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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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23 Responses

  1. Avatar MikeSchilling says:

    “If you’re me, you should be a predator, and if you’re you, you should be a victim.”

    Or, in the original Latin, “Caveat emptor”.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    It may only be of interest to libertarians, and maybe not even to them.

    Uhmm…yeah, sorry. But in fact I did read it, and actually liked it. Somebody may convince me of this Kantian ethic thing after all….someday.

    I particularly liked the Galt bit, because you know in fact that was his subtext.Report

    • Avatar Plinko says:

      I’m not really a libertarian, either but I also found this extremely thought-provoking.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      Somebody may convince me of this Kantian ethic thing after all….someday.

      Isn’t it pretty clear? Galt says: “I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” But that confuses things. It isn’t that you are personally asking another person to eg. refrain from killing you, it’s that if you want to pursue a life which maximizes the pursuit of self-interest, then you have to concede that killing another person – impersonally, as it were – cannot be universalized.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Btw, that might have been too quick. You might have been objecting to Kantian ethics in general, which would be odd for libertarian, it seems to me.

        (And I want to publicly temper that statement with some uncertainty, and a reluctance to speak for others, and all that. Lawd knows that attributing views to libertarians is just short of a criminal offense these days. I’m just thankful that it’s libertarians who are being offended. If it were liberals, SWAT would prolly already be shooting my dogs.)Report

  3. Avatar b-psycho says:

    Personally I always found it odd that a philosophy that says doing things for others is bad was spread on the grounds it’d make for a better society — that is, like any other philosophy. If the philosophy is right (which I don’t believe, as I’m not an Objectivist) isn’t “fish ’em! Either they’ll figure it out or they’ll perish” more in line with it?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      If the philosophy is right (which I don’t believe, as I’m not an Objectivist) isn’t “fish ‘em! Either they’ll figure it out or they’ll perish” more in line with it?

      What do you believe our responsibility is toward Afghanistan?

      Should we help them modify their culture to bring it in line with our post-Enlightenment ideals or should we pull everybody out of there and bring them the hell home?

      Should we do our best to instill our ideas about art, science, religion, feminism, and so on or should we get the hell out of there and let them figure shit out for themselves?

      I’m of the latter opinion, myself.Report

      • Avatar b-psycho says:

        The latter, obviously. Their culture is none of our business, and since the reason for the whole mess is dead (and wasn’t even found in Afghanistan, but “ally” Pakistan), leave. Ultimately if they want to change their culture they will eventually do so on their own. When people bring up culture as reason for intervention it sounds like some White Man’s Burden shit.

        Besides, violence is a pretty terrible way to convince people the worth of your philosophical structure. Great way to turn them violently against it though.Report

      • Avatar Scott says:

        As long as the afghans dont bother us I am all for letting live in squalor with their backward ways.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      a philosophy that says doing things for others is bad

      That’s a weird thing about objectivism, isn’t it? (At least so far as I understand it; hopefully someone will correct us if we’re wrong.) I get doing your damndest to take care of yourself. I even get refusing to be a source of reliance for others. But what the hell is wrong with actually just doing something nice for someone else?

      I always think of the moment when whatzizname givesz whaztername a necklace, and says, “I didn’t give it to you because I thought it would make you happy, but because I like the way you look in it.” Just pure giving to others for the sake of making them happy, even in a case where it’s not going to lead to them becoming dependent, is a bad thing?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        That is one weird thing about Objectivism. Even with the categorical imperative attached (and I’m not sure it really comes from the noumena in Kant; it comes from the possibility freedom, which is related to the will, which is noumenal, but really all it requires, and what it actualizes, is the possibility of that freedom), it’s still a pretty anti-social philosophy. I’m not sure exactly what it would mean, in practical terms, to not be dependent on others and to not have others dependent on me. I just know that it wouldn’t be a life worth living (and it would be a pretty difficult one, too, unnecessarily difficult).Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        That’s a weird thing about objectivism, isn’t it? (At least so far as I understand it; hopefully someone will correct us if we’re wrong.) I get doing your damndest to take care of yourself. I even get refusing to be a source of reliance for others. But what the hell is wrong with actually just doing something nice for someone else?

        I don’t think that’s what Objectivism says, though. A good deal is made in Objectivism of benevolence, and of the idea that supporting others is okay, as long as it is understood to be freely given and not out of any ethical obligation to sacrifice oneself or (to repeat myself) one’s values. But “benevolence” seems sort of tacked on as an afterthought, and it does tend to get forgotten.

        In that it really is rather the opposite of Kant, who held that the morally praiseworthy actions were those taken out of respect for the moral law itself, not out of hope for personal (or even mutual) gain.

