts pertain to reality, then truth also pertains to reality. So “truth” and “fact” both still mean the same thing. Another thing is that nobody can agree on what all the “facts” are or what the “truth” is, and not everybody can be right if they believe in different positions. This suggests that facts and truth are subjective, not objective. What people assert to be “true” is always the same thing as what they know or think is true, so “truth” is de facto the same thing as knowledge.
As a final note, Objectivists tend to argue that people shouldn’t spend/waste their time doing things if they don’t perceive it to benefit them.
They usually don’t care to understand things like the abyss for truth and value, or to understand life and human nature from a bio-evolutionary perspective, under the premise that they think it won’t benefit their lives.
In these cases, they’re actually following a Pragmatist Theory of Truth instead of a Correspondence Theory of Truth.
Pragmatism Consequentialism is not a valid theory of truth because truth judgements cannot be based on value judgments.
Read More: Theories of Truth and Knowledge.
5.4. Objectivism Ignores Intersubjective Concepts
Intersubjectivity is similar to subjectivity since it is also mind-dependent, except that it occurs within multiple separate conscious minds. Intersubjective phenomena are phenomena that exist within (or “agree”) between multiple minds. To quote from What is Subjectivity? by Blithering Genius:
Language is a good example. The English language exists in a distributed way, in the brains of English speakers. It is part of culture. The word “tree” means what it means because English speakers map it to the same concept in their brains. A language is a system of knowledge that is shared by multiple brains, and used to communicate ideas between those brains.
Money is another example. What makes money valuable is that people believe it has value. If people stopped viewing money as valuable, then it would no longer be valuable. The value of money exists intersubjectively.
Norms of behavior, such as politeness, are another example. In Japan, it is polite to bow when meeting someone. In America, it is polite to look into their eyes and shake their hand. These behaviors are polite because people view them as polite. There is no objective standard of politeness, just different cultural standards.
One of the great strengths of the subject-object dichotomy is that it enables us to clearly understand intersubjectivity. Objectivism does not recognize that language, money, culture, morality, and rights are intersubjective. Those concepts exist between minds, not within a reality that is outside of human minds.
The extent to which one can know what it’s like to be another person (or subject) is limited by the amount of intersubjectivity that they share, and one’s ability to infer what it’s like to be the other subject based on their knowledge and ability to relate similar experiences.
5.5. The Influences Between Language And Thought
As established in the last section, language is intersubjective.
In order to persuade someone, an individual must analyze the beliefs and language of the person that they want to persuade. They must determine how the other person maps words and beliefs between each other and in which contexts. If done strategically, the individual can preemptively predict how other people will positively or negatively respond to the language that they use, and they can craft their language accordingly to affect the other person’s beliefs and predispositions towards what they’re talking about.
Language thus has a huge potential to influence and affect thought via the Sapir-Whorf Effect. The linked essay explains how it occurs and shows many applied examples of how that happens in everyday speech.
5.6. Arbitrary Propositions And Subjectivity
“Arbitrary” means a claim put forth in the absence of evidence of any sort, perceptual or conceptual; its basis is neither direct observation nor any kind of theoretical argument. [An arbitrary idea is] a sheer assertion with no attempt to validate it or connect it to reality. Since an arbitrary statement has no connection to man’s means of knowledge or his grasp of reality, cognitively speaking such a statement must be treated as though nothing had been said.
Let me elaborate this point. An arbitrary claim has no cognitive status whatever. According to Objectivism, such a claim is not to be regarded as true or as false. If it is arbitrary, it is entitled to no epistemological assessment at all; it is simply to be dismissed as though it hadn’t come up . . . . The truth is established by reference to a body of evidence and within a context; the false is pronounced false because it contradicts the evidence. The arbitrary, however, has no relation to evidence, facts, or context. It is the human equivalent of [noises produced by] a parrot . . . sounds without any tie to reality, without content or significance.
It is not your responsibility to refute someone’s arbitrary assertion—to try to find or imagine arguments that will show that his assertion is false. It is a fundamental error on your part even to try to do this. The rational procedure in regard to an arbitrary assertion is to dismiss it out of hand, merely identifying it as arbitrary, and as such inadmissible and undiscussable. – The Philosophy of Objectivism lecture series
We agree that claims should be dismissed if they have no evidence to support them. However, a distinction should be made between claims that we could potentially evaluate as subjects, and claims that could only be answered by escaping our subjectivity. For the former, anybody who asserts a claim without any supporting evidence has the burden of proof. For the latter, it is impossible to answer such claims definitively, but it’s not rational to dismiss them as “undiscussable”. The proper way to deal with questions and claims that pertain to reality outside of all subjectivity is to acknowledge that we’ll never know the answers, that we shouldn’t try to figure out the answers (because it’s impossible), and to carry on with our lives as before.
When I say that “we cannot know what reality really is” or that “we cannot escape our subjectivity”, what I mean is that we can never truly know what’s it like to be someone else, to not be human, or even to not be a subject at all. For the last case, we have no way of knowing whether we are just brains who each live in a vat, or if we all live in a dream or a simulation. Our genes limit what aspects we can sense from reality. For example, most human’s genes cause them to only view within the visible light spectrum. We cannot see other sections of the electromagnetic spectrum with our bare eyes because they are invisible to us. If we already know that there are some aspects of reality that we cannot sense, then it’s reasonable to recognize that it’s possible that there are other features of reality that we also cannot sense as well, even with the help of technological equipment. In order to get to the bottom of these hypothetical questions, we would have to be able to view life outside of our subjectivity, but we’ll never be able to do that because that is one of the conditions of being a philosophical subject. For our practical day to day lives, we can assume that we don’t live in a vat, a dream, or a simulation, but if we want to be honest and rigorous, then we would have to say that we will simply never know the answer, and that we shouldn’t try to figure out the answer since it’s impossible for us to do so.
