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Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 20, 2015

Mr. Stolyarov endeavors to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws.


– “Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver” – Article by G. Stolyarov II –

– Formula for the Universal Law of Gravitation: F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

– “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” – Video by G. Stolyarov II

– “Indiana Pi Bill” – Wikipedia

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Universal Physical and Moral Laws, With No Lawgiver – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
May 13, 2015

Here I endeavor to refute the common argument that any law, be it a physical law or a law of morality or justice, requires a lawgiver – an intelligent entity that brought the law into being. While some laws (termed manmade or positive laws) do indeed have human lawmakers, a much more fundamental class of laws (termed universal or natural laws) arise not due to promulgation by any intelligent being, but rather due to the basic properties of the entities these laws concern, and the relations of those entities to one another. To the extent that positive laws are enacted by humans, the purpose of such positive laws should be to reflect and effectuate the beneficial consequences of objectively valid natural laws. For instance, it is a natural law that each human being possesses a right to life. A positive law that prohibits and punishes murder of one human being by another would reflect the natural law and therefore be desirable. On the other hand, if any positive law were to mandate murder (as various edicts by tyrannical regimes throughout history, targeting political dissidents or disfavored minority groups, have done), then that positive law would be contrary to the natural law and therefore illegitimate and harmful.

The physical laws of nature pertain to all entities, including humans, and describe the regularities with which these entities will behave within applicable situations. Examples of physical laws include Newton’s Three Laws of Motion, the law of gravitation, the law of conservation of matter and energy, and the law of conservation of momentum. If it is asserted that these laws require a lawgiver, then the lawgiver would hypothetically be able to alter these laws on a whim at any time, thereby depriving them of their universality and predictable application. Such a state of affairs would not only be highly inconvenient (to say the least), but also completely incompatible with the reality that these laws are derived from the nature of entities as they are.

We can draw upon ubiquitous observation and the fact that these laws of nature can indeed be harnessed so precisely that every functional technology ever invented works because it takes advantage of them. The argument that the laws of nature could change tomorrow depends on a false perception of what those laws are – a kind of Platonic view that the laws of nature are superimposed upon the world of objects. In reality, however, objects (entities) and their qualities and relationships are all that exist at the most basic level. The laws of nature are relationships that are derived from the very properties inherent to objects themselves; they are not some higher layer of reality on top of the objects that leads the objects to behave in a certain way. That is, the laws of nature are what they are because the things whose behavior they describe are what they are.

The truth that the laws of nature are a function of the objects whose behavior they describe pertains to fundamental physical laws, such as the law of gravitation. While the law of gravitation and the equation [1] describing that law apply universally, the very existence of the law is dependent on the existence of entities that have mass and therefore exhibit gravitational attraction. Were there no entities or no entities with mass (incidentally, both logically impossible scenarios), then the concept of gravity would not have any relevance or applicability. Likewise, the amount of mass of particular entities and their distance of separation from one another will determine the extent of the gravitational force exerted by those entities upon one another. The gravitational force arises because the entities are as massive as they are and located where they are relative to one another; it does not arise because a supernatural lawgiver imposed it upon entities who would otherwise be completely static or random in their behavior in relation to one another.

The key parallel with the laws of morality is that, as the laws of gravitation stem from the objective properties of entities themselves (i.e., that they have mass – which is a universal property of all entities), so do the laws of morality stem from the objective properties of human beings themselves – namely, the biological and physical prerequisites of human survival and flourishing. Different specific decisions may be the appropriate moral decisions in different contexts, but because of the essential similarities of humans along many key dimensions, certain general moral truths will hold universally for all humans.  But again, were there no humans (or similar rational, sentient, volitional beings) with these essential attributes, the concept of morality would have no relevance.

Neither morality nor gravitation require the existence of entities outside of those exhibiting moral behavior or gravitational attraction. A system of physical or moral laws is not dependent on an outside “lawgiver” but rather on the objective natures of the entities partaking in the system. Objective moral laws include the principles of ethics, which address how a person should behave to maximize possible well-being, as well as the principles of justice, which address how people should relate to one another in respecting one another’s spheres of legitimate action, rewarding meritorious conduct, and punishing destructive conduct against others. There is a natural harmony between adherence to objective moral laws and the attainment of beneficial consequences for one’s own life, material prosperity, and happiness – provided that one adheres to a view of long-term, enlightened, rational self-interest, which does not allow one to sacrifice the lives, liberty, or property of others to achieve a short-term gain.

Some would assert that principles of behavior that tend to maximize well-being and serve one’s rational self-interest may be part of prudent or practical conduct, but are not the same as morality. In the minds of these individuals, morality (typically, in their view, willed by an external lawgiver) is independent of practical means or consequences and often (as, for instance, in Immanuel Kant’s outlook on morality) inherently divorced from actions conducive to self-interest. I, however, strongly reject any notion that there might be a dichotomy between morality and practicality, happiness, or prosperity – when a long-term, enlightened, and multifaceted outlook on the latter conditions is considered. Some might be so short-sighted as to mistake some temporary advantage or fleeting pleasure for true fulfillment or happiness, but the objective cause-and-effect relationships within our physical reality will eventually disappoint them (if they live long enough – and if not, their punishment – death – will be even greater). If some or even many humans might be drawn toward certain pleasurable feelings for their own sake (which is an evolutionary relic of a very different primeval environment inhabited by our ancestors – but a tendency ill-adapted to our current environment), this is not the same as achieving truly sustainable prosperity and happiness by using reason to thrive in our current environment (or to create a better environment for human flourishing). One of the objectives of a good moral system is to guide people toward the latter outcome. My essay and video “Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness” offer more detailed thoughts on key elements of a life of flourishing and the concept of eudaemonia – the actualization of one’s full potential, as Aristotle and later virtue-oriented philosophers described it.

Objective moral law, derived from the fundamental value of every innocent rational, sentient being’s life, posits an essential harmony of the long-term, enlightened self-interests of all who earnestly pursue truth and goodness. Unlike many proponents of an externally legislated moral framework (for which the alleged lawgiver might be a supernatural being, a single human ruler, or a collective of humans), I would not consider self-sacrifice to be a component of morality. I align more with Ayn Rand’s view of sacrifice as a surrender of a greater value (e.g., one’s life) to a lesser value (e.g., abstractions such as nation-states, religions, or perceived slights from another nation-state or religious or cultural group). A person can behave morally – promoting his own life, respecting the rights of others, and contributing to human flourishing – without ever surrendering anything he values (except as an instrument for obtaining outcomes he might justifiably value more). Morality should therefore not be seen as the subordination of the individual to some higher ideal, be it a divine order or a manmade one. Rather, the individual is the ideal for which moral behavior is the path to fulfillment.

A person who behaves morally advances himself while fully respecting the legitimate prerogatives of others. He improves his own life without damaging anybody else’s. In the process of pursuing enlightened self-interest, he also benefits the lives of others through value-adding interactions. Indeed, he may enter into an extensive network of both formal and informal reciprocal obligations with others that result in his actions being a constant, sustainable source of improvement in others’ lives. The virtue of honesty is part of objective ethics and impels a moral individual to strive to honor all commitments once they have been made. The key to a morality based on objective, natural law, however, is that these obligations be entered into freely and not as a result of the self being compromised in favor of an alleged higher ideal. Consequently, a key component of natural law is the liberty of an individual to evaluate the world in accordance with his rational faculty and to decide which undertakings are consistent with his enlightened self-interest. When positive laws are crafted so as to interfere with that liberty, positive law becomes at odds with natural law, leading to warped incentives, institutionalized sacrifices, and painful tradeoffs that many individuals must make if they seek to abide by both natural and positive laws.

