Eric left a comment on the last post suggesting that I respond to Evanescent here as I have been banned from his blog. For the sake of the readers sanity I will not reproduce the entire last post here but I will extract the arguments from it and respond.
I notice how you say “emotional desires”, instead of just desires. Didn’t you earlier say that desire is an emotion? So what you just said is like saying “emotional happiness” or “emotional sadness”; it makes no sense. But you must qualify the word “desire” with “emotional” because you realise (now) apparently that desires have sources. Desires from emotion can still have a rational source (they usually do), because reason can shape our emotions.
This is probably the main source of our disagreement. I believe that humans are first emotional beings and make use of our enlarged brains and our reason to further our desires.
I’ll try to make a clearer case for what I am getting at.
It was many moons ago when I was considering an artificial intelligence that the primary stumbling block of the effort to produce a fully fledged A.I. occurred to me. Machines can in theory think much like a human. If you had a complex enough neural network with the ability to alter it’s own weightings and maybe even expand the network as it goes along, you could produce a rough electronic simulation of a brain. There is nothing mystical or fantastic about the basic mechanism of the human brain. The brain is a truly amazing organ, no doubt, but the basic mechanism behind its functioning is relatively simple.
Lets do a little thought experiment then. Let us suppose then that we have produced a brain that functions like a human brain in terms of being able to process information in a massive neural network and adjust itself in response to information. The real problem as I see it is motivation. Why would the brain choose to do anything at all? Why would it think? Humans think in response to goals they acquire. If you get hungry, you respond by thinking on the goal of finding food. The biological urge creates the goal. When people go looking for food, they are not at first thinking about blood-sugar levels and specific sustenance requirements of their bodies. They are thinking that they are hungry and a built in drive, purely instinctual, drives them to find food. The reasoning process comes later. A good illustration of how these primal desires override our reason is the unfortunate mariner who finds himself adrift without water. He knows that drinking seawater will not help him and will in fact dehydrate him but when the thirst instinct becomes too great he will eventually drink the seawater. His instinctual drive overpowers his reason. He might even be aware of the statistics which show a drop of about 35% probability of survival for those adrift who drink seawater. In the end the temptation may be just too great. His desire to drink the water is not a rational thing. It is pure emotion. He doesn’t like being thirsty. He wants to drink the water. That’s it.
The same is true of almost any of the survival urges. When they get strong enough, reason takes a back seat. I’m sure the strongly christian Uruguayan rugby team stranded on the mountain top would have proclaimed with confidence that they would never eat a dead person before the events dramatised in the movie “Alive”. The survival instinct is incredibly strong and most people will abandon their reason and their morality when placed in the right (or the wrong) circumstances.
So getting back to our machine. It has no urges, it has no desires. You can hard code in instructions that tell it to do a certain task, much like conventional computers are programmed. In either case, it will do as it is compelled by it’s instructions but it doesn’t want to do it. Neither does it not want to do it. It just does it. It’s behaviour will never change in terms of it goals. It doesn’t really have any. It might even be able to reason but it will never desire. That’s the rub. Without motivation, without desire, it will only ever be a tool. A very smart tool maybe but it will never be anything more. Suppose the brain is self aware, why would it choose to do anything at all? It wants nothing. In all likelihood, such a brain would probably do nothing. If we found a way to give the brain feelings about things then you would have a personality on your hands. We rationalise and reason about the things we want. We consider how to make things better either for our own immediate ends or in a broader sense. Better means nothing objectively. Better than what? If you asked this brain if it wanted to continue on or be permanently switched off, it would have no preference. Why would it? Life is only valuable to us because we are programmed to feel it is. Consider life and death from a purely objective point of view - that’s objective not objectivist :)
Is it valuable. I don’t think the question even makes sense in a purely logical consideration. It requires emotion to give it value. Just as an unfeeling brain would not value life, neither would we if we were not the emotional creatures we are.
The objectivist here might suggest that this is their point. That life is only valuable to the living, that the notion of values only makes sense to the living. Fair enough. I have no argument with that but it is more a coincidence than anything else. What the objectivist is overlooking here is that living things are all instinctual entities. All life has the in-built motivation to stay alive. Life is not valuable to the living, life is valuable to all things that want to stay alive. The expression of this instinct is more overt in the more complex examples of life. While instincts are not emotions per se, they generate emotions. Instinct generates emotions. An animal, which could hardly be said to be a rational and reasonable entity will still value it’s life. It will feel fear when placed in danger or an unfamiliar circumstance. It values its life it would seem. Consider it this way. Imagine you are in a car crash and you suffer brain damage. Your ability to reason is not effected, only your ability to feel emotions. Now suppose a man walks up to you and points a gun at your head. You feel no fear. You understand quite well that if he pulls the trigger you will be killed but being unfeeling you are the epitome of apathy. So what if you die? Why is that a bad thing? You don’t value anything. You don’t feel any particular way about anything. You are alive, I don’t think most people would dispute that but you don’t value your life because you cannot feel.
