Critique3 Essay, Research Paper
I’m afraid I find Jimbo’s answer less than convincing; and hecorrectly anticipates that I will charge him with circularity. To begin with, what exactly does it mean to say:”Fundamentally, living entities face a single alternative: existenceor non-existence.”? Is this a disguised value judgment, to the effectthat “The most morally significant choice to make is whether to liveor to die”? (I trust that Jimbo will deny this interpretation, so Imove on.) Or is it a descriptive statement to the effect that”You need to be alive to make any choices at all, so the choice to liveis a kind of causal root of every other choice”?If the second, then it is clearly true, but so what? It only shows thatevery value system is going to have to endorse life as a _means_; asRon Merrill explains in his _The Ideas of Ayn Rand_ this argumentshows that life is an ultimate _means_. But it hardly shows that lifeis an end-in-itself, much less the only end-in-itself. Indeed, Rand’scouncil to suicide in dire situations (I can’t place the quote — couldit have been in a speech???) indicate that she (perhaps unwittingly)counciled using life as a _means_ to _ending pain_; and hence the lattergoal would appear more fundamental. Now Jimbo moves on to his most substantive argument: to ask “Why_ought_ I choose to live?” is an example of the “stolen conceptfallacy.” To fill in the non-Rand readers, this fallacy is thefallacy of using a concept and treating it as valid while denying thevalidity of the concepts upon which it depends. One example that Ibelieve Nathaniel Branden offered was the concept “orphan.” It wouldbe incoherent for a person to affirm the existence of orphans but denythat parents had ever existed. Another favorite example would beclaims like “We know that we know nothing,” which claims knowledgewhile denying it; or “I don’t exist,” which identifies yourself asexisting while denying it. I have no problem with this idea in general. What I object to is its_specific use_ in this situation. A person who says “You _ought_ to
kill yourself,” is not “stealing any concepts. He is merely using theword “ought” as it is used in standard English. For Jimbo to be right,it would have to be the case that somehow, everyone using the word”ought” is covertly saying that it is necessary for survival. And thisis empirically simply false; to say that “You ought to do X” means nothing more or less than that you ought to do it. If you doubt this,just try this thought experiment: imagine a Nazi says “You ought tokill as many Jews as possible.” Can you honestly say that you don’tknow what he _MEANS_? No — his meaning is clear, which is why youare able to disagree with it. Perhaps Jimbo will say that ordinary English is philosophically unsound;and that the vast majority of ought-statements are arbitrary claimsabout nothing. The only meaningful ought-statements are ones whichindicate a causal relationship between an action (state of affairs,etc.) and the promotion of an agent’s life. It is of course possible tomaintain this; but it is highly implausible. I say “You ought not tomurder people.” Is my meaning unclear? Do you have in mind adistinct proposition? Does the distinctness of that proposition dependat all upon whether you believe Jimbo’s argument that murder is neverin your self-interest? Upon reflection, I think you will see that Jimbois attempting to define alternative moral views into non-existence bydenying that they mean anything, when their meaning is quite clear. And at the same time, he is attempting to define his own moral viewsas true by the simple trick of saying, “Well, X is good because “good” justmeans X.”My alternative view is that good means good, and that’s all there is tosay. The concept good is simple, like “yellow.” Moral philosophers’task is not to define this simple concept, but instead to indicate whatclasses of things possess it. Asking someone to define “yellow” ispointless; but it is quite sensible to ask them what objects areyellow. The worst route would be to say “Well, “yellow” just meanssquare things,” and then say that all of the people who doubt your vieware stealing the concept of yellow.
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