Applications of Philosophy
Objectivism in one’s daily life
By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
There is a disturbing trend among the younger generation of those interested in Objectivism, and that is to reject some of the applications of philosophy in Dr. Peikoff’s podcasts on the grounds that Objectivism – and philosophy in general – ought not to have anything to say about certain topics. Among those topics discussed have been whether or not the New York City Mosque ought to be built after the atrocities of 911, transgenderism and whether or not a sex change is moral, and the best way of fighting terrorism, among others. I don’t know where these disagreements are coming from. I don’t know if it is from Diana Hsieh, the Kelleyites, or some other influence, but it does seem to be widespread considering the conflicts I have had with quite a few people on forum.objectivismonline.net forums. Some would say just to leave them alone and find a better forum, but I don’t think it is just that forum as the attitude also extends to some of my FaceBook friends and a general hatred of checkingpremises.org. A few have gone so far as to imply that Dr. Peikoff “has lost it”, or that he is being dishonest in applying Objectivism to areas where it shouldn’t have anything to say about a topic, or that he is an Objectivist in name only because they disagree with him.
Philosophy is a wide set of integrated principles guiding a man’s thoughts about the nature of existence and man’s place in it. As such, it gives a man a special intellectual frame-work with which to guide his thinking. For many philosophies, a practical guide to living on earth is not given. These philosophies give wide principles or pseudo-principles in a mind / body dichotomy way – philosophy is for intellectualizing divorced from living one’s life practically. But Objectivism is certainly different. Ayn Rand identified Objectivism as a philosophy of living on earth; which means that it gives more practical guidance explicitly versus most any other philosophy. And since Objectivism is based on the facts of reality in a wider and wider integration of those facts, applications based on Objectivism can get down to many more specific areas than most any other philosophy. Basically, anytime there is a need for broad principles to guide one’s thoughts and actions, an Objectivist philosopher or even a long-term Objectivist can give one the principles to guide one in how to think about the facts prevalent to the more specific issues.
Philosophy as such cannot tell you what to have for breakfast, but it can tell you that given the nature of man and the fact that he needs to eat certain things in order to remain alive, that one ought to have a nutritious meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Similarly, given the nature of egoism – the morality of Objectivism -- philosophy can tell you that when you are confronted by an enemy who seeks to destroy you and your country that you ought to defend yourself in the most efficient manner possible. It cannot tell you to use either guns or knives or karate to defend yourself in those specifics, but it can tell you that egoism requires also acknowledging the necessity of self-defense if one values one’s own life. So, in broad principles, it can tell you to destroy the enemy – no holds barred. Similarly, since morality stems from a rational understanding of the nature of man and the requirements of sustaining one’s own life, that certain medical procedures that go to the root of what it is to be that particular individual ought to be avoided. For example, a frontal lobotomy might make you more manageable, but it is not recommended as this would take away one’s ability to reason and possibly one’s free will. Since one’s sex or gender is fully integrated down to the individual cells and molecular structure of one’s body, then just making a physical change to one’s genitals is not recommended, since such a change would not be integrated into the rest of one’s body * – at least not with modern technology. So, a sex change is not recommended, and is certainly immoral if one claims to want one with no reason behind it and just going by one’s will and introspection as to one’s gender.
Some other examples of applied philosophy are using broad principles to guide on in one’s daily life, such as getting up and going to work due to the fact that productiveness is a virtue – even if one is having a bad morning and don’t feel like getting up. Also, if you have a disagreement with someone, then go to the facts in an integrated manner – the principle of rationality – rather than just going by rules or procedures or traditions. For the virtue of honesty, I think it would be important not to use a discredited method of ad hominem to tear down a co-worker or a friend just because that is the typical thing guys do these days. Honesty is the recognition that the unreal is unreal, and that ad hominem means that your comeback is unreal in terms of showing the other person is of value to you.
