Objectivism Digest, Vol 10, Issue 1
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1. MAN, CIVILIZATION, DEFINITIONS, AND RIGHTS (allen)
Date: Thu, 01 Jan 2004 00:04:15 -0500
From: allen <allen23@...>
Subject: OWL: MAN, CIVILIZATION, DEFINITIONS, AND RIGHTS
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=WINDOWS-1252; format=flowed
MAN, CIVILIZATION, DEFINITIONS, AND RIGHTS
The issue of �rights� depends upon the definition of �man�, which I
claim is dependent on civilization, and on how definitions are formed.
So I shall address 1. THE CHARACTERIZATION OF MAN, 2. THE
CENTRALITY OF CIVILIZATION, and 3. OBJECTIVE DEFINITIONS, before
commenting on 4. RIGHTS.
1. THE CHARACTERIZATION OF MAN
The discussion of man�s rights and his proper values can be impeded by
ambiguity about the definition of man. I submit that there are two
fundamentally different perspectives, and that conflating them creates
difficulties. Consider that homo-sapiens has existed for a million
years, and is defined biologically, physiologically, or by his
(collectivist) societies. Civilized-man has existed for 10,000 years,
and is defined by his values or cultures. AR�s definition of �man� as a
rational animal appears to define him as homo-sapiens, who uses his
mind to secure his survival. On the other hand, she addresses
characteristics which presuppose civilization. Thus she speaks of man
discovering his values, that �for an animal the question of survival is
primarily physical; for man, primarily epistemological�reason is man�s
means of survival�nothing is given to man except a potential�what is
right or wrong, what is good for him or evil, he needs that knowledge
in order to live�man is the only living species that can transmit and
expand his store of knowledge from generation to generation�the
accumulated knowledge of centuries�a man�s choice of values�a being of
self-made soul�who existed without values...was not a man�man has had
to manufacture things�man�s dedication to a moral ideal�men seek a
noble vision of man�s nature and of life�s potential.� These presuppose
civilization, which orients man by ideals and values, since prior to
this, man�s mind is subordinated to his inherent passions.
Now one might say that homo-sapiens includes civilized-man as its
natural continuation, since both employ reason. Yet there are basic
differentiations. Consider the disparity between being regulated by
reason, and guided by values (or ideals, aspirations). This subtlety
occurs because there is an ambiguity in whether reason is technical or
includes values. O�ists use the term �reason� or �rational� as
employing the mind. Yet when you say that Hitler was reasonable or
rational, they catch themselves and say that although he was
intelligent, it is neither reasonable nor rational to dominate and
persecute. That is, they now include the values of decency in their
definition. If reason is defined to include the dimension of moral
motivation, guidance by concepts and by reason mean the same thing. If
reason is defined as what homo-sapiens did prior to the moral concepts
of civilization, then guidance by concepts and by reason mean different
things. Nor is this difference resolved by the term �volitional
consciousness� since the ambiguity remains in whether the volition is
governed by the passions or guided by ideals. The critical point is
that attributing qualities to man, which could only derive from
civilization, and then defining man as prior to civilization, employs a
Let us consider that pre-civilized man (or aboriginal or primitive-man)
is governed by his passions, and has no moral code. When he says
�Ungah, ungah, melon good, thorn bad� it is a statement regarding
gratification, and not the advancement of a moral dissertation on
individual rights. He is not self-defined, nor even has the identity of
an individual, but responds by his role within a collective. When he
comes in contact with a competitor within the pecking order, he hates
him, because this is helpful for advancing his status. Such passions
are not irrational, but are what furthers life.
Although his knowledge increases, the criteria by which he makes
decisions is a finished product. He acts for wealth, status, and power,
independent of any noble vision. AR provides a vision of the glory of
man, yet this requires a different kind of man, one guided by ideals.
It is true that the biology of homo-sapiens is a prerequisite for the
man that AR has in mind, but *their development depends on opposite
As a final illustration of pre-civilized man, I turn to the missionary
who spent years in darkest Africa to educate a tribe. One day, the
tribe�s Chief came to him.
Chief: Something is puzzling me. You are the only white man who has
ever been here. I have some women in my tribe who have given birth to
white babies. How do you explain it?
Missionary (sweating bullets): It is an act of God!
Chief: What you mean, act of God?
Missionary: You see those sheep? (The Chief nods.) Well they are white,
but every once in a while they give birth to a black sheep. Why does it
happen? Who can tell? It is an act of God!
