The Good And Reason

Again I say the good is that which preserves or expands the meaningful life of a rational being.  As to the character of a person, that person we would say is good whose true values are good.  Is it possible to have evil values within a personality and, therefore,  end up with an evil personality or soul?  Oh, yes indeed!  However, evil is the lack or contradiction of the good.  Therefore, to identify evil, we must first identify the good in detail.  This is crucial to morality because it gives positive guidance, as opposed to listing a series of things that are prohibited or to avoid.  Guidance uses our own consciousness to address the indefinitely large array of choices in our lives.  A list does not.

In consideration of what I have written before, let us expand our understanding of the good as found in a personality on the basis of rational meaning.  To be a good person, that person must engage in a continuous process of defining/discovering, selecting, and additional actions to gain or keep meaningful values.  That process or processes comprise what is virtue.  This is a dynamic process that must proceed as long as we live.  There is never a point where we have been being good enough so that we can suspend pursuing meaningful values or engage in the destruction of meaningful value.

So long as we have breath, we are good if we strive to pursue the meaningful values in our given context.  This is true not only on our death-bed, but also whenever we find it necessary to repent from our past evil.  We may act to be good, even if our resources are few and, furthermore, even a monster can mitigate his or her past evils by consciously choosing meaningful values.   Repentance may not balance the moral scale, but it might still reduce evil and, in this capacity, we can say that the person is acting for the good.

Rand said that the precondition of a value is the existence of the actor, which is to say a living person.  Therefore, the pursuit of meaningful values requires that the actor be able to act, even if it is quite temporary.  We would conclude that any attempt to define morality without consideration of the actor is a metaphysical contradiction in terms.  Thus any would-be moral code which defined its purpose as self-denial as the ultimate principle, is just so much gibberish.  There is quite an array of such nonsense to be found all over the world and throughout history.  Why this is so, I will address later.

The first part of virtue is the discovery and/or definition of a value or values.  Some of our concrete values we share with other living things, such as food, water, and so forth.  For the most part, this is a process of discovery or identification of values based in the biochemical reality.  Now our abilities go beyond a simple perceptual awareness of concrete values, even in regard to those concrete values.  Animals are pretty much limited to perception.  However, human beings via concepts can, say, plant food, build dams for water, and perform other actions based on our conceptual power to envision the possible futures, such that we can choose to gain infinitely more of those material values than any animal can grasp.

While many values can be discovered as ones already present in nature in some form or potential, by far the overwhelming majority of our values, especially in modern times, are those which must be first DEFINED by us.  Unlike natural values, these man-made values are primarily CONCEPTUAL rather than concrete as such.  As man emerged from the mammalian perceptual consciousness, his concepts evolved into language and simple tools, furnishings, and clothing.

While animals might have certain fixed signs of communication, man gained the power to extensively describe with words various cognitive realities or impressions, including both physical situations and emotional ones.  Furthermore, practices of culture were generated that vastly expanded language and knowledge generally.   While an animal might use a stone or stick to get something or use as a weapon in a specific situation, man went on to the conceptual to pass tool-making from one person to another, and build new tools on the base of old ones.

The expansive nature of language and toolmaking are conceptually based and have no real parallel in other species.  These items reflect the existence of a conceptual consciousness, or reason.  By innumerable steps of conceptual creation over many thousands of years, we see the eventual development of philosophy, airplanes, music, particle accelerators, literature, medical regimens, Roberts’ Rules of Order, agriculture, and much more.  None of this is possible to a perceptual consciousness, but is only possible to reason.

Given the myriad array of choices and values in our current conceptual culture,  it seems obvious that not only is reason our primary tool of survival, as such it is our primary means to cognize values and be moral.  This is why I emphasize the Rational part of Rational Meaning.  Without a basic understanding of the crucial role of reason in morality, discussion of values becomes incoherent.  Indeed, a failure to use reason correctly, generating logical errors, is the root-cause of most of mankind’s misery today.  Let us find out how this is true.

In social terms, we know that logical errors can bring about tragedy in such events as criminal trials.  Our legal system attempts to minimize such errors.  Logical errors can also be quite devastating in politics.   However, most fundamentally, within our own minds logical errors have very negative value and emotional consequences.   What is not understood is that most emotions are directly influenced by our judgments.  Here is an example of how this is so, taken from one of the writings of Nataniel Brandon, one-time associate of Rand.  This is my paraphrasing and modifications:

Imagine a room where a father and his very little child are sitting.  Suppose three men enter quietly, dressed in black and carrying weapons.  The little child may not be particularly moved, while the father becomes scared to death.  Why is this so?  Because the father’s judgment is that danger is perceived and it causes fear, while the child, having no such judgment, remains serene.

Now imagine the same father and child sitting with some balloons.  Suppose one of the balloons burst close to the child and father.  The child, perceiving an abrupt bang, is frightened.  The father knowing the balloon to be harmless is not really upset.

We can see that in some cases judgment, good or bad, affects one’s emotions.  But we now have a body of scientific evidence of this fact by the growing school of Cognitive Psychotherapy, which seems to verify that nearly all negative emotions not explained by actual realities (such as the loss of a loved one) are in fact due to logical errors in a patient’s mind.  Cognitive Psychotherapy was launched with the publication of “Cognitive Therapy And The Emotional Disorders” by Aaron T. Beck, M.D. in September of 1975.  Here is a link:

http://www.amazon.com/Cognitive-Therapy-Emotional-Disorders-Meridian/dp/0452009286/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379282746&sr=1-3&keywords=cognitive+therapy+beck

This started the entire school of psychotherapy which now boast at least hundreds of books and scientific studies that validate the data and includes the experiences of thousands of practitioners as effective therapy for many, many people.

It has been found that the great majority of emotions not consistent with clear causal value factors are in fact due to logical errors.  This evidence leads to both psychological insights, but also philosophical insights.  The implications are that there is no viable conflict of thought versus emotions, since emotions are actually reactions to earlier thoughts or judgments.   The idea that we can follow emotions as such to address value issues is akin to a dog chasing his tail.  This is circular, to say the least.

The only resolution to inner conflicts is, then, to investigate the facts as we see them at present, as well as the roots behind our emotions.  Most of the time, we are likely to realize a conflicting emotion is due to past error.  I should also note that sometimes what is behind a given emotion may be rooted in reality while our current perception is in error.   Sometimes people will even call this situation some mystic “intuition” but that itself be an error.  No, there is nothing mystical about this.  The true resolution is to look at the facts logically, that is to say, rationally.

Thus, we conclude that reason must be our guide in ethics or morality, knowing that emotions are reactions, not a guide or proof.  To be moral, we must be on guard against irrational errors.

Reason is certainly in play when discovering or defining values.  It also plays a role in choosing or prioritizing values. It does so as a complex computation of the worth of each value and value-chain.  Since all values are related to other values in a value system or morality, one change or one addition of a factor can cause a radical re-ordering of the structure.  It is, in effect, mathematically CHAOTIC, where a small change can make for very large differences.  Such changed factors or new information might very well come from the sheer act of reconsideration of a value structure, which is starkly different from animal value-systems.

A animal might have some pre-programmed values such as we see with mating behavior.  We might also see mammalian stimulus-response patterns, and all such actions are fairly predictable or “deterministic.”  This is why in history some regarded animals as a sort of “machine.”   With reason, at any moment human being can radically revise their entire value system due to reconsideration or simply new information.  Again, it is CHAOTIC mathematically and cannot be predicted or “determined.”  This is the very essence of free will.

I would like to add that the old concern of free will versus determination would imply that we somehow could not be morally responsible for our choices due to predetermination or that we could not somehow express our true nature due to determination, when the fact is, that what we do is because of who we are and the meaning of our values.  Again free will is supreme.

I will continue this discussion in my next post on “The Good And Meaning.”

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Conscience – The Psychology of Morality

When someone acts well in regard to values and in particular in relation to other people in a way consistent with a system of values, even when it requires some effort or cost that brings no obvious immediate and personal benefit, it is often said that the agency or cause of such acts is his or her conscience.  Conscience here is a general motivation and the methods used to apply the pursuit of values, particularly in regard to other people, but can also be applied a bit more broadly.