I’m not here trying to imply that if you disagree with Dr. Peikoff on a particular topic, that he is necessarily right because he is a long-term Objectivist and an Objectivist philosopher. The issue is not agreement or disagreement, but rather following the proper objective methodology and applying broad philosophical principles to one’s daily life and the issues confronting oneself. If you can show that you can apply objectivity to the issues and come up with a better solution, that’s great, and I encourage you to think it through. But if a man has shown himself to be a great philosopher in his own right, in his lectures and books based on Objectivism, then I think one ought to really think it through before stating that he has lost it or that he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
* Man’s knowledge works by means of differentiation (from a background) and integration (of the items considered), focusing on a particular set of facts that are first set apart due to their difference from all other things considered. In this regard, Dr. Peikoff places a sex change under bodily mutilation. In other podcasts, he has talked about the spectrum of bodily mutilations including tattoos and body piercings, so a sex change would be in that category on the extreme end of the spectrum. There may be exceptions to this principle, such as if one is born with XX chromosomes and a penis or XY chromosomes and born with a vagina, but these would be exceptions of the idea that a sex change would be bodily mutilation, and therefore immoral, as man’s life is the standard of a rational morality.
[Added on edit: Since proper principles are integrations of facts, there is no principle stating that one's principles must cover all the facts without exceptions. Exceptions indicate that either one has not yet properly identified the primary cause or that there are other factors involved that account for the exceptions. Dr. Peikoff in one of his courses gives the example of compatibility of blood types. Normally speaking, the different blood types are compatible with one another (O and O, for example) but there are cases where it is fatal to receive a blood transfusion of the same blood type. Turns out there is something called the Rh factor that makes them incompatible. But since this is yet another factor involved, it does not invalidate the principle that the same blood type is compatible with the same blood type. Similarly, since it does seem possible that one can be born with XX chromosomes and a penis, then something else is involved in the development of one's sex, which may not yet have been identified. It still doesn't mean that a sex change is in order according to the principle that one ought not to mutilate one's own body, but rather that the other factor ought to be identified and perhaps corrected. But it all does depend on how well a sex change operation is performed and if they can connect up the appropriate nerve endings and so forth.
Another example of this "other factor principle" is the orbit of Mercury. Newtonian gravitational mechanics is a simple principle relating the mass of an object and the square of the distance from the object. With this principle, one can predict orbits of planets quite accurately. However, the orbit of Mercury would not fit within the margin of error of measurements taken, even in Newton's time. Was he supposed to scrap the whole effort of understanding gravity, or state that something else might be involves, though he doesn't know what? Turns out it took nearly 300 years to find that other factor, and that came about with Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which accounts for Mercury's orbit. So, it is not very efficient to hold off stating a principle that has identified the causes, and yet may not have covered all of them, since it might be quite some time before the other factor is identified.]
[Added 05/11/2012: OK, I've thought about the issue of a "sex change" more thoroughly, given the new facts I looked up, and I have to fully agree with Dr. Peikoff's stance that it would be immoral to mutilate one's own body in that fashion. He was wrong about the potential to enjoy sex, but just the idea of turning one's penis inside out and pulling one's clitoris to the outside of the body is mutilation at its worse. I say "at its worse" because the article I read says that by doing this, the body tends to want to reject it continuously as an open wound. This is what is meant by saying it is against man's metaphysical nature to do that to oneself. It is against one's physical nature to have that type of operation. And while I agree that choice is an aspect of human nature and that one's ideas and one's consciousness are not givens beyond what is perceptually self-evident, turning against oneself -- mind and body in this case -- is immoral. The only types of exceptions would be for dire medical needs solving a deeper medical problem, and I'm not sure I buy into the idea that a deeply held aversion to one's own sex organs is a medical need other than very intense psycho-therapy. However, since psychology is at such a primitive state at this time, in some cases, I would say it is like homosexuality. Not much can be done about it, and maybe in that sense it is not open to direct choice, and so cannot be assessed as immoral to act on it; but this would be very rare and certainly does not account for those who do it out of direct choice without the deeply held psychological problems.]