A Journal for Western Man

 

 

 

Values, Reason, Rights, and Freedom

Leonid Fainberg and Larissa Fainberg

Issue LXXVI- October 12, 2006

 

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In the article, “Horrors of a Drowned City,” (1) Robert Tracinski argued that the welfare state renders people valueless in the sense that they cannot achieve or possess any values (and not in the sense that they as human beings are rendered worthless). Brilliantly written, his argument nevertheless requires validation since the article itself doesn’t explain why a salary check is valuable but a welfare check is not.

In this essay we will examine the nature of values and show what makes things valuable.

Values: Definition

There is a multitude of definitions of the word “value.”

  • "A thing has or is a value if and when people behave toward it so as to retain or increase their possession of it." (George Lundberg)
  • "Anything capable of being appreciated (wished for) is a value." (Robert Part and E. W. Burgess)
  • "Values are the obverse of motives...the object, quality, or condition that satisfies the motivation." (Richard T. LaPiere)
  • "(A value is) a conception, explicit or implicit, distinctive of an individual or characteristic of a group, of the desirable—which influences the selection from available means and ends of action." (Clyde Kluckholn)
  • "Values are the desirable end states which act as a guide to human endeavour or the most general statements of legitimate ends which guide social action." (Neil J. Smelser) 
  • "A value is anything of interest to a human subject." (Perry)

There is much more (see http://www.wikipedia.com for definitions of value). This proliferation of definitions is a consequence of an approach to the concept of value as to a desire, wish, or whim. However it is possible to show that this concept is firmly anchored in objective reality. We define value as a concept which designates any entity people consider as good. This definition has two corollaries.

 1. Value is a meta-ethical concept. To know what is valuable we have first to define what is good.                           

 2. Value is not independent concept, but presupposes an evaluator.

To elaborate this premise we have to define first the standard of value. (Or what is good). Unlike unanimated matter, living organisms are facing the constant alternative of existence or non-existence .Every living organism has to act to obtain things in order to sustain its life, which are, correspondingly, the only things of value to living entities. Therefore, the concept of values pertains to life and presupposes a living evaluator: “To speak of value as apart from life is worse than a contradiction in terms.”(2)

Plants and animals have built-in mechanisms to evaluate objects and to obtain values, but humans do not have such a capability. Instead we use the faculty of reason which is not automatic but volitional. We have to use our minds to evaluate objects and to act in order to obtain things of value.

“A value is an entity which one acts to gain or keep” (3) in order to sustain and benefit his own life. Human life is the ultimate value and rationality is ultimate tool of human survival.

Contemporary mainstream philosophy fails to recognize this vital connection between value, human life, and reason.

Parson (4) implies an acceptance of the fundamental religious roots of values. 

Eckhardt (5) defines a value as any goal or standard of judgment which in a given culture is ordinary referred to as if it were self-evidently desirable.

Albert (6) states that values are by definition distinct from conduct and defines it as a system of criteria by which conduct is judged and the sanction applied.

Landes (7) defines values simply as moral judgments.

Epstein (8) defines values solely in terms of the reward structure

The full review of contemporary theories of values is beyond the scope of this essay. However, from the above-mentioned quotes one may conclude that the contemporary philosopher recognizes as the standard of value things like religion, society, culture, or state – as opposed to human life as an end in itself. For him, human life is only a means to serve all the above-mentioned ends. In other words, for him man is a valueless and dispensable creature.

This is an obvious contradiction, since without the individual, things like religion, society, culture, or state are not possible – hence it would be irrational and immoral to sacrifice the former for the latter.

In order to solve this blatant contradiction, contemporary philosophers such as John Ku (2001) and Huemer (“Why I’m not an Objectivist”) offer us the dichotomy of Agent-Related (individual) values versus Agent-Neutral (social) values with implication that the first can be sacrificed to the second: “Sacrifice is the surrender of some of one's own agent-relative values for the sake of one that is of greater (agent-neutral) value despite its being a lesser agent-relative value for you or perhaps none at all. In other words, sacrifice is the giving up of some of one's own personal interests for the sake of other, greater, impersonal values”. (9).

But every society is just a group of individuals. Society cannot have values which its members don’t possess.

