A Thematic Compilation by Avi Sion

15. Chapter Fifteen


Deontology is a vast topic, which we can only touch upon in the present volume. I have already made scattered remarks on this subject in previous chapters, and in earlier works[1]; here some additional comments seem worth making.


1.         Founding Ethics


The term ‘deontology’ may be taken to refer to the theoretical study and foundation of ethics, without initial preference for any particular ethical system; another term for this is ‘meta-ethics’. This philosophical discipline is concerned with the form, rather than the content of ethics – how ethical systems are structured, the logical forms and arguments used in them, how standards or norms might be first established (‘axiology’[2]), and indeed all ontological and epistemological issues relative to ethical judgment.

Deontology will, for instance, emphasize that the concepts of life, consciousness and volition are central to any ethical claim or system.

  • Ethical discourse can only concern living beings. Inanimate entities (e.g. a table or a molecule) have nothing to lose – for their defining boundaries are fluid and arbitrarily set. We may break a diamond or disintegrate it – but ‘it’ has lost nothing. Living beings, on the other hand, have things to lose – their limb and life, which may be harmed or destroyed. A microbe is not just a mix of matter; kill it, and the matter remains but it no longer behaves as a living cell.
  • Ethical discourse is of no use to unconscious organisms, since they have no way to gain knowledge of it. We do consider that some things are conducive and others are detrimental to plants or microbes – but knowledge of such things concerns us, not the plants or microbes. Such knowledge tells us humans how to cultivate them, presumably so as to eat them or otherwise use them – so it is really a subset of human ethics. Animals can acquire knowledge of sorts, and so may conceivably learn facts or behavior (e.g. from their parents) that protects and furthers their life.
  • Ethical discourse presupposes volition. If the conscious organism has no volition, no ethical proposition concerning it is meaningful – since it can do nothing other than whatever it happens to be doing in the circumstances concerned anyway! Ethics is for organisms with freewill, meaning humans and higher animals.

Ultimately, of course, ethics is the prerogative of humans – who are not only alive and conscious and volitional, but moreover able to reason about ethics in general, to formulate and understand particular ethical propositions, and to monitor and manage their own behavior systematically. There is no point researching and writing an ethics, if the subject of it is unable to read it or follow it.

Imperatives, prohibitions, permissions and exemptions – all such statements, whatever their specific contents, logically presuppose an acceptance that the subject has some rationality and free will[3]. It is absurd (self-contradictory) to make or imply statements like: “don’t refer to the concepts of consciousness or volition in your discourse” – since to say “do not” implies one has awareness and choice.

Of course, volition is (as we have seen) something very hard to fully define and prove, because it is – like consciousness and like feelings – a primary object of experience. It is not like something else, to which it might be compared and reduced; it is something sui generis, a basic building block of experience. There is no logical basis for excluding volition from the realm of existence, just because it cannot be entirely described in terms of material or mental phenomena. It suffices to point out that it is something we experience distinctively (through ‘self-knowledge’, ‘introspective intuition’ or ‘apperception’ – however we choose to call it). We do not, note well, merely conceive it as a generality – but distinctly experience particular acts of volition within us.

Most human propositions and reasoning about causality are really about volition and allied concepts. Although the world of nature, or causation, is of course of great daily concern to us – we are also all the time greatly involved in thinking about our place in that world and in society, as well as our inner world, and all such thought is essentially to do with volition and allied causal concepts, including ethical concepts.

As we have seen, the ethical modalities (i.e. imperatives, prohibitions, permissions, exemptions) have to do with the realm of the possible. What is impossible in any respect does not belong in the realm of ethics (except to deny responsibility). With reference to any domain we face (nature, society, our own psyche), the following truisms are worth keeping in mind:

  • Some things are inevitable; some future events are naturally necessary, no matter what anyone (except perhaps God) does to avoid them. A contrario, some things cannot happen, no matter what anyone does in the attempt to make them happen.
  • Some things are inevitable (or unfeasible) for some volitional agents, but not so for others. Or they are so at one time, but not another. Or under certain conditions, but not others.
  • Some things are bound to happen, unless we make a determined effort to prevent them (e.g. a natural disaster, a war or a nervous breakdown). Some things are bound not to happen, unless we act in a timely and appropriate manner to make them happen (e.g. a building, a social system or a psychological development).
  • To prevent dangers from actualizing, it is usually necessary to be aware that the things concerned are dangerous, preventable, and likely to occur if not acted upon. Similarly, to achieve some positive value, it is usually necessary to identify it as such and to believe in the possibility of achieving it, as well as to acknowledge the need to make an effort to achieve it.

