Examining And Understanding Ethical Objectivism Philosophy Essay

To understand is one of the purposes of a person’s life (Bernstein, 2008). Either aware or unaware of that purpose, people constantly try to understand what is happening around them. People, as human beings, possess a powerful level of cognition as a tool to understand. By using this tool, people try to understand reality. For instance, at the start of a new day we-including everyone and including you and me-understand that we woke up from our routine slumber, that we were on a bed, that we need to eat, that we have things to do, that we must use certain skills to complete a task for our jobs, etc. The message of previous sentence is that we, as human beings, are capable of understanding different things-whatever they may be.

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Strangely, people sometimes do not perceive the same reality as other people perceive (Bernstein, 2008). For example on some given day, two people talk about the Empire State Building, and one says that the building is tall, while the other in contrast says that the building is short.

Ironically, no one is certain on how people are capable of understanding and why a difference in opinions of the same given subject exists (Barris, 2009). Attempting to provide an answer as to how people are capable of understanding, the field of philosophy has identified two approaches to understanding, namely objectivity and subjectivity.

Separating the two different means of perceiving reality, two examples show how objectivity and subjectivity differ from each other (Barris, 2009). Objectivity simply states that everyone sees something through the same perspective, meaning that there should be no difference in opinions in regards to understanding. An example of objectivity is the perception of numbers. Everyone agrees that the number zero is zero. In this example, everyone perceives a distinct number as just one number. No one would say that zero is not zero by saying that it is actually two.

On the other hand, subjectivity means that there is a difference in opinions (Barris, 2009). The example of the two people who have different perspectives on the height of the Empire State Building is an example of subjectivity.

The focus of this paper is on Ethical Objectivism, a uniquely specific version of objectivism that rejects subjectivism. It will present what are the principles of Ethical Objectivism and will show the contest between the claims that support Ethical Objectivism and the claims that oppose the theory. Finally, the paper will judge the validity of Ethical Objectivism by analyzing the claims.

As a variation to objectivism in general, Ethical Objectivism, is analysis on reality (Bernstein, 2008). According to Ethical Objectivism, subjectivity is not valid. Against subjectivity as a method of understanding, Ethical Objectivism is a theory that claims as its principle that an individual needs to think objectively in order to analyze any situation rationally. With the purpose of assisting people with understanding reality, the theory leads then to Egoism, an idea that believes that ethical actions are the ones that best benefit an individual’s self-interest. In other words, Ethical Objectivism functions as a first step to Egoism.

Introduced in the 1950s, Ethical Objectivism is still a recently discovered ethical theory (Bernstein, 2008). Ayn Rand has received credit for introducing Objectivism in some of her novels, which include “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead.” Many have praised the founder of Ethical Objectivism for her idea. In “Objectivism in One Lesson,” Andrew Bernstein has praised Rand’s idea for understanding the inseparable connection between an individual and philosophy. According to Bernstein, philosophy is a necessity to better the quality of their lives, but the problem with philosophy is that people have a very difficult time with understanding it. He mentions in his book that Ayn Rand offers a solution to the problem by stating that Ethical Objectivism allows people to understand philosophy more easily than other theories of philosophy can accomplish. Many readers of Rand’s novels have become interested in her theory and its approach to understanding philosophy, and after a few years of their release to the public, the novels have influenced more people to understand Ethical Objectivism.

However, the accolades given to Ethical Objectivism do not mean that everyone accepts the theory as a universal tool to better the quality of life. Despite the claimed benefits of Ethical Objectivism, many have questioned it as a solution to improve society because they claim the best way to improve the quality of life is to act in ways that benefit society as a whole rather than just the individual (Birsch, 2002). As this paper will show, Ethical Objectivism is in no position to claim itself as the best solution in moral issues. Instead, it will show that people should not apply Ethical Objectivism in moral issue. However, the theory does offer some interesting ideas that deserve to be mentioned.

To understand Ethical Objectivism, the student of the theory needs to identify and understand its foundation, and at the foundation are “the branches of philosophy” as Bernstein mentioned, which consists of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics (Bernstein, 2008). It uses these branches to create its principle that instructs the individual how to perceive reality.

Metaphysics deals with understanding “the nature of reality” (Bernstein, 2008). Rand asserts that the “nature of reality” is the existence of an entity, that existence is absolute, and that its interpretation is solely objective. To further that thought, Rand introduced two terms, pertaining to the understanding of the “nature of reality.” The first term is the primacy of existence, which means that existence has primacy over consciousness. In other words, consciousness does not define what existence is because existence is absolute. The second term is the primacy of consciousness, whose meaning is that consciousness determines what existence is. Subjective thoughts, such as emotions, can influence consciousness, which then leads to a false identity of reality. Ayn Rand does not approve of the use of primacy of consciousness as a way to understand reality.

