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"Starship": An Analysis

1 - 2 - 3 - 4

[First posted to Starship Forum, April 2002]

- 1

Last year, March 2001, I engaged a philosophical consultant to do an analysis of the starship concept as I had tried to present in my essays: Project Starship, Starship Astronaut: Prologue, Pro-Astronautics, Starship as Symbol of the Hero.

The consultant is a PhD in philosophy, knowledgeable about objectivism, specializing in epistemology, and is known in objectivist circles.

I had wanted to hire a consultant, who was not previously aware of the idea of "starship" as I define it, to conduct a non-formal but professional critique of the validity of the concept.

In a series of sections, I will present the consultant's analysis and my response to it.

In addition to providing the essays mentioned above, I had included these three questions:

  • Is the the concept, as I've presented in the various ways in the articles, defined logically, factually, and meaningfully, following all the rules of definition?
  • Does the concept violate Rand's Razor--does it integrate units beyond necessity?
  • Does the name "starship" add to, or detract from, the concept's cognitive role of differentiation and integration?


This first section here relates to the three questions. The subsequent sections will relate to the essays.

20 March 2001, 15 April 2001


    >Is the concept, as I've presented in the various ways in the articles defined
    >logically, factually, and meaningfully, following all the rules of definition?

It would help if you very clearly and unambiguous set out a definition, perhaps even in every single piece that you write, and said, "This is the definition." From what I have read, I extracted this:

an integrated [steerable] mobile environment that provides man with nourishment for growth, shelter against decay, and locomotion to explore [other regions of space outside Earth's orbit]

I added words to make it more precise, so I analyze the result as it is above. Is it too broad? No, I think it excludes other forms of locomotion. Is it too narrow? No, it doesn't exclude any reasonable possibilities for inclusion--hard to do that with a new concept of a new object anyway. Does it have an identifiable genus that locates it in the rest of the conceptual hierarchy? Yes: environment. Does it have an identifiable differentia? Yes, obviously: mobile, steerable, for exploration. Is it circular? Obviously not. Is it obscure, relative to its audience? A bit, but this is easy to work on. Just imagine explaining it to a 10-year-old and having her draw a picture of it. One thing I wonder is if the people stick to the outside by gravity like a natural planet, or if they are stuck inside walls and how many walls there are: many, or a continuous sphere?

So in terms of the rules of definition, as I've fixed it up, it doesn't do badly at all.

We can clean it up more, I think.

A self-generating, self-sustaining, navigable, high-occupancy environmental system designed to eliminate unfavorable accidental factors and optimize those advantageous to highly-developed human life.

It may not be exactly what you mean, so it's your turn to play with it.

MONART: The physical component of the starship I have defined in many ways, and the essential features you have extracted and re-worded do refer to what I mean. Many detailed descriptions of the structure, and on how the first one can be built, are contained in the pioneering 1976 book, The High Frontier, by Gerard O'Neill, then a physicist at Princeton (now dead, but survived by his Space Studies Institute).

The catalyst for O'Neill's designing and advocating space colonies for ordinary people, i.e., non-government-and-non-military, was a freshman physics class project in which he posed the question for his students to answer: "Is the surface of a planet like Earth the best place for an advancing civilization to grow?" The answer that he and his students arrived at, after studying the differences between being on-planet and off-planet, is: No, not on-planet, for reasons based on the availability in space of constant, bountiful solar energy, vast readily accessible materials, and greater control over gravitational and environmental conditions.

Over the next decades, he and his colleagues conducted research, worked out the engineering details, crunched out numbers, and devised a plan and schedule for a first colony in space for 10,000 people by -- well, by around NOW -- if, if right away enough people invested the needed 250 trillion dollars estimated to bootstrap the venture to the point of beginning to sell to Earth the cheap electricity, and products manufacturable only in space.

I mention O'Neill's project here to indicate that the technology for space colonization is known (which I know you don't dispute), and that the construction is feasible -- but, something else vital is lacking, as shown by the lack of money invested. That key deficiency is traceable to the ignorance and lack of philosophy, objectivist philosophy.

CONSULTANT: Is it defined logically? Sorry, you'll have to elaborate. If what you mean is the above discussion, we're OK; if something else, explain.

MONART: Yes, by whether or not I have defined starship logically, I mean whether it meets the criteria that you brought up above. But I also would like to know if you think it is self-contradictory to integrate the physical meaning and philosophical meaning of starship into one concept. Is it valid to form a concept that defines both the physical characteristics of an artifact and the intellectual-philosophical principles that make it possible? My need for such an integration is to be able to hold in a single awareness the two aspects, so as to maintain focus on the not-to-be-separated relationship.

To illustrate what I mean here, recall the scene in Atlas where Dagny enters the engine-room of the train on its inaugural run of the John Galt Line, and contemplates the significance of the machinery around her.