Chief (after reflecting): Yes, you are right. Who can tell? It is an
act of God!
I no tell on you; you no tell on me.
Now how do we know that the aforementioned is correct, namely that
pre-civilized man is driven by his passions? There are anthropologists
who study aboriginals such as the Aborigines in Australia, or the
Indians in the forests of Brazil. More directly, we observe the
behavior of children. Yet the greatest insight is from self-knowledge.
Is there one among us, who has not acted out of vengeance, ambition,
lust, domination, or envy? If so, let him refute my thesis. This
recalls the event in ancient Jerusalem, where a crowd gathered around a
prostitute, shouting and clawing at her. Yet Jesus interceded and said
�Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.� Silence overtook the
crowd. But during this calm, a sharp rock whizzed through the air,
hitting the prostitute in the head and killing her. Then Jesus said �Oh
Ma, why do you always have to go and spoil everything?�
Now before providing the specific definition of man, we must consider
how to arrive at the correct objective definition, to capture the
source or referent of reality. We must consider when two stages of
existence are to be viewed in common or as opposed. I shall return to
this in 3. Objective Definitions, and argue that what relates to the
human condition reverses the essence of pre-civilized man. But to do
so, we must first address �civilization�.
2. THE CENTRALITY OF CIVILIZATION
My starting point for worldly matters is the moral challenge, which I
interpret today as the threat to civilization. That statement requires
considerable elucidation. The first question has to be what is
�civilization�. AR writes �Civilization is the progress of a society
toward privacy�the process of setting men free from men�force must be
used only in retaliation.� These few words speak volumes about the
purpose and operation of civilization. However, much remains to be
covered, including its mechanism, structure, and nature. Any treatment
of so vast a topic is bound to be incomplete and contentious.
Nonetheless, I shall posit some critical elements. I define
�civilization� as �the organization of society around an ideal to
uplift man while restraining barbarism�; here �culture� is the means
for uplifting man, while �government� is the mechanism for restraining
aggression. The organization around an ideal, directly contrasts with
pre-civilized (collectivist) societies, wherein although man uses his
mind, it operates to gratify his passions. For illustration, I
recommend the film �One Million BC� which describes life between
warring tribes of primitive man in the stone age. The motives for
wealth, status, power, are not ideals, but inherent passions.
I leave it to others to define �rational� but in any event I interpret
�uplifting� (or enhancement) in terms of civilized man, even if
pre-civilized man is deemed rational. I do so because the issues on the
world scene are civilizational. That which pertains to what pre-dated
civilization has little relevance. The essence of civilized man differs
from that of homo-sapiens. It is not only that he operates in terms of
values, but that he is transitional, in a state of becoming (in
contrast to the biological condition which is a state of being). (To
clarify, a student of chemistry knows something about the field, but is
not a chemist before graduation.) So civilized man and civilization
itself are transitional, for life revolves around what is new and
developing, and is responded to in light of aspirations.
At this point, it is helpful to define certain terms, to avoid
ambiguity. Homo-sapiens is an animal, but there is a fundamental
dissimilarity, namely: the animal survives by �animal drives�, while
homo-sapiens survives by a mind subordinate to �passions�. Thus,
although homo-sapiens is biologically an animal, it is the difference
between them, and not what they have in common, that explains why
homo-sapiens dominates the world.
By analogy, civilized man is homo-sapiens, but there is a fundamental
dissimilarity, namely: civilized man survives by his ideals (or
values), in contrast to homo-sapiens who survives by his (mind aided)
passions. Thus, although civilized man is biologically homo-sapiens, it
is the difference between them, and not what they have in common, that
explains why civilized man dominates the world. So I shall use
�homo-sapiens� to denote pre-civilized man, and �man� to denote
civilized man. Here it is understood that �homo-sapiens� relates to a
completed desideratum, whereas �man� and �civilization� are
transitional terms. Yet man, is at war with his pre-civilized nature,
so the quintessential moral issue is between the ideals and the
passions (which some O�ists may interpret as whether man is governed by
reason or emotions).
