Response to Aaron Kinney's Response to Me
Is it really an unjustified stretch to say that the word "good" refers to that which brings an individual closer to value fulfillment, while "bad" is that which takes an individual farther away from value fulfillment, even if said values are opinions, like a favorite movie?
Use of the words “good” and “bad” is tricky. Let’s use V for Vendetta as an example, since you brought that terrific movie up. I thought V for Vendetta was a good movie. In what context would I use the word “good”? I would use good as an adjective for the film because it aligned well with my preferences. This is exactly the same way I use “good” with respect to weather. Good weather aligns well with my preferences. However, I would not use “good” to describe my behavior of seeing the film because I do not recognize inherent value in fulfilling my preferences. Simply stated, fulfilling preferences isn’t “right” or “wrong”; it’s not something one is SUPPOSED to do. People can fulfill their preferences or be apathetic to them. Nobody is supposed to do anything.
While Frances personally accepts my self-ownership position, he argues that it is an unprovable one. I, of course, totally disagree. Why? Because self-ownership is based on the law of identity. A = A. You are you.
I would say there is quite a big difference between "Aaron is Aaron" and "Aaron owns Aaron." I'm not going to argue against A=A, because I think it’s logically sound. But, I do strongly object to A=A, therefore A owns A. That "principle" is nothing more than an assertion. And, I think you are prejudicially applying it. If "A=A, and therefore A owns A," anything can be put in the place of "A." That means my encyclopedia owns my encyclopedia; the daffodil owns the daffodil; and the horse owns the horse. Applying it only to humans would be ad hoc, and thus logically impermissible.
You can add "ownership" to my list of "gooey" words. It's kind of amorphous and meaningless, at least without hard evidence. There is plenty of hard evidence that I own this computer: I have the receipt; I can look up the credit card charge in my records; I am registered with Dell. There is no hard evidence that an individual owns him/herself. As I said initially, such a claim is just that...a claim. And, I am not making a positive assertion that, for example, I own you. Rather, I am saying there is just as much hard evidence that I own you as there is hard evidence that you own you - that is to say, none.
Can Frances, by sheer force of will, make me comply with all of his demands and agree with all of his values? No, he must use physical force to comply with his demands (he can't do it with mere thought), and he cannot get me to agree with all of his values no matter what physical force he applies to me. That is because, like
I think it is erroneous to tie ownership and total control together. Just because one must use physical force on an entity to make it do what the individual wants, and just because the individual might not be able to get the entity to do everything he/she wants, doesn't mean the entity isn't owned by the individual. Let's again use my computer as an example. We can both agree I own my computer. If I want my computer to make an Excel chart, I must use physical force on it to make it do it. And, as any computer user knows, the computer does indeed disallow me from making it do certain things I want it to do. The fact that I must use physical force on the computer, and the fact that the computer doesn't do everything I want, doesn't somehow change the fact that I own the computer. Similarly, if I alleged to own another person, I might have to use physical force to get the person to do what I want, and the person might not do every single thing I demand, but that still wouldn't cancel out my ownership of the person, anymore than it does the computer. I think the computer analogy adequately demonstrates that ownership need not be accompanied by total control.
Individuals exist as singular conscious entities. Societies don't. A society is just a collection of individuals with no singular consciousness. Morality is about individual value fulfillment because morality applies to the actions of a conscious entity, and only individuals are conscious entities. Defining morality as individual value fulfillment is no more of a presupposition than it is to "presuppose" that individual humans have individual and separate consciousnesses. It is honestly not that difficult to observe that, factually, individuals are singular, conscious entities and a collective society is not.
I completely agree with you that individuals, not societies, are conscious entities. I will even agree that morality relates to the behaviors of a conscious entity, since only conscious entities have behaviors. But I don’t think this proves that morality is wrapped up in individual value fulfillment. Morality applies to the behaviors of individuals…in the context of what? Themselves? Society? The environment? The fact that morality involves the behaviors of individuals does not necessarily imply that morality relates to the way in which they fulfill or don’t fulfill their preferences. Morality could just as easily be wrapped up in how each individual’s behaviors affect the collective. Or, morality could just as easily deal with how each individual’s behaviors affect the environment. Just like with bodily ownership, there is no hard evidence at all to confirm ANY of those possibilities.
Frances then asks me to prove factually that morality and value fulfillment have a relationship. This is a definitional problem regarding the very word "morality"? It seems that
Here’s the problem: I’m willing to define morality as “The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior.” However, that definition doesn’t incorporate the context. The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior…in the context of what? In the context of the individual? In the context of society? In the context of the environment? An individual’s behavior has an effect on all three; so, on what basis does morality restrict itself to only an individual’s behaviors’ effects on his/her preferences? I’m willing to accept that morality has to do with the effects of behaviors; I’m not willing to grant that morality has to do with the effects of behaviors on preferences (which, by necessity, must be held by individuals). I’d just as soon say morality has to do with the effects of behaviors on societies or on the environment.