I read a book about psychology (which I will bring up later) that in passing considered the issue of conscience in regards to a pet.  In the author’s example, a young man might have recently acquired a puppy, but in haste to get to work, rushed out of his house, forgetting to leave food and water for the dog.  It takes little imagination to to think that if the young man remembered his failure to provide for the dog on the way to work, and then decides to go back to put down food and water, even if the dog would be able to wait for him at the end of the day and that the man would be late for work, getting him into a bit of trouble – if he still acted that way, most people would say that he did that because of his conscience.

What was the motivation precisely?  If he did not care about the puppy, no return to home would have occurred, but since the man did in fact return, we can say he cared about the puppy.  That caring is actually affection for the puppy that would bring the man to feel discomfort if the puppy suffered during the day without food or water.  This is, of course, a type of love.  We can identify with the puppy, the man, and this constitutes a type of love applied to our minds.  When this is considered as a general capacity to address our values here, we call it conscience.  More succinctly,  Conscience is Love, rightly understood.

It is sometimes said that character is doing the right thing when no one looking.  This saying has several premises that should be addressed.  If X does the right thing only because Y is looking, I submit that the thing to be done is NOT a value for X, but for Y only.  Why should X care what value that Y has for something?  X would care if Y were to provide some other value for X, or not withdraw a value, because X had performed the action in question.  Without Y, X would not do the “right thing.”

However, suppose Y is not in the picture and X does the right thing without any witness.  If the term “right thing” is to be a rational one, it means that the action taken is consistent with morality.  Why does someone do the right thing without a witness?  Because the value is meaningful and reflects a person’s character formed on the basis of meaningful values.  To hold puppies or people as meaningful to oneself is to love the puppies or people from a small scale on through the spectrum to the passionate, depending on one’s context in life and one’s values overall.

If everyone were driven by conscience, as a rational benevolence to all people, many contemporary ethical problems would disappear.  But we know that some people seem to act unconscionably.  There are in fact evil people in the world.  There are many concretes about such people, but one might just say, in all accuracy, that evil people are truly without conscience.  To adequately address morality, we must bear in mind that in the context for moral action we will often enough encounter evil people.  I begin to address the nature of good and evil in my next post.

 

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More on Abstract Love

In my last post,  I wrote about children’s charities as indicators of the abstract love of children, which although very broad, was nonetheless a reality as solid as the ground we stand on.  Let us break down this abstract love in its distinct components and its concrete manifestations.

In broadest terms, what do we mean when we say we love children?  I am specifically leaving aside our own personal attachments to our own children or nephews, nieces, or other young acquaintances to look at the principle as such.  Abstractly, what is there about children to love?

The first component of this love for children that we examine is what we experience in thinking about children as members of our species; it is in some measure inspiring or esthetic to think about these small human beings living successfully.  In fact, we could call this component esthetic love, the sort of love we have for the things that lifts our spirits by contemplation, such as beautiful landscapes, music, other fine arts, and so forth.  To perpetuate this esthetic phenomenon by some sort of support is for many a very meaningful act, akin to an artist creating beauty.

The second component of this love of children would be that we find it esthetic morally because,for the most part, children have done no real wrong, or less so than most adults.  In a chaotic world, we prize such purity and want that to continue.  I might call this moral love, because it has to do with the moral status of people in general and, more specifically here, in children.

The third component here is the love of potential.  We love any young child in part because we know that the future is wide open and potentially leads to wonderful and new things.  We love that and, in addition, respect that.

What is respect?  Respect is a term with two important meanings.  The first meaning means a rational concern and allowance for a fact or set of facts about reality, but which has no value judgment attached to the reality itself.  We see such a meaning when we say that a wise mariner respects sea and weather and so studies them constantly when navigating.  A general in combat may respect the opposing general in that he knows that the skills of the enemy must be accounted for.  I think that this term must also refer to mankind in general in that the abilities and values of people cannot be rationally ignored because they are extraordinarily potent in changing our environment.  I believe, in fact, that children do not get enough of such respect in most circumstances.  Respect in this sense is a very important idea, but I do not believe it is central to my meaning about the abstract love of children.  No, the second meaning of respect is what my main point is about.

The second meaning of respect is actually admiration.  What do we mean when we say we admire someone?  It means we love what that person, as a human being, has done or will do.  We consider their achievements or potential achievements as aspects of their character, as essentials of who they are, that we find meaningful as such. Great scientists, artists, businessmen, or government leaders do things that ring true in us as uplifting and meaningful and so, we have an affection for them that we call admiration.   This is, of course, love.  When that love is attached to a conceptual class of human beings, it is very definitely abstract love.  In children, our abstract admiration exists because we know that many will go on to do meaningful things, and we love them for it.

Concretely, if we see a particular child demonstrate the beginnings of bravery, rationality, and affection for people, we know that they are likely to do well in all senses of the word and then we begin to experience this love of their future morality that we call admiration.  This observation applies both to the concrete and the conceptual, obviously, since for me to hypothesize context is to make it the conceptual, while also referencing the concrete.

Children is a good place to start in discussion of values and morality, but while we no doubt will have reason to return to their contexts, it is to the adults we must now direct most of our attention.  Let us now consider the philosophic reality of pediatric surgeons.

Love between husband and wife is fairly well understood as a concrete reality.  Abstract love of adults is another matter.  By addressing children before in my posting, I began to show that there is a thing called abstract love.  I maintain that we have this abstract love for adults as well.  The aspects of abstract love that apply to children in large measure apply to adults as well.  We can have esthetic love of them as living human beings; we can have moral love of them for their character or purity, and we can admire them for past or future meaningful achievements.  However, since adults engage in a greater range of activities over greater intervals of time with many more aspects of social interaction, the values and character issues are much more complex and require a vastly longer treatment than children as such.

My segue way here is to look at a pediatric surgeon.  As a surgeon, he has studied intently over many aspects of science, including biology, chemistry, physics, and perhaps even engineering.  He combines this with anatomy, psychology, internal human metabolism, and a host of other studies.  He also practices the skill necessary to intervene within the human body to effect beneficial change by cutting, implanting, sewing up, and other activities within the human body.  Most surgeons specialize in areas of the body.  Pediatric surgeons work on small children, in general, most of the time.

A pediatric surgeon, like most surgeons, knows that he will not always be successful in his treatment of patients and that in fact some patients will die.  Some may even die because he made a mistake, because no one can always be right in all judgments all of the time.  Whatever the outcome, the surgeon must take literally life-and-death responsibility for patients.  We can admit that such surgeons may vary in their love of children from virtual indifference to passionately caring.  How does this varying level of love for children relate to the actual quality of care for pediatric patients?  A case can be made that it may not be all that relevant, because the job of the surgeon is not to care, but rather, to perform.

The most important thing I can think to say, is that if the surgeon acts as he does, we might also include this action to qualify as the sort of thing that we can love abstractly.  By this I mean that this is an abstract valuing of that which benefits children.  Furthermore, such a person who benefits children becomes a member of a conceptual class that embodies a sort of character that we feel positively about.  We can see if this applies to one aspect of character, it can also apply to a number of aspects of character.  Thus, we may love an abstract character or personality, and when we encounter specific concrete individuals, we would know why we value them, and perhaps even very decidedly love them in the flesh.  I think that I need to expand on this to show how we can admire and respect most people before we actually meet them or even know who they are.

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Love And Human Life As A Value

It is obvious that, for almost all of us, human life is a value.  This is a very abstract statement with very little in the way of specifics.  The virtue of a properly constructed abstraction or concept, is that if it is done well, it will unify all relevant items in one bucket, which allows us to inspect everything, item by item until the entire range of such items have been exhaustively covered.  This is useful in constructing a comprehensive theory, one that never fails, because all things have been accounted for.  Many have scorned such abstractions as been vacuous, but they are wrong.

It is true that many would-be comprehensive abstractions or “theories” have been foisted upon humanity by fools, fanatics, and finaglers, but this does not mean abstractions have no use.  What we need is the knowledge of how to construct, use, and evaluate such abstractions.  I will not go into this, but the vital background on this is to be found in Rand’s magisterial “Introduction To Objectivist Epistemology.”   That work is the go-to reference on the nature, origin, and use of concepts.  Let me now get back to ethics.

