Archive for June, 2005

On Value

by Jason Stotts

Recently I was having a discussion about value with someone and they claimed that value is just part of what a thing is – “Things are not valuable because we value them, they are valuable for what they are”, i.e. the claim is that value is intrinsic. Now, being the philosopher I am, this struck me as an odd thing to say – to say that a coin has value just because it is a coin or that a wife has value just because she is a wife. Let us examine this issue of the nature of value and see if we can’t come to any conclusions on it.

First it seems to me that we must make some distinctions if we are ever to come to a conclusion about this issue.

1. Value must either be a means to an end (instrumental) or an end in itself (intrinsic)

2. To say a thing is valuable there must be some standard of value such as to each person subjectively or to all persons collectively, or there must be an objective standard, or a thing could just be valuable in-and-of itself (intrinsically valuable).

3. To have value it must be of benefit to yourself (egoism), others (altruism), or to no-one at all (intrinsicism).

So there are three closely related issues regarding value: 1) Of value for what?, 2) Of value by what standard?, and 3) Of value to whom? Now usually these three questions are confused amongst each other or not even regard as part of the issue, but I believe without these distinctions we will never be able to sort out this whole mess about values and what they are and should be.

Now, obviously the most fundamental question which is presupposed by the others is the question of the standard of value, since without a standard we could never declare something to be a value in the first place.

I have set up three different standards (subjective and collective are being lumped together for a good reason although I don’t have space here to address that – look for a future post) in 2, which run the whole range of possibilities for standards of value (unless you’re a nihilist, or an idiot, but I repeat myself). Anyway, in order to sort out which standard to use, we need to look at what makes value possible in the first place.

What is it that gives rise to the concept of values? Can a rock value something? Can a tree or a dog or a person? Now it is apparent that inanimate matter has no values, there is nothing which a rock values – nothing can be either good or bad for it since it merely exists. So it seems that only animate matter can value, a tree values water, a dog values affection, and people have a wide range of values. The key distinction here is animate vs. inanimate matter: it is Life that gives rise to values – without life there can be no values.

So we have come to a standard of value – life; but is this standard subjective/collective, objective, or intrinsic?

Since it is the fundamental mortal choice that is the precondition of value, this makes life the standard of value, the measuring stick against which values are measured, if you will. Since life becomes the standard of value, it is apparent that value cannot be subjective/collective or intrinsic, because life serves as an objective standard of value. By having life as the standard of value, one sets up a telos for value and then can apply a teleological analysis to find out whether something is truly a value or not. To put this in simpler English, you have to set life as the goal and see whether a value furthers or hinders that goal in order to see whether it is truly a value.

We have now seen that values are objective and that their standard is life, thus proving that value is neither subjective/collective nor intrinsic and that objective evaluation is possible and, as a later piece will show, necessary.

On Purpose

by Jason Stotts

This summer has provided for me a chance for introspection that one rarely receives – I was able to more concretely identify one of my fundamental characteristics like I had never been able to do before. The characteristic I am talking about is Purpose. You see, this summer I wasn’t able to find gainful employment (get a job) because of my travels in the middle of the summer to Atlanta and later to San Diego.

Because of this, I have been relegated to sitting around my house and basically doing nothing of importance. Needless to say I have become quite frustrated with my situation (e.g. notice how the number of blog posts has gone up so steadily?) and through this frustration I was further reminded that I am the kind of person who must have a purpose…I must have goals and be working for them if I am to be happy.

Now, some people say that being goal-oriented, which I am going to call teleological (pertaining to ends) here, is a bad thing since it can hinder spontaneity. I, however, think that the teleological orientation actually can be just as spontaneous as any other orientation, because it focuses on ends – not necessarily on paths to get there. Often I will set goals for myself that I have no idea how to achieve, but I know that I want to get them done. So I just take some spontaneous creative initiative and see what happens, often I am even surprised at how creative I can be when all I know is where I want to go but I leave the details more vague.

Now, this is not to say that the teleological orientation requires that one not set means to ends, this is perfectly acceptable too, but in order to pump as much spontaneity and creativity into the processes – just setting the end is the best way to go.

Now, to bring my tangent back in tune with my topic, the teleological oriented person, the person who operates on purpose, has a decided advantage over any other orientation such as lazy, unfocussed, or spur-of-the-moment. While there are obviously many people who are like that, in order to achieve maximum efficiency with our finite days in our life and get as much out of them as possible, we have to set goals for ourselves and work towards them.

Purpose is the key to happiness – a man with a purpose making progress to his goal is a far happier man than any hedonist or brute.