Objective natural laws – both physical and moral – do not require a lawgiver and antecede manmade, positive laws. Some natural laws, however, may require positive laws – such as prohibitions on murder, theft, and slavery – in order for the desirable outcome brought about by the natural laws to be reflected in actual (rather than simply hoped-for) human behavior. In order to improve human well-being, positive laws should be developed to advance and effectuate natural laws, instead of attempting to resist them or contravene them. Just as a law that redefines the value of pi as 3.2 (one actually unsuccessfully attempted in Indiana in 1897) is rightly seen as absurd on its face, even if a majority votes to enact it, and would result in many failed constructions if implemented by engineers and designers of machines, so would a law that abrogates the natural liberty of individuals to peacefully pursue their own flourishing result in damage to good human beings and increases in physical harm, suffering, and injustice. A good human lawmaker should respect pre-existing objective natural laws and not attempt to contradict them.

[1] F = G*m1*m2/r2, with F being the force between two masses, m1 and m2 being the two masses, r being the distance between the centers of the two masses, and G being the universal gravitational constant.

This article may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. See Mr. Stolyarov’s biographical information here.

Putting Randomness in Its Place (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Putting Randomness in Its Place (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published February 11, 2010
as Part of Issue CCXXXV of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 22, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXXXV of The Rational Argumentator on February 11, 2010, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 22, 2014

A widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “randomness” often results in false generalizations made regarding reality. In particular, the view of randomness as metaphysical, rather than epistemological, is responsible for numerous commonplace fallacies.

To see randomness as metaphysical is to see it as an inherent aspect of reality as such – as embedded inextricably in “the way things are.” Typically, people holding this view will take it in one of two directions. Some of them will see randomness pejoratively – thinking that there is no way reality could be like that: chaotic, undefined, unpredictable. Such individuals will typically posit that, because reality cannot be random, it must therefore be centrally planned by a super-intelligent entity, such as a deity.

Others, however, will use the metaphysical perception of randomness to deny evident and ubiquitously observable truths about our world: the facts that all entities obey certain natural laws, that these laws are accessible to human beings, and that they can inform our decision-making and actions. These individuals typically espouse metaphysical subjectivism – the idea that the nature of reality depends on the person observing it, or that all of existence is in such a chaotic flux that we cannot ever possibly make sense of it, so we might as well “construct” our own personal or cultural “reality.”

But it is the very metaphysical perception of randomness that is in error. Randomness is, rather, epistemological – a description of our state of knowledge of external reality, and not of external reality itself. To say that a phenomenon is random simply means that we do not (yet) have adequate knowledge to be able to explain it causally. Based on past observational experience or some knowledge of aspects inherent to that phenomenon, we might be able to assign probabilities – estimates of the likelihood that a particular event will occur, in the absence of more detailed knowledge about the specifics of the circumstances that might give rise to that event. In some areas of life, this is presently as far as humans can venture. Indeed, probabilistic thinking can be conceptually quite powerful – although imprecise – in analyzing large classes of phenomena which, individually, exhibit too many specific details for any single mind to grasp. Entire industries, such as insurance and investment, are founded on this premise. But we must not mistake a conceptual tool for an external fact; the probabilities are not “out there.” They are, rather, an attempt by human beings to interpret and anticipate external phenomena.

The recognition of randomness as epistemological can be of great aid both to those who believe in biological evolution and to advocates of the free market. Neither the laws of evolution, nor the laws of economics, of course, would fit any definition of “randomness.” Rather, they are impersonal, abstract principles that definitively describe the general outcomes of particular highly complex sets of interactions. They are unable to account for every fact of those interactions, however, and they are also not always able to predict precisely how or when the general outcome they anticipate will ensue. For instance, biological evolution cannot precisely predict which complex life forms will evolve and at what times, or which animals in a current ecosystem will ultimately proliferate, although traits that might enhance an animal’s survival and reproduction and traits that might hinder them can be identified. Likewise, economics – despite the protestations of some economists to the contrary – cannot predict the movements of stock prices or prices in general, although particular directional effects on prices from known technological breakthroughs or policy decisions can be anticipated.

Evolution is often accused of being incapable of producing intelligent life and speciation because of its “randomness.” For many advocates of “intelligent design,” it does not appear feasible that the complexity of life today could have arisen as a result of “chance” occurrences – such as genetic mutations – that nobody planned and for whose outcomes nobody vouched. However, each of these mutations – and the natural selection pressures to which they were subject – can only be described as random to the extent that we cannot precisely describe the circumstances under which they occurred. The more knowledge we have of the circumstances surrounding a particular mutation, the more it becomes perfectly sensible to us, and explicable as a product of causal, natural laws, not “sheer chance.” Such natural laws work both at the microscopic, molecular level where the proximate cause of the mutation occurred, and at the macroscopic, species-wide level, where organisms with the mutation interact with other organisms and with the inanimate environment to bring about a certain episode in the history of life.

So it is with economics; the interactions of the free market seem chaotic and unpredictable to many – who therefore disparage them as “random” and agitate for centralized power over all aspects of human life. But, in fact, the free market consists of millions of human actors in billions of situations, and each actor has definite purposes and motivations, as well as definite constraints against which he or she must make decisions. The “randomness” of behaviors on the market is only perceived because of the observer’s limited knowledge of the billions of circumstances that generate such behaviors. We can fathom our own lives and immediate environments, and it may become easier to understand the general principles behind complex economies when we recognize that each individual life has its own purposes and orders, although they may be orders which we find mistaken or purposes of which we disapprove. But the interaction of these individual microcosms is the free market; the more we understand about it, the more sensible it becomes to us, and the more valid conclusions we can draw regarding it.

The reason why evolution and economies cannot be predicted at a concrete level, although they can be understood, is the sheer complexity of the events and interactions involved – with each event or interaction possibly being of immense significance. Qualitative generalizations, analyses of attributes, and probabilistic thinking can answer some questions pertaining to these complex systems and can enable us to navigate them with some success. But these comprise our arsenal of tools for interpreting reality; they do not even begin to approach being the reality itself.

When we come to see randomness as a product of our limited knowledge, rather than of reality per se, we can begin to appreciate how much there is about reality that can be understood – rather than dismissed as impossible or inherently chaotic – and can broaden our knowledge and mastery of phenomena we might otherwise have seen as beyond our grasp.

Click here to read more articles in Issue CCXXXV of The Rational Argumentator.

Particular, Principled, Context-Specific Justice (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Particular, Principled, Context-Specific Justice (2010) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published April 11, 2010
as Part of Issue CCXLIV of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 18, 2014
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXLIV of The Rational Argumentator on April 11, 2010, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator. The arguments in it continue to be relevant to discussions regarding justice, natural law, and a merit-based society, and therefore it is fitting for this publication to provide these arguments a fresh presence.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 18, 2014

Here, I will briefly outline the fundamental features of a new approach to justice that departs radically from the egalitarian view typical of our era. A departure from egalitarianism may appear to some to be reactionary – with the alternative being a reversion to the older, class-based systems of justice, where different individuals were afforded different treatments on the basis of membership in rather arbitrarily defined groups. However, the approach of particular, principled, context-specific justice is in fact highly progressive in that it rejects the collectivism and suffering of innocents inherent in both class-based and egalitarian systems of justice. If we use an analogy to medical evolution, class-based justice could be compared to the pre-scientific treatments of bleeding and leeches; egalitarian justice could be compared to a mass-marketed pill that helps some people, but not in all ways, and also causes substantial adverse side effects in others; particular and context-specific justice is like an army of tiny nano-machines, repairing specific instances of bodily damage cell by cell without damaging healthy tissues. What nano-medicine promises to accomplish for the principle of health, particular and context-specific justice can accomplish in advancing the principle of merit.