What do I mean when I say human life is a value?  I think we must construct this broad abstraction starting from concretes.  Let us begin this inquiry by examining infancy.

Infants very quickly understand that they have a mother and that their mother is of very great value.  From the day they are born, their source of food, warmth, and other comforts come from their mother.  At first, they do not know the source is a person or that even they themselves are persons.  Over time, they can identify their source of benefits as a person called mother.  They also have experience of themselves being hungry or satiated, cold or warm, and comfortable or uncomfortable.  They also have the experience of happiness and unhappiness, even if it is only for the moment.  Given, this experience, they can become anticipatory or  apprehensive about the immediate future.

One further aspect of mother-infant interaction is verbal interactions like giggling and cooing, babbling and talking that go on between them.  Singing also enters the picture.  Furthermore, the childish games of peekaboo, itsy-bitsy spider, and other such games give mental stimulation to the child so they can anticipate intellectual pleasure from their mother.

From all this, it is not surprising that the child anticipates the arrival of their mother, should the mother step away.  The sight and sound of mother, can cause the child to smile in appreciation.  As time wears on, the child’s extended behavior reflects the growing attachment and appreciation of mother we must call love.  In many cases, but not always, the evolution of love for the mother is paralleled by love of father.  In many other cases, love of father simply comes a bit later, due to work and so forth.

In most cases, we can simply say that children love their parents, that the parents are in fact huge bundles of valuable material and spiritual values.  Although there can be some rivalry, the same considerations apply to siblings.  Of course the extended family, if it is available, often follow this pattern, from grandparents to aunt, uncles, and cousins.  Very often, the child will value parents more than siblings, immediate family more than the extended family, family more than friends, and friends more than acquaintances.  This is the common experience.  This valuing of family and friends is in fact loving them, with only the intensity varying between the individuals involved.

Acquaintances are in a distinct class of individuals which can include those we like, those we dislike, and those about which we have no particular reaction.  Let us address only acquaintances we like at this point.  What does it mean that we like an acquaintance?  In most cases, this means that there is something about that acquaintance we find likable.  Now, for the moment, I am leaving aside physical attractiveness which may be important in its own right, but is irrelevant to my inquiry.

What, then, makes someone likable to us?  Typically, what we like is some indications that the person has a value or ability to pursue some value that we find valuable in the sense of being interesting or a common value with us.  This is an indicator of character.  This like we have for an acquaintance might also include some pleasurable interaction that we have had with the individual, such as humorous banter.  We can see by inspection that this liking we have for the individual is, in fact, a sort of  attenuated love.

By the same token, we can see how increasing sharing of values, interests, and interactions can begin to build to and then cross the line to become friendship.  Friendship extends from ordinary to extraordinary and that might include romantic love, which is a vast sharing of nearly everything.  The intricacies of friendly interaction and romance is not my current focus, but, instead, the broader issue of human life in general is the current focus.  This broader focus goes to what I term abstract love.

What do I mean by “abstract love?”  So far, we have been examining specific affection for specific individuals in our lives, but our human experience of love is actually broader than that.  I was once told that to say that one love mankind is absurd on its face because no one can love an abstraction.  Let us determine if there is any truth to be found about this issue, one way or the other.  The term abstract, again, means conceptual, which is opposed to the sheerly concrete.

Have we ever encountered a group of things we be said to love, even if we have already not encountered them?  On a material level, we often say things like “I love spaghetti.”  What this statement means to the speaker is that they have enjoyed eating spaghetti in the past a sufficient number of times such that they believe they would enjoy eating spaghetti in the future an indefinite number of times.  Examined epistemologically, the dish of spaghetti sitting on my table would be a concrete of the class, or concept, or abstraction of spaghetti.  The class of spaghetti includes all the spaghetti that ever was and ever will be.  If I say “I love spaghetti” I am not saying I love the concept of spaghetti, but rather an indefinite number of concretes of spaghetti dishes I will encounter in my gustatory life.  This is an instance of my term “abstract love” because my enjoyment or love is about an indefinite class characterized by a concept, to wit, the dish called “spaghetti.”  Now, let us change our context radically to address people.

Suppose someone said “I love children.”  If the person worked in an organization to help children and not only worked hard, but contributed much of their own salary to help children, we would be likely to consider this statement a true and laudable summary of the person’s values.  We would be justified in saying that someone who loved children would even love them before they met the children. As such, then, the statement “I love children” is a statement about the class of “children” and would be another example of my term “abstract love.”  The existence over time of innumerable children’s charities attests to the reality of this type of abstract love.  In fact, for the donors to such charities, this is truly abstract because,in many cases, the donors will never meet the benefited children and can never even hope to meet them.  This is truly abstract, and, I submit, truly noble love.  But I have more.

We may love many types of human beings.  Not only children, but also heroes, producers, protectors, artists, and an infinite number of other types.  If we conclude that there are so many types to love that it is easier to say that we simply love mankind, we are acknowledging that mankind has value to us, that human life and individual lives matter.  The implications and application of this perspective, I leave to another post.

 

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Causality, Human Will, and Responsibility

For any circumstance, when one asks “What is the cause of x?”  what we are asking for is an essential explanation that fits our context of inquiry.  For example, if  a house is burned down, it does not serve our purpose if the answer is “The house burned down because it was built in the first place; without the house, there would have been no house fire.”  Our question presumes the existence of the house and not its origins.  The essence or clarification of our question here would be “What are the significant factors that started the fire in this house?”  Again, it will not do to say that the cause of the fire is oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere.  No, we actually need an answer that is most proximate and meaningful to our needs.

Suppose that the burned house was our home.  Our home might have been quite a material value to us.  It might have been difficult to acquire, and afforded many benefits while possessing it, not to mention many other material and even spiritual values it contained.  When we break down the question of “What caused the house fire?” in this context, we are asking implicitly a) Was the cause an accident or a deliberate act of human will and b) if an accident, what are the details of it or if the fire was deliberately set by some one, who is that person and what was their motive?

If the fire was an accident, we would look to determine who would suffer the entire loss.  If the house burned down because of some faulty electrical work, we might want to recover damages from the electrician involved.  If the fire was caused by errant lightning, perhaps no negligence is involved.   Given such a case, we determine that we must suffer the entire loss.  Now, we might have insurance which we purchased to recover most damages, but we at least suffered having to pay the premiums.

If the fire were deliberately set by someone, if we know who they are and why they did it is sufficient answer to the basic question.  We need the answer because, since the act was deliberate, we need to see how we can recover damages as well as examine the value implications coming from the personality which decided to act this way.  If the personality is likely to repeat this behavior, we might well label the person a criminal and want to determine how to restrain him in general.  The criminal’s act of will might be sufficient determination of the values involved as to serve as a final and essential cause of this situation.  Questions of his antecedents, such as his childhood upbringing are, strictly speaking, irrelevant.  While a psychologist may find that worth looking into, most victims and the law, for the most part, are satisfied that the criminal’s act of will is sufficient to explain the current situation and the values involved.

We see that free will is an important or essential concept to explain our human situation and to fix responsibility for actions, which imply further actions by us or others.  If we act, we are responsible.  This is no less true for achievements as it is for crimes.

We might ask, “What was the cause of the Mona Lisa?”  Immediately we see that the question is usually spoken as “WHO created the Mon Lisa?”  Just as we blame a criminal for crime, we must credit creators or builders for their work.  The creator of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, is rightly credited and extolled for this and a number of other works.  He is rightly thought to be a benefactor of mankind and deserving of both spiritual and material rewards.

This is also the case for many other valuable works or achievements.  “Who created the airplane?”  “Who built the US Steel company?”  “Who built American capitalism?”  The answers are all people who exercised their human will to make something of worth.  Now we can see the proper rejoinder to President Obama’s remark “You didn’t built that!”  The proper rejoinder is “Human wills – the people – in fact built that and deserve the fruits of their labor.”

So we see that free will implies not only values but a social order that respects values, which can only be free enterprise or Capitalism.