Rejecting the primacy of consciousness, Rand’s support of the primacy of existence in regards to understanding reality leads to the epistemology of Ethical Objectivism (Bernstein, 2008). To support her first term as a valid approach to understanding while rejecting the second term as Rand has, Bernstein alludes to a law known as the law of identity, which is a commonly used law when a person is trying to support a philosophical idea. The law of identity simply states “A is A”, which A is a representation of a physical entity. A can never be B at any time because if that were the case, A would have been B.

For example, a tree can never grow or shrink at the same time, meaning that a tree can only be in one state (Bernstein, 2008). To follow the primacy of existence is to have everyone agree that is A and only A; everyone agrees that the tree is growing. On the other hand, to follow the primacy of consciousness is to allow any person to believe that an entity can A or B or anything else regardless of what another person believes; some say that the tree is growing, while at the same time others say that the tree is shrinking. An entity can be in only one state. There can be no difference in opinions about the same entity in question.

The third branch of philosophy, ethics, is described as a link that starts from Ethical Objectivism and leads to Egoism (Bernstein, 2008). By having a firm understanding of reality, an individual is ready to make an ethical decision rationally (Lexington Books, 2009).

Rand stated that:

“The first thing a man would have to do in considering the Objectivist ethics is to define his terms fully and precisely, and to set aside any emotions, particularly guilt, until he understands what he is dealing with.” (Lexington Books, 2009)

Bernstein elaborates on what Rand’s statement means by saying that in search for the appropriate ethical action, the individual looks for what he truly values by using Objectivist ethics, which is Ethical Objectivism (Bernstein, 2008). In other words, an individual’s values found through Ethical Objectivism are the basis of making an ethical action.

The question of making an ethical decision is difficult to answer. Rand asserts that people can remove that difficulty once they are able to act in an egotistic manner after looking at the situation objectively (Bernstein, 2008). Values are the guidelines to an action. Ethical Objectivism helps the individual find those values. Finally Egoism helps the individual attain those values by telling the individual to act for his self-interest and not to sacrifice any of his values, for if the individual decides to forgo his values to help another, he is no longer acting egotistically, but is sacrificing his own values of life so that others may benefit. Therefore, Egoism claims that it is ethical to act for oneself.

However, Rand’s solution to making an ethical question brings up another question. Does an objective perspective lead to an ethical action? Or more specifically, is an action influenced by Egoism ethical (Birsch, 2002)? The purpose of Ethical Objectivism is to lead the individual to Egotism, which allows an individual to make a rational decision (Bernstein, 2008). However, the purpose of the question is to determine if Egoism can lead to an ethical decision. Because of the connection between Ethical Objectivism and Egoism, the question will determine the validity Ethical Objectivism as an applicable tool by checking whether Egoism is an acceptable ethical theory.

Answering the question begins with a comparison of why Egoism is an ethical and why it is not (Birsch, 2002). To reach an answer, an analysis of the claims that support Egoism and an analysis of the claims that rejects Egoism follow. Egoism is a shortcut for an individual to make the best decision. By using Egoism as a guide to decide on an action, the individual is able to do what is best for himself or herself, and to do what is best for oneself is ethical, according to Egoism.

Looking for a reason why Egoism is not an ethical theory, one should consider whether the theory is one that many acceptable as a viable ethical theory (Birsch, 2002). Douglas Birsch considers acceptable ethical theories to be ones that meet certain standards, and actions that benefit society is what set the standards. According to Birsch, Egoism fails to be an acceptable because it is a theory that focuses solely on the individual. Furthermore, it does not take into consideration how egotistic actions affect society. From this line of reasoning, Egoism is not acceptable.

To finally reach a conclusive answer, Egoism must meet the needs of modernity. As of now, the human population is over six billion (Dowd, 2000). With such a large population, society is the only way of managing such a large number of people (Quinn, 2011). Quinn defines society as “an association of people organized under a system of rules designed to advance the good of its members over time.” Therefore, society makes progress for “the good of its members.” Actions that are for the individual’s self-interest are damaging to society, leading to a society that fails to achieve its purpose. If everyone were to act egotistically, there would have been no association of people, since everyone mostly associates himself or herself.

Ethical Objectivism has provided some interesting insight on how to perceive reality. It is incorrect to consider Ethical Objectivism as a stand-alone theory because to apply the ethical theory of Egoism, Ethical Objectivism must first be used. Since Ethical Objectivism leads to Egoism, which may better the individual by satisfying his or her own self-interest but weakens society, it does not stand as an acceptable ethical theory.