The best way of encapsulating particular, principled, context-specific justice is to say that justice should not be blind. Indeed, justice should see as much as possible about the situation which is being judged and use all relevant information to arrive at a remedy specifically tailored to that situation. Any simplification of this principle – including the invocation of group- or class-based stereotypes, inflexible norms, and binding precedents – leads a departure from the just outcome.

It is a necessary component of justice that no innocent person should be harmed by its application – and that no guilty person should be harmed by it beyond the extent specifically warranted by his guilt. To hold otherwise is to embrace not justice, but pseudo-pragmatic trade-offs, where the suffering of some innocents is weighed against the perceived greater or lesser suffering of other innocents. To enforce such trade-offs is not within the legitimate power of any human being, nor is it necessitated by the natures of things or genuine practicality.

Unfortunately, “justice” as conceived by many of our contemporaries – egalitarian justice, or, phrased less generously, one-size-fits-all justice – necessitates the making of trade-offs that harm innocent people in virtually every case. Egalitarian justice is based on the premise that all persons must be treated in the same manner, irrespective of their individual qualities, context, and the consequences of a particular treatment. The uniform treatment is intended to produce the “greatest good for the greatest number” – but it often results in the lowering of the manner in which people are actually treated to a mediocre level, or even to the level of the lowest common denominator. Egalitarian justice typically imposes mandates or prohibitions deemed to improve the position of the “average person” or the majority of people; in reality, such impositions hamstring the above-average individuals while providing only slight, if any, benefits for the others. Indeed, many egalitarians, after the failure of their attempts to elevate the majority through one-size-fits-all measures, resort to insisting that everyone must “share the burden” equally – i.e., suffer by the same amount in situations where, before, no suffering was necessary.

Egalitarian justice is misguided, because it is premised on the idea that justice applies fundamentally to collectives of people, as opposed to individuals – who are the basic units where human perception, thinking, creation, and decision-making are concerned. Egalitarian justice seeks – at least in its best-intentioned variant – to bring about societal improvement by imposing the same rules and treatments upon all of society.

By contrast, reason and morality – natural law – require that every individual be treated in accordance with the merits or demerits of that individual’s own actions. Individuals who act rationally and morally, to the genuine benefit of themselves and others, should be rewarded, and individuals who act detrimentally – by harming others or themselves – should suffer the naturally ensuing adverse consequences of their actions. Individuals who harm only themselves are already punished sufficiently by the harm they inflict; there is no need for an external entity to disproportionately magnify that harm. However, individuals whose actions also adversely affect innocent others will not always be thwarted in time to prevent the harm. Hence arises the need for societal institutions, external to a particular situation where harm to others can be caused, to prevent or remedy such harm. This is the function of justice.

Thus, to have true justice in a particular case, it is clear that the harm to innocent persons in that case must be prevented or remedied – and, just as importantly, no harm must be caused by the process of justice itself. This is impossible to accomplish without a finely targeted approach: one that attempts to fathom the particular situation in all its relevant details, to establish the harm being committed or threatened, and to develop a way of neutralizing that harm which will punish only the guilty, and only in proportion to their guilt. A simplistic rule, conceived to apply to a myriad of diverse cases, apart from the context of these particular cases, is not adequate to this task.

It may seem at first glance that the attainment of particular justice precludes the application of any principles whatsoever. After all, are principles not themselves general rules that are developed apart from any given particular case? Yet it is not possible to reach a non-arbitrary decision on any matter without having some standards on which to base that decision. And there are indeed standards which are universally applicable to all human beings – derivable from the desirability of human life and flourishing, and from the mechanisms by which such values can be preserved and expanded. Among these standards are the natural rights of all humans: the right to act in the furtherance of one’s life, the right to acquire and keep property by naturally legitimate means, the right to interact with consenting others, and the right to be free from aggression, expropriation, and unwarranted punishment.

Indeed, the very definition of what constitutes an unjust harm is dependent on the principles of natural law. For instance, it is not an unjust harm if a person becomes displaced from a particular field of work because technological advances by others rendered that field of work obsolete. Because the technological advances and their creators did not rob, injure, kill, threaten, or defraud anyone, they are in complete accord with justice. The people displaced from their jobs may be worse off temporarily, but they always have an opportunity to retrain themselves in a society that respects their rights. Moreover, because they did not have the right to hold a particular job in the first place – as such a job was the result of an agreement that requires the continuing consent of two parties – they lost nothing to which they were entitled. On the other hand, it may be salutary from the standpoint of voluntary, private morality for the employers of such displaced individuals to offer to support their re-training or to aid them in finding alternate jobs.

But the universal standards of natural law are not the standards used by egalitarian justice; rather, egalitarianism tends to develop highly concrete criteria that are applied irrespective of whether they satisfy the abstract universal principles of justice. According to the most widespread embodiments of this philosophy, everyone must be subjected to the same minutiae, in an attempt to approximate just outcomes on a society-wide level. By contrast, in true justice, universal principles are not tied to any specific set of objects, procedures, or prescriptions for concrete behaviors. Rather, each principle can only be properly applied by considering the context in which it is relevant. To say, for instance, that honesty is a universal principle does not translate into concrete mandates or prohibitions for every situation; while it may not be justified to lie in most situations, in some – including situations where an aggressor demands the truth so as to inflict harm on its basis – lying may be morally necessary. It is an unfortunate characteristic of the egalitarian thinking of our era that abstract principles often become reified into a laundry list of byzantine particulars, whose “uniform” imposition then becomes seen as synonymous with justice – to the detriment of the very principles of justice that were supposed to be advanced in the first place.

While universal moral principles do not change, there are two important aspects of the world that do change continually: (1) our knowledge and understanding of these principles and (2) the specific concretes of our existence, to which those principles need to be applied. Moral philosophy is, and should be, an ever-evolving discipline, not because there are no truths to be found, but because no one can claim to have found all the truths or to have developed all of the facets of any true idea. At the same time, new discoveries, inventions, and societal changes raise new questions and dilemmas regarding how moral principles ought to be applied. The attempt of egalitarianism to set uniform concrete norms that apply to all people in all cases stands in defiance of the dynamic context in which we live and strive to fathom justice and reality. Egalitarianism, even based on the best effort to integrate the most advanced knowledge and the most rational thinking currently available, freezes justice in time and cuts off the prospects for a variety of innovative approaches that often occur simultaneously with one another within different subsets of any given society.