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Human Will, Values, And Personality

Frankl wrote about “The Will To Meaning” in one section of his “Logotherapy In A Nutshell.”  He explained that what he meant is what I would call the Meaning Principle as opposed to Freud’s Pleasure Principle.  The way he described it, the will to meaning is a deep existential need of meaning for man.  I think I could hardly disagree.  However, I am interested in some further considerations. I want to address the nature of will in relation to values, motivation, and meaning.  In addition I want to address the nature of will and meaning to personal identity or personality.  Ultimately I want to also address free will and its characteristics.  If I am right, this examination will clear up some deterministic nonsense as well as unify both philosophy and psychology.

What is the idea of will in general?  Most definitions seem to say that human will is that part of our mind which, using my terms, chooses and pursues values, from our own personality, rather than some external factor.  A specific motivation to pursue a specific value, say x, is often expressed as an intention or will to get x.   A useful contrast to this context is someone under duress.  The person is threatened by a negative value or harm from another person unless some dictate is followed.  We say that the person is not acting on their own free will.  Generally, such a distinction is used in relation to the will of others who impose their values on that person, in contrast to someone who says he has a will to fly, but gravity prevents it.  We would tend to view the would-be flyer as expressing his desire to fly in an eccentric way, rather than consider it the context for free will.

We also encounter issues of determinism when discussing actions in regard to morality.  The position held by determinists is that we are not truly free because the universe caused us, ultimately, to do anything and everything we do and therefore we do not have free will.  I will pick this topic up again, but now will discuss personality or the self as such.

In much of philosophy, a central question is: “Who Am I?”  One aspect of this question is to determine just how far “I” extend and what is or is not a part of me.  Who I am can be addressed as the way that can I be distinguished from everyone else.  It also is at issue when someone performs an act and we seek to determine just what or who is the cause of that act.  If we want to refer to what I am essentially, we can look at a number of possible answers, such as I am a male or I am an American, or I am an adult, or I am a computer programmer.  We could in fact deliver an endless stream of such answers and still be unsatisfied as to what constitutes a full answer to the question.

I think to settle on a final answer, we must say what we are in essentials.  I say that our birth place, our eye color, our job, or our family do not necessarily determine who we are essentially.  As Rand demonstrated in her groundbreaking “Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology,” essence in fact is epistemological.  It is that description of one or more characteristics which best accounts for everything we know about some class of thing or existent  As a species, we are defined as rational animals.  As members of that species, we presume that definition of man as a broader category of who we are, but that is not to define us as individuals.

While we are concrete individuals, as conceptual beings, our concepts determine who we essentially are.  What concept or concepts determine most of what we do, where we go, how we communicate, what people think of us, and so forth.   I believe it boils down to what our highest meaningful values are, how those values are related to each other, and how we choose to pursue those values.  This is our character and it distinguishes us from all other human beings because no one has identical values and styles as integrated with our concrete existence.  This is who we are – our character.  The sum of our motivation within a moral system is our will and our values contain the meaning of our lives.

Now about determinism.  We might well make the point that, given different factors in our makeup, we might necessarily make different choices.  Does this invalidate our free will? Not at all.  A free will is one not under duress, but is the expression of our own values.  If we choose differently, then we have different values and therefore are actually different personalities.  In any eventuality, we express ourselves and we are beings of free will.

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Categories of Meaning and Virtue

Let us now continue to examine meaningful values and how they relate to other values and each other.  In Frankl, recall this quotation from earlier:

According to Logotherapy, we can discover this [or the] meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

Rand wrote something similar in “The Objectivist Ethics:”

The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics–the three values which, together, are the means to and the and the realization of one’s ultimate value, one’s own life–are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.

First off, I think that Rand has made a classification error.  In another writing, I believe, she cites three top values as work, self-esteem, and romantic love.  If we regards these values as principally markers of value categories, I think we can see a correlation between Rand’s selection of values being quite similar to Frank’s ways to discover meaning.

Such a version of values seems closer to Frankl’s ways of discovering meaning.  Reason and/or rationality is not and end-value as such.  Reason is a capacity and rationality is a virtue, neither of which is a value as such.  A capacity and virtue in a moral frame are elements or tools to acquire values, but in general should not be considered an end value. Romantic love is a value, and so better represents part of an ensemble of ultimate or top values.

In addition, I believe that Romantic Love as a top value is a concrete, not a classification.  Instead, love and/or enjoyment seems to be the appropriate genus for values here in a moral system.

I submit that when Frankl speaks of “ways of discovering meaning,” what he is referencing is the pursuit of values.  The values in question fall into categories: Category 1) is really the same between Rand and Frankl: “Achievement or work” is cited by both.  This is a category, not a single concrete because it is not only obvious that one may have more than one occupation over a lifetime, it is also undeniably true that humans may work at more than one occupation simultaneously, not to mention many other tasks which may materially benefit his life.

Now, what is the meaning of work or achievement?  The meaning can be several, but essentially I think it boils down to two aspects. They are that, first, work directly supports our lives (instrumental) and, second, is a medium of self-expression.

Work as self-expression can be a way of molding the world to our vision, or is a pleasurable activity as such.  Whether is is building things, offering a service, or simply finding out things like scientists and certain thinkers, the element of some satisfaction must be either that you want at least a part the world to look a certain way or the activity itself is rewarding.  Work is typically an ongoing, life-long activity and so offers a vast array of concretes.

When Frankl writes of experiencing something or encountering someone as a second way of discovering meaning, we see it is a category 2), a positive experience which ranges from pleasant to satisfying to passionate.  Furthermore, such experiences or encounters are generally a series of such things, and not generally just a one-shot occurrence.

Generally speaking as well, the continuing experiences at such a level have enough meaning to cause us to anticipate how such things might cease due to factors such as the destruction or exhaustion of the source of such experiences and encounters, so consequently we prudently act to further the existence of that source.

Moreover, if the experiences or encounters are sufficiently intense or complex, psychologically a generalized aura of positiveness seems to surround such experiences or encounters.  Such a generalized anticipation of positiveness and a concern with the ongoing existence of the sources of such experiences and encounters which is also sufficient to create a general positive emotion and  a series of actions, this whole complex fits what must be considered to be the operational definition of love.

Now the love I am speaking about is the genus of love, something broader than is usually meant when some uses the word “love.”  This is the genus of love which certainly includes Romantic Love, but also extends to things over a much broader range of objects and of much less intensity, such as liking to take a walk daily.  Thus, I say category number two is “Enjoyed or loved things.”

Rand wrote that cardinal value number 3 is self-esteem.  In reading her broader context, I think it appropriate to interpret this term as the pleasure of experiencing one’s own good character.  As such, it is the good character that is the value and self-esteem is a part of the pleasure  or meaning we take in our character.

Human character comprises the elements of our consciousness that make up how we act in regard to values and value contexts.  These elements are distinct from capacities such as intelligence, perception, or talents, which imply no particular relationship as such in regard to values.  Capacities can be applied to value pursuit and to the extent they are molded by such pursuit or characterize such pursuit, they may be considered a style, a frame, or method of character.  What are these elements found in our consciousness that determine how we react to values or value contexts?  Let us consider observing someone’s action.  How do we determine what explains a given action?

We already know that the action is directed at a value with sufficient meaning to generate the motivation.  We also know that all values have a context, which is to say that a given action of value pursuit is taken in the face of alternatives, constraints, and concomitant values.  These alternatives are actually other possible values which are distinct from the value sought and would be considered opposed values. A constraint is a condition, resource, or limit that determines what values are possible and/or describe a quantitative consideration.  Concomitant values would be either other values needed to pursue the value in question or the consequences of the current action ,   We may call the presumed alternatives, constraints, or concomitants of the action, the value premises or moral premises of the action.

Now if we can infer the values and moral premises of someone that explain the choices and actions of that person and therefore reasonably predict many future actions of that person, we may say that we have grasped their nature or character of that person.  If these actions are directed to meaningful, rational values and the person is clear and coherent in value pursuit, we say the actions are good.  And if good actions essentially prevail in that person’s conduct,we say they are a good person.  When we conclude we are a good person by appraising our conduct in the same way, this is true self-esteem, but the value is good character and the result of that value is pleasure in our own character or self-esteem.

There are innumerable aspects to existence and how we pursue meaningful values.  However, we cannot act in all aspects, only concrete ways.  Still the possible ways can be so numerous that unless we boil down the concretes into classes, no general or far-reaching way of approaching can be conclude in values or morality.  The actual pursuit of values is an operation of virtue.  Virtue is the capacity to choose and pursue a rationally meaningful value.  Vice is the incapacity to choose and pursue a rationally meaningful value.