A Reply

by Jason Stotts

I recently received a question and since Blogspot didn’t send me a reply e-mail for it, I shall just post the question and reply here.

From: Anonymous
Sent: Sunday, June 12, 2005 4:09 PM
Subject: [A Rational Perspective] 6/12/2005 04:09:06 PM

As president of an objectivist club I imagine you are well qualified to answer a question about the philosophy.

I like most of what Rand has to say but I don’t quite understand how self-interest fits with some of Rand’s other ideals. Take for instance this hypothetical situation. A person loans you $20,000 to help you pay for school. You know that if for whatever reason you don’t pay back the loaner no negative consequences will occur. In this situation how is it in your self-interest to pay back the money. I have reviewed the part in Galt’s speech where he talks about the virtues of integrity, honesty, and justice. I find myself agreeing that these are virtues men should strive towards, but I am unclear on how these values are in line with self-interest.

Mark [Murphy – that lazy bum ;)] hasn’t gotten around to answering this for the last two weeks so I thought I would ask you.

Justin Baker



The reason it is in your self interest to pay back the loan is complicated, just as any moral analysis of our actions becomes once we leave the academic hypothical situation found in our ivory tower and look at the real world. Now this isn’t to say that I think there is no merit in academic philosophy, since I am only 8 hours from my BA in philosophy, but let me give you an analysis that tries to cover the whole situation and integrate everything together.

1. To get the original loan you would have had to agree to pay it back (most likely with interest, but we’ll leave that out).
2. If we assume that you got the loan from a person and not a financial institution, then you would have to know this person and they would have to trust, making it likely that it is a family member or at least a close friend of the family.
3. If you graduate and refuse to pay back the loan you:
a. Have lied.
b. Destroyed the trust that person put in you.
c. Destroyed your reputation for honesty.
d. Effectively cut yourself off from future loans as this will be found out, even if it doesn’t go to court
e. Been unjust to a benevolent benefactor who helped you.
f. Destroyed your own integrity.

Now, my question to you is which of these seems to be prima facie to be in your rational self interest? I use prima facie of course because under any sort of moral analysis, all of these actions have hurt you in some way.

One problem I have noticed with people who find out about Objectivism is a lack of understanding by the difference between Rational Egoism (Objectivism), Nietzschean Egosim (subjectivism), and Hedonism. One thing that may help you sort out this distinction is that rational egoism bears heavily upon “rationality” which Rand defines as adherence to reality, any lack thereof being not in one’s self-interest – but that is a much better, and of course more complicated, question.

I hope that answers your question, feel free to ask for clarification or other questions.

On Commitment

by Jason Stotts

Let’s say that you’re on a sports team and someone asks you if you’re committed to the team. Do you think they mean: a) that you will only play for your team and won’t just arbitrarily trade teams or b) that you’re giving your team your all and working for its success? Think about this for a moment, we’ll come back to it.

Now, this article is not about sports whatsoever, it is about relationships and what constitutes commitment in the context of a relationship. When you’re in a relationship with someone else, and here I mean a relationship of love as opposed to mere friendship, you expect your partner to be committed to you and they expect the same. Without such an expectation, and the trust entailed there, the relationship would fall apart since you would never know whether your significant other would be there for you.

Now that you’ve had a moment to think about the example from sports, let us apply it to this context and see what sorts of results it yields. If you originally took position a) it would mean that you think being in a committed relationship means only that you won’t fool around with other people, whereas if you picked b) it means you think that being in a committed relationship means that you will work to ensure its success. Leaving me personal opinion aside for a minute, let us see the implications of each position before we examine the morality of them.

Position a) is a “just do enough to get by” kind of position that requires one to only put forth so much effort as to not actually leave your own relationship (or team) or actively try to sabotage it. The reward for this position is a relationship that barely survives or falls apart.

Position b) is a “give it your all” kind of position that requires one to put forth a lot of effort towards the success of the relationship. The reward for this position is a relationship that flourishes, ceteris paribus (all other things equal).

Now, for anyone who actually knows me or has read some of my pieces, it should be clear that I advocate the second position, the position where you give it you all and work for success. I find position a) to be a half-assed position worthy only of slackers or imbeciles; I also find the position to be untenable as a basis for a relationship. I think that if you’re going to do something, you should do it right and if you want to be in a relationship you had better work for it to flourish. If you’re not willing to do that, suck it up and walk away since you don’t want to be there anyway.

In order to be in a committed relationship you have to go beyond position a), if you ever want to succeed in a relationship you have to give it your all – otherwise why even bother putting on the charade of the relationship in the first place?