Because of the complexity of individual circumstances, every concrete norm, applied too broadly, will harm some innocent people. Particular, principled, context-specific justice would avoid this problem by being flexible with respect to concrete norms. For this, the discretion of the entity that dispenses justice is of foremost importance. Without discretion, no deviation from a concrete norm is possible – and, consequently, there is no way to avert innocent suffering. Discretion by a reasonable intelligent person, however, can avoid all of the obvious harms of a given norm – and the most competent and scrupulous dispensers of justice can even structure remedies so as to avoid subtle and indirect harms. Discretion should not be unlimited, and its exercise should be allowed in such a manner as would not extend the authority of the dispenser of justice beyond its intended sphere. Moreover, every care should be taken to prevent such discretion from resulting in draconian outcomes. But the limits imposed upon discretion should never prevent contextually warranted leniency or experimentation with remedies that are more palatable to all parties involved than those suggested by precedent or tradition.

To apply a general principle properly to a given situation, knowledge of the situation is crucial. The difference between true justice and egalitarian justice is akin to the difference between two applications of the principle of healthy eating: one approach makes choices regarding the nutritional value of every particular item of food one encounters, in the context in which one encounters it, while the other approach develops in advance a “diet” that consists of context-independent prohibitions on certain foods and requirements for certain other foods. Following a sub-optimal strategy for healthy eating may still make one healthier on net and, in that case, is not perilous. But this is because the individual is the basic moral unit; actions that benefit an individual on net while causing some discomfort, inconvenience, or inefficiency to that individual are therefore acceptable. But there can be no legitimate consideration of what benefits “society on net” which disregards harms to any individuals that occur in the process. Society is not a moral unit, and harms to its “components” cannot be brushed aside as necessary to advance an ostensibly greater goal.

Of course, for particular, principles-based justice to be applied to any systematic extent, both prevailing legal systems and moral understandings would need to change; the latter change would most likely need to precede the former, at least among the people who can affect the legal systems. Egalitarian justice attempts to treat particular situations independently of context or consequences; such treatment cannot be reconciled with the principles of justice. True justice encounters reality directly and infuses into it improvements – protections for the innocent, punishments for the guilty, and a closer approximation of a society where natural law is obeyed and the principle of merit is reflected.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXLIV.

Putting Randomness in Its Place – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Putting Randomness in Its Place – Video by G. Stolyarov II

A widespread misunderstanding of the meaning of the term “randomness” often results in false generalizations made regarding reality. In particular, the view of randomness as metaphysical, rather than epistemological, is responsible for numerous commonplace fallacies.

– “Putting Randomness in Its Place” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov explains how an objective reality governed by physical laws is compatible with individual self-determination and indeed is required for individuals to meaningfully expand their lives and develop their unique identities.


– “Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge” – Post by G. Stolyarov II

Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Individualism, Objective Reality, and Open-Ended Knowledge – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 11, 2013

I am an individualist, but not a relativist. While I have no dispute with individuals determining their own meaning and discovering their own significance (indeed, I embrace this), this self-determination needs to occur within an objective physical universe. This is not an optional condition for any of us. The very existence of the individual relies on absolute, immutable physical and biological laws that can be utilized to give shape to the individual’s desires, but that cannot be ignored or wished away. This is why we cannot simply choose to live indefinitely and have this outcome occur. We need to develop technologies that would use the laws of nature to bring indefinite longevity about.

In other words, I am an ontological absolutist who sees wisdom in Francis Bacon’s famous statement that “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” Individual choice, discovery, and often the construction of personal identity and meaning are projects that I embrace, but they rely on fundamental objective prerequisites of matter, space, time, and causality. Individuals who wish to shape their lives for the better would be wise to take these prerequisites into account (e.g., by developing technologies that overcome the limitations of unaided biology or un-transformed matter). My view is that a transhumanist ethics necessitates an objective metaphysics and a reason-and-evidence-driven epistemology.

This does not, however, preclude an open-endedness to human knowledge and scope of generalization about existence. Even though an absolute reality exists and truth can be objectively known, we humans are still so limited and ignorant that we scarcely know a small fraction of what there is to know. Moreover, each of us has a grasp of different aspects of truth, and therefore there is room for valid differences of perspective, as long as they do not explicitly contradict one another. In other words, it is not possible for both A and non-A to be true, but if there is a disagreement between a person who asserts A and a person who asserts B, it is possible for both A and B to be true, as long as A and B are logically reconcilable. A dogmatic paradigm would tend to erroneously classify too much of the realm of ideas as non-A, if A is true, and hence would falsely reject some valid insights.

These insights illustrate the compatibility of objective physical and biological laws (physicalism) with individual self-determination (volition or free will). There is a similar relationship between ontology and ethics. An objective ontology (based on immutable natural laws) is needed as a foundation for an individualistic ethics of open-ended self-improvement and ceaseless progress.

Philosophy Lives – Contra Stephen Hawking – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Philosophy Lives – Contra Stephen Hawking – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Mr. Stolyarov’s refutation of Stephen Hawking’s statement that “philosophy is dead.”

In his 2010 book The Grand Design, cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes that science has displaced philosophy in the enterprise of discovering truth. While I have great respect for Hawking both in his capacities as a physicist and in his personal qualities — his advocacy of technological progress and his determination and drive to achieve in spite of his debilitating illness — the assertion that the physical sciences can wholly replace philosophy is mistaken. Not only is philosophy able to address questions outside the scope of the physical sciences, but the coherence and validity of scientific approaches itself rests on a philosophical foundation that was not always taken for granted — and still is not in many circles.

– “Philosophy Lives – Contra Stephen Hawking” – Essay by G. Stolyarov II
– “The Grand Design (book)” – Wikipedia
– “Stephen Hawking” – Wikipedia

Philosophy Lives – Contra Stephen Hawking – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Philosophy Lives – Contra Stephen Hawking – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
January 1, 2013

In his 2010 book The Grand Design, cosmologist and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking writes that science has displaced philosophy in the enterprise of discovering truth. While I have great respect for Hawking both in his capacities as a physicist and in his personal qualities – his advocacy of technological progress and his determination and drive to achieve in spite of his debilitating illness – the assertion that the physical sciences can wholly replace philosophy is mistaken. Not only is philosophy able to address questions outside the scope of the physical sciences, but the coherence and validity of scientific approaches itself rests on a philosophical foundation that was not always taken for granted – and still is not in many circles.

Hawking writes, “Living in this vast world that is by turns kind and cruel, and gazing at the immense heavens above, people have always asked a multitude of questions: How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality? Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? Most of us do not spend most of our time worrying about these questions, but almost all of us worry about them some of the time. Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.

I hesitate to speculate why Hawking considers philosophy to be “dead” – but perhaps this view partly arises from frustration at the non-reality-oriented teachings of many postmodernist philosophers who still prevail in many academic and journalistic circles. Surely, those who deny the comprehensibility of reality and allege that it is entirely a societal construction do not aid in the quest for discovery and understanding of what really exists. Likewise, our knowledge cannot be enhanced by those who deny that there exist systematic and specific methods that are graspable by human reason and that can be harnessed for the purposes of discovery. It is saddening indeed that prominent philosophical figures have embraced anti-realist positions in metaphysics and anti-rational, anti-empirical positions in epistemology. Physicists, in their everyday practice, necessarily rely on external observational evidence and on logical deductions from the empirical data. In this way, and to the extent that they provide valid explanations of natural phenomena, they are surely more reality-oriented than most postmodernist philosophers. Yet philosophy does not need to be this way – and, indeed, philosophical schools of thought throughout history and in the present day are not only compatible with the scientific approach to reality, but indispensable to it.