When it comes to virtue in regard to work or achievement, Rand wrote that the virtue is productiveness.  I do not believe this fully addresses the nature or meaning value pursuit.  I think a better, more precise description for the virtue that pursues meaningful work or achievement is ambitiousness.

Ambitiousness is motivated productivity of meaningful work.  One may be productive while not being properly motivated, such as for an false illusion or being forced at gun point.  When one is ambitious, it reflects a motivation of voluntary choice directed to the nature and reality of the value itself as such and that this value is important in some way.

For category number 2 about experiences and encounters, or love in general (in terms of genus)  the appropriate virtue a motivated capacity to choose and pursue end values of meaning.  Although this virtue is also a species of ambitiousness, it is rarely, if ever, called that.  Instead we may hear of someone having a resolve to experience life, or a commitment to some love or another.  We could also speak of such a person as one who loves life.  However, make no mistake, this is a motivated capacity to choose and pursue a meaningful values, and therefore is truly a form of ambitiousness.  This category of value is primarily that of end values – things that need no further justification as such, but deliver meaning without “borrowing” the meaning of other values.

For the value of good character, which implied in category number 3 or self-esteem,  I think Rand has the virtue defined correctly as moral ambitiousness.  Rand calls this pride, but the terms differ as for those of other virtue categories.  We might call it the resolution to be a good person, or a being a person dedicated to the good.  It is definitely an ambitiousness that embodies morality, because the sum of values and virtues is a morality, but within the person, it is his character.

I have merely touched on what I say are the three categories of meaningful values and their respective virtues.  I expect to revisit them many times in the future.  This is a preliminary view subject to substantial revision.

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A Robot

In “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand postulated that if one stipulates an immortal robot, no values are possible.  Many of us have puzzeled over this for some time.  I think that now the answer is clear.  If this robot incorporates meaning in its system, and therefor actual values, then it would keep acting until it was no longer possible to act.  If this is forever, so be it.  This is really the the same issue as the suicide question.  Beyond the biochemical, the action of a conceptual being arises from meaning, and again where there is meaning, action takes place.

The fact that Rand stipulates a robot implies a being without consciousness.  If there is no consciousness, the example is irrelevant.  If we do have a consciousness, however formed, which is a conceptual consciousness, and if it also finds meaning in reality, it acts; if not, then it will not act.  I think the use of a robot analogy simply obscures the issue a little bit.  I believe that Rand’s choice of example is the result of her sort of Natural Science approach and in absence of an extensive and explicit grasp of meaning in morality.  I must add, she was aware of meaning but, seemingly, only implicitly.  It is very clear from her other writing, especially her fiction, that meaning underlies her philosophy.

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Meaning In Morality

From what we have considered about about meaning with Frankl, let us return to Rand and apply meaning to some of the things we have noted.  I note that meaning is restricted in scope to human beings.  While biochemical issues can adequately describe microbes to mammals and we humans do have some biochemical factors in our existence, by far the most crucial factor is our conceptual consciousness and its parts.  Meaning is one of those aspects of our conceptual consciousness or mind.  Reason is the essence of our minds.

The first thing I say about the thinking of Frankl and Rand is that there is a sort of union between value and meaning.  Given that without meaning, no action would take place, we would then not have values.  Similarly, if a presumed value had no meaning whatsoever, it would certainly not be pursued and would lapse into a non-value. We find meaning in values and not apart from each other.

We may also note that meaning may vary in intensity with some meanings being more intense than others.  Since we may take only a certain number of actions in a given context and interval of time, we will have the more intense meaningful values chosen over the less meaningful, to maximize the meaning in our lives.  From this it is easy to see that we may prioritize values and, in some cases, one value may be instrumental to another.  Such considerations lead to the development of a hierarchical structure of values to maximize meaning in life and minimizing value loss, or costs within the range of possible actions,  This is of course, morality.

This structure cannot be an entirely rigid prescription for all actions because we have an indefinitely large set of interactions to consider as well as fluctuating powers and interests over time.  Human life is so complex that it helps to think of morality as a sort of floor-plan (or strategy) for action.  Some things will be very much set in place, like wall, floors, and stairs.  Other things are likely to vary or can be rearranged, like decorations, furniture, and appliances.

Now considering that meaning resides within values, this conclusion affects our definition of good and evil as perhaps implicitly intended in Rand’s definition.  Where Rand said “the good is that which promotes the life of a rational being” I would alter this to say “the good is that which promotes the meaningful life of a rational being.  This is certainly not a great departure from Rand and one could argue that it is not a departure at all, because in many ways Rand’s writings imply meaning is active in her considerations, although not in these terms.

Rand wrote that a standard of good allows us to judge how a morality or value is to be evaluated, but that our individual purpose is to experience happiness in life.  Rand wrote that “Happiness is non-contradictory joy” which “proceeds from our achieving our values.”  I say the non-contradictory joy is the reward from meaning.

Emotion is a reaction to meaningful values or a threat to those values.  Emotion is also an action of our brain and body to prepare or engage in action.  We can see that meaning, joy, emotion, and motivation are all related to each other but are distinct from each other.  I will try to clarify this.

We say that meaning is the quality of the relationship of a person to an existent or situation such that actual or potential action would take place in the appropriate context.  This means that the actor has motivation, very likely a detectable emotion, and that the gaining or keeping of an existent or situation defines a value and the result is a type of existential joy, pleasure, or satisfaction emanating from  that value.  The action in question may also be the avoidance of the loss of the existent or situation as well.  Such a loss, if encountered, would be characterized as a loss of a value, typically be accompanied by existential pain, an emotion of sadness, depression, or anger, and could be summarized as some loss of meaning.

I believe this context is more detailed, comprehensive and useful than just saying happiness is our purpose in life.  “Happiness” is a broad term, as used by most people casually, while we find meaning can be defined in values and be subject to analysis.  Meaning can also be applied to painful situations, unlike the idea of happiness.  I believe meaning is present even in the worst of circumstances and enables us to carry on, even while we might recognize pain.  This could hardly be called happiness, so we need something more in explanation.  I will address such issues at length later.

Meaning is a clear alternative to Hedonism, which claims pleasure and pain are the accurate summary human existence.  Hedonism not only tends to be a mindless and self-destructive self-indulgence which undercuts man’s life, as Rand observes, it is also, if anything, even vaguer than using happiness as a means to understand our values, and so almost totally useless in application. We find hedonism not only in the overt reference to this school, but, as Rand observed, also within the writings of Nietzsche, Bentham, Mill, and Comte, the only real differences being where the pleasure or pain is to be found.  Meaning, on the contrary, can be made into precise distinctions.

In an earlier post, I mentioned that one of the conundrums some students of Rand’s philosophy encounter is the thought “If we have free will, why would we choose life over death?”  If we properly allow for meaning, this question becomes nonsensical.

Choice or decision is an action in itself.  Any voluntary human action proceeds from motivation which is generated by meaning.  Setting aside excruciating pain or an extreme situation to achieve or preserve some supreme value, there is NO motivation for death and, indeed, ANY motivation, including that found in this act of choice, must logically flow from affirming life itself, the precondition of joy and meaning.  I conclude that any such “dispassionate” choice of death over life, is self-contradictory and a nullity.

Let us now delineate end values.  Rand wrote:

 It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it.  And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself — the kind that makes one think:  “This is worth living for”  — what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.  [Emphasis original]

An end value is one where its achievement yields some joy or pleasure, sufficient to motivation us, which is distinct from any consideration of achieving another value.  Such a value has meaning in itself.  Some values only serve in achieving some additional value.  Such values are instrumental values, rather than end values.  If all values were purely instrumental, our actions would never be meaningful, because we would never get to the meaning part.  In that case, we die.

Rand’s quotation above addresses the prevalence of meaningful value or values in a given experience yielding deep joy.  When such experiences are the prevailing mode of one’s life, one might say that it is a happy life.  Some values are a mixture of both instrumental value and end value.  A hearty meal would be one example, in that it might be very enjoyable and, at the same time, sustain our happy lives.

In my next post, I will continue examining the issues as perceived by me in this discussion of Meaning in Morality.