But is there a relationship between value fulfillment and right and wrong behavior? Of course! That is because values are fact-based, as
I think the key disconnect here is that you build “should be strived for” into your definition of “values,” and I do not. To me, “values” are simply things an individual can do or not do that have tangible results in either case [this definitional disconnect is why I continually use the word “preferences” instead]. With that definition, the same list of values applies to everybody, since it is divorced from individual preferences. A good example is nutrition; an individual can fulfill nutrition or not fulfill it. Another example is sleep; once again, that’s a value that can be fulfilled or not fulfilled. Someone who fulfills the nutrition value and fulfills the sleep value will get certain results. Someone who doesn’t fulfill the nutrition or sleep values will get different results. And sure, individuals have preferences with regard to these things. For example, I prefer to fulfill my nutrition value and sleep value. But, that doesn’t mean I am somehow SUPPOSED TO. Nobody is supposed to do anything. If people want to strive for their preferences they can, and if they want to be apathetic to them they can. I look at humanity as just another part of animalia; I don’t think humans are supposed to do anything anymore than goldfish are.
The acceptance of individualist philosophy does not make said philosophy relative anymore than the acceptance of the law of gravity makes gravity relative. Anyone can define morality any way they want, but the concepts of right and wrong behavior, and the factual nature of values, will remain constant, regardless of what word is used to describe them, and regardless of the refusal of one to accept their truths.
What you describe (Individual preference fulfillment, with successful preference fulfillment being “right” and lack of preference fulfillment being “wrong”) is indeed one way to approach the issue of morality; however, the key words in that are “one way.” If one doesn’t accept that morality has any relationship with individual preference fulfillment, and instead defines the word slightly differently, how can morality (a word with multiple definitions) be universally objective? Individual preference fulfillment, as you describe it, is objective. To you, “good" relates to fulfilling a preference, and "bad" relates to not fulfilling that preference, or fulfilling an anti-preference. We can both agree that certain factual things must be performed to fulfill a preference. But somebody could just as easily say, “Morality deals with how individuals’ actions affect society” or “Morality deals with how individuals’ actions affect the environment.” Morality can have numerous definitions, since the definition I recognize, “The study of the effects of an individual’s behavior,” provides no context (on the individual?; on society?; on the environment?).
Just because I reject that individuals exist doesn't make them cease to exist, does it? Just because I refuse to recognize that a high-speed metal projectile will destroy my brain if my skull intercepts it's path, doesn't mean that my head won't be blown off when someone shoots me, does it?
I am not saying anybody has the right to deny the existence of individuals; the existence of individuals is undeniable. I reject the factual accuracy of individualism, a philosophy centered around the primary importance of the individual as compared to society, environment, etc. Primary importance is assigned arbitrarily; it could just as easily be assigned to society or the environment, with individuals viewed as secondary. That’s why neither Libertarianism nor Communism is objectively “correct.” It’s just a matter of the way in which one views things.
We can scientifically and factually prove that an individual human has a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. We cannot do the same for a collective group of people. In fact, we can even use science to factually prove that a collective group of humans in fact does not have a singular consciousness and direct control over itself. Analysis of observable facts will most definitely support the claim that an individual exists as a singular self-directing entity, while a collective society does not.
Again, I will gladly grant you that an individual exists as a singular, self-directing entity. And, I will grant you that a society is neither singular nor self-directing. What I will not rubber-stamp is the notion that, because individuals are singular and self-directing, they are somehow of primary importance. I would need to see a chart of some type, based upon scientific data, demonstrating a direct relationship between singularity/self-direction and “importance,” whatever the latter means. One could just as easily pluck out the defining characteristics of societies or the environment and then declare either of them to be of primary importance. It’s kind of like my arguments about human speciocentricity: Humans pick out a few of our defining characteristics (sentience, full range of emotions, etc.), arbitrarily declare them to be “value adding,” and then assert humans are the most valuable of all animal life. I don’t accept that, either.
Gross! I hate nihilism. But you know what they say, "hate the nihilism, not the nihilist."
What’s to hate about nihilism? I take two main points from it: 1. Nothing is self-evident. Absolutely everything requires hard evidence. 2. Nothing, intrinsically speaking, is preferable to anything else. The latter, especially, is the ultimate in individualism; it basically says that “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong” are all just a matter of opinion--an individual's opinion.
Thanks for engaging me, Aaron!