We note that homo-sapiens survived by his intelligence, subordinated to
his passions. The mechanism that man uses to survive I call
�intellect�. Here, I depart from common usage (which often defines
�intellect� as intelligence) and follow Jacques Barzun in �The House of
Intellect�. He writes �by intellect I most emphatically do not mean
intelligence�Intellect is the capitalized and communal form of live
intelligence�it is mankind�s intelligence, caught and compounded.� In
other words, practices and rules have unfolded, where experience is
transmitted over generations, not by biological evolution, but by
The aforementioned was intended to clarify why man is to be viewed in
transition (or teleologically) in contrast to homo-sapiens who is best
viewed as a finished product. Note that the greatest thing that
pre-civilized man can want are the rewards, within his collective, of
status, power, and wealth. That which civilized man wants are open
ended, remaining to be improved. I repeat that the issues throughout
history, have been about values, and not about technical intelligence.
We may also note that the civilized individual is defined by his
aspirations, rather than by any completed structure. When one asks
himself who he is, he addresses what is most important to him, that for
which he will man the barricades. He will not live and die for
technical rationality, but for what he values, so he is consequently
self-defined. (The glory of man is not in his being, but in his
becoming.) Moreover, the values and aspirations of an individuals are
inextricably related to the values of civilization. A man�s mission may
be philosophical, scientific, or artistic, yet these are dependent on
concepts and practices that have unfolded across the generations.
I have characterized man and civilization by ideals, values, and
aspirations, which fall in the category of �morality�. Yet how is this
term to be defined? AR says �it is a code of values to guide man�s
choices�. Yet what is the aim of that code of values? It is �that which
is required for man�s survival qua man.� Now survival aims at
happiness, which proceeds from the achievement of one�s values, which
depends on the concept of man�s life. Yet when one reads what she says
of �life�, what must be achieved, is survival. Consequently, there is
no final clarification as to what determines morality. There are
considerations, such as happiness, achievement of values, furthering
man�s life, but none of these is given a final characterization. This
is unavoidable, because what is needed by man is not finalized, but is
an evolving aim to what ought to be.
I define �morality� as the means to obtain justice, where �justice� is
what ought to be (such as people receiving what they have earned). Such
aspirations cannot be finalized, for they evolve with our visions and
understanding. So man is not only transitioning, but headed for a goal
he is continually redefining. This is surely not what pre-civilized man
or homo-sapiens is all about.
It may be helpful to posit the apt ideal for civilization. I claim it
is �justice�, whereas the ideal for culture is �the enhanced
individual�, and the ideal for government is �the protected
individual�. It is these ideals that are the source of rights, and the
orientation for protecting them.
3. OBJECTIVE DEFINITIONS
Suppose one were asked �What is an orange?� He might respond: clearly
it is a nutritious piece of fruit. Yet an economist says it is a
commodity worth one dollar; the artist says it is an expression of
life, by its color and shape; the physicist says .5 kilograms of mass
with momentum; the mathematician says a spheroid with diameter 3
inches. Yet an orange can be viewed as any of these, or characterized
in many other ways. The initial question is misleading because until
one clarifies the framework within which the subject is discussed,
there can be no clear answer.
A �model� is a representation of an entity (or process) solely in terms
of those features which pertain to one�s aim. Thus, the model (or
characterization or definition) depends on whether the point of view is
that of a biologist, economist, etc.
The previous section defined man, civilization, etc., from a moral
perspective, not a biological or economic outlook. So the issue that
arises is *What is the proper perspective to apply to such matters?*
Let us note how differences in perspective influence outcomes.
Consider the relation amongst nations. From a biological
(anthropological or homo-sapiens perspective) nations are essentially
the same, whether they be republics or tyrannies. One often hears the
universalist position that people are the same, since they all love
their children, and want the good life. By that approach they emphasize
the commonality of all homo-sapiens, rather than apply a moral
perspective, where the difference between a republic and a tyranny is
essential. As a consequence, they think in terms of the UN, and
disregard the need for sovereignty for America.
Another example of perspective is where people consider capitalism in
terms of the goods and services provided, while disregarding its moral
foundation of freedom. Here, they de-emphasize what is critical from a
moral point of view.
Another difference in outlook is where something is judged in terms of
quantity, such as the number of hours worked, or spent playing a
violin, rather than the quality of the performance. This can
de-emphasize what is most important.
The first thing to establish is what is the perspective to be taken,
which I claim is the moral one. From this vantage point, what is
essential about man is not his biology, but whether ideals govern his
passions. To this end (although from a biological perspective, man is a
rational animal) from a moral perspective *man is a moral being*. This
focuses on what is critical, and differentiates between what is right
and what is wrong.