An “agent-neutral” value is literally an entity which is a value to no one in particular. This entire exercise is an attempt to revitalize the old concept of altruism by presenting a sacrifice as exchange of agent-related and agent-neutral values.

It doesn’t solve the contradiction but creates another one – namely, between the individual and society. However, such a contradiction exists only in a society of cannibals.

Action

A Value is an entity which one acts in order to gain and keep (3).But what kind of action is required to obtain values?

It is quite obvious that such an action cannot be random but must be purpose-guided. Purposeful action presupposes recognition of objective reality and the cause-effect connection – which is the law of identity applied to the action (10). This law does not allow contradictions. Non-contradictory identification is a way of logical, rational thinking. Thus, to obtain value, man’s action should be based on his rational faculty – his mind’s independent rational judgment. His premises should pertain to reality. If one acts on the basis of arbitrary premises, then sooner or later one will be faced with irresolvable contradictions, not values. Reality doesn’t reward irrational thinking and action. By the very essence of existence, and by the laws of nature, contradictions do not exist.

Freedom

Freedom is not as Leon put it, i.e., “being able to get what we want because that is what we most want (or value)” (11). This premise brings us to the absurd conclusion that if one wants A but cannot get it he is not free. Such a line of thought is reminiscent of other such anti-freedom and anti-reason slogans as “A hungry man is not free”. This line of thinking is false because a hungry man, being a human being, is not a determined creature and is thus free to choose the appropriate actions to change his situation or to do nothing.

Freedom is the ability to make choices and to act on them in the face of alternatives without coercion. Since reason is a volitional faculty, man has to be free to exercise it – the Rationalist claim that reason and knowledge are innate to a man’s mind fails to recognize the nature of rational thinking—part of it being the act of evaluating information in order to comprehend it, thus gaining knowledge of something. If knowledge was innate and predetermined, there would be no need for reason. Instead, humans would operate largely within the mechanisms of instinct without the possibility of choice, or understanding, about their actions—but this is obviously not the case.

Coercion abnegates alternatives, paralyzing the mind’s capacity for independent judgment and willful decision-making, rendering rational choices impossible. Reason and freedom are corollaries. Since reason is man’s only tool of obtaining values, and reason is not a “deterministic” or instinctual faculty, values are not possible to him without freedom (A creature who acts without the choice of alternative actions is a slave, either by nature or by coercive circumstances, and a slave is not a value in itself but a dispensable means to other ends. In short, a slave qua slave is valueless).

Man needs freedom to sustain, enhance, and benefit his life—which is his inalienable right. Therefore, freedom is such a political condition which allows to the people to act within their inalienable rights.

Rights and the Welfare State

A right is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom to act within a social context (12).Only one fundamental right exists—namely, the right to live. All other moral principles that qualify as rights are corollaries of this. To sustain, benefit, and enjoy his life, man has to obtain values.

All values—material and spiritual—have to be created by purposeful action or obtained via free and fair exchange.

Creation is a function of the mind. Since there is no such a thing as a collective mind, all values are properties of the individual that created them. Therefore, property rights are inalienable exactly as right to live.

Without freedom, no creation is possible, since the mind cannot function to its full capacity under coercion. Thus, the right for freedom is essential for human life and inalienable as well. Man can obtain values only when he acts within his own rights, which means without coercion. There is no such thing as the right to violate the rights of other people. Using physical force or fraud to obtain valuable things will render the thing obtained, and indeed the person himself, valueless, because he does not have a rightful claim on what he obtained.

In conclusion, values can be obtained only by rational action while a person is acting within his own inalienable rights. Freedom is the precondition to such an action. Everything which one may obtain by any other means will render the thing valueless. If one obtains things by using force, he cannot keep them by right; in this situation only might is right, and anybody with a bigger gun always can take those things away.

If person is living by charity, he does not posses any values by right; he is living by the permission of others. If a person is a slave or living under a dictatorship, his very life belongs to the master or to the state. For him, no values are possible. In the case of the welfare state, wealth redistribution renders donors of the wealth valueless, since their property rights are violated by the use of physical force (tax collection). The recipients are valueless as well, since they are living by the permission of the state, which can be revoked any time.