There are many other questions that we’ll never be able to answer. For example, we cannot determine what caused the Universe to exist (i.e. what caused the Big Bang to happen) because any explanation of that would be within a cause-and-effect Universe. In order to explain it, we would have to prove it within a reality that has no casualty, but that is impossible.
5.7. The Immortal Robot Thought Experiment Arrives At The Wrong Conclusions
In ethics, one must begin by asking: What are values? Why does man need them?
“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.
To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals. – The Virtue of Selfishness, 15
- A simpler thought experiment that arrives at the same conclusions and provides better insight would be to imagine a universe that has no sentient life at all. This thought experiment takes less explaining to get the point across, and it is more readily apparent that all value ultimately originates from sentient life, because a universe with no sentient life is a universe with no value at all.
- This proves that all value is subjective, since value originates from sentient organisms, and different organisms have different values. “Objective Value” is an oxymoron.
- Morality is based on value, not reason. If objective value doesn’t exist, then objective morality cannot exist either. Morality is therefore subjective since it is based on Value, which is based on the perspectives(s) of sentient life.
- Most humans do intuitively derive their purpose and meaning from doing things that sustain their lives (the power process), but that doesn’t necessarily make it the chosen life purpose for all humans.
There is no uniquely rational way to define value philosophically. To illustrate this, if we were to ask: “What is the best theory of value?”, then we would need a theory of value in order to answer the question because it’s a normative question. But we can’t use a theory of value to answer the question if we haven’t already established the right theory value that we should use. This infinite regress demonstrates that there is no foundation for value in philosophy.
Since we cannot judge values unless we have already chosen a value framework beforehand, it is inaccurate to claim that all values can/should be derived from valuing life, reason, purpose, and self-esteem. It would be more accurate to claim that we have higher levels values that all affirm each other, which collectively lower levels of values, and so on.
Read More: Addressing the Virtue of Life.
Furthermore, unlike truth, value is not convergent for similar brains because it’s possible for people to have conflicting positive and negative value judgments, especially in an environment with scarce resources. Consider the following example:
Tom and Joe could have identical brains, but make very different value judgments from their perspectives. For example, suppose that Joe and Tom both want to date Sally. Their value judgments are identical in one way, but opposite in another way. Joe positively values Joe dating Sally, and negatively values Tom dating Sally. Tom positively values Tom dating Sally, and negatively values Joe dating Sally. – Blithering Genius, from What is Subjectivity?
Since the conclusions made by the Immortal Robot are less useful and more complicated, it doesn’t contribute anything new to philosophy.
Read More: What is Value? - Blithering Genius.
5.8. Why Morality Is Not Objective
Ethics is an objective, metaphysical necessity of man’s survival. . . .
I quote from Galt’s speech: “Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice—and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man—by choice; he has to hold his life as a value—by choice; he has to learn to sustain it—by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues—by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.”
The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man.
Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil. Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work. – “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, 23
Reason is not synonymous with morality, nor can reason alone serve as a basis for morality because the true basis for morality is value, as established in the last section. Moral relativism is a corollary that follows from this. The subjectivity of morality debunks the entire foundation of the Objectivist theory of ethics, to the point that everything must be re-thought from the ground up. Although a lot of the political philosophy ends up the same in the end, and it is important to understand the different reasoning that arrived at these conclusions. Most so-called “moral progress” is only advancements in technology.
Irrationality is not the origin of all evil. “Evil” People aren’t evil because they’re irrational. They’re “evil” because either: 1. they have to fight against others for scarce resources to survive, or 2. they have a values that oppose other people’s perspectives. Deeming anything “good” or “evil” implies a value judgment of some kind, and we cannot make judgments unless we have already adopted an theory of value beforehand. Believing that it’s “immoral” to hurt others is an assumption, and it’s often necessary in order for individuals to survive in nature (except in a world with non-scarce resources and/or a society that prohibits such violence via the rule of force).
If anything, it’s irrational to unilaterally declare anything to be “evil” or to view morality as black and white because that entails having unquestioned implicit assumptions. Even if morality were objective, there’s always more ways to be wrong than there are ways to be right, so anybody who thinks that they are abiding by supposedly objective moral standards is probably wrong. Many people would use their belief that they are imposing the one and only true “objective” morality as a justification to rule with an iron fist.
Read more: What is Morality?
Read more: Morality FAQs
6. Objectivism Doesn’t Use Applied Biological and Evolutionary Reasoning
Objectivists tend to think that technology and innovation make evolution obsolete, but they are wrong about this. Humans cannot transcend evolution. Humans are a biological species and we were created by evolution, so evolutionary theory applies to us just like all other living things. For a sufficient understanding of how evolution works, we recommend reading the series of essays available at this link.