CONSULTANT: Is it defined factually? You can't expect too much factual information from a one-sentence definition such as the above.

But if you are talking about the entire set of works you sent as being definitive of the starship, then there is a real problem with the proportion of philosophical poetry to facts and data. I'd like to see a whole lot more facts and data, and maybe the tiniest smidgeon of philosophy, instead. The philosophy is just icing, unless you really do believe that objectivism is a maximizing philosophy, which I don't. I don't think it helps your case at all, other than to get people emotionally wound up--generally not a good idea in projects requiring focused thought.

This goes to the question of whether it is defined meaningfully, too. The one-sentence definition aside, it is really difficult to sift through all the material to find your meaning, and even then I still feel suspicious that you are just being metaphorical.

MONART: Of the set of writings I'd sent you, "Project Starship", "Pro-Astronautics", and "Starship as Symbol of the Hero" are philosophically, esthetically focused -- but the "Starship Astronaut - Prologue" article concentrates on the technological. However, you're right, my emphasis is philosophical, with traces of the poetic and metaphoric. This expresses my perspective on the astronautical adventure: that it involves, not only nor primarily the technological, but more importantly and fundamentally, the moral and esthetic. I want to promote the awareness that philosophy, objectivist philosophy, is the prerequisite to a free and prosperous life in space, as it is on Earth.

If it gets people emotionally fired up--pro or con--then that's what will get the project off the ground. Astronautical technology, by itself without the philosophical meaning and esthetic symbolism, is aimless, uninspiring, dull, and boring.


    >Does the concept violate Rand's Razor--does it integrate units beyond necessity?

Not sure how this question is relevant to your project. The main difficulty is the apparent conflation of moral and epistemological principles with a physical object. If you describe a physical object you'd like to build, how could I accuse you of integrating units without regard to necessity? But you do have a tendency to slip back and forth between talking about the object, and creating a concept. That is not only confusing to your audience, but I think that is what is making you dig so hard for philosophical justifications. Just build it, and they will come!

MONART: Ah, if it were so simple: to just build it, and they will come. But the causal sequence I need is the reverse: I need them to come first and then build it. And to motivate that, I need philosophy, especially ethics and esthetics -- nothing motivates more than moral conviction and esthetic inspiration.

You're right that I must avoid confusing the audience when I describe the physical and the conceptual attributes. I must refine the method whereby I can express the combination more seamlessly -- but the combining and integrating needs to be done, otherwise the two ideas and the two movements will remain apart as they are now, with the potential, mutual assistance and benefits far from being actualized.

CONSULTANT: (But maybe you are trying to take into account Rand's scolding of businesspeople for their lack of ability to defend their actions (and their tendency to not have very many ;-)? In that case, I have a suggestion. The value of philosophy to your project is your ability to keep focused on what you are doing, what the right way of, eg, getting money from people is, and most importantly and Randianly, to be able to defend yourself against attacks. It's there for you as support and bulkhead, but it isn't your discursive starting point. You can also use it rhetorically, when you go on television interviews, to show that you aren't just an idiot engineer but a well-rounded thoughtful human being who Really Means It. Don't assume philosophical criticism in advance in your work, though of course you should be ready for it. Focus rather on the technological objections, all the while being scrupulously objective, conceptual, clear, consistent, and benevolent.)

MONART: Good advice to follow, and needed especially at this point when it isn't the technological objections, as much as the philosophical ones, that would have to be contended with. And having a consistent, explicated philosophical system at the outset will forewarn the critics and saboteurs that we have solid intellectual backing, so if you mess with us, do so at your own peril.


    >Does the name "starship" add to, or detract from, the concept's cognitive role
    >of differentiation and integration?

This is a bit difficult. Because even unnerdy people know about STAR TREK, the word 'starship' conjures up a definite image: tin can with people stuffed inside, with the evil void outside, all black and cold. Your descriptions of it as an artificial planet are at odds with this image: planets are "open" to the atmosphere, and beyond that, space, and most importantly, the sun.

Nevertheless, since we don't actually have a starship of any description, it seems that the term is open for the taking, and if you abscond with a term that at present has only fictional entities as its referents, and you help it become a reality, how can anyone complain?

MONART: Twenty-five years ago, when I was first looking for a term to name the concept and symbolize the project, I considered bland words like "home", "heaven", "paradise", "utopia", etc., affixed with adjectives like "ideal" and "ultimate" -- but, not surprisingly, I couldn't escape the attractive name, "starship", with its synonyms, "astronaus" and "being of light". (Interestingly, "photon", etymologically, has a similar meaning: "light-being".)