Evanescent suggests that humans being primarily emotive entities is necessarily false. The only explanation of this that he gives is
Notice how you equate desire with emotion as if they are one and the same? They aren’t. Emotions are the instantaneous psychological reactions to our values being realised or frustrated. They are the RESULT of our experiences, not the guide to them. Humans, to be rational beings, must primarily act through reason and logic, and therefore attain happiness. It doesn’t work the other way around.
Chimp, if you think humans are “first and foremost emotive beings”, I would like you to PROVE this statement. That should be easy enough, huh? Hang on, you can’t PROVE anything without establishing a rational chain of argument based on logic and a process of reason. Therefore, in order to make ANY statement, you must presuppose that you have the capability of reason and rational thought, which means rationality is a prerequisite to any statement of knowledge. So to say that humans are primary emotive beings is blatantly false, and self-contradictory.
In real life “what if” terms, for the utilitarians out there, imagine you are aroused and want to have sex. An emotive man rapes the first girl he sees. A rational man doesn’t. Why? Which one are you?
I don’t agree with this definition of emotion. instantaneous psychological reactions to our values being realised or frustrated
If this definition were accurate, how does the objectivist explain something like clinical depression or bi-polar disorder. In the case of these disorders a person feels a certain way because of brain chemistry. Their emotional state is entirely divorced from their values being realised or frustrated. What you will notice though is that the individual suffering from these condition will think differently on account of the emotional motivation they are experiencing. They will often act irrationally?. Their reason is clearly slave to their emotions. Emotions can be instantaneous psychological reactions to our values being realised or frustrated but I think the definition is unnecessarily narrow.
To be brutally technical, emotion is a chemical reaction in you brain but that doesn’t really help us solve the chicken and the egg problem we have here. Evanescent argues that our rationality and our reason is where our desires come from, that while we can act on emotion, we learn our values thought he rational interpretation of our experiences. This is more or less backwards. Evanescent seems to be ignoring the fact that our reasoning about our experiences is emotionally directed. What do I mean by that?
Rational action would seem here to be an action that is consistent with what you value. But if it is by rationality that we learn our values we are entering into a circular reasoning process. I rationally conclude what it is that I value, rationality is acting in accordance with my values. How does an individual first determine what is valuable. In a purely rational sense, as we examined above nothing has value unless it is satisfying a desire. How then does rationality help us to determine our initial values? We need a starting point. We need a motivation or prejudice to inform our reasoning.
Killing is only wrong because we feel like it is. If everyone were to go about killing indiscriminately we would quickly become extinct. So what? Why is that ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’? We decide what is right and wrong. I doubt the objectivist would disagree with that. We decide what is moral and immoral. These things are purely prejudice. There is no objective, free floating moral absolute. It is how we feel about things that determines our morality, not our reason. This is not to say that reasoning or rationality have no place at all in determining our morality. Of course they do, I merely contend that the impetus is provided by how we feel about things. Our reasoning is what allows us to expand our moral prejudice beyond our immediate circumstances and surroundings, to abstract basic urges into more complicated moral action.
you can’t PROVE anything without establishing a rational chain of argument based on logic and a process of reason. Therefore, in order to make ANY statement, you must presuppose that you have the capability of reason and rational thought, which means rationality is a prerequisite to any statement of knowledge. So to say that humans are primary emotive beings is blatantly false, and self-contradictory
The above is one of those statements that doesn’t really pass the ‘so what’ test. I don’t need to prove my emotions in order to feel them. Evanescent is asking me here to prove something using a rational chain of argument. Fair enough. What that has to do with the emotive states of humans is beyond me. Why should the proving of something, i.e. the natural condition of a thing mean that it must be predicated on the same rational thought process that was used to describe it. This is just non-sensical. The logical deduction that Evanescent attempts here is senseless. In order to make a rational statement you must presuppose you are a rational entity, therefore you can’t be primarily emotive. Lets just do a quick word replace here.
In order to make a rational statement you must presuppose you are a rational entity, therefore you can’t be primarily orange. Is there a logical difference I’m not getting. He is saying that in order to use a faculty you must be primarily predicated on the faculty. That is not logical or rational or reasonable.
Lets look at this statement again
NO OTHER PROCESS IS ACCEPTABLE, because only reason can identify the nature of man, the nature of existence, and figure out how the two can harmonise for one’s life to be maintained and flourish
This is apparently why humans must be first and foremost rational entities.
Only reason can identify the nature of man. This again is a highly prejudicial statement. What do we mean when we say the nature of man? His motivations, his desires, his values and his physical parameters? We are right back here it seems to talking about the values that mankind holds. The remainder of the statement is just words strung together. It is at absolute best, trivially true and unimportant to the discussion. It certainly does nothing to advance the claim that humans are primarily reasonable and rational. I stand by my initial assessment.