6.1. Understanding Why Life Evolves To Be Selfish
Selfishness must ultimately be defended using evolutionary reasoning, but Ayn Rand didn’t use any evolutionary reasoning to defend selfishness and explain why altruism is self-defeating. In order to be truly and uncompromisingly selfish, one must reject morality. It’s not enough to say that maximal selfishness must avoid infringing upon other people’s rights. That often isn’t an option in a resource-scarce environment. There’s also no reason why someone should avoid infringing upon other people’s rights if they know that they won’t face any significant game-theoretical consequences, unless they strongly value cooperation and the more prosperous civilization that it would entail. The game-theoretical evolutionary conception of selfishness is thus more selfish than the Randian conception of selfishness.
Humans will go to any length justify themselves, their values, and their actions for selfish reasons, even if doing so is hypocritical. Rationalizing is only anti-virtuous and irrational thing when dealing with things that don’t pertain to value knowledge (i.e. ethics and axiology). Rationalizing in ethics and axiology is natural, not anti-virtuous. Rand condemns this rationalizing as “irrational”, even though it’s both natural and a consequence of evolution. Instead, it would be better to accept that it’s natural, to understand the underlying evolutionary reasoning for why people do it, and to recognize that this is one reason why morality is an illusion.
Read more: What is Morality?
6.2. Life Is Violent And Competitive Because Life Is Selfish
Objectivists find Objectivism appealing because it fits their moral intuitions and justifies them, within their belief networks. Objectivism preaches that people should never murder, never steal, and never harm others, and it also proclaims that the good and evil dichotomy is symmetrical to rationality versus irrationality. But this is not the case. Objectivism ignores that value judgments are both positive and negative, especially when a population of organisms reaches the carrying capacity of its environment.
Every human has ancestors that had to kill, rape, and steal in order to be reproductively successful. None of the humans living on Earth today would exist if that never happened. Life on Earth is a game where humans kill, rape, and fuck other humans over, and predator eats prey. This has occur for literally millions of years. Humans can also cooperate with each other, but they only do when it’s in their self-interest. This is the reality of Life on Earth. Objectivists deny reality because they cannot accept that Life on Earth is intrinsically violent.
The competitive nature of life ultimately originates from the scarcity of resources on Earth and the tendency of organisms to reproduce to infinity. Nature selects for selfish, competitive organisms because life evolves to maximize reproductive success. A successful society can (and must) outlaw murder, theft, and violence within the society, but it only does so by redirecting the violence outwards towards other societies and outsiders. Additionally, just because societies outlaw murder, theft, and other crimes against other members of society, that doesn’t conclude that it can’t still be within one’s self-interest to commit crimes against others, especially if the individual knows that he can get away with it.
Read More: Life is intrinsically violent.
Read More: Circles of Order and Chaos.
Read More: Circles of Control and Freedom.
6.3. The True Nature Of Emotions And Why They Exist
An emotion as such tells you nothing about reality, beyond the fact that something makes you feel something. Without a ruthlessly honest commitment to introspection—to the conceptual identification of your inner states—you will not discover what you feel, what arouses the feeling, and whether your feeling is an appropriate response to the facts of reality, or a mistaken response, or a vicious illusion produced by years of self-deception . . . . In the field of introspection, the two guiding questions are: “What do I feel?” and “Why do I feel it?” – “Philosophical Detection”, Philosophy: Who Needs It, 17
Technically, we are part of reality, so emotions do inform of us reality, in terms of the biological imperatives that we need to fulfill in order to survive and reproduce. For example, hunger informs me that my body is low on energy. Physical pain informs me that part of my body is being damaged. Emotions exist to make people better at reproducing and raising offspring. Emotions are needed to generate actions in the real world. Note that I am not saying here that we should put emotions before reasoning, or anything like that. I’m only explaining why animals evolved to have emotions, and the function of emotions.
Romantic love, in the full sense of the term, is an emotion possible only to the man (or woman) of unbreached self-esteem: it is his response to his own highest values in the person of another—an integrated response of mind and body, of love and sexual desire. Such a man (or woman) is incapable of experiencing a sexual desire divorced from spiritual values. – “Of Living Death”, The Voice of Reason, 54
Ayn Rand viewed love from a subjective point of view, instead of an objective point of view, so she failed to explain why love exists and the purpose that it serves. Love exists because it made our ancestors more efficient at procreating and raising children who would live to adulthood to have children of their own. In the past, male and female organisms who didn’t have love or strong emotional bonds towards each other were less likely to stay together to raise their offspring, which endangered their offspring’s probability of survival. On the other hand, animals who did evolve to a capacity to romantically love one another were more likely to stick together to protect their children from accidents and predators, thus increasing their reproductive success.
It’s true that humans can sometimes reprogram their emotions by changing their value judgements, but this cannot be done to a great extent. Emotions serve biological functions that are often beyond our control. Emotions are a condition of subjectivity.
The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man’s body; it is part of his nature, part of the kind of entity he is. He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or of pain. What is that standard?* His life*.
The pleasure-pain mechanism in the body of man—and in the bodies of all the living organisms that possess the faculty of consciousness—serves as an automatic guardian of the organism’s life. The physical sensation of pleasure is a signal indicating that the organism is pursuing the right course of action. The physical sensation of pain is a warning signal of danger, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action, that something is impairing the proper function of its body, which requires action to correct it. The best illustration of this can be seen in the rare, freak cases of children who are born without the capacity to experience physical pain; such children do not survive for long; they have no means of discovering what can injure them, no warning signals, and thus a minor cut can develop into a deadly infection, or a major illness can remain undetected until it is too late to fight it. – “The Objectivist Ethics”, The Virtue of Selfishness, 17
Rand is correct that pain and pleasure are biological motivators. Pain and pleasure are evolutionarily designed to trigger and provide impetus for sentient organisms to do things that sustain their lives and reproduction.