In all these years since, I still haven't found a word to surpass the aptness of "starship", especially with its accumulated lores depicted by fiction such as Star Trek. Perhaps other languages may also have suitable terms to be adapted, or a neologism be used, but I don't think another word would be as effective for my purpose, particularly as an esthetic, symbolic template for conjuring up romantic visions.


- 2 [ - 1 - 3 - 4]

This second in the series relates to the consultant's preliminary comments and my replies. The next section will relate the consultant's comments on the text of my essays.

20 March 2001, 15 April 2001

CONSULTANT: Here's an idea. Why don't you start off your treatise, not with a lot of objectitalk, but with a lengthy description of what life would be like on Aurora, throwing in comments about where the apple that Little Eric is picking came from, how his feet manage to stick to the surface as he runs along the sidewalk, how he squints in the warming (artificial) light as he sees his sister floating down to talk to him from her perch on the crane where she's working at her afterschool job on the atmospheric controls hidden in the flowers growing up the side of the ship, how that annoying echo is still there ever since that meteor took out a chunk of the upper deck and they had to fix it with substandard metal melted from the coffee pots until they could get to the nearest mineral-bearing asteroid, and how their open bearing of arms has eliminated the two children's need for parental protection as they skip off down the dark tube to the animal-infested, light-drenched neighborhood two decks below.

Or something like that.

That would make it clear that this is a physical object you mean to build, and not just another way of conceptualizing Earth. Your repeated use of the word 'concept' and your emphasis on abstraction and low-level principles inclines one to think that you're just being whimsical and Eastern.

MONART: Yes, physical and concretized imagery is a necessity in understanding and communicating abstract concepts. In my masters thesis, I began, after a brief introduction, with a presentation of the technological aspects of the starship/space-colony project, describing the advantages and higher quality of life possible in space and the basic methods of creating in orbit a viable human ecology, with controllable, earth-like environments. The "Starship Astronaut - Prologue" I'd sent you is an update of that chapter, with weblinks to illustrative paintings of space habitats' interiors.

Here is the table of contents from my masters thesis [1985, Univ. of Calgary], which indicates a coverage of a broad range of topics, including the technological and the philosophical.


Starship Astronaut as Rational Egoist


I. From Here...

1. Starship, Ayn Rand, and Objectivism
(a) The Concept of "Starship"
(b) Ayn Rand: Her Philosophy and Importance

2. A Techno-Ecosystem in Space
(a) Introduction
(b) The Advantage of Space
(c) The Space Colonies Proposal
(d) Designing an Ecosystem in Space
(e) Conclusion

Figure l: "Diagram of the Space Colonies/Starship Project"
Figure 2: "Diagram of a Typical Ecosystem in Space"

3. Man, the Rational Animal
(a) Introduction
(b) The Rational Nature of Man
(c) Conceptual Consciousness
(d) Volitional Consciousness and Objective Reality

4. Rational Egoism
(a) Altruism v. Egoism
(b) Good and Evil
(c) Society of Individual Rights
(d) The Egoist

5. The Moral Nature of Technology
(a) Technology as Natural to Man
(b) Technology as Objectified Rationality
(c) Egoistic, Capitalistic Technology
(d) Anti-Technological Altruism

6. Pro-Astronautics
(a) Advancing to Astronautics
(b) Objectivist Astronautics
(c) Current Intellectual State
(d) Conclusion

II. To There...

7. Philosophy and Utopias
(a) Introduction
(b) Philosophy and Astronautics
(c) Utopias and Astronautics

8. The "Hostile-Space" Argument for Collectivist Starships
(a) The Efficacy of Reason
(b) The Hostile-Space Argument
(c) The Survival of Individuals

9. The Rational, Egoistic, Starship Astronaut
(a) The Aim and the Action
(b) Prospects for Astronautics
(c) Conclusion

EPILOGUE: "The Light of Genius"


The goal of constructing the space factories, farms, habitats, etc, is a vital project that brings physical reality to the moral purpose of achieving happiness beyond the Earth's limiting surface. However, as important as the generators, shields, and engines are--like all technology--they are tools, means to a moral end. The moral end of the starship project is what I want to focus attention on, to arouse enthusiasm for, and to use as the vision to inspire, motivate, and give meaning to the struggles, battles, defeats, and triumphs that are part of the adventure to create a free and prosperous life on Earth or in FreeSpace.

There are growing numbers of organized advocacy groups, as well as industries, devoted to the technological, engineering achievements of space exploration and colonization. I encourage their continuance, but am not trained in those areas to participate in their forums, or contribute to their enterprises--not as a scientist or technologist. But these groups and sectors of the culture are lacking in knowledge and conviction of the rational philosophy needed to promote the moral value of their endeavors and to defend against the altruist, collectivist undermining of their efforts. At best, if they could accomplish the construction of a space colony without the aid of objectivists, the colony would culturally be another version of the mixed up one on earth, but with more regimented, paramilitary control, using as justification, the vulnerability of the high-tech systems to accidents and sabotage.