        My own account of personal ethics is ultimately a rational-egoist one, held in check by the categorical imperative and the obligations it creates in me toward others. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it fully worked out as I would like it. Objectivism isn’t that bad in some ways, but in other ways I think it is.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I’d be interested in seeing how that looks.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          While I’m sure you wouldn’t hesitate to make sacrifices for your daughter, so the question doesn’t arise, I’d argue that parents have an ethical obligation to sacrifice for their children whether they want to or not, and certainly with no expectation of reward.Report

        • Avatar Will H. says:

          wrt benevolence from a rational self-interest:
          Are not the wicked always doing some evil to those who are nearest to them, the good always doing some good? . . .
          if I make any of those with whom I associate wicked, I am in danger of suffering some evil from them
          Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Really? I thought Ayn Rand said altruism was immoral.Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            This sounds like splitting hairs, and maybe it is, but she distinguished purely disinterested altruism from benevolence that reflected your values and was therefore not a compromise of one’s self-interest.

            I’m not so sure the distinction holds up, but she did make it, and in her own life she often performed acts that might be described as charity. She’d have disagreed that they were altruistic.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Though I’m no Buffett or Gates, I do consider myself a philanthropist in my own much smaller way. Even the effetes who throw their ducats out the windows of their carriages do throw them at the individual beggars.

              Ayn Rand was wrong about Altruism. There are two moral questions which altruism lumps together into one “package-deal”: (1) What are values? (2) Who should be the beneficiary of values? Altruism substitutes the second for the first; it evades the task of defining a code of moral values, thus leaving man, in fact, without moral guidance.

              Altruism declares that any action taken for the benefit of others is good, and any action taken for one’s own benefit is evil. Thus the beneficiary of an action is the only criterion of moral value—and so long as that beneficiary is anybody other than oneself, anything goes.

              And that’s bullshit. Altruism makes no such declaration. Altruism, at its core, is a recognition of the individual in context. Life’s been pretty good to me. I made some smart moves. I intend to die broke in accordance with Andrew Carnegie, that the rich man who dies rich dies disgraced. But Carnegie also complained Those who would administer wisely must, indeed, be wise, for one of the serious obstacles to the improvement of our race is indiscriminate charity.

              I believe, contra Rand, the Enlightened Individual must view himself as a small figure in a huge landscape. I don’t give indiscriminately and encourage other would-be donors to give wisely. Indiscriminate charity is a huge problem: far too much money ends up in the pockets of administrators and too little in the hands of those who need it.

              Ayn Rand did condemn altruism, not knowing what it was. She was a manifestly horrible person, a vain and contemptible human being. Eventually, broke and dying of cancer, she ended up on the public dole, poetic justice if ever was such justice: that society should extend her the very sort of indiscriminate charity she had so loudly condemned all her life.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                Well, some forms of altruism do make the claims Rand identifies, notably that of Auguste Comte, who coined the term “altruism.”
                It’s not entirely unreasonable to use a term in the exact same manner as its inventor, even if most people don’t quite use it that way anymore.

                As for me, however, I don’t see that either self-regard or other-regard have a necessary or sufficient relationship to an act being good or evil. Some of each are good, and some of each are evil. This just isn’t the yardstick we’re looking for.

                Where self-interested acts get condemned are in two cases: First, where they are immoderately self-regarding, that is, where self-interest has a greater weight than it ought to have. And second, self-interested acts are often condemned when the self-interest is insincerely disguised as regard for others. As so often happens, Aristotle was right, and Rand was wrong; a middle course must be found.

                Not all self-regarding acts are subject to those criticisms. In fact, nearly all acts that everyone performs are substantially self-regarding, and only a subset of these are deserving of blame. Many other-regarding acts are downright evil, and many more are well-intentioned failures. As I consider Comte’s ethics to have been.

                And finally: Rand was not a hypocrite for taking government benefits. She claimed that anyone who had paid into the system was entitled to take out of it, and in fact that they should. And this is really not all that different from what just about everyone else would say as well.

                She nonetheless appears to have claimed these benefits only reluctantly, perhaps with the urging of an intermediary. Perhaps the reason for that reluctance is that she actually was able to pay for her own health care. She certainly didn’t die broke. Her estate was worth a considerable amount when she died.

                There’s more information here, if you’re interested. I trust the source but would prefer to say very little about his identity, of which he is rather protective.Report

  4. Avatar Alex Knapp says:

    “In metaphysics, that contempt is entirely understandable; Rand is a realist, Kant, an idealist.”

    More accurately, she was an idealist who claimed she was a realist.

    Good thoughts here, though.Report

  5. Avatar Will H. says:

    … and just to say that I appreciate any positive mention of Spencer.

    That term he coined, “the survival of the fittest,” has been so often misunderstood to mean an advocacy of brute force; whereas observation would inform us that adaptability is a great part of fitness.Report

  6. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Well, I don’t know about others, but this turned on a lot of light bulbs for me anyway.Report

  7. Avatar Stillwater says:

    Good post, Jason. I’ve said it before, but I like the way you think.Report