Contrary to the pronouncements of prominent postmodernists, a venerable strain of thought – dating back to at least Aristotle and extending all the way to today’s transhumanists, Objectivists, and natural-law thinkers – holds that an objective reality exists, that it can be understood through systematic observation and reason, and that its understanding should be pursued by all of us. This is the philosophical strain responsible for the accomplishments of Classical Antiquity and the progress made during the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the Information Revolution. While such philosophy is not the same as the physical sciences, the physical sciences rely on it to the extent that they embrace the approach known as the scientific method, which itself rests on philosophical premises. These premises include the existence of an external reality independent of the wishes and imagination of any observer, the existence of a definite identity of any given entity at any given time, the reliance on identical conditions producing identical outcomes, the principles of causation and non-contradiction, and the ability of human beings to systematically alter outcomes in the physical world by understanding its workings and modifying physical systems accordingly. This latter principle – that, in Francis Bacon’s words, “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” – was the starting point for the Scientific Revolution of the 17th Century, which inaugurated subsequent massive advances in technology, standards of living, and human understanding of the universe.  Even those scientists who do not acknowledge or explicitly reject the importance of philosophy nonetheless implicitly rely on these premises in the very conduct of their scientific work – to the extent that such work accurately describes reality. These premises are not the only ones possible – but they are the only ones that are fully right. Alternatives – including reliance on alleged supernatural revelation, wishful thinking, and unconditional deference to authority – have been tried time and again, only to result in stagnation and mental traps that prevented substantive improvements to the human condition.

But there is more. Not only are the physical sciences without a foundation if philosophy is to be ignored, but the very reason for pursuing them remains unaddressed without the branch of philosophy that focuses on what we ought to do: ethics. Contrary to those who would posit an insurmountable “is-ought” gap, ethics can indeed be derived from the facts of reality, but not solely by the tools of physics, chemistry, biology, or any others of the “hard” physical sciences. An additional element is required: the fact that we ourselves exist as rational, conscious beings, who are capable of introspection and of analysis of external data. From the physical sciences we can derive ways to sustain and improve our material well-being – sometimes our very survival. But only ethics can tell us that we ought to pursue such survival – a conclusion we reach through introspection and logical reasoning. No experiment, no test is needed to tell us that we ought to keep living. This conclusion arises as antecedent to a consistent pursuit of any action at all; to achieve any goal, we must be alive. To pursue death, the opposite of life, contradicts the very notion of acting, which has life as a prerequisite.  Once we have accepted that premise, an entire system of logical deductions follows with regard to how we ought to approach the external world – the pursuit of knowledge, interactions with others, improvement of living conditions, protection against danger. The physical sciences can provide many of the empirical data and regularities needed to assess alternative ways of living and to develop optimal solutions to human challenges. But ethics is needed to keep the goals of scientific study in mind. The goals should ultimately relate to ways to enhance human well-being. If the pursuit of human well-being – consistent with the imperative of each individual to continue living – is abandoned, then the physical sciences alone cannot provide adequate guidance. Indeed, they can be utilized to produce horrors – as the development of nuclear weapons in the 20th century exemplified. Geopolitical considerations of coercive power and nationalism were permitted to overshadow humanistic considerations of life and peace, and hundreds of thousands of innocents perished due to a massive government-sponsored science project, while the fate of human civilization hung in the balance for over four decades.

The questions cited by Hawking are indeed philosophical questions, at least in part. Aspects of these questions, while they are broadly reliant on the existence of an objective reality, do not require specific experiments to answer. Rather, like many of the everyday questions of our existence, they rely only on the ubiquitous inputs of our day-to-day experience, generalized within our minds and formulated as starting premises for a logical deductive process. The question “How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? has different answers based on the realm of focus and endeavor. Are we looking to understand the function of a mechanism, or the origin of a star? Different tools are required for each, but systematic experimentation and observation would be required in each case. This is an opening for the physical sciences and the scientific method. There are, however, ubiquitous observations about our everyday world that can be used as inputs into our decision-making – a process we engage in regularly as we navigate a room, eat a meal, engage in conversation or deliberation, or transport any object whatsoever. Simply as a byproduct of routine living, these observations provide us with ample data for a series of logical deductions and inferences which do not strictly belong to any scientific branch, even though specific parts of our world could be better understood from closer scientific observation.

The questionHow does the universe behave?actually arises in part from a philosophical presupposition that “the universe” is a single entity with any sort of coordinated behavior whatsoever. An alternative view – which I hold – is that the word “universe” is simply convenient mental shorthand for describing the totality of every single entity that exists, in lieu of actually enumerating them all. Thus, while each entity has its own definite nature, “the universe” may not have a single nature or behavior. Perhaps a more accurate framing of that question would be, “What attributes or behaviors are common to all entities that exist?” To answer that question, a combination of ubiquitous observation and scientific experimentation is required. Ubiquitous observation tells us that all entities are material, but only scientific experimentation can tell us what the “building blocks” of matter are. Philosophy alone cannot recommend any model of the atom or of subatomic particles, among multiple competing non-contradictory models. Philosophy can, however, rightly serve to check the logical coherence of any particular model and to reject erroneous interpretations of data which produce internally contradictory answers. Such rejection does not mean that the data are inaccurate, or even that a particular scientific theory cannot predict the behavior of entities – but rather that any verbal understanding of the accurate data and predictive models should also be consistent with logic, causation, and everyday human experience. At the very least, if a coherent verbal understanding is beyond our best efforts at present, philosophy should be vigilant against the promulgation of incoherent verbal understandings. It is better to leave certain scientific models as systems of mathematical equations, uncommented on, than to posit evidently false interpretations that undermine laypeople’s view of the validity of our very existence and reasoning.

After all – to return to the ethical purpose of science – one major goal of scientific inquiry is to understand and explain the world we live in and experience on a daily basis. If any scientific model is said to result in the conclusion that our world does not ‘really’ exist or that our entire experience is illusory (rather than just occasional quirks in our biology, such as those which produce optical illusions, misleading us, in an avoidable manner, under specific unusual circumstances), then it is the philosophical articulation of that model that is flawed. The model itself may be retained in another form – such as mathematical notation – that can be used to predict and study phenomena which continue to defy verbal understanding, with the hope that someday a satisfactory verbal understanding will be attained. Without this philosophic vigilance, scientific breakthroughs may be abused by charlatans for the purpose of misleading people into ruining their lives. As a prominent example of this, multiple strains of mysticism have arisen out of bad philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics – for instance, the belief, articulated in such pseudo-self-help books as The Secret, that people can mold reality with their thoughts alone and that, instead of working hard and thinking rationally, they can become immensely wealthy and cure themselves of cancer just by wanting it enough. Without a rigorous philosophical defense of reason and objective reality, either by scientists themselves or by their philosopher allies, this mystical nonsense will render scientific enterprises increasingly misunderstood by and isolated from large segments of the public, who will become increasingly superstitious, anti-intellectual, and reliant on wishful thinking.

The question “What is the nature of reality?” is a partly philosophical and partly scientific one. The philosophical dimension – metaphysics – is needed to posit that an objective, understandable reality exists at all. The scientific dimension comes into play in comprehending specific real entities, from stars to biological organisms – relying on the axioms and derivations of metaphysics for the experimental study of such entities to even make sense or promise to produce reliable results. Philosophy cannot tell you what the biological structure of a given organism is like, but it can tell you that there is one, and that praying or wishing really hard to understand it will not reveal its identity to you. Philosophy can also tell you that, in the absence of external conditions that would dramatically affect that biological structure, it will not magically change into a dramatically different structure.

