Monday, August 9, 2010

4.2 Man’s need of morality

4.2 Man’s need of morality
All organisms besides men evaluate concrete entities in isolation from other considerations, never judging their means-ends structures. These organisms have their structures and matching action-determination methods set by genetics and/or upbringing that stay constant once set.

For man, however, attempting to follow this range-of-the-moment practice will not do. Reason is man’s means of survival – but the volitional character of reason also means he comes into existence tabula rasa, both in content and in method. He is born not knowing how to think, how to evaluate, or how to act.[15] Whatever learning he is brought up with to have is open to question because both he and those who bring him up are volitional beings, where those others themselves had to be brought up and whose thinking is equally open to question. If he does not question his actual thinking methods and content then he will end up using his mind in the myriad accidental ways that his personal history lead him to, irrespective of what his nature as a conceptual being requires. In the modern world many a man can get away with that up to a point, but only by dint of others using reason and supplying the necessary guidance. The principle remains: reason is man’s sole means of survival. If life is a man’s goal then he must use reason. But how?

The Law of Unintended Consequences
Man is constantly faced with the need to choose between course of action A and course of action B. A critical part of decision-making process is to contemplate what the consequences of potential action may be. Unlike other organisms, man can and must identify all of his means-ends structure, he has to identify the fact that the proper ultimate standard of value is life and that he has to apply it to the whole of his own life. If he does not do this he will end up either flailing blindly or accepting a structure created by another irrespective of whether that structure actually suits him or not.[16] If he is to live properly then he has to choose something specific as his ultimate goal in life and identify all those actions he needs to perform in order to achieve it. He cannot genuinely live one day at a time[17], but must actually plot a course at some minimum level for at least a notable period into the future, and ideally the whole of his life.

However, to do that entirely in concrete detail is impossible; some men may be better than others at predicting concretes for some short period of time into the future, but nobody with a remaining lifespan greater than about a month or so can do it for the whole of life. The further into the future one considers the less one is able to identify concrete-level consequences of action. While all actions initiate new chains of cause and effect, the chains do not cease merely because a particular end has been achieved. These chains branch out and affect other things besides those given thought to, from there continually branching out further and further, and so on potentially lasting for not just whole lifetimes but for all eternity. In due time, nothing remains untouched by the influence of first causes initiated by beings acting on their thoughts. The effects of action seemingly end only because they become dispersed and added to similar effects of other causes, thereby becoming indistinguishable from the influences of other chains begun elsewhere. Nevertheless, the effects are always there in some form over an enormous number of places, constantly dividing and scattering in countless directions, forevermore. There are always unintended consequences of actions, many of which are far beyond anyone’s ability to identify at all and never mind in detail. This is an especially acute problem when the consequences of action include the responses made by other men, which is predominantly the class of situations for which this Law of Unintended Consequences is invoked.

Any consequence at any point along any chain of cause-and-effect may be beneficial, neutral, or deleterious to one’s life. As there is no way of knowing what many of them may be, how can – and how should – we choose our actions?

The need for moral principles as fundamental values
There is one and only one way for a conceptual consciousness to deal with the uncertainty about the concretes of the future: reference to principles. All conceptual-level creatures can and must make use of principles because there is no other way to respond to the Law of Unintended Consequences in a fashion that has reasonable expectations of action leading to success in life.[18] To practice this and so attempt to secure oneself the best chance at success, the necessary course of action is to determine the in-principle nature of the world one is in, determine the in-principle nature of one’s being a man and one’s own life as a man, and then act strictly in consistency with these principles. When the principle of using principles is applied to man’s own life the resulting set of principles for living is a moral code.[19]

The first application of principle of morality is for man to realise that the proper ultimate standard of value for man is the nature of man, and that each man then goes about implementing it by using his own life and happiness as his goal. Since that code is ascertained and implemented by a process of reason it is a rational code, and since it is centred on the principle of life as the standard of value as applied to each individual man it is a selfish code. This means that the proper moral code appropriate for man is one of rational self-interest. That is, when he understands proper moral principles and implements them the rational man subscribes to moral egoism.

He must then go on to use morality, plus supplementary calculations, to ascertain the means-ends structure that goes along with his choices. Thus rather than there being two unrelated uses of the word ‘value’, that of moral value and material value, his need to discover values is always a moral matter even when in reference to materiality, where the most vital primary values he must discover are the principles of action as appropriate for man and which then help him pick what materials to pursue and when. This means that rational moral principles are themselves values, which as with all other values he must act to gain and keep, and are a vital tool for determining all subsidiary values. This is why it is no accident that both economics and morality share the concept of value in common, and why a full and rational examination of economics has to include consideration for morality and its use.

15 Beyond body-regulation and a handful of primitive mechanisms controlled by his central nervous system, that is.
16 No part of a man’s means-ends structure is innate in him from birth. If any individual man fails to make such an identification consciously then his subconscious will supply one for his actions out of a combination of what this man is taught by other men and what his own subconscious will concoct through following the methods of his psychoepistemology (see below, section 4.9) to the context of those teachings plus his cognitive responses to his pleasure and pain experiences as an animal. The mix and balance of the two – others’ teaching directly and cognitive responses – in any given instance for each man will depend on his individual history.
17 Some people say they do, and can write happy songs about their youthful experiences, but they can’t actually do so totally. They are either riding on the shoulders of another acting on their behalf (hence this sentiment being valued chiefly by the immature with guardians) or are coasting on preparations they had made in the past without recognising that fact of preparation. Observe that the closer they get to the state of genuinely living without thought for tomorrow, particularly after guardians cease looking out for them, the more precarious their lives are.
18 Other creatures - those incapable of conceptual-level thought – are left to the merciless operations of phenotypic expression, ethological programming (where applicable for advanced creatures) and natural selection upon both. This is not to say that man is immune from these things, only that man is not slavishly bound to them.
19 “ "Morality," in Ayn Rand's definition, is "a code of values accepted by choice" - and man needs it for one reason only: he needs it in order to survive. Moral laws, in this view, are principles that define how to nourish and sustain human life; they are no more than this and no less.” Peikoff, L, (1992), op.cit, p214.

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