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Man’s Search For Meaning

We now turn to Viktor E. Frankl, MD.  He was an Austrian Psychiatrist who founded “Logotherapy,” the “Third School Of Viennese Psychotherapy” after Freud’s and Adler’s.  He was imprisoned in concentration camps during World War Two.  He was a profound thinker and had some great theories on the nature of human beings before being in the concentration camps, but his imprisonment forced him to apply his theories to crucial tests.

After release, he wrote a book telling of his ordeals, published in German in 1946.  He was later asked to address his therapeutic approach shown in his camp experiences he wrote about. He began to write a number of books in German expanding on this.This book, “Man’s Search For Meaning” was a translation performed in 1984 and is the original story, entitled “Experiences In A Concentration Camp,” with two additional sections.  The second section, “Logotherapy In A Nutshell” is a condensation of a number of books written in German to outline his system.  The third section is called “The Case For A Tragic Optimism.”  I will principally address section 2, “Logotherapy In A Nutshell” to obtain the fundamental elements I require at this early stage.

This is another book I cannot praise highly enough.  I enthusiastically recommend that the reader read this book in its entirety, as it is profound and short.  It includes an extensive bibliography of books in English on Logotherapy and is still less than 200 pages long.  Aside from that, reading about Dr. Frankl’s experiences in those horrific camp situations is gripping and a sort of page-turner.  What a book.

I should warn the reader that many of Frankl’s positions and conclusions differ from mine in important ways, so reading him is vital.  What I have taken and discuss is what I have identified as material and essential to discussion and reality within my context, conveyed as carefully as I can to maintain Frankl’s original intent.  Where we differ, I try to make it plain.  The reader might also differ.

In his experiences, Frankl had observed a lot of camp inmates perish, many of them by the usual causes.  However, among those not subject to those causes, some survived and others did not.  Frankl found that, as he had anticipated, those who survived had a different outlook from those who did not.  He found that the survivors still wanted something, and that this something gave meaning to their lives. Frankl also found that many of those who died without the usual or expected causes essentially had simply given up.  The type something the the survivors wanted is what Frankl calls “meaning.”

The word “meaning” has been applied to many actions and life itself and goes back many years, perhaps to the beginning of civilization.  However long it has been, I have encountered very little in the way of definition for this term.  This concept is so broad and undefined that it has been the subject of jokes about “the meaning of life” and related issues, yet everyone seems to be seriously concerned about it, one way of the other.  I think Frankl has come to grips with the essentials of meaning, but I think much remains to be said about it.  This is the key element in of human life, as I see it.

Frankl wrote about the context of meaning:

Let us now consider what we can do if a patient asks what the meaning of life is. [Emphasis original]

I doubt whether a doctor can answer this question in general terms.  For the meaning life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.

The bracketed text is mine.  Note that Dr. Frankl here is writing as a psychiatrist, explicitly not as a philosopher.  As a doctor, he is looking at concrete examples of meaning or the lack thereof for a patient which then allows for concrete treatment.  For ethics, however, we must ask “What concept or concepts subsume these patients’ concretes?”  In other words, what is the essence of meaning?  We can effectively recognize when we encounter concrete meaningful things by applying the concept of meaning. So recognizing what the concept of “meaning” is, is just as essential for us as ethicists as it is for an emergency room doctor to understand what the concepts of “health” or “infection” are.  Let us examine what meaningful things are and what the concept of meaning is.

Frankl wrote a few pages later:

According to Logotherapy, we can discover this [or the] meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering.

First of all, I ask: can we now make a better description of meaningful things than we have already had?  I say yes. Let us first more closely examine the above quotation.

Items as described in discovering meaning under category (1) are in fact production and achievement.  Items that are produced or achieved are things “one acts to gain and/or keep,” which is to say, values. Bearing in mind that these values entail meaning, we might term them meaningful values.

For category (2) we can envision the feeling we get of life being good when we repeated engage in  recreation, like, say, skiing.  We might also envision a romance with continuing interaction with our sweetheart. While we might have some experience that was totally due to chance, most of such experiences happen because we seek them out or establish situations where they are likely to come about.  In other words, again, we have something which “one acts to gain and/or keep,”  Which is to say again, they are meaningful values.

In category (3), again we have a meaningful value.  The value here is to achieve personal resolve or self-control on values. perhaps even a sort of tranquility.  This attitude is one of self-esteem and dignity, a definitely meaningful value of being an upright person.  This meaningful value of self-esteem applies not to only suffering, but in other circumstances as well.  If we have spectacular luck, a rational and meaningful self-esteem would prevent us from jumping to the conclusion that we are, therefore, a spectacular person. Indeed, proper self-esteem would be a continuing, quiet, objective satisfaction in our lives, resulting from doing what we must do, when necessary, to maintain this attitude.

I conclude that we encounter meaning in life in the form of meaningful values.  Note that Rand’s definition of value helped us recognize values when we encountered them.  This is good, but the question still remains: what is meaning?  Sometimes to really understand a positive, it is first necessary to study the negative, as well as the limits of that positive. I think Frankl discussion of negatives actually does this.  I think the positives he asserts about meaning may at first obscure its underlying essence, so I will initially turn to his discussing the lack of meaning and the limits of the range in meaning.  Let us now consider the “Existential Vacuum.”

… I turn to the detrimental influence of that feeling which so many patients complain today, namely, the feeling of the total and ultimate meaninglessness of their lives.  They lack the awareness of a meaning worth living for. They are haunted by the experience of their inner emptiness, a void within themselves; they are caught in that situation which I have called the “existential vacuum.”

A bit further on, he writes:

The existential vacuum manifests itself mainly in a state boredom.

On the next page, he writes:

Not a few cases of suicide can be traced back to this existential vacuum.  Such widespread phenomena as depression, aggression and addiction are not understandable unless we recognize the existential vacuum underlying them.

Several pages later, he writes of the social dimension of the existential vacuum:

The existential vacuum which is the mass neurosis of the present time can be described as private and personal form of nihilism; for nihilism can be defined as the contention that being has no meaning.

The existential vacuum is a very real problem philosophically, psychologically, and culturally, but we examine it at this point to further clarify its opposite.  Let us reverse these characteristics of no meaning and reverse the necessary elements within these reversals.

If there is no existential vacuum in a person, then:

  • They are filled with awareness of values worth living for and which they pursue or create.  Furthermore, they know they are not empty vessels, but beings of substance.
  • Far from being bored, they have a fascination and satisfaction with the things they do, the world they live in, and the people they meet.
  • They give no thought to suicide and enjoy active life without depression, anger, or mindless activities like drug addiction.

Several pages back, Frankl notes under the heading “Will To Meaning” the following was written when critiquing other psychotherapeutic theories:

Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values!

What can we glean from all this in regard to the characteristics of meaning? I think there are several things we can say about meaning:

  1. Meaning is important.  What that means is if something is meaningful, it has the power to command our attention.  It is, well, important.
  2. Meaning generates motivation.  If a value not only commands our attention, but also commands our action or actions, it is meaningful.
  3. Meaning gives us the experience of a sort of existential pleasure or satisfaction over and above physical pleasures and often trumps pain.
  4. Meaning can be so strong as to command that we live or command that we die.  We can visualize examples, such as a mother giving up her life to protect her child.  By the same token, a mother who might be in extreme pain could continue to live to help her children, where if she were alone, she would not continue living.

Frankl has more to say in this book, but we will address them later.

I think that meaning is the key element we may use to clarify ethics and morality, both in Rand’s writing and generally.  We have some idea what meaning is and I also think that we may conclude that meaning is only found in, or lives in, values. Meaning does not float in space.  When we say life is meaningful, we are saying we are living in pursuit of meaningful values.  I think we may now begin to integrate some the aspects we have discussed about Rand with the concepts articulated by Frankl.

 

 

 

 

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Ethics and Morality

I will now begin to set the framework for us by outlining some basic ideas from Ayn Rand on ethics and morality.  A good deal of Rand’s thinking that I directly incorporate into my own is in the form of her definitions and other basic distinctions.  Accordingly, I start with definitions as found in her excellent collection of essays called “The Virtue Of Selfishness,”  which can be found as a Signet paperback in just about all major book outlets.