There is an underlying consideration regarding definitions, namely when
are stages to be treated in common (such as adult and middle-aged) and
when are they to be treated in contrast (such as body and mind). This
depends (given one�s perspective) on whether their essence is a
difference of degree or a reversal. We view as reversals, the
difference between: non-living and living entities, plants and animals,
animals and homo-sapiens. I submit that this differentiation applies to
homo-sapiens and man, because there is a reversal of the desideratum of
fixed biological (mind-aided) passions to dynamic (ideational) values.
To rephrase, homo-sapiens is governed by what inheres from the past,
while man chooses what will guide him by aspirations toward the future.
Defining man as homo-sapiens subordinates him to his (mind-aided)
passions, which is the very thing to reverse, in order to enhance him.
To clarify the application of a moral perspective, it is helpful to
define certain terms. An �ideal� guides civilization toward what it
deems most important; it is a standard of perfection. An �aspiration�
guides an individual toward what he aims to become. �Values� reflect
ideals or aspirations, and are operational. Consequently, although
animals and plants aim to gain and keep, �values� only apply to
(civilized) man. Finally, although I have simplified the presentation
as though a group were either 0% or 100% civilized, nations have graded
degrees of civilization. For example, my scientific estimate is that
Bulgaria is - 90% civilized.
Having posited the definitions of man and civilization, let us consider
how this bears on �rights�. AR says �Individual rights are the means of
subordinating society to moral law.� From my perspective, the very
concepts of �rights� and �law� derive from the requirements of a
civilized order. It is only here that there exists the principle to
place obligatory restrictions upon human interaction. Pre-civilized
societies have restrictions, but lack any principles, for principles
require future goals. Moreover, pre-civilized societies operate to
maintain the rules of the collective, whereas �Man holds these
rights�against the collective.� To state the reversal: homo-sapiens
subordinates the individual to the collective, while man subordinates
the collective to the individual.
AR writes �It is only by means of principles that one can set one�s
long-range goals and evaluate the concrete alternatives of any given
moment. It is only principles that enable a man to plan his future and
to achieve it.� Note that this makes complete sense for a (civilized)
man, for he lives in terms of long-range goals, but it does not make
sense for homo-sapiens, who lives by his immediate passions. Since a
�right� is a moral principle, it stems from (civilized) man, rather
than from (biological) homo-sapiens. It invests every individual with
inalienable rights, by a civilizational orientation toward an ideal,
and operates to enforce these rights by civilizational mechanisms.
"Rights" do not inhere in the individual person, independent of the
existence of civilization. (That belief is akin to the intrinsicist
view that the value of an ounce of gold inheres in that ounce,
independent of the value system of the buyer.)
How do �rights� emerge? Within the objective reality of civilization,
ideals are posited as to how man ought to be. Visions are generated
(such as justice, and the dignity of the individual). These orient
culture and government, giving operational meaning to �rights�.
I have written a lot (perhaps too much) in order to touch upon the
interdependent foundational issues that clarify the nature of rights.
Since the treatment is extensive and contentious, I shall provide a
brief summary, to make refutation easier:
1. THE CHARACTERIZATION OF MAN
Man can be defined biologically as homo-sapiens, or morally as
Defining man biologically, as a rational animal, precludes moral values.
When pre-civilized man is defined as possessing moral values, it is a
stolen concept, for it presupposes civilization.
Pre-civilized man is governed by his passions.
2. THE CENTRALITY OF CIVILIZATION
Defining man as civilized, incorporates morality, where man and
civilization are characterized as transitional, oriented by ideals and
The glory of man is not in his being, but in his becoming.
The biological and civilizational characterizations are fundamentally
opposed (or reversed), where the key moral difference is the
desideratum of passions versus values.
Civilization�s ideals are the source of rights, and the orientation
for protecting them, whereupon the mechanisms of civilization give it
3. OBJECTIVE DEFINITIONS
Models and definitions are dependent upon one�s aim or perspective.
The justification for objectively defining an entity or process, is
where the action is, and the primary action pertains to the defense of
The definitions of ideals and aspirations are teleological, remaining
to be developed.
The proper perspective is morality, for that is what we must aim at.
�Rights� derive from the ideal�s of civilization, which are justice,
the enhanced individual, and his protection.
It is these ideals that are the fount of rights, and provide the
orientation for protecting them.
End of Objectivism Digest, Vol 10, Issue 1