The third way
I don't know how many times I have read the presuppositionalists complaint "I am beginning to wonder if any of you that post here have ever read philosophy." This complaint comes in many forms. It is an accusation that since our ethics, concept formation, views on metaphysics etc are different from the dominant fields of philosophy we are in some way ignorant. It is not that we do not know of these things it is that we have rejected them in favor of what we think is an objective or consistently conceptual view of existence that is neither subjective nor intrinsicist.
I am going to quote Leonard Peikoff at length [gasp] because I think he has a section in his book on "The Good" which will explain the above. [Hopefully he will not come after me for some kind of copyright infirngement...] When I read remarks like that a couple of questions come into my mind.
1. Is this a complaint that we really don't know something about what the presuppositionalist is saying [or the field of philosophy at large has said] or
2. is it that ours is the first logically constructed philosophy that creates a real problem for their argument.
OPAR - Chapter on "The Good"
"Conventional moralists hold that ethics flows from arbitrary acts of consciousness, whether divine or human, social or personal. Such ethical codes express the primacy-of-consciousness metaphysics. Objectivism, because it upholds an objective theory of value, is the first ehtics in history to express consistently the primacy of existence.
The intrinsicist school holds that values, like universals or essences, are features of reality independent of consciousness (and of life). The good, accordingly, is divorced from goals, consequences, and beneficiaries. The good is not good to anybody or for anything; it is good in itself. One can come to know such an object only by the standard intrinsicist means: mystic insight. Thereafter, one "just knows" good and evil; one knows them automatically and infalibly, without benefit of any cognitive method.
Although it purports to discover vlaues in external reality, intrinsicism actually cuts the tie between values and reality. By divorcing value from purpose and beneficiary, the theory makes value-judgements pointless and arbitrary. Why then should men concern themselves with ehtical isssues? The most common intrinsicist answer is: God (or some equivalent, like Kant's noumenal self) has issued commandments, and it is man's duty to obey them."
Peikoff then discusses duty and obedience to some other "higher authority." Such morality is divorced from any "personal goal, motive, desire or interest." He then goes on to say that Kant's system of morality labeled man as "amoral" when he acts to acheive his own values.
Peikoff continues by saying that a duty ethics "detaches virtues from values, it offers man no guidance in the job of living." The everyday dealings for human existence - "the daily decisions men must make in regard to goals such as work, love, friendship, freedom, happiness - all this, for the intrinsicist, is beside the point. Ethics, he believes, defines man's obligations to the supernatural; it transcends what the vulgar call "real life."
Real life, however, remains a fact. It continues to demand a specific course of action - of rational, selfish action - which the duty advocates no only ignore but seek to countermand. The result is a moral code that is worse than useless, a code that dooms man to an unendurable dichotomy: virtue versus pleasure, one's character versus one's welfare, the moral versus the practical, ethics versus survival."
Peikoff goes on to discuss the subjectivist school. There are two camps of the subjectivist school of ethics - the social and the personal. The first follows the arbitrary whims of society - the second follows the arbitrary whims of the person. As Peikoff says "To secularize an error is still to commit it."
The third way:
"Just as concepts do not represent intrinsic features of reality, but presuppose a mind that performs a certain process of integration, so values are not intrinsic features of reality. Value requries a valuer - and moral value, therefore, preupposes a certain kind of estimate made by man; it presupposes an act of evaluation. Such an act, as we know, is possible only because man faces a fundamental alternative."
As concept formation is to reality values are to man's life. Concept formation, if done with the purpose of categorizing reality, becomes an objective process so too do values become objective if the purpose or goal of man's life is to live. This does not entail the personal subjectivist approach that seeks to "cheat, crush, or enslave the rest of mankind before they do it to him." Each man qua man has this potential - to apply force to another is to subvert one's own life and become a slave to him.
So why can't they understand?
Because the entire field of ethics is dominated by the school of duty bound morality. The conceptualist approach is quite new and is usually looked down upon. As Peikoff says later "One school then claims to have received such a message, [from beyond] while the other, rejecting this claim, throws out the whole field as noncognitive." The presuppositionalists seem to have only studied - or at least only adhere to - the philosophical schools that mirror their own thoughts. Both schools are bankrupt - both divorce ethics from man. They can't - or won't - grasp it because it places their entire argument into the trash bin with all the rest of the failed arguments for God.
Quotes Selected from "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" pages 241-247