With regard to “freedom of the will”, this phrase – as already pointed out – refers more precisely to the freedom of the soul to will, whatever influences to the contrary accumulate. In a Buddhist perspective, where the ‘soul’ or ‘self’ is radically denied, we might identify the concept of freedom of the will with that of “the unconditioned” – i.e. it is one’s “Buddha nature” that is free, and we only attain true freedom by getting to and abiding in that place within one’s psyche.

Otherwise, according to Buddhist psychology, we are greatly moved by “desire”. In this context, it would perhaps be well to draw a distinction between “general desire” and “particular desire”. The former concept would refer to the emotional base of desire as such, a diffuse substratum without specific object; while the latter concept would refer to the application of general desire to a particular object (e.g. a loved person), often merely on the basis of a random fantasy or other pretext.[4]

Many influences impact on any given act of volition; some facilitate it, others make it more difficult. As we have seen, influences may be outside factors, which condition the volitional act through having been perceived or conceived by the agent. Mental factors of various sorts are also of course often influential to varying degrees. Some influences are simple, short-lived, ad hoc; while some seem to be more complex and deeply ingrained. Habits, for instance, are produced and reinforced by repetition. Obsessions and compulsions involve complicated hidden factors, which produce inertias unless certain work is done to overcome them.

We have seen how impulses and urges – be they physical, mental or spiritual – can be reconciled with the fact and concept of freewill. We were particularly concerned to find out why and how some normally volitional aspects of mental life, such as some thought processes, might sometimes give the impression that they occur automatically, indeed against our will. We arrived at the conclusion that such thoughts, although products of consciousness and will, are hard to control instantaneously, just because a greater and more sustained effort of consciousness and will is required to rein them in than to let them loose.

Many actions we label as ‘unconscious’ or ‘involuntary’ are really minimally conscious or voluntary. Our linguistic habit in that regard should not be allowed to mislead us into erroneous doctrines. When we have an impulse to do something, we may immediately (more or less whimsically) ‘follow that impulse’ and do the thing concerned – or we may restrain ourselves momentarily, at least long enough to reflect and make a considered decision. The amount of effort put into that reflection determines how (i.e. to what degree) ‘conscious’ and ‘voluntary’ is our subsequent action or our further restraint from action. A policy may be instituted for future recurrences of similar choices, or a habit may be programmed by repeating the same decision.

Through such formal analyses of psychological factors, we have (I believe) greatly succeeded in buttressing the concept of volition.

The development of ethical propositions – and eventually an ethical system – constitutes an attempt to prepare in advance answers to questions that naturally and inevitably arise in the course of volition. It is a service the ethical philosopher seeks to render to fellow volitional agents[5], just as the logician seeks to facilitate human pursuit of knowledge or the physical scientist seeks to facilitate human interactions with nature.

It is a necessary endeavor, because judgments made in the heat of the moment, under the impact of all sorts of emotional and other influences, are not always as broad-based and accurate as those made ‘in the ivory tower’. Sometimes, admittedly, the philosopher on his armchair cannot anticipate all the factors that the agent in the field actually faces. Sometimes, to be sure, it is better to act “intuitively” rather than in a “pondered” manner. But more often than not, it is wise to consider matters with a cool head, and with plenty of time to reflect and take a maximum number of issues into consideration.

But whatever ethics proposes, or whatever this or that ethical theory proposes – and whoever is behind the proposition, oneself or others – such an ethical proposition is merely one influential factor among others in the act of will. It does not remove the responsibility of the agent for his action. It is just an influence; the volition remains his own.

Even if one believes the ethics one is following to be of Divine origin (i.e. decreed or inspired by God, and transmitted by some religion) – one remains responsible. The act of faith in that religion is itself a volitional act, for which one is responsible. All subsequent acts performed under the influence of such faith remain acts of free will.


2.         Ethics Concerns the Living, Thinking, Willing


Ayn Rand wrote somewhere[6], concerning values – “of value to whom and for what?” – implying that the term ‘value’ does not stand alone, but is relative to certain subjects and to certain standards. This is not a mere grammatical observation, but a logical insight too often ignored.

As we have said, ethics concerns the living, and in particular organisms with consciousness and freewill, who have and make choices – i.e. the thinking and willing. This fact signifies that, whatever content we give to ethics, it must be consistent with these three basic factors – life, cognition and volition. They are necessary conditions for any ethical system. That is, the “to whom” and “for what” aspects of valuing are ultimately one and the same, or they at least intersect considerably. By knowing whom we are concerned with, we know what their needs are.