The questions “Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator?” are scientific only to a point. When exploring the origin of a particular planet or star – or of life on Earth – they are perfectly amenable to experimentation and to extrapolation from historical evidence. Hence, the birth of the solar system, abiogenesis, and biological evolution are all appropriate subjects of study for the hard sciences. Moreover, scientific study can address the question of whether a particular object needed to have a creator and can, for instance, conclude that a mechanical watch needed to have a watchmaker, but no analogous maker needed to exist to bring about the structure of a complex biological organism. However, if the question arises as to whether existence itself had an origin or needed a creator, this is a matter for philosophy. Indeed, rational philosophy can point out the contradiction in the view that existence itself could ever not have existed, or that a creator outside of existence (and, by definition, non-existent at that time) could have brought existence into being.

Interestingly enough, Hawking comes to a similar conclusion – that cosmological history can be understood by a model that not include a sentient creator. I am glad that Hawking holds this view, but this specific conclusion does not require theoretical or experimental physics to validate; it simply requires a coherent understanding of terms such as “existence”, “universe”, and “creator”. Causation and non-contradiction both preclude the possibility of any ex nihilo creation. As for the question of whether there exist beings capable of vast cosmic manipulations and even the design of life forms – that is an empirical matter. Perhaps someday such beings will be discovered; perhaps someday humans will themselves become such beings through mastery of science and technology. The first steps have already been taken – for instance, with Craig Venter’s design of a synthetic living bacterium. Ethics suggests to me that this mastery of life is a worthwhile goal and that its proponents – transhumanists – should work to persuade those philosophers and laypeople who disagree.

More constructive dialogue between rational scientists and rational philosophers is in order, for the benefit of both disciplines. Philosophy can serve as a check on erroneous verbal interpretations of scientific discoveries, as well as an ethical guide for the beneficial application of those discoveries. Science can serve to provide observations and regularities which assist in the achievement of philosophically motivated goals. Furthermore, science can serve to disconfirm erroneous philosophical positions, in cases where philosophy ventures too far into specific empirical predictions which experimentation and targeted observation might falsify. To advance such fruitful interactions, it is certainly not productive to proclaim that one discipline or another is “dead”. I will be the first to admit that contemporary philosophy, especially of the kind that enjoys high academic prestige, is badly in need of reform. But such reform is only possible after widespread acknowledgment that philosophy does have a legitimate and significant role, and that it can do a much better job in fulfilling it.

Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell – Article by Edward W. Younkins

Flourishing and Happiness in a Nutshell – Article by Edward W. Younkins

The New Renaissance Hat
Edward W. Younkins
June 3, 2012

By integrating features found in the writings of Aristotle, Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, and a number of contemporary thinkers, we have the potential to develop a powerful, reality-based argument for a free society in which individuals have the opportunity to flourish and to be happy. Modern contributors to this approach include Tibor R. Machan, Douglas B. Rasmussen, Douglas J. Den Uyl, Frederick D. Miller, Roderick T. Long, Chris Matthew Sciabarra, George Reisman, Eric Mack, Neera K. Badhwar, Lester H. Hunt, Geoffrey Allan Plauché, among many others.

At the big-picture level, it can be argued that Aristotelian and neo-Aristotelian theories of morality and human flourishing can be compatible with Objectivist teachings regarding the nature of reality and man’s distinguishing characteristics of reason and free will and with Austrian ideas with respect to value theory, decision making, action, and social cooperation. It may be possible to construct an integrated conceptual framework that coordinates the ideas of Aristotle, the Austrian economists, Ayn Rand, and a number of current philosophers, economists, political scientists, positive psychologists, and others.

My inquiry in my book, Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, does not extend beyond a systematic level that relies heavily on logic and common sense. My purpose has been to outline the essentials of a worldview leaving it to philosophers and economists to fill in the details and to evaluate, critique, revise, refine, and extend my systematic understanding. What follows here is a brief summary of my attempt to formulate ideas and to relate them logically to other ideas and to the facts of reality. Although a person’s ideas are derived from reality and are about reality, there are differences between one’s ideas and the identity of the things that we can know. The rules of logic are determined by the facts of reality. In a sense, logic is both epistemological and ontological.

A proper philosophy must appeal to the objective nature of human beings and other entities in the world. There is a world of objective reality that exists and that has a determinate nature that is intelligible. Reality will not yield to permit a person’s subjective desires. Reality establishes the conditions for objectivity. It follows that realism is a necessary, instrumental means for a person’s success in the world. To be morality efficacious, a person must discern and use proper means to attain his truly valuable ends.

There is a human nature and it is man’s nature to be individual, volitionally conscious, rational, and purposive. Because each individual has a specific identity as a human being, we can say that there are particular things and actions that are appropriate to him and for him. Individuality is essential to one’s nature. Possessing reason and free will, each individual has the capacity and responsibility to choose to try to actualize his potential for being a flourishing, individual human being. Each person is a metaphysically unique self who is responsible for discerning what is good for himself. A person discovers his individual strengths and virtues through a process of moral development. A particular man’s own life is his purpose or goal. One’s aspirations are the aspirations in the only life he has to live. One’s entire life can be viewed as a project or overall goal which is subject to continual evaluation.

The goal or function of an individual human being is to perfect himself by fulfilling the potentialities that make him who he is. One’s flourishing is teleological consisting in fulfillment of his unique set of potentialities to be a mature human being. Each person has an innate, unchosen potentiality for his mature state along with the obligation to attempt to actualize that potentiality. Each person is responsible to discern and to live according to his daimon (i.e., true self) which includes his aptitudes, talents, and so on. This involves a process of progressive development, unfolding, or actualization in which a man attains goals that are in some way inherent in his nature as an individual human being. What constitutes a person’s daimon at a given point in time is a function of his endowments, circumstances, latent powers, interests, talents, and his history of choices, actions, and accomplishments. We could say that the fulfillment of one’s daimon is not static or fixed. An individual uses his practical rationality to assess himself and to work on his life in accordance with the objective standard of his flourishing as a singular human person. He can increase his generative potential to attain his own flourishing. A person is able to critique what he has done in the past and can change what he does with respect to the future development of his potentialities. Possessing free will, a man can adjust his actions in response to feedback that he has received.

Morality is an essential functional component of one’s existence as an individual human being. Moral knowledge is possible and can be derived from the facts of reality including human nature. Possessing rationality and free will, a person needs a proper moral code to aid him in making objective decisions and in acting on those decisions in his efforts to attain his true self-interest. Morality and self-interest are inextricably interrelated. Morality is concerned with rationally determining what best contributes to a person’s own flourishing and happiness.

Flourishing is a successful state of life, and happiness is a positive state of consciousness that flows from, or accompanies, a flourishing life. The legitimate function of every human person is live capably, excellently, and happily. This involves an ethic of aspiration toward one’s objective well-being that is actively attained and maintained. A person should aspire to what is best for him taking into account his given potentialities, abilities, and interests. Limits for self-fulfillment are set by reality including the type of being that we are and our individual characteristics.