So my aim is not primarily to promote the technology of astronautics, or even to promote the (objectivist) philosophy of astronautics, although the latter is more prior to the former. My aim is to define and promote the integration of the two ideas and the two movements, and to entice contemplation of the esthetic, symbolic meaning of that unity. The two cultural groups--the startrek/space-colony group and the libertarian/objectivist group--are the most intelligent, rational, productive, and romantic groups in the world, and they are the hope of humanity for a better life on Earth and beyond.

CONSULTANT: Regarding the objections to Apollo 11 and to space programs: I think Rand psychologizes way too much, and you follow suit. There are other explanations for the objections that have nothing to do with hatred of the good for being energetic. I suggest taking them on their merits and still answering the uneasiness that they reveal. Comfort them, rather than scolding them--not to be nice, but to be objective and logical. There are genuine concerns and it isn't fair to accuse everyone of wanting people to fail.

MONART: You're right, not all objectors to space programs are malevolent enviers; some are just misinformed, or are afraid, timid, lazy, complacent, myopic, or are just satisfied with a simple, earthy life. Effort should be spent on educating, understanding, and re-assuring them. Rand was retaliating against those who attack astronautics using altruistic justifications of self-sacrifice. For me, I have no hostility toward those who promote a life in a log cabin in the woods, hunting and fishing, weaving and sewing, and I have no desire to steal their money for my ends--as long as they do not advocate and use force to hinder or prevent others who by their own efforts strive for continual advancement toward the stars.


- 3 [ - 1 - 2 - 4]

This third in the series consists of the consultant's comments on mainly "Project Starship". I did not write back with specific replies because I had addressed many of the points in my previous response (in the first two articles of this series).

There will be one more in this series, relating an exchange between a colleague of the consultant and myself on a spin-off topic of "maximization" ethics.

20 March 2001

CONSULTANT: These are notes I was taking as I read. I hope these are helpful to you in understanding my direct answers to your questions. I had to do this part first, of course, to get an idea of what you meant. There's a learning curve, which I think you would do well to flatten out a bit, by including the definition at the top of each document (at least while they're being read separately like this).

You can see the questions I was most interested in answering for myself, by the headings I use. They might be good headings for you to use yourself.

Tell me what you think.

How: tapping the energy of the Sun and transforming the material of Earth to build his starship

Purpose: "his starship to seek, hold and give the beauty that brings him his happiness."

"The starship for beautifying man can inspire him on his quest for new arts, new machines, new adventure: on a voyage that blasts off from this port of Earth and shoots outwards to other ports of other worlds--outwards to the countless stars of the countless galaxies of the unbounded universe."

I can be inspired in all these ways right on my own planet. It's the "outward to the stars" part that really differentiates a starship from Earth, which is in orbit in a fairly fixed position w/r/t the rest of the universe.

Significance: "The starship that man creates is an expression of his mastery over his own destiny, a mastery that breaks the circle of nature with a straight line, a line that reaches from this earth to touch the farthest stars."

Artistic/aesthetic merit/function: "The structure of the starship is the product of man's shining his cool, strong light of reason upon the wilderness of reality to tame it into the home that supports his life. Growing from this work of discovering and unifying truth, goodness, and beauty, the starship is a selective re-arrangement of various aspects of reality into those forms that further his well-being.


Best one: "an integrated mobile environment that provides man with nourishment for growth, shelter against decay, and locomotion to explore" other regions of space.

This one should go somewhere in the first paragraph, along with additional description.

"Abstractly, starship is a complex concept, integrating the knowledge that leads to the success of man's life."

Comment: Use-mention distinction is blurred in the reader's mind, making it difficult to follow the discourse. I'd prefer 'conceptually' and 'physically' to make the distinction. The word 'abstractly' doesn't function here as it does in common parlance, so don't use it, or make it clear we're talking about a word or thought. The distinction between concrete and abstract is not clear to most people, including objectivists. Instead, just define what the physical starship is. When you start out with this abstract notion, and mix it in with your very pretty poetic language, it sounds for all the world like you're only speaking metaphorically--that you don't really mean the next sentence:

"Concretely, the starship is an artificial planet, an earth re-created into a hierarchical unity of arts and machines, performing the functions of sustaining and enriching man's spiritual/material health."

Here, the word 'hierarchical' is out of place, again making it seem like you're being metaphorical. A hierarchy refers to something conceptual, not something physical. You can embody a hierarchical unity, but the unity itself is not a concrete. In other words, you're not just sounding metaphorical; you're mixing metaphors as well.

And THIS is more like what comes to people's minds when you use the word 'starship': something that floats through open space, not something that unifies man's values.