The distinction between living and non-living matter is admittedly not easy to make with final precision, so that the materialist perspective on life continues to seem equally if not more credible to many people. They argue that life is a phenomenon essentially like any other in the material world; they define life as a natural outcome of certain combinations of atoms.

They may be right – but the issues remain: how come this complex phenomenon was potential in the building blocks of matter (quarks, or whatever); how come matter evolved after the Big Bang through elementary particles, atoms, molecules, organic molecules, till living cells emerged; and how come the latter in turn gave rise to consciousness and will?

These questions are difficult to formulate, for it is difficult to express the kind of answer that is sought through them. We seem to have descriptive answers (i.e. the process of evolution of matter and life is, let’s say, adequately described) – but these answers do not answer those questions. The issue is not, either, epistemological – we do not seek more proof, we do not doubt the descriptive scenario given. Our questions are, rather, why did these potentials exist in the original substance of matter; why would matter take so many different forms, and evolve all the way to life, consciousness and volition? Why did quarks exist and why did they not remain quarks forever? Why are the ‘laws of nature’ that made them change (whatever these laws be) inherent in them?

Yes, there are questions of sorts – so no one, not even the convinced materialist, can claim to ‘know it all’. We have seen how the concept of natural ‘conatus’, of distinctive quasi-purposiveness in living processes is a legitimate concept, which does not call for special epistemological dispensations, but is formed in regular ways. It implies a sort of striving without consciousness, life relentlessly pursuing more life. Perhaps this abstract observation is the best definition of life we can propose.

The prime standard of natural ethics is bound to be Life, since the phenomenon of life is the core thing that gives meaning to the concept of ethics. That is, of course, a very vague norm, which biology, physiology, psychology, sociology and kindred sciences may clarify and enrich for us, telling us not only what furthers life, but also what gives it its fullest expression. This more precise account would need to refer not only to life – but also to consciousness and volition. They too are underlying standards that all ethical theories have to support, since ethics is meaningless without them.

With regard to life, I know that my own readings in biology have greatly affected my understanding of this standard, shifting its sense from a more self-oriented “my life” or “the life of my loved ones”, over to a broader interest in “life as such” or “life in general” or “all life”.

Beyond the struggle for survival of individuals, groups, species (which is undeniably fundamental), we may discern the struggle for survival of life per se, independent of any particular form or genetic content. In the latter perspective, the various forms of life are but means to the more basic end, that of life as a whole. The diverse forms may struggle against each other, competing for limited resources, using each other as well as minerals as natural resources[7], but ultimately their efforts can be considered as converging to a common goal, the continuation of life as such, in some form or other at least, but better still in as many forms as possible[8].

One might thus argue for the ‘unity’ of life, as if we speak of one organism that can split up into many smaller interacting entities, yet nevertheless remains one. We, and all animals and all vegetables are not just cousins – we are the same entity. This “Gaia hypothesis” may have some validity and utility. Nonetheless, we can conceive of a hierarchy or pyramid of living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex, at the top of which (at least here on Earth) we seemingly happen to be in numerous or most respects.

Mankind is the species (or perhaps the only remaining species on Earth) with the maximum amount of consciousness and freewill. These powers are found to a lesser degree in other species, but most in us. Even within the human race, there are individual variations, some of which are perhaps inherent to a genetic makeup, while others can be improved on by personal effort. Considering all this as an outcrop of matter at the Big Bang, it is as if matter strove to see and know itself, and volitionally act upon itself, going way beyond the blindness and ‘natural law’ determinism (including, here, the mindless indeterminism of quantum mechanics) of the mineral realm.

These are speculations, of course; but I ramble on because they seem to have some impact on the idea of a universal ethical standard. We should also, in this context, keep in mind the last phases of the biological story – what we call ‘history’. After eons of animal evolution, a weird species called humans emerged, and at times seemed the crowning achievement of nature, though now looks more and more like its nemesis. Is evolution collapsing onto itself in a final flurry of fickle frenzy?

And within that framework, we need to consider the history of ideas, and in particular the history of philosophy, to understand the thoughts and behavior of the individual humans we are today. Ideas and philosophies, from a biological viewpoint, are just ways and means people have through history responded to changing environmental, social and psychological challenges. It is a long story of trial and error, in which those who wrote the most or became most famous were not necessarily those who understood the most. Looking back, one is at times amazed at the incompetents philosophy has attracted.