Rationality is the foundational means to the end of human flourishing. Rationality is necessary to effect the appropriate means to a person’s ends and to integrate them. To be rational, a man must be committed to reality, truth, and logic. Not solely instrumental with respect to a person’s flourishing, rationality can also be viewed as partially constitutive of his flourishing. Rational introspection by a specific individual can enable him to determine the type of life that he should be leading.

Practical wisdom, an aspect of rationality, involves the ability to discern the relevant and important aspects of one’s circumstances in order to make the most proper response to them. The use of practical wisdom (or prudence) can only take place through self-direction or human agency. An individual requires practical wisdom to contend with the specifics, contingencies, and circumstances of one’s life. Practical wisdom is needed to guide oneself regarding the progressive fulfillment of his own potential to flourish. A prerequisite for one’s flourishing is self-direction or autonomy. Human flourishing requires self-direction and practical wisdom.

Natural rights are based on the common attributes of human beings and, therefore, apply universally to all people and to all actions. A metanormative system of negative rights that provide a context of self-directedness can be derived from a proper conception of human nature. Such a system of rights allows for value pluralism and for a variety of approaches to living one’s life. A conception of negative rights emphasizes where one individual’s life begins and another individual’s life ends. A political and legal order that protects natural rights is a necessary precondition for individual self-direction and for the possibility that human flourishing can take place in a social context. Protected self-directedness is necessary for social cooperation, specialization and trade, freely-chosen productive work, private property, free markets, voluntary contracts, and so on.

There is an important interrelationship and complementarily between the ideas of natural rights and human flourishing which together comprise a two-level ethics. At a metanormative level, rights protect people’s liberty to pursue (or not to pursue) their own good. They simply regulate the conditions under which moral conduct may (or may not) occur. In turn, what is good for the life of each individual person is found in the realm of personal virtue, morality, and flourishing. The ideas of natural rights and human flourishing describe different but related sides of what it means to be a human being. Together they provide a rational ethical framework.

The only enforceable limits on one’s actions are other people’s rights. We must recognize other individuals as purposive beings with ends of their own choosing. It would be contradictory to advocate my own rights and not to recognize the rights of other individuals. If a person does not acknowledge the rights of others, then he cannot declare that his own rights are valid. Each individual is thus permitted and limited in both the private and social spheres with respect to the types of actions in which he can engage.

People are born with physical, philosophical, and psychological needs specific to them as individual human beings. Human beings have needs embedded in their nature. We could say that value derives only to the extent that something satisfies an objective human need. The term value implies the personal importance or significance of an activity or object. Self-interest refers to the objective needs of a flourishing human life. Values promote and constitute one’s life and happiness. They have a metaphysical foundation in the nature of reality. There is an inextricable connection between values and natural facts. A value relationship exists due to the nature of a living beings and the nature of other existents in the world. Something in the world can be a value to a specific man even though he does not view it as valuable or even if he is not aware of its existence.

A flourishing life, including the happiness that accompanies it, is a person’s ultimate value. Everything else in life is aspired to because of this chief value. All of a man’s other values are instrumental and/or constitutive of the ultimate value. Means that serve the end of a flourishing life can be part of that end. Constitutive values such as a productive career, friendships, and so on are not simply means to a flourishing life but are also vital parts of such a life.

In order to flourish and to be happy, each man must select values, place them in a hierarchy, and strive to attain them. A person must experience many aspects of reality in order to discover values that are proper for him and that interest and inspire him. This active learning process highlights the exploratory nature of individual human interests and values. A person decides to live a particular type of life because he sees the value of it. He should select and pursue specific meaningful values that are metaphysically appropriate for him. He needs to identify the positive relationships in which things exist in relationship to his life. The meaning of particular projects in a person’s life is a function of his individuality.

There are differences among needs, values, and goals. Whereas needs are inborn, values are acquired. Values prioritize needs. People require a value hierarchy in order to be able to make choices. Goals are values applied to particular circumstances. Goals achieve values and values fulfill needs. A person’s goals and values should be consistent with his needs. Values are translated into reality through the means of goals. Value attainment requires setting and pursuing goals. Needs lead to values, values lead to goals, and goals lead to action.

Human beings are goal-directed. Goals are specific forms of values. Values provide a strategic underpinning for a person’s goal-setting activities. They supply meaning and purpose to a person’s goals. We could say that goals depict values as related to particular states of affairs. Because not all goals are equally valid, a person needs to examine the values underlying his goals. It is important to realize that goals are not isolated from one another. A person should strive to create a rational system of goals aimed at his flourishing and happiness.

Human flourishing is related to a number of general goods and virtues that provide structure but not specific direction or content with respect to living one’s life. Because there is a wide diversity of human beings, it follows that a flourishing life is not universal. Generic goods such as knowledge, health, and friendships need to be integrated in various measures and the virtues need to be applied in specific circumstances.

Each person needs to consider a variety of values, goods, and virtues in order to determine the relationship among them that will best achieve his flourishing as an individual human being. This requires rational insight into the particular and the contingent. Reason is the basic means used by human beings to create the values necessary for life and to interrelate and integrate goods and virtues into their lives. Virtues may be viewed as a set of fundamental principles that a rational person uses to guide the long-term course of his life.

Virtues can be viewed as principles of action which promote the flourishing of an individual who, by following them, engages in consistent actions that are in alignment with practical rationality. Virtuous actions enable a person to gain (and keep) the values he pursues. The virtues are required for one’s practical efficacy and happiness. Of course, virtue, by itself, is not enough to guarantee practical efficacy. A person also needs to have the relevant skills, resources, and so on. The fundamental virtue is rationality and the other virtues are particular expressions of that basic virtue. The virtues are both instrumental to, and a constitutive part of, an agent’s flourishing. They are valuable, not merely as means to flourishing, but also as partial realizations of it. Virtuous action begins with the ability to discern the aspects of a situation that are the most relevant and that fit the circumstances at hand. A man needs to possess the ability to decide which virtues are required in a particular situation and the optimal way of applying them. Virtuous actions tend to foster further virtuous actions. Applying the virtues is heavily dependent upon the context of a situation. People tend to take pleasure in virtuous actions—affect is related closely to virtue especially when one’s emotions are properly aligned with his rationality.

Ayn Rand makes a powerful case that the rational pursuit of one’s flourishing requires the consistent practice of seven essential virtues—rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. She saw rationality as the master virtue and the other six virtues as derivative from the primary virtue. Some scholars have pointed out that Rand did not specifically discuss the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom (i.e., prudence). It is likely that she considered practical wisdom as part of rationality. Others have suggested that her version of virtue ethics might be improved by including positive qualities such as benevolence, kindness, generosity, charity, tolerance, and so on in her prescription for moral perfection.

Emotions are an important part of one’s life experience and are relevant to his moral character. A case can be made that many emotions are the products of a person’s judgments of value as integrated by his subconscious mind. Such emotions stem from a person’s values and estimates which, in turn, depend upon his knowledge. They are about personally meaningful values and circumstances. These emotions are directed by one’s chosen values. It follows that a change in one’s values can bring about a change in his emotions. Emotions can encourage or discourage goal-directed actions. Correctly programmed positive emotions can be indicators that we have located objective values. Such emotions both signal and promote a person’s optimal functioning and flourishing. Justified positive emotions are fundamental conditions of human existence. We could say that emotional and psychological well-being is a crucial part of human flourishing.