In what manner does a human being discover the concept of “value”? By what means does he first become aware of the issue of “good or evil” in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation. – “The Objectivist Ethics”, The Virtue of Selfishness, 17
This is naive. Pain isn’t “evil”. It’s an emotion that necessary for generating motivation. Likewise, pleasure isn’t “good”. Pleasure is a decrease in motivation. Pleasure isn’t always a good thing either, since a low state of motivation would make it difficult for humans to do anything in their lives.
6.4. Objectivism Denies Race Realism, a Scientifically Backed Position
Racism is the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.
Like every form of determinism, racism invalidates the specific attribute which distinguishes man from all other living species: his rational faculty. Racism negates two aspects of man’s life: reason and choice, or mind and morality, replacing them with chemical predestination.
A genius is a genius, regardless of the number of morons who belong to the same race—and a moron is a moron, regardless of the number of geniuses who share his racial origin. – “Racism”, The Virtue of Selfishness, 126-127
All of these statements are correct. Racism is collectivist and irrational. To be clear, there is nothing about race realism that implies that we judge a person based on race instead of their character (assuming that we know their character well enough). Race realism is simply about recognizing the biological consequences that evolution has had on humans beings.
Read More: Race Realism FAQs.
6.5. Cornucopianism is Wrong. Overpopulation is a serious concern
TL;DR: Once there’s overpopulation, it’s basically game over for civilization. Overpopulation causes civilizations to fight wars over scarce resources, until they finally collapse from decimating each other.
There is no reasonable or moral authority that can regulate how many children a person can have.
Wrong. The consequences of overpopulation are: global civilizational collapse, billions of people dying, and a permanent dark age. So yes, if you think those things are undesirable (as most people do), then there is a reasonable and “moral” basis for regulating how many children people can have.
Read More: Overpopulation FAQs.
6.6. Initiating “Force” Isn’t Necessarily A Vice
To interpose the threat of physical destruction between a man and his perception of reality, is to negate and paralyze his means of survival; to force him to act against his own judgment, is like forcing him to act against his own sight. Whoever, to whatever purpose or extent, initiates the use of force, is a killer acting on the premise of death in a manner wider than murder: the premise of destroying man’s capacity to live. – Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 133
Rand argues that using “force” is unethical and irrational because it supposedly takes away a person’s ability to reason. There are multiple problems with this:
- “Force” is arbitrary and poorly defined (a “floating abstraction” as Rand would call it), especially if it’s defined according to the Non-Aggression
- A person can still reason even if there’s force being exerted against them. People do it everyday. People who pay taxes aren’t able to reason any better or any worse than people who don’t. Defendants must also use reason to argue for their release when they are held in a courtroom.
- Agency is circumstantial. Most people have to deal with decisions that are much more “forceful” than taxation or complying with legal codes, in the sense that they have the agency to pay taxes, and have comparatively far less agency to make tougher decisions between greater conflicting values.
- It does not follow that force is unethical or irrational on the basis that it takes away another person’s ability to reason. This argument is rationalizing, not a rational argument. In fact, there are many cases where it’s rational to prevent or weaken another person(s)’s ability to reason if they have conflicting values.
- It is impossible to eliminate force / violence from Nature.
6.6.1. Addressing Objectivist Arguments Against Initiating Force
Now we shall address some Objectivist arguments regarding why they think force is objectively bad.
When people hurt others, it’s ultimately bad for their survival and reproduction in an intelligent society. People hurt others because their cognition and instincts haven’t been corrected by reason yet.
You don’t eliminate violence with “reason”. You eliminate it within a society by using a government that solves game-theoretical problems. And as we’ll see in the future, this unusual era of peace that has largely persisted in humanity for the last 80 years will only continue to exist if governments are reformed to also manage resource scarcity and population control. In a resource-scarce environment, people hurt others because they’ll starve to death if they don’t. This is why warfare occurred throughout human history for thousands of years.
A society can eliminate violence within the society, especially if it’s intelligent and prosperous, but we still have to recall that the elimination of violence in that society occurs because the society resolved the prisoner’s dilemma with respect to violence. People (usually) don’t commit violence in such a society because they live under circumstances that discourage violence while making it easy to make a living without resorting to violence. Since the human propensity for violence is always circumstantial, we cannot assume that that non-violence is a natural consequence of being “rational”.
Try robbing your neighbors while living a good life, and see how it works out for you.
This claim ignores that robbing people in our current world would occur in the context of a society with rules that outlaw violence, a society that solves the Societal Prisoner’s Dilemma. On the other hand, if a thief can manage to steal things without getting caught, then the thievery works out for the thieves. They manage to acquire free stuff without having to pay for it.
Objectivists tend to counter-argue that the thieves would feel guilt and would be unable to go through the power process of obtaining items/money via their own labor, but there’s no reason why they should feel that way if they understand that they have a different conception of morality and/or they recognize that there’s no foundation for value or morality.