You separate what it means symbolically from what it means abstractly, but it all sounds symbolic to me, probably a product of that use-mention error.

The Project (Introduction)

This part sounds like your vision. That's fine, but it's not what one expects as a project introduction. At this point, I want to hear about the physical bits. The exposition in this part is better reserved for the middle of your report, where you're explaining at length, philosophically, why anyone would bother to leave their planet at all, let alone spend trillions of dollars. Or even better, at the end, in the Objections/Replies section.

With that understood, here are specific comments on passages:

"a. Starship is the integrated structure of knowledge and processes, of arts and machines, of ideas, values, and inventions that, together, can nurture the continual growth of man's life and happiness."

This is true of any human creation, pretty much. I think it's either too abstract for this part of the description, or else you should indicate that the starship begins with the understanding that ALL human creations are like this, and the starship is no different. That can help you hedge against dumb objections like, "T'ain't natural!" and "Sounds miserable."

"b. The necessity of starship is based on the volitional nature of man's life, the rational process of his consciousness, and the unlimited capability of his actions."

You're not describing a necessity. Food and water are necessities. We have those. If we run out, we'll NEED a starship. So either cut the word 'necessity', or say under what circumstances it will, necessarily, become a necessity.

What you are describing here, rather than necessity, is possibility. It is possible for a creature like us to want this and to create it, because we are rational, volitional, etc. You should be emphasizing choice here, not requirements or necessity.

"c. The starship's vital core is man's conceptual consciousness, his mind, his reason, his basic faculty that discovers and invents the ship's knowledge and processes."

Again, these are things that make the starship possible; nothing else we know of would. But now we haven't differentiated the starship from anything else that humans make or do, so I'm wondering why it is mentioned. Is it to make it seem less unnatural and scary?

"d. The starship's most basic and crucial knowledge is philosophy, the knowledge of fundamental principles, the knowledge that integrates and guides all other knowledge, the knowledge that yields an attitude of romanticism for the wisdom as summarized in this way: Man is a rational animal, whose existence in objective reality is sustained by the volitional operation of his conceptual consciousness called reason towards the cognition, evaluation and invention of his starship to happiness."

Again, true of every human creation, except maybe instruments of pure destruction.

In sum, this list doesn't help me. It makes you sound like you have too few scientific facts at hand, so you're waxing philosophical. As an Objectivist, I assume all this information is true of everything any of us do, and I assume other O's are cognizant of that.

As just a regular person, I think this has a really mystical feel: why do you keep talking about art and romanticism and happiness, when I thought we were talking about a physical thing? Tell me how to build it and what it will be like to live on it, don't tell me you want me to be happy by fulfilling my "necessary" destiny.


These next paragraphs, I think, just don't belong here. The reason is that this is pure philosophy, and you said you were going to tell me about a starship. When I read it I have the distinct feeling that you are attempting to make me think that a starship is possible, or necessary, because of pure philosophy. But pure philosophy won't make it possible, and it clearly isn't necessary. So I feel like you're trying to trick me into going along with you on an extremely controversial issue by getting me to agree to uncontroversial points so that I am in an agreeable mood.

(I say this to help you possibly reword the information, or remove it, or to put it someplace else in the exposition, not because I think you're trying to put something over on me. Just telling you how it comes across.)


I thought I was going to get something like the US Constitution, so I was surprised to get more basic philosophy.

Here, your exposition is about what sorts of principles a good human life employs, and how it should conceptualize our inventions. You're not talking about the starship. This is getting to be a problem for me, as a reader, because I'm anxious to hear about how to build or live on a starship and what good that will do me, and you keep talking about other stuff that is completely unrelated. Shouldn't life on earth be like this? You seem to think that only life on a starship could be like this, but that can't be true: humans are here, and if they are as magnificent as you say, these principles could be followed and these conceptualizations made anywhere they exist. In other words, you seem to think there is something special about the starship that makes it possible for the establishment and execution of your basic philosophical principles. What is it? What is so special about the starship that isn't true of my apartment complex? How will you make it so?


This claim is problematic:

" Each member of the starship's crew is guided by the principles of honesty and justice. "

Why would you think that? Will there be a test before people get on? What is that like? Will you include it with the book? Or are there special laws that can't be executed on earth, that makes the starship special, such that people won't lie or cheat there? Is it a militaristic operation, such that there are severe penalties for dishonesty?

The rest of this first paragraph could be about life in the United States. This is the way WE do it. But we have that lying cheating problem that your starship doesn't. How do you eliminate it?