I enthusiastically endorse this book for anyone interested in serious ethics or morality. Rand set the context of ethics like no other writer ever has.  I would not expect the reader to go along with every single word, but even one should only agree with a tiny fraction of what she writes about, that fraction is likely to be of more ethical import than all other writers one has encountered, combined.

The book’s central essay, “The Objectivist Ethics,” explores the fundamentals of her thinking.  While other books of hers also make ethical points, especially her novels “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead,” her essay here puts it together and makes new points.  I should note that this paperback collection also includes eighteen other related, worthwhile short essays taken from “The Objectivist Newsletter” which was her publication on philosophic issues at the time.

What I write assumes much of what Rand wrote, but I urge the reader to read her works for himself, as my interpretation may not be how the reader interprets her thought and, with a topic this broad, that would be no small thing.

Rand defines morality and ethics on the first page of her essay:

 What is morality, or ethics? It is a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions–the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.  Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

Let us amplify on this.  What is a code?  A code is a constructed system of concepts about a given area of thought or actions which allows, or should allow, for all possibilities within that area.  Rand has her own justification of the needs for ethics and morality elaborated in the essay.  As for me, I would just like to observe that we are all finite beings with virtually an infinite range of possible actions open to us.  We cannot do everything and some things we must do to simply stay alive, not ot mention a whole slew of things that make our lives worthwhile.  Without some system to condense the considerations of choice in actions and prioritize such actions, we would be simply paralyzed or, possibly, reduced to animal urges for determining what we do, thereby making our lives nasty, brutish, and short.

The definitions of her ethics and morality depend on her definition of the term “value,” which is a central concept for us in ethics, which Rand defines three pages later:

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep.

This is a deceptively simple definition, but I really have found no other writer that even tries to define “value.”  It becomes a building-block for all other discussion of ethics. The term not only helps us understand what ethics and morality is about, but this definition also serves as a razor-sharp tool for analysis of many human phenomena, both philosophically and psychologically.  It can highlight many previously unclear relationships and dissect many fallacies.  It is a major tool I use in my thinking.

She adds this about value, which I think requires additional discussion on its own:

The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what?  [Emphasis in original]

The definition of the term “primary” and its context must be addressed in regard to ethics generally, which I will do later with additional tools.

Rand defines the term “good” in her philosophy, which she named “Objectivism,” further on:

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.

I think that these ideas of good and evil are fairly well supported by Rand’s essay.  The essay is largely a discussion of how her basic concepts, in the context of man’s life, imply these definitions of good and evil.  There is much more in the essay and I will return to this essay a number of times as I develop my thinking and writing, as well as introduce new tools and concepts for ethical development.  For now let us just note that, aside from the much greater context she gives to support her definition of value, she largely sets up what seems to me as a sort of natural science context for ethics.

Rand is properly critical of hedonism, Nietzschean “selfishness,” as well as god-based or society-based ethics.  We will address those same concerns later, after more development in my presentation.  She also addresses some virtues that, again, we will re-visit later.

I will also, over time, address many fields which might seem far afield from ethics, but which inexorably flow from implications that we discover, including issues within the fields of politics, psychology, and esthetics.

In my next post, I will turn to Viktor Frankl.

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Main Sources

Obviously, no writer within the last three thousand years can claim to write only from his own thinking and it is important to recognize what the sources of thought are because:

1) The ideas or inferences may have a very specific context which cannot be forgotten.

2) Knowing the source will often provide useful validation for many things that merit discussion, not to mention being fair to the original author.

3)  The comprehensive presentation of a set of ideas might only be found in the original writing.

Because of these considerations, here are the writers most important to me:

Aristotle – the giant of Western Civilization.

Ayn Rand – Popular novelist and a once-in-a-millennium thinker.

Viktor Frankl -  Distinguished founder of the “Third School of Viennese Psychotherapy.”

There are also a number of other great thinkers, which tend to be more specialized or whose application is not as fundamental as the previous writers.

In most discussions, I will provide citations which will guide the reader to the books and works under discussion, as well as additional useful works for study.

For myself, I believe that there are a number of ideas original to me that have arisen over the course of 50 years of reading and thinking.  I will leave it to the readers to decide whether my ideas are actually good or not.

My ideas will be revealed in the course of my writing, along with those of many others, such as psychologists, additional philosophers, economists, scientists, politicians, and so forth.  Aristotle can also be handled, for the most part, within my narrative without extended discussion, even though his writing were so broad and seminal in Western culture, because his ideas have already been largely assimilated into our culture.  The two writers in my sources which remain to be considered are Ayn Rand and Viktor Frankl. Their works serve as Rosetta Stones in my current enterprise and they are not well-known by most people, so deserve detailed examination.

What Frankl has to say is extremely important, but I think his work should be addressed somewhat later as philosophic discussion prior to presentation of his concepts dramatically enriches them with a new, broad, and far-reaching context.  That context is provided by the last source remaining to be considered, to wit, Ayn Rand.

Rand’s  philosophic work is so profound, broad, and fundamental that it is largely unknown to the general public and even to educated persons.  This is so much the case that she merits a very detailed discussion of her ideas for my context.  I have very specific reasons for characterizing her work as great.  Here are a few of her contributions:

A)  Metaphysics and metaphysical analysis.  Her identification of true primaries and definitions within philosophy is unrivaled by all other writers except Aristotle.

B) A new theory of concepts which can scarcely overemphasized in its importance.  Such work must easily be the highlight of a philosophic millennium.

C) Her work on meta-ethics and ethical definitions is groundbreaking. She has also been a trenchant critic of modern contemporary schools of ethics and morality.

D) Her discussion of the philosophic foundations of politics is one of the most important themes of the 20th and 21st centuries.

E) In esthetics, her discussion of a theory of literary art is, again, unique and very suggestive of still more vistas of knowledge.

Rand’s ideas are profound and seminal.  However, over time, I found that while I agreed with her well over ninety percent of the time, perhaps even ninety-nine percent of the time, there still remained two aspects of her thinking that I found to be problems for me, and also for other honest people of good will.

First, there we  a number of questions that seemed to bedevil many people who studied her philosophy earnestly.  Some of these questions could sound silly, nonsensical, or even dishonest, but I determined that the questions reflected a certain underlying element or elements that needed to be addressed.

Take, for example, that Rand’s philosophy arises, she says, in part by a decision to live and that such a decision is an expression of human free will.  Some have asked the serious question as to why someone should not simply choose to die?  Would they never choose death if their will was free?

Another question seems more results oriented.  Integrity is a revered virtue in Rand’s ethical philosophy.  This would often give rise to the question or questions like “How does integrity develop?” or “Why is the lack of integrity so widespread?”

Still another question is why should a rational person not kill another person, if they thought they could successfully get away with it and the results are very positive? A number of such questions occur to students and critics of Rand’s philosophy and are answered with varying degrees of effectiveness.

The second area I found problematic is that there was a perceived notion that Rand’s philosophy did not give sufficient weight to the dynamics of emotions, including both joy and sadness.  When one looks at her writings carefully, however, one will note that the characters of her books reflect a joy in existence and in each another.

Rand was certainly aware of how important these positive emotions are.  However, she did not treat them to very much presentation or greatly elaborate on them in regard other aspects of her non-fiction writing. Indeed, a concern with emotion was often identified with “whim-worshippers.”  A whim-worshipper is an emotionalist who believes that emotions are tools of cognition, rather than a reflection of what we think.  Whim-worshippers rightly have a very bad reputation in Randian philosphy, but distaste for such persons, is not in itself a serious attempt to address emotions within ethics.

Furthermore, people new to her point of view had easily gotten the impression that she was or is a ruthless or uncaring person due to her dramatic style in literature and her given focus in philosophic writing.  Of course devoted students of Rand’s philosophy and art know that Rand was a passionate lover of human life, and could hardly be termed unfeeling.

The above considerations led me on a search for a better understanding of man’s ethical and psychological context.  During this search, I encountered Viktor Frankl’s incredible book “Man’s Search For Meaning.”  His presentation of the concept of moral meaning I found to be truly the missing element in Rand’s treatment of ethics.  Although Doctor Frankl had a different overall worldview and his point of view on this topic was as a psychotherapist, the considerations he brought up have a massive set of broad and deep philosophic implications.  I do not believe that even he realized how crucially important his work is, although he knew it to be quite important.