There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level. – “Introduction”, The Virtue of Selfishness, ix
Humans have been stealing from each other for all of human history, including the ancestors of everybody who’s reading this webpage right now. We wouldn’t exist if humans didn’t steal from others, because humans are selfish, violent, and competitive. I’m not saying that stealing is a “good” thing, I’m saying that if humans have to do in order to survive, then they will.
All of this is easily taken care of by basic logic. What happens when you rape and kill people? What will others do to you out of their fear of you? Is what they do good or bad for your continued life as a human?
Committing crimes may endanger a person’s survival and ability to procreate within a functioning society, but values and morality are still subjective. There are no objective reasons why a criminal should value his own life and reproductive success over committing crimes. On the other hand, if raping, killing, and stealing are reproductively successful strategies in an environment, then that’s exactly what evolution will select for. That fact is not changed by reason or “basic logic”.
This is also an example of Objectivists trying to hide game theory arguments inside moral arguments.
Individuals can use their ability to reason to eliminate violence on an individual level.
Not really. Different genes and different circumstances affect people’s propensities for violence, so violence is often beyond people’s control, on an individual level.
7. Why Life Is Not The “Ultimate Value”
At most, we can define a theory of value and use it to justify itself, hence why life and reproduction are intuitively good values. But that doesn’t conclude that life is objectively good. To quote from What is Value? by Blithering Genius:
We can select a theory of value based on its alignment with biological or psychological value, but there is no prior basis for doing so. It would be the naturalistic fallacy (leaping across the is | ought gap) to assume that biological or psychological value is philosophical value. To have a rational theory of value, we must understand that it has no prior basis, and that we choose it.
However, that does not mean that we are free to choose any philosophical theory of value and live by it. Consider the value theory “green bottlism”, in which making green bottles is intrinsically good, and nothing else has intrinsic value. You could propose this theory as a joke or a thought experiment, but you could not live by it, because it does not fit your nature. A philosophical theory that conflicts with human nature could never be adopted. – Blithering Genius
There are some objections to address on this important topic.
We cannot have values unless we’re alive to keep and pursue them, so that implies that life is the ultimate value.
Being alive is a requirement for action, but that doesn’t make life the highest value.
This claim also implicitly appeals to other values (that we should have values at all, we should be alive, etc).
Hence, the claimer doesn’t truly view life as the “highest value”.
The very sentence “you can’t value anything if you are dead” implies the existence of an overarching value which “being alive” is instrumental towards.
We can’t act without being alive, therefore life is the fundamental value.
Can’t live without eating, therefore eating is the fundamental value.
Can’t eat without masticating, therefore masticating is the fundamental value. Can’t masticate for long without brushing your teeth, therefore brushing your teeth is the fundamental value.
In reality though, the hierarchy of values goes the other way around. You can’t do what you want without being alive, therefore being alive is instrumental to another value (what you want). Ultimately, the fundamental value is unjustifiable. Choosing “life” as that core value is a bit strange, because we are mortal beings that do not live for very long no matter what we do. No axiomatic value is rational, not even reproduction. If the argument is “life is important because you can achieve other values only while being alive”, then you’re already putting those values before your life. You’re valuing life not in itself, but because you can achieve other values.
But we can make a logical argument that life is the ultimate value, as follows:
- If life is required for values to be achieved, then life is the primary value.
- Life is required for values to be achieved,
Therefore, Life is the primary value (by modus ponens).
This attempt simply repeats the same sentence twice, so it’s not a real argument. Nobody is debating that life is necessary for action, but you can’t assume the conditional proposition P -> Q unless you first prove that P implies Q. A valid argument is supposed to prove that Q follows logically from P. Since the first premise is P implies Q, it’s only begging the question. Also, Life is a consequence of entropy, right? So:
- Entropy is required for life.
- Life is required for action.
- If Entropy is required for action, then entropy is the primary value.
Conclusion: Entropy should be our primary value. We can increase entropy by reproducing more.
Note that this chain of reasoning isn’t valid either because it assumes premise #3 without first proving its conditional. This is just another way to show that the argument is not sound since multiple primary values would follow from it. And just like the first modus ponens argument, it implicitly assumes other values, so it’s not a rational argument because it has unquestioned premises.
Life is worth valuing because humans can achieve happiness (a continuous state of achieving one’s values). Life is inherently valuable because death offers no rewards and negates this possibility.
Life doesn’t exist for achieving happiness or for the sake of living. Life exists to reproduce. All life on Earth has been naturally selected to reproduce, and no organism would continue to exist if its ancestors didn’t reproduce as much as possible. Biological value emerges out of reproduction. A salmon swims upstream to reproduce and die. So is the elephant seal fighting over a harem. Or the black widow father getting eaten alive by the mother. Survival is instrumental to reproduction, not vice versa. Reproduction is a more sensible value than life or survival.
People are certainly free to value something else besides reproduction (e.g. happiness) since there’s no foundation for value, but if they’re going to do so, they can’t claim to be rational unless they acknowledge that their chosen values are subjective.
Now we’ll continue with quoting Rand and critiquing her.
The Objectivist ethics holds man’s life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man. The difference between “standard” and “purpose” in this context is as follows: a “standard” is an abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man’s choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose. “That which is required for the survival of man qua man” is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man. The task of applying this principle to a concrete, specific purpose—the purpose of living a life proper to a rational being—belongs to every individual man, and the life he has to live is his own. Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life. – The Virtue of Selfishness, 25
As a counter-example, Efilists value exterminating all the life on Planet Earth, and they could justify it with reasons that many people would find appealing. There are no objective reasons why the Efilist’s values are “better” or “worse” than the Life-Affirmer’s values.