In the third paragraph you start to get into how the government will be set up. That's good. Tell more. What I want to know at this point is, were you being metaphorical all along, and you're just saying that this utopian vision is what you would like to achieve on Earth, and you just wanted me to imagine that the Earth is like a starship in which absolute discipline and adherence to principles of honesty and justice are required on pain of being outcast into the void? (Do you see why I get the feeling you're being metaphorical? In fact, the first time I read the stuff you sent I did think you were being metaphorical. Like Garrett Hardin, who has us imagine that the Earth is like a lifeboat, and thus can't feed the whole world because the lifeboat has limited capacity.)


You haven't convinced me that the first step is naming the ship. Maybe I want to name it last, like I name my essays. And I think you're making too much of the name, anyway. It sounds like you're confusing Rand's insistence that a concept have a word as its name, with the naming of a physical object--again, that a use-mention error in a more subtle form. And what if I just really like the name 'Eric' (which I do)? Why can't I name it Eric? Why does the name of a starship have to be in any sense like proper concept formation? The classification of the object is not the same as naming it. We can classify it as an environment, a utopia, a planet, a vehicle, and we have to do that very carefully; it would be weird to classify it as a whale, or a cloud, or a submarine even. But its given name is different from that: I could call it 'Moby', though I wouldn't classify it as a whale.

You haven't convinced me that a study of philosophy is a necessary first step in the ship either. You say it is to pick the name, which I've objected to. But even if it isn't to pick the name, I still don't see why this ship can't be built like any other vehicle, or object: I thought it would be neat, so I started to build it, and it started getting all wonderful, and now I decide that it should have my favorite name, 'Eric', and I get other independent individuals involved, and maybe talk about a government for the thing.

Your approach is extremely top-down, cathedral-like--and, it strikes me, not very individualistic. We can discuss that more.

I think the best way to convey the enthusiasm and feelings and philosophy that you have, is not to talk about it, but just to be it. Plan your starship with integrity, and if people ask you questions about philosophy, tell them this stuff. I'd leave almost all of it out, because it sounds like dreamy fiction. That was another first thought: Monart is being metaphorical, and what he really wants me to do is discuss the possibilities for a science fiction novel, providing philosophical analysis of his story, etc, the way that STAR TREK often fails to do. But you're talking about a real plan, here, I take it, not fiction. Right? So I'd clear out all the poetry, philosophy, references to man's purpose, and keep that in a brief Vision Statement which people can ask you more about. The project itself should have none of that; it should rather be guided by it. Rand already said most of this stuff anyway, so there's no point in repeating her. Just do it.



I'm familiar with this article but read it again cursorily. Here's the paragraph that really needs to be answered:

""But the chief reason for assessing the significance of the moon landing negatively, even while the paeans of triumph are sung, is that this tremendous technical achievement represents a defective sense of human values, and of a sense of priorities of our technical culture." "We are betraying our moral weakness in our very triumphs in technology and economics." "How can this nation swell and stagger with technological pride when it is so weak, so wicked, so blinded and misdirected in its priorities? While we can send men to the moon or deadly missiles to Moscow or toward Mao, we can't get foodstuffs across town to starving folks in the teeming Ghettos." "Are things more important than people? I simply do not believe that a program comparable to the moon landing cannot be projected around poverty, the war, crime, and so on." "If we show the same determination and willingness to commit our resources, we can master the problems of our cities just as we have mastered the challenge of space." "In this regard, the contemporary triumphs of man's mind-his ability to translate his dreams of grandeur into awesome accomplishments--are not to be equated with progress, as defined in terms of man's primary concern with the welfare of the masses of fellow human beings . . . the power of human intelligence which was mobilized to accomplish this feat can also be mobilized to address itself to the ultimate acts of human compassion." "But, the most wondrous event would be if man could relinquish all the stains and defilements of the untamed mind...""

These people are complaining because of the expenditure of their tax money. It's none of Rand's business what they would like to spend it on instead; it's their money. Justify why you can steal people's money for a space program, and leave those very tax payers at the mercy of poverty, disease, and crime that the government now has "no more money" to dissolve. Given people's different interests, this is a valid challenge.

------------------------------------ Pro-Astronautics

This paragraph,

"The fact that man survives by using reason, the fact that reasoning is conceptual and volitional, the fact that reasoning is a moral, egoistic activity, and the fact that rational morality creates the machine to support man's life--these are the basic reasons why astronautics is necessary for man's continuing existence. That man should choose to think in order to produce the goods for his life is the fundamental argument for starship."

is an adequate answer to the question "How do you justify Pon's interest in a starship?" It is not an adequate answer to the question "Why should the human race, or any person, be more than casually interested in it?" You keep saying it is required and necessary for human life. This seems to me to be simply and demonstrably false: human life has continued and flourished for millions of years, right here, by the use of reason. No starship necessary.