What I am doing in my writing is largely the effort to integrate Frankl’s concepts about meaning with Rand’s ethical context.  I believe that such an integration will flesh out Rand’s ethics, while giving Frankl’s understanding vastly greater intellectual rigor.  From it also much additional discovery follows from application of this integrated view.

I will begin to greatly amplify and add to what I have said above in ensuing posts.  If I am right in what I am saying, I am convinced that the resulting ethical and psychological knowledge will heal many hurting people and help many more find their potentials within their own lives and within a culture of reason, meaning, and joy.  May it be so.  I hope you will help me get there.

Thank you.

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Re-Ignition

After an additional 2 years of research and reflection, it is time to start up this blog again.  I have learned a few additional things of value for philosophy and living in this interval.  I should also say that my purpose is to re-work the foundations of ethics and morality. I believe certain fundamental aspects must be amplified on or even constructed for the first time ever.

The issues in this field are crucial because upon them turn all considerations of good or bad, truth or confusion, happiness or misery, and light or darkness in human existence.  This is because everything from personal choices up to international politics and war, are simply elaborated conclusions arising from the implications of ethical ideas. It has been said that the humanities have lagged well behind the physical sciences.  I agree and believe that this is because of the inadequate development of ethics and morality for over two thousand years.

What I want to do is a massive undertaking.  If I am to do it at all, I must write freely, almost stream-of-consciousness, because there is so much to consider and with so many things yet undefined. Any attempt to proceed in an organized way would be, and has been, self-stultifying.  It will now be my goal to average one or more paragraphs per day, just to take a stab at this.

Generally, I will choose a topic, event, book, or even a definition I consider interesting and write about it.  Politics, culture, art, psychology and philosophy often collide in any discussion, so I will write about them, sometimes in the same stretch of writing.  I will try to be more organized than this but all of this is messy.  The writing may be as little as single paragraph or as much as an extended essay, but whatever it is, I am going to let it flow.  I also expect to re-visit many topics, with some of them being repeatedly added to or modified.

I have been wanting to avoid being messy, but there seems no help for that, given things as they are and what I want to achieve.  For most part, what I want to present, while it may start with common knowledge, should soon take us many places never seen before by any of us, including me.

Please bear with me on this, but feel free to contribute comments and corrections..  I also will make a number of typos and I hope you will bear with them as well and all corrections submitted by readers will be gratefully considered.

I know that many blogs dispense with reader comments, many times due to the sheer volume and overhead in maintaining them, not to mention trolls and spammers. You may also email me and at this time, I certainly expect to respond to them all.  I will try to keep the channels as open as seems feasible to do so.  I would really appreciate serious responses to what I write.  I can only hope that someday my reader comments and email would become so voluminous, I could no longer interact personally.  Until that day, we can be in touch.

One thing further.  All that I write and all comments on this site about what I write are reserved under my own name as copyrighted material. Aside from responses on the blog, fair uses in citations, and so forth, all rights are reserved.

Thank you.

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Rational Meaning

I have called this site RationalMeaning.com.  This is because it has two central points about which I use to explain what I think about things.  Therefore I think I should define these terms separately as well as in combination.

RATIONAL here refers to man’s faculty of reason.  What is reason?  Well, it has been described in various ways over history and very often in unhelpful, or even destructive, ways.  I define reason as man’s faculty of conceptual cognition, which is to say, how we know things by means of concepts.  The biggest difference between human beings and all other known entities, is that we have this conceptual consciousness.  Almost everything worth thinking and speaking about in regards to our lives have a thoroughly conceptual foundation, conceptual context, and conceptual implications.  We share the ability to sense simple sensations and perception with other forms of life. but sensations and percepts make up only a small part of what we know and what we really care about.

Reason is NOT at all anything ineffable or mystic, but most solid of realities we confront.  However, many writers have confounded reason with vague longings or mystic ritual.  Reason, it might be better said is actually common sense rightly understood.  From the very nature of concepts there flow logic, mathematics, and coherence.  More than anything, the discussion of reason should be seen as an effort to fully know how we know, and therefore be certain about our conclusions.  However, what also comes from reason is values and that is a whole field in itself.

We still have many basic problems in ethics, not just in everyday practice, or as political matters, but more fundamentally, on a philosophic level.  This philosophic difficulty spawns political and practical difficulties on a mass scale.  Sad to say, ethics is an underdeveloped science.  By the same token, however, this may be in fact an opportunity for our time to make substantial progress.  I think I have taken a few steps in that direction.

To adequately address ethics, we must now address MEANING.  I did not discover this by my own inspiration and I did not coin the term.  However, I recognized its place in philosophy when it was presented to me.  The person who broke this all open for me and for many others is the distinguished Austrian Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.  He wrote the book “Man’s Search For Meaning” in the 1940′s and the book has had widespread acceptance.  In this book, he discusses the ultimate grounds for motivation.  Although his theory had been thought out before the war, when he was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, he had first-hand verification in detail of his thoughts about human living.

In his book, he explains that sometimes prisoners simply gave up.  They could not be motivated to do anything.  No tasks would be performed even under brutal beatings and threats.  They often would not even get out their beds.  They typically died, one way or the other in days, once they had given up.  For them, life had no meaning.  In contrast to those prisoners were others who never gave up.  You might well ask what were the crucial differences between survivors and casualties here.  Essentially, the survivors had a reason to live.  It might be the hope of seeing family again.  It might be to fulfill a mission or job they wanted to do.  It might be that they simply took pride in holding fast to their lives, no matter what.  Such things gave meaning to their lives.

Those things are meaningful values, values being those things which one acts to gain or keep.  As Frankl shows, meaningful values in some ways are quite peculiar.  Consider a parent of a child or children.  Most of us readily understand that many parents will be willing to die for their children and also be willing to keep alive for their children, even if life is a struggle.  This seems paradoxical.  On the one hand – death, on the other – life.  It may seem strange, but we cannot deny the reality of meaningful values.  Much about our lives are determined ultimately by what we hold as supreme meaningful values.  If we assume that their are no meaningful values, by definition we are saying life is meaningless.  To believe that wholeheartedly is to be depressed, even suicidal.

I think we have much to discuss about meaningful values and that such discussion will have massive effect on philosophy, psychology, and the humanities, not to  mention contemporary politics.

Reason and meaningful values are intertwined subjects requiring extended discussion of first the one and then the other, then a melding of the two, then starting over.  We are complex beings and in order to cover the field adequately, there is no substitute for having a long and involved discussion over time.  It is my mission not only to discover many of these aspects, but to make them intelligible in a relatively straightforward way for anyone who takes these matters seriously. To say the least, none of this is easy, but I will do my best.  I also invite you, the reader, to reach out to me whenever you find something definitely wrong, but even more so, if what I write is not clear to you.

I believe this can only be a long-range effort.  I hope you will join me on this journey.

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Genesis – The Purpose of This Blog

This blog is about philosophy and today’s reality.  Civilization faces a number of problems and individuals a number of concrete challenges.  I believe that philosophy can make all the difference for us all. I think that much valuable knowledge has been forgotten, but even more crucial, there is fundamental knowledge that has not yet been developed.  I have taken valuable ideas from the past, extended them, and added a few of my own to come up with what is likely to be a dramatically better world-view than can be easily found. I want to show the principles that solve our concrete problems and I believe that the principles and integrations I have created over the course of a lifetime are new solutions to old problems.

I have a lot to say about hardcore philosophy as well as current events.  I will try to unify them by pointing out the connections.  Beyond that I will be slowly articulating a complete philosophy, for those who, like me, believe philosophy is crucial.  I will not be bashful about art, psychology, science or any other area of interest.

This is the beginning of what I hope will be a grand journey for many people.  It will be for me, my friends, interested strangers, and even enemies.  The purpose of my writing is to explore, point out, and hopefully illuminate the ways in which we think about the true, the good, and the beautiful.  I do not know where this journey will lead us except to say that I expect it will be exciting and useful.

For my friends this will be a continuation of conversations and emails stretching over years.  For interested strangers, “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.  For any potential enemies, perhaps we will not, in the end, be enemies, but if we are fated to be, then I hope to make the reasons crystal clear.

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