When you question your values all the way down, you get “I live because I have the potential to live in a good state and achieve my values, and non-existence can’t offer me anything compared to that.”
This is not true. If you truly question your values as rigorously as possible, then you realize that there is no objective foundation for value. Non-existence can certainly achieve one’s values if one values non-existence. And there are many compelling reasons to do so, if one chooses non-existence as a core value within a rational theory of value.
8. Addressing the Virtues of Objectivism
First, Life doesn’t necessarily have to be a virtue. Efilism is a counter-example of a worldview where it isn’t virtuous to do things that sustain life because it aims to annihilate all life. Anarcho-Primitivism is another counter-example where technology that would extend life isn’t necessarily virtuous since the consequences are perceived to be greater than the benefits. The goal of Anarcho-Primitivism is to just exist. There is no objective foundation for value, so there’s no reason why values aligned with Efilism, Anarcho-Primitivism, or some other worldview should be deemed as inherently anti-virtuous.
Furthermore, the pursuit of happiness is pointless, if happiness is defined with a hedonistic connotation. Zero Sum Emotions Theory (ZSE Theory) implies that pleasure and pain balance out.
8.1. Addressing The Virtue Of Life
I agree with Objectivism that people should strive to have rational values, and that values are things that one acts to gain and/or keep. I have personally chosen to affirm life. Objectivism also affirms life as a core value, but the difference is that Objectivism claims that life is an objective value, whereas I recognize it as a subjective value, according to how I defined “objective” and “subjective”. Objective values don’t exist. While life is an objective value, I am in favor of living on Earth, having children, and creating a long-term prosperous (and selfish) society.
Objectivism also believes the goal of life should be the “pursuit of happiness”. Long-term happiness is not possible, so this shouldn’t be the primary goal of life. Hedonism is not a rational theory of value.
My core values are rationality, reproduction, and civilization. Humans are biological organisms, so they can and should be viewed from a completely biological point of view. Objectivism doesn’t explicitly value reproduction, but the fact is that if life wasn’t designed to reproduce, then life wouldn’t exist today. All life evolves to reproduce as many offspring as possible. If we dedicate our lives primarily towards anything besides our objective purpose, then our subjective purpose is not aligned with our objective purpose in life, i.e. we would be doing things that we’re not designed to do. Not to say that that’s necessarily bad. It just doesn’t align with my values.
Read More: Philosophy of Axiology
8.2. Addressing the Virtue of Honesty
People can and should lie to a criminal or an abusive government if it will lessen the harm that the perpetrator does. It is also true that lying in most other situations will require that the individual must avoid getting caught and punished. I agree that lying can cause a person to lose their independence in the sense that they become dependent on other finding out about their lies, but there’s no reason why a person shouldn’t lie if lying will benefit them and they can get away with it without any negative consequences.
Perhaps a liar or a thief would feel guilt and would be unable to go through the power process of obtaining items/money via their own labor, but there’s no reason why they should feel that way if they understand that there’s no foundation for value or morality. The benefits of honesty are not enough to compel people towards “good” behavior in the absence of government and other means of resolving game-theoretical problems.
Objectivists have said that it’s “bad reasoning” to “hide moral arguments in game theory” when critiquing my rational understanding of society. In actuality, they have it backwards. The Objectivists are the ones who are trying to hide game-theoretical arguments inside moral arguments. A perfect example is how they point out that thieves face the dilemma of getting caught or having the owners retaliate against them for trying to steal their property. That’s a game-theoretical argument against theft, not a moral one. Despite this, they still don’t present a complete explanation of how game theory applies to society and such.
Academia is designed to cultivate just as much intellectual dishonesty as it promotes honest research, but Objectivists don’t recognize or address this.
8.3. Addressing the Virtue of Justice
But how does one determine a criterion for evaluating the character and actions of men, in view of the fact that men possess the faculty of volition? What science can provide an objective criterion of evaluation in regard to volitional matters? Ethics. Now, do I need a concept to designate the act of judging a man’s character and/or actions exclusively on the basis of all the factual evidence available, and of evaluating it by means of an objective moral criterion? Yes. That concept is “justice.” – Ayn Rand
Objectivism emphasizes judging everybody and everything according to reason. This is a reasonable position that I do not contest. What I do object to are the values that Objectivism preaches for judging everything. We’ve already covered the problems with Objectivism’s theory of value and morality.
A minor thing that I will nitpick here is that Objectivism thinks that there’s no rational basis for judging people based on race. Every person should initially be given the benefit of the doubt, regardless of what their race is. However, the reality is that some races are genetically predisposed to be more/less violent, more/less intelligent, and more/less cooperative than others. It is reasonable to take someone’s race into account when judging the probability that they will do a given type of action, and it is also reasonable to reassess those probabilities after getting to known an individual well enough.
8.4. Addressing the Virtue of Pride
Rand gives mostly good advice on pride, but it still encounters the same problems as the other virtues, i.e. a rational theory of value for establishing the virtue (what we should be proud of) must be determined beforehand.
The definition of “Pride” is dependent on how it’s defined. One can be proud of oneself, but one can also be proud of others. If it’s okay to be proud of family members and other people in our lives who we cannot choose, then there’s no reason why we can’t also be proud of their racial heritage. Of course, an individual should strive for individual pride and self-esteem in oneself, nonetheless.