I think what you want to say is that it is a possible, conceivable, not-all-that-far-fetched idea. That, like all human creations, it is worth doing, in and of itself, simply because someone is interested in it and no one has the right to tell him not to be. Right? There's a bit of the maximizer in you, I think. But maximization isn't a valid standard (we can talk about that too, in more detail; one of the most common invalid arguments against egoism is that one wishes to MAXIMIZE one's interests, and so tramples on those of others, and that because one wishes to MAXIMIZE one's values, one gets into intractable contradictions and puzzles, such as the spurious survival-vs-flourishing debate. But objectivist egoism isn't a maximizing theory.)

Are you perhaps arguing against an interlocutor, who says that such a ship is too dangerous and thus leads to the shortening of individual lives, or that it is irrational for some other reason? I ask because every paragraph contains a justification of why you are interested on the basis of epistemological or moral principles. I can't see the reason for that, unless there is some objection you are answering. If so, I think it would be best to state the objection in full, at the beginning of the justificatory section, make a strong case for the objection, and then defend against it.

I think this is a reasonable complaint, in part:

"Instead, they justify astronautics only on the grounds that it is technically feasible and economically profitable. But, they do not identify the fact that it is man's rational, conceptual, volitional nature which is the basis of his reach for the stars. They do not defend astronautics on objectivist, egoist principles, not consistently or essentially. "

I've been listing some problems with the way you are going about it. You seem to be arguing that it is necessary, required, part of egoist value-maximization, etc. What I would argue is that those statements you quoted ignore the fact that an individual person may spend his or her time and money any way she wishes; they can help eliminate poverty, while you build your starship. End of egoistic story. They will continue to complain, if they aren't interested in starships after 25 years of STAR TREK, but so what? There will always be naysayers, no matter how many people you convince. Go get the trekkies.

Problematically, though, you suggest that as long as we are stealing people's money, we may as well steal it for a starship. I think you should leave government spending cleanly out of this, because it leads to all sorts of contradictions, and focus on getting investors interested in its economic profitability. The only things I'd say about government are that it needs to be eliminated so that people can get on with cool expensive things like starships and Enlightenment. Did I miss the point about tax money?


- 4 [ - 1 - 2 - 3]

This last in the series deals with a core issue in the ethical philosophy of starship: a static, stagnant versus a dynamic, progressive approach to life.

In the consultant's report was this passage:

"I think what you want to say is that it [starship] is a possible, conceivable, not-all-that-far-fetched idea. That, like all human creations, it is worth doing, in and of itself, simply because someone is interested in it and no one has the right to tell him not to be. Right? There's a bit of the maximizer in you, I think. But maximization isn't a valid standard (we can talk about that too, in more detail; one of the most common invalid arguments against egoism is that one wishes to MAXIMIZE one's interests, and so tramples on those of others, and that because one wishes to MAXIMIZE one's values, one gets into intractable contradictions and puzzles, such as the spurious survival-vs-flourishing debate. But objectivist egoism isn't a maximizing theory.)"

I wrote back:

"One issue in your analysis, about "maximization", I had asked [your colleague] to comment on. ... I have included the exchange below, and if you have anything to add, please do so. ... the exchange is very relevant to your surmising that I might be a "maximizer". Which I'm not, if I understand what you mean by that term. But, I do believe in and advocate a dynamic, non-stagnating, progressive, continuously improving, relentless achievement of new values."


This section will relate relevant portions of the exchange between myself and the consultant's colleague, followed at the end by the consultant's comments.

March 23-24, 2001

MONART: [In your article] you stated, "Among the major virtues Rand mentions are independence, integrity, honesty, justice, and benevolence." I know that Kelley has argued for benevolence as a major virtue, but I don't recall Rand ever did. Would you explain this?

CONSULTANT'S COLLEAGUE: Yes. Rand actually does endorse benevolence as a virtue in "The Ethics of Emergencies." And in The Romantic Manifesto, she endorses the concept of a "benevolent sense of life," without which we would lack a sense of the efficacy of our agency, and therefore lack self-esteem. I think it follows trivially from the fact that a benevolent sense of life isn't automatic that it has to be cultivated, and from the way she describes the requirements of cultivating it, I would say she's committed to a virtue that does the job. Putting the two things together, I'd say she's explicitly committed to a virtue of benevolence. Kelley's monograph didn't play a role in my decision to put benevolence on the list, actually. His monograph focuses on the somewhat less essential issue of benevolence vis-a-vis others. The fundamental issue as I see it is the one of cultivating a benevolence sense of life for oneself; benevolence vis-a-vis others is a consequence of that.

MONART: I see now that you were not referring to Rand's listing explicitly "benevolence" as one of the major virtues, along with independence, integrity, honesty, and justice, in, eg, "The Objectivist Ethics". You are referring to her implicit endorsing of benevolence as a virtue in the contexts you mentioned. I agree that benevolence, or "well-wishing", is of major importance in the objectivist ethics, an attitude of wishing well of life--similar to the "pollyanna-ism" that Carolyn Ray wrote about [], being "a person who looks for the good in everyone and everything, and usually manages to find it."