Happiness occurs to the extent that one leads a flourishing life. We could say that happiness is an emergent effect of living a good life. Happiness has both cognitive and affective dimensions and depends upon the degree to which a person responds realistically, morally, and efficaciously to his life circumstances. Successful people tend to be happy people who continue to intentionally seek new, not-yet-attained goals. There are various degrees of personal growth, development, and happiness. A person can be happy and still strive to be even happier. Happiness is an issue of living a particular type of life—it is not just a case of having positive feelings. However, happiness is related to emotion-laden experiences such as flow and self-esteem.

A person is apt to be in a psychological state of flow when he is engaged in meaningful, self-controlled, and goal-related activities. Flow involves focused immersion in an activity, lack of self-consciousness, and the merging of awareness and action. A man is in the flow state when he is vitally engaged in enjoyable activities that offer him scope.

Self-esteem refers to a person’s legitimate attitude of self-affirmation. Self-esteem is connected to a sense of agency and control of one’s environment. A person with self-esteem tends to be competent, optimistic, and virtuous, and to have self-respect. A person who does not practice the virtues (such as rationality, honesty, justice, and so on) is not likely to possess self-esteem. Virtuous action leads to self-respect and self-esteem.

People should take virtuous actions in alignment with their objective values. A person must use his practical wisdom to examine and judge the context of a situation before freely choosing to exercise virtuous action. Deliberation itself is an action aimed at an end. The final end of the actions of a human being is his own flourishing life. People are capable of taking self-directed, deliberate, reasoned, and planned actions directed by a notion of an ultimate end. Of course, they can choose to act and live in a variety of ways that are not conducive to a flourishing life.

Austrian Economics and Objectivism agree on the significance of the ideas of human action and values. The Austrians explain that a person acts when he prefers the way he thinks things will be if he acts compared to the way he thinks things will be if he fails to act. Austrian Economics is descriptive and deals with the logical analysis of the ability of selected actions (i.e., means) to achieve chosen ends. Whether or not these ends are truly objectively valuable is not the concern of the praxeological economist when he is acting in his capacity as an economist. There is another realm of values that views value in terms of objective values and correct preferences and actions. Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is concerned with this other sphere and thus prescribes what human beings ought to value and act to attain.

Austrian economists contend that values are subjective and Objectivists maintain that values are objective. These claims can be seen as compatible because they are not claims about the same phenomena. These two senses of value are complementary and compatible. The Austrians view actions from the perspective of a neutral examiner of the actions and Objectivists suggest values and actions for an acting human being as a moral agent himself. The Austrian economist does not force his own value judgments on the personal values and actions of the human beings that he is studying. Operating from a different perspective, Objectivists maintain that there are objective values that stem from a man’s relationship to other existents in the world. For the Objectivist, the purpose of ethics is to live a flourishing and happy life by recognizing and responding to the significance of human action.

It is possible for these two schools of thought to be combined into an integrated framework. At a descriptive level, the Austrian idea of demonstrated preference agrees with Ayn Rand’s account of value as something that a person acts to gain and/or keep. Of course, Rand moves from an initial descriptive notion of value to a normative perspective on value that includes the idea that a legitimate or objective value serves one’s life. The second deeper level view of value provides an objective standard to evaluate the use of one’s free will.

Austrian praxeological economics (i.e., the study of human action) has been used to make a value-free case for liberty. This economic science deals with abstract principles and general rules that must be applied if a society is to have optimal production and economic well-being. Misesian praxeology consists of a body of logically deduced, inexorable laws of economics beginning with the axiom that each person acts purposefully.

Although Misesian economists hold that values are subjective and Objectivists argue that values are objective, these claims are not incompatible because they are not really claims about the same things—they exist at different levels or spheres of analysis. The value-subjectivity of the Austrians complements the Randian sense of objectivity. The level of objective values dealing with personal flourishing transcends the level of subjective value preferences.

The value-freedom (or value-neutrality) and value-subjectivity of the Austrians have a different function or purpose than does Objectivism’s emphasis on objective values. On the one hand, the Austrian emphasis is on the value-neutrality of the economist as a scientific observer of a person acting to attain his “subjective” (i.e., personally-estimated) values. On the other hand, the philosophy of Objectivism is concerned with values for an acting individual moral agent himself.

Austrian Economics is an excellent way of looking at methodological economics with respect to the appraisal of means but not of ends. Misesian praxeology therefore must be augmented. Its value-free economics is not sufficient to establish a total case for liberty. A systematic, reality-based ethical system must be discovered to firmly establish the argument for individual liberty. Natural law provides the groundwork for such a theory and both Objectivism and the Aristotelian idea of human flourishing are based on natural-law ideas.

An ethical system must be developed and defended in order to establish the case for a free society. An Aristotelian ethics of naturalism states that moral matters are matters of fact and that morally good conduct is that which enables the individual agent to make the best possible progress toward achieving his self-perfection and happiness. According to Rand, happiness relates to a person’s success as a unique, rational human being possessing free will. We have free choice and the capacity to initiate our own conduct that enhances or hinders our flourishing as human beings.

A human being’s flourishing requires the rational use of his individual human potentialities, including his talents, abilities, and virtues in the pursuit of his freely and rationally chosen values and goals. An action is considered to be proper if it leads to the flourishing of the person performing the action. A person’s flourishing leads to his happiness. Each person is responsible for voluntarily choosing, creating, and entering relationships in civil society that contribute toward his flourishing.

Long ago, Aristotle observed that social life and social cooperation in a community are essential conditions for one’s flourishing. Today, it is generally held that a person’s social networks have strong effects on a person’s well-being. Mediating institutions such as charitable societies, fraternal organizations, churches, clubs, and so on, provide individuals and communities with valuable interaction networks. Most people hold memberships in a number of value-providing associations. It follows that civil society is important to the pursuit and attainment of our individual ends.

Unlike the state, which is based on coercion, civil society is based on voluntary participation. Civil society consists of natural and voluntary associations such as families, private businesses, unions, churches, private schools, clubs, charities, etc. Civil society, a spontaneous order, consists of a network of associations built on the freedom of the individual to associate or not to associate. The voluntary communities and associations of civil society are valuable because human beings need to associate with others in order to flourish and achieve happiness.

One’s personal flourishing requires a life with other people. Sociality is essential to a man’s attempt to live well. Benefaction (i.e., charity) can be viewed as an expression and specific manifestation of one’s capacity for social cooperation.

The interpersonal realm is integral to a well-lived life. We love our friends because we appreciate their potential to advance our well-being. Friendship and love have an egoistic basis in a person’s love for, and pride in, himself. The well-being of a person who is a value to an individual increases the individual’s own ability to flourish and to be happy. The fundamental reason for performing other-regarding actions is to enhance one’s own well-being. Other people’s interests can be viewed as contributive to, or interrelated with, one’s own interests as evidenced in the case of production and free trade. It can be said that a person’s authentic self-interest cannot conflict with the self-interests of other people.

Dr. Edward W. Younkins is Professor of Accountancy at Wheeling Jesuit University. He is the author of Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundations of Free Enterprise [Lexington Books, 2002], Philosophers of Capitalism: Menger, Mises, Rand, and Beyond [Lexington Books, 2005] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.), and Flourishing and Happiness in a Free Society: Toward a Synthesis of Aristotelianism, Austrian Economics, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivism [Rowman & Littlefield Pub Incorporated, 2011] (See Mr. Stolyarov’s review of this book.). Many of Dr. Younkins’s essays can be found online at his web page at You can contact Dr. Younkins at