8.5. Addressing the Virtue of Productiveness
Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result. – The Virtue of Selfishness, 25
Work is required by nature, and it’s often important to a “fulfilling” life. Objectivism does a good job in defining and preaching productiveness in the context of a modern, industrial society, but there are still problems with it.
- Objectivism doesn’t recognize that the psychological need to go through the Power Process (the reason why most humans value doing work of kind) arises from evolution.
- Objectivism doesn’t recognize that modern technology interferes with the power process by causing evolutionary mismatch
- The Industrial World has made it harder for humans to go through the Power Process by eliminating or making it more difficult to do the things that humans used to do to derive their joy and life purpose (e.g. hunting, farming/gardening, chopping wood, violence, relationships, etc). This is a negative consequence of technology.
- Objectivism preaches that people should do what they’re passionate about, but that’s not realistically possible for everyone’s career.
8.5.1. Finding One’s Occupation, Significant Other, Etc
If every single person was doing what they absolutely love in life, then the world economy would not continue to function properly. A better and most realistic way to think about life, careers, and relationships is like fishing. The people who say that “people should follow their passions” and/or “people should do what they love” are already passionate about doing what they do, so their advice sets an impossible high bar for everyone else. Some spots are beautiful to you and will help you catch fish, but other spots won’t, but you can’t know where you would like to spend time until you go there and you can’t know how many fish you will catch there until you try. The younger you are, the more time you can spend sailing to different spots and the older you are, the more time you get to spend in places you know you like, refining your abilities to catch fish there.
9. The Problems With Objectivist Political Philosophy
9.1. The True Purpose Of Government And Rights
If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules.
This is the task of a government—of a proper government—its basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why men do need a government.
A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws. – “The Nature of Government”, The Virtue of Selfishness, 109
This quote projects moral bias onto what it thinks governments should be, instead of describing what they actually are and what they do. It’s more productive to think about government in terms of game-theory, since there is no objective basis for morality. The correct goal of government is to resolve Prisoner Dilemmas and Tragedies of the Commons. Government comes from the necessity to create a reasonable set of laws that would create a societal framework from which selfish individuals can cooperate together for greater mutual gain (than if they didn’t cooperate together). Cooperation is the foundation of civilization, and the best legal code is the one that enables that to the greatest extent possible.
It’s not possible to create “objectively defined laws” because every set of laws would benefit one person or another more than everyone else. Every human is selfish, so from a game-theoretic perspective, every human would prefer a set of laws that is tailored to suit their needs the best, even if it comes at the cost of others. However, for a functional and ideal society that has a high average amount of prosperity and wealth for everybody, an ideal set of laws would treat everybody equally and enable the highest levels of cooperation between individuals as possible. This is a compromise that everybody must make to achieve outcomes where everybody is collectively better off.
Read More: Game Theory and Society.
The source of the government’s authority is “the consent of the governed.” This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose. – “The Nature of Government”, The Virtue of Selfishness, 110
The true source of a government’s authority is its power. It doesn’t matter whether most of the people consent to the government’s authority or not. If the government has the power and the will to continue enforcing authority on its people, then it will continue to have authority. Since governments have to resolve game-theoretic conflicts, it’s also not possible for a government to have the consent of every person that it governs. For more information, see: The Power Structure Of Collective Entities.
The source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life. – Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 182
It’s not “evil” to attack people since life is a struggle for scarce resources. Rights exist to solve the game-theoretic problems that arise due to the nature of life. In the absence of a law enforcement that would punish people for committing crimes, every person has an incentive to kill, abuse, and steal from other people because these actions make it easier to gain the resources for supporting oneself and one’s desires, compared to if they had labored and traded with other people instead. Laws against theft, murder, rape, etc prevent these game-theoretic problems from arising, thus leading to collectively better outcomes for a functioning society.
9.2. Freedom Is Not An Objective Concept
Freedom, in a political context, means freedom from government coercion. It does not mean freedom from the landlord, or freedom from the employer, or freedom from the laws of nature which do not provide men with automatic prosperity. It means freedom from the coercive power of the state—and nothing else. – “Conservatism: An Obituary”, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 192
This is an arbitrary definition of freedom. Most people also don’t want freedom for its own sake because freedom in and of itself is meaningless. What really matters is power or agency, not freedom.
9.3. The Power Structure Of Collective Entities
There’s no such thing as collective entities. There’s only individuals.
No one is claiming that collectives are not composed of individuals. But you can’t think of collective entities as isolated individuals (e.g. the United States government, Ford Motors, the Free Software Foundation, etc). Collectives exist as a mental concept because it’s useful to think of them that way. We don’t achieve anything by denying that we can think of them as concepts. The United States government, Ford Motors, the Free Software Foundation, etc are not single individuals. They could never function as the work of only a single person. Collective entities are defined as individuals who work together in specialized roles within a power structure to create a functional system that dedicates itself towards a goal.
“Collective Values” benefit majorities by oppressing minorities. They are a dangerous concept.
The existence of minorities does not cause collective entities to break down as a concept. As mentioned, all collective entities consist of a power structure, so it is implied that most people in the collective do not have equal power (in most cases) to get exactly what they want (which would be world-domination for most people, because life is selfish). Minorities can be harmed by collective interests, but that’s just part of nature (1), (2), (3), (4). If a collective entity should never override the desires of a minority, then laws against theft, murder, rape, etc shouldn’t exist either because they override the desires of criminals. People can opt out of society any time they’d like, but as soon as they do so, they become an outsider. Freedom exists within a system of constraints, and agency is always circumstantial.