Animals manage to maintain their lives and flourish without identifying their natures though reason and similarly without reasoning out the nature of existence. They certainly so not devote considerate thought to harmonising the two. Some creatures operate on a purely instinctual basis and do just fine. Instinct generates emotional motivation. Does the sensation of being hungry drive a creature to eat? I don’t think the sensation itself does. It is just a sensation, much like the tactile sensation of heat. If there is too much heat the sensation becomes unpleasant. We don’t like it. It feels ‘bad’. We have immediate placed a value judgement on the sensation. It is bad and not good. We have not reasoned out that it may be harmful to our skin cells, we just didn’t like it. If you leave your hand on a hot radiator, you can reason that it will be detrimental to your hand but it is not this reasoning that makes you pull you hand away. You don’t like the sensation. In a purely rational sense, there is no difference between pleasure and pain. They are both sensations, each one just feels different. We like pleasure we dislike pain. Most people eat not to ingest calories but because they are hungry. We want to make the hunger sensation go away. We derive pleasure from doing so. Dessert has no rational place in our diets. It is purely an emotional addition to eating. We eat our desert, regardless of its nutritional valu,e (usually deserts are not the healthiest foods around) because we desire it. We like it.
“I take it this case is closed now: values should be rationally chosen, not emotionally. In fact, emotion is the physiological RESPONSE to our values. Your original error was to put the cart before the horse. “
A bug will act to protect its life, obviously valuing it. Bugs are not reasonable or rational in any meaningful sense. They are instinct engines. Purely reactionary. They react to stimulus. Consider a purely emotional realm, value most certainly can be present. In a purely rational realm, value has no meaning. Carts and horses are certainly being juxtaposed, no doubt.
This disagreement about the origin and nature of what we value is my first disagreement with what I take to be objectivist though on the topic. If I have it wrong I would be glad of an explanation. I should stress though that I would like an explanation not an assertion.
I'd be interested in knowing why you think the dictionary definition is better/more accurate than the one Evanescent provided. Whether you accept Objectivism or not, the notion that anything is intrinsically valuable is difficult to defend.
The reason I consider the dictionary definition more accurate is because this is what I believe most people mean by the term value. The fact that it is the dictionary definition is fairly strong support for that notion. You cannot start redefining terms to suit your philosophy and expect not to be called on it. Objectivists will be right about everything if they define every term to suit themselves. Anyone will be. I am not an objectivist, why should I adopt their esoteric definition of a commonly understood term?
I am not suggesting that anything is intrinsically valuable in some totally objective sense. I am suggesting that our primary values are built-in. A derivative of the evolutionary process. Much like our higher thoughts are an emergent property of billions of highly simplistic neurons interacting, so too are our higher values and our morality emergent from baser instinct. Nothing can be reasoned to be valuable without an emotional bias.
Evanescent is at best unlcear on this point.
Me: If I were offered the choice between being kept alive but never being able to do anything, not only would my life lose all its value to me, it would be a burden I would seek to get rid off.
Evanescent: Well, there you go then! All the things you enjoy are a value to your life. You don’t live in order to value, you value in order to live!
Me: As I have already stated, many people believe there are concepts that are more worthy of pursuit than life. There are many things that people would accept death sooner than living with.
Evanescent: Yes, many people believe that. So what? I didn’t dispute that. People who pursue immoral irrational goals like slavery, religion, socialism, communism etc are not pursuing life.
…but I thought people valued in order to live. Am I missing something? This looks like he is contradicting himself.
When someone acts against the objectivist idea that values are rationally derived, indeed can only be derived by rational means. Remember: NO OTHER PROCESS IS ACCEPTABLE they are being irrational Isn't irrational the opposite of rational?
So when someone acts in a way that is clearly contrary to this notion they are acting irrationally……but I thought they couldn’t derive values by anything but rational means.
Life is apparently the end to which all values are directed but above, slavery, religion etc. are not pursuing life. Clearly then by his own statement not all values are directed at life. This is only a problem if you start with the presupposition that values are derived from rationality as opposed to emotion and that life is the end to which all other means are ultimately directed. What does irrational even mean here? Contrary to what Evanescent feels is rational? Can it be logically determined that slavery is irrational? I doubt it.
What does the objectivist suppose is the reason for people being irrational? Do these irrational people consider themselves irrational or is the 'irrational' we are using here subjectively defined in accordance with our values and our prejudices about what rational is?
I don’t think Evenescent has answered these questions or stated a particularly good case for his view. I would like to hear from more objectivists on the topic. I am not opposed to the notion, I just don’t think that the evidence leads to that conclusion. I am open to persuasion though.