That makes the difference between a salary and a welfare check and it amounts to the difference between slavery and freedom. Those of the Mind-Body Dichotomy stream may argue that if a person is deprived of material values he can still seek spiritual ones, and indeed they encourage such forceful deprivation in order to ‘instill society with the spirituality that the “evils of consumerism” have ‘robbed people of’, but they do not consider what kind of spiritual life people must lead when their rights have been violated, their self-esteem mocked, and their lives in general suppressed by such acts.

Values and Profit

Every value presupposes the question – value to whom and for what? (13)

Every thing has its objective value which can be evaluated, for example, by the hours of work needed to create it or by its contribution to civilization or by its spiritual greatness.

However, the greatest masterpiece of art will be of no value to the blind or music to the deaf. Subjective or economical value of this entity can be assessed only during the process of free and non-coercive exchange.

Since the majority of the people don’t live on self-sustained farms, they have to engage in an exchange of values.

Suppose person A possesses value X and B possesses Y: (AX, BY). Suppose that for A, Y is more valuable than X: A(Y>X) and for B, X is more valuable than Y: (X>Y). If they engage in exchange and change their values, each of them will gain profit P. (AX< ---> BY) = (AY+P) + (BX+P). Obviously, this is very simplistic example, and, in reality, many people are engaged in very complicated chains of exchanges. However, the number of participants and number of exchanges doesn’t change the basic principle of mutual profitability of exchanges of values on the free market. Use of the money as medium of exchange also doesn’t change this principle. So much for the popular philosophy of “Put the people before profits.” People will voluntarily exchange values for profit. That is proper rational and moral action. This is the source of economic power. To make them do otherwise is possible only by using coercion (political power), which abnegates reason—or by preaching to them the irrational philosophy of self-destruction called altruism.

Altruism

Altruism is the philosophy which upholds that man is not an end in himself but a means for some other highest ends, and therefore the highest virtue which is possible to man is self-sacrifice. Sacrifice means exchange of a higher value for a lesser value or a non-value. This has been the dominant mainstream philosophy of humankind for over two thousand years and remains so. From Plato to Jesus to Kant to Marx to Stalin and Hitler to today’s advocates of welfare-statism, we have been asked to bring sacrifice to some God or State or race or party or the poor, sick, unfortunate, lazy—the list is endless. For example, environmentalists claim that we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves to the animals, plants, and landscapes.

Altruists believe that highest human achievement is not to create values but to give them up. The question of how one can give up something which he does not possess altruism doesn’t bother to consider. It presumes that somebody somehow will create enough for the altruists to redistribute. If one takes this idea seriously to its very logical end, then one has no right to live on Earth for his own sake. For such a person no values are possible.  Altruism is the dominant philosophy of our age, and as result most of people are living valueless lives. If we want to regain the world of rights, freedom, happiness, and reason, we ought to reject this philosophy and rediscover the meaning of value.

                                       References

1) Tracinski, Robert. “Horrors of the Drowned City.” The Citizen. South Africa. 2 September 2005. 

2) Rand, Ayn. “Objectivist Ethics.” The Virtue of Selfishness, 5 ; Pb 15.

3) Ibid ; 7Pb 17.

4) Parson. Religious Organization in the United States., New York : The Free Press, 1961, 311

5) Eckhard. “The Values of Fascism.” Journal of Sociological Issues, Vol. 24 (1968), 547-49.

6) Ethel M. Albert: Values and Value-Systems in David L. Sills’ OP.CIT: 287-91

7) Jr. Landes: “Moral Value-Structures of Laborers and Penitentiary Inmates: A Research Note.“  Social Forces, Vol 46 (December 1967): 269-74

8) Epstein: “Linguistic Orientation and Changing Values in Puerto Rico.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology: Vol. 9 (March 1968) 61-76

 9) John Ku: “Objections to Objectivism – Is Selfishness Good?”: 2001

10) Rand: For the New Intellectual: 188: Pb 151: 1961

11) Leon: “The Value and Scope of Freedom”: 1999: The Southern Journal.  

12) Rand: “Man’s Rights.” The Virtue of Selfishness, 124; Pb 93:1964

13) Rand, Ayn. “Objectivist Ethics.” The Virtue of Selfishness, 5 ; Pb 15.

Leonid Fainberg and Larissa Fainberg are contributors to The Rational Argumentator.

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

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Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, at http://www.geocities.com/rational_argumentator/rc.html.