Read more: What is Morality?
9.3.1. A Fiercely Individualist Conception Of Morality Is Incompatible With Most Cultures
9.4. Consequentialist Ethics Are Better Than Deontological Ethics
9.5. Technology And Innovation Won’t Solve All Of Humanity’s Problems
Humanity will never run out of problems. We can solve third-world problems with technology, but the many simultaneous technological changes, malevolent actors, and evolutionary mismatch that would result from that would only create just as many (first-world) problems as it solves. People tend to be more oblivious to the downsides of technology than they are to upsides.
Read more: Philosophy of Technology.
9.6. Objectivism Does Not Address Market Failures
“Capitalism” isn’t the be-all end-all solution to economics.
A mixed economy is a mixture of freedom and controls—with no principles, rules, or theories to define either. Since the introduction of controls necessitates and leads to further controls, it is an unstable, explosive mixture which, ultimately, has to repeal the controls or collapse into dictatorship. – “The New Fascism: Rule by Consensus”, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 206
This is not true. As established in other sections of this essay, successful societies have to resolve game-theoretic problems using government policies. Some problems simply cannot be solved with government, such as the following cases:
- Planned Obsolescence. The right-to-repair is enormously important for preventing planned obsolescence in many cases, and it is best guaranteed by government regulations.
- The tragedy of commons regarding natural resources (and especially land).
- The best infrastructure and urban planning can only be built by governments.
- An economy cannot have optimal economic performance (or market prices) if it doesn’t bootstrap the prices of natural resources.
9.6.1. A Truly Free-Market Economy Requires Equal Land Rights
Having an equal right to land is a negative right and is necessary for a truly free-market economy, and this can be proven via multiple different arguments: See section 11 of this page.
Natural resource taxes don’t deprive people of the fruits of their labor. Consider the following propositions:
- Taxation is slavery with extra steps if it deprives people of the fruits of their Labor.
- Natural resources are not created by Labor.
Conclusion: Taxes on natural resources are not theft nor slavery.
Read More: Georgism Crash Course.
9.6.2. A Better Solution To Patents
Since intellectual property rights cannot be exercised in perpetuity, the question of their time limit is an enormously complex issue. . . . In the case of copyrights, the most rational solution is Great Britain’s Copyright Act of 1911, which established the copyright of books, paintings, movies, etc. for the lifetime of the author and fifty years thereafter. – “Patents and Copyrights”“,, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, 132
9.7. Libertarianism Is Unsustainable And Incompatible With Human Nature
It’s true that Ayn Rand did not self-identify as a Libertarian, but the problems with Libertarianism still need to be addressed. Virtually all of her followers subscribe to Right-Libertarianism (and sometimes even Anarcho-Capitalism), because they are the most compatible political ideologies with her philosophy.
Read More: The Case Against Libertarianism And Anarchism.
9.8. Anarcho-Objectivism: Why Objectivism Is A Net-Negative To Civilization
Although Rand was a harsh critic of Anarchism, many of her followers are Anarcho-Capitalists since Objectivist Ethics are a gateway into believing in Anarcho-Capitalism. Anarcho-Capitalists are just as ignorant about human nature as Communists are, and their political ideology is equally dangerous to Modern Civilization. Many of them will be reading this critique, so this has to be addressed.
The Anarcho-Objectivists are a case of purity spiraling among the Objectivist community. For that reason, Objectivism is a net-negative to civilization because Ancaps are more opposed to Georgism than literally every other political ideology out there. They are thus the greatest opponents to solving the greatest economic problems that are facing the modern world. So although Objectivism advocates for a pro-free-market philosophy, it ironically (albeit indirectly) promotes an extremely anti-free market philosophy since it’s not possible to have free markets at all without a government to establish them, nor is it possible to have free markets without equal negative land rights for everybody.
Read More: The Case Against Anarcho-Capitalism.
Setting Anarcho-Objectivism aside, even standard Objectivism still promotes ideas that are harmful to the preservation of modern civilization due to its obsession with individualist libertarian morals. Racial denialism, opposition to eugenics, and free-range immigration policies will increase the proliferation of dysgenics in modern society, cornucopian delusions will increase the risk of civilization collapsing due overpopulation in the long run, and an overly optimistic and one-sided view of technology will distract humanity from addressing the problems created by the evolutionary mismatch in our world.
Objectivism is better than most other philosophies, but it still makes the same mistakes that most philosophies make: it neglects the implications of the subject-object dichotomy, and it has strong moral biases, which interfere with its ability to understand human nature and the implications for how a prosperous human society should be organized. Humanity is best understood by understanding the implications of evolution, biology, and game-theory.
Once again, I very strongly emphasize that this essay has not refuted all the problems with Objectivism by itself. Due to the breadth and depth of the Objectivist philosophy, a full and proper refutation of Objectivism that explains each of the arguments in sufficient depth requires reading and understanding all or most of the linked essays on this webpage.
If anybody thinks that I have misrepresented Objectivism, I encourage them to explain to me how and why. If anybody disagrees with the conclusions made in this essay, I challenge them to read the linked essays, question their beliefs, and explain how the essay is wrong if they still don’t agree.