MONART: It has been pointed out to me by ... that "objectivist egoism isn't a maximizing theory, and that believing so leads one to intractable contradictions like the survival-vs-flourishing dichotomy." Would you offer your view on this?

C's COLLEAGUE: ...The Objectivist Ethics is not a maximizing theory. For one thing, what's being "maximized"? (And by what unit?) For another, the very concept of "maximization" finds its meaning in utilitarian theories, whose presuppositions are completely at odds with Objectivism (and incoherent in themselves). Anyway, I don't see any rationale for describing the OE in terms of "maximization."

Regarding survival and flourishing, I think it's a false dichotomy. The virtues and values of the OE [objectivist ethics] are there to maintain and preserve one's existence as a self-generated and self-sustaining agent. But precisely because each set values you seek to that end changes your identity as an agent, it also changes (increases the scope of) "maintaining and preserving your existence as a self-generated and self-sustaining agent." So the bottom line is that you have to live a flourishing life in order successfully to maintain and preserve your existence as a self-generated and self-sustaining agent across a whole lifespan.

...The longer the expected lifespan of an entity, the more that what's required for being a "self-generated and self-sustaining agent" will have to change over time. And that affects the content of the virtues and values, i.e., of the ethics as a whole. Contract that into a much smaller lifespan, and you would (probably) have quite a different content.

MONART: That's right. This life-long flourishing, this expanding the scope of one's existence and capabilities is what I see as the nature of human survival. Thanks for your statement of this.

... you provide confirmation of the view of life--modern, human life with its extended life-span--as one of continuous improvement, seeking new ideas, values, new arts and machines, over an Entire, purposeful, integrated life-time.

But, what is the answer to those who say, "Why do I need to strive relentlessly, grow endlessly? What if I'm happy just loafing around, without infringing on or mooching off anyone's life. Couldn't I be still rational, honest, and moral without incessantly aiming for the best?"

C's COLLEAGUE: Well, a bit of loafing around is actually justified. But if you mean JUST loafing around--loafing as a way of life--the first question would be to ask what the person's standard of value is. If it's not survival qua human, then you have to have an argument about first principles. But if you're talking to a would-be Objectivist, the simplest thing is to point out that "what makes you happy" can't function as a standard of ethics; the standard is survival-q-h. That standard requires purpose as a cardinal value, and productivity as a major virtue. Long-term loafing is incompatible with those. It's also incompatible with self-esteem. I can guarantee you that a person who makes a big deal about ARGUING in favor of a life of loafing is not the kind of person who could actually live such a life. It's just a fact about human psychology that loafing is boring, boredom is anti-motivational, and life requires motivational stimulation over the long-term. In fact it requires much more than that.

There's an example of such an objection in Charles King's essay in the Den Uyl-Rasmussen book, "The Philosophic Thought of AR." If you know it, I would say that his example lacks psychological plausibility. A person who spent that much time golfing would want to become a better-than-dilettante golfer. He would have to take up golfing full-time.


15 April 2001

CONSULTANT: [My colleague] said he didn't see the connection I was making between O'ist [Objectivist] ethics not being a maximizing theory, and the survival-vs-flourishing false dichotomy; and you said you'd ask me about it.

I think that one way to get to this dichotomy is the way I've seen so many people do it: by presuming that what is in my self-interest is to get as much as I possibly can of X. Then they say, But look, human life is the standard of value. So anything you do needs to be judged against that standard. But there are things that would contribute to your flourishing, that either necessarily shorten your life-expectancy, or put you at risk of sudden death. Either way, you would be irrational to do such things. So skydiving and scuba diving and rollercoasters and high-pressure jobs are just out. Then it turns out that there are all sorts of common activities that contribute to people's flourishing, that are also a bit risky: driving cars, for example, or getting pregnant. And yet, it turns out that, if one spends all one's time attempting to maximize one's lifespan, one doesn't even have time to do things that would contribute to one's flourishing, let alone the resources, which have been spent on lifespan maximization.

So it looks like there's this weird conflict and divide between maximum lifespan and maximum value-acquisition, and people spend lots of time arguing over which it is, flourishing or life. I say that in cases such as these, the problem was that one or both parties to the debate were taking O'ist ethics to be a maximizing theory, and that's why it looks like there's an interesting dichotomy.

There might be other ways that people end up at the false dichotomy; people are endlessly clever when it comes to getting things wrong. But this is the way I've most often seen the debate develop. And, moreover, I do think that if you presume maximization as a principle, you'll end up with this dichotomy if you're trying to understand O'ist ethics. That's the connection.


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