But what is wonderful about philosophy is that even stupid philosophies are useful to the development of philosophy, because they encourage other philosophers to distance themselves from their positions, and explain why. For this reason the history of philosophy is an integral part of philosophy, because each philosophy in it is somewhat delimited by all the others.


3.         Conscience and Conformism


Most people, perhaps not all, have a functioning conscience. What is that? It seems to be a reserved ‘part’ of us, which we charge with the task of supervising the rest. Of course, granting that the soul has no spatial extension, this description is only a manner of speaking, a mere analogy. One’s conscience is no other than one’s self behaving in a certain way in time; it is a volitional function, although it may be habitual to various degrees, even obsessive-compulsive. Conscience may thus be ‘big’ or infinitesimally ‘small’.

Conscience essentially means consciousness (in French, the two words are the same) – being aware. The role assigned to conscience by us is to critically oversee our thoughts and actions, and judge whether they fit in with our deepest standards of what is humanly appropriate in given circumstances. This job may be performed consciously, or subconsciously; in the latter case, we can induce the implicit judgments by observing the subject’s patterns of behavior. Conscience is thus revelatory of effective ethical standards.

Note that the concept of conscience is also applicable in the more neutral realm of ‘ethics of knowledge’, where we monitor and regulate our cognitive processes (our intellectual honesty, our will to realism, our efforts of research, the logic of our inferences, and so forth).

We can, by observation of a person’s consciousness and volition at work, infer that person’s underlying ethical standards. Insofar as most people have common standards, such observations may give rise to a notion of ethics based on conscience. However, such a doctrine is hard to uphold, as it seems to involve circularity. Are the deep ethical standards that conscience bases its judgments on innate? That would seem doubtful, although some could be posited as instinctive, i.e. as genetically transmitted emotional influences.

For the most part, however, the norms implied by our conscience are acquired and changeable. For most people, this means mostly reference to the cultural norms of the social group around them, which are largely conventional, though often based on the accumulated wisdom of a society or mankind over time. Some people, to some extent, take a more active part in the formulation of their guiding norms. A person may start with one set of norms, acquired through education or by cultural osmosis, and later acquire a somewhat different set, whether by change of peer group and adoption of a new convention, or through more conscious and rational efforts.

Most people function by conformism. In a modern, media-based society, like ours today, this occurs as conformity to stereotypes – for examples, the stereotype of the rebellious youth (who, however, wears the right type of clothing and uses the appropriate language), or the stereotypes of the crusading reporter, tough-guy lawyer or hotshot investment specialist. Conformism makes things easy: one does not have to think too much about what to do – and one is easily classified by others, gaining ready benefits from such identification.

Conformism is nothing new, but found in all societies, throughout history and geography. It is not just a matter of external appearance or behavioral patterns, but controls thought processes. The practice is especially evident in closed religious or political groups. People in such ideological circles are prone to thinking by means of clichés, rather than investigation. They tend to cognitively function by subsuming people and events under preordained categories, rather than by developing categorizations inductively. A person or event is forced into a limited number of given labels, with no room for conceptual adaptation.

Even if the natural sciences are essentially neutral with regard to setting ethical standards, in the sense that we do not observe ready-made ones in nature, they still have a constructive function, helping us to identify objective means to our ends. They also play an eliminative role, helping us to get rid of ideologies based on false presuppositions. But of course, granting that the body, in itself or as a vessel for the soul, is important to life, biology is also informative as to what standards are natural. Science is therefore important to deontological efforts.

The Kantian view of ‘duty’, as something that must be done whatever the human cost[9], ought to be considered in this context; it appears as the notion of a stiff-minded extremist. I should add that, although Rabbis have a similar fundamentalist attitude with regard to certain mitzvoth (commandments), they do consider that the law has to be tempered occasionally, to save a person from unnecessary harm or pain. Such avoidance of doctrinal rigidity may be characterized as ‘humanism’; it is remembering we are concerned with human beings, not robots.

Also worth noting here is the observation that people sometimes commit sins (according to their standards) almost deliberately, in order to rationalize – even if ex post facto – their sufferings as punishment for their sins, preferring this twisted option to the frightening idea that there might be unjustified suffering in the world! This is another instance of ideology, where one tries to force experience into preconceived ideas, instead of remaining cognitively flexible.

Although ethics is built up primarily around the individual, since individuals are the ultimate units of its injunctions and inhibitions, its social aspect should not be underrated. The individual soul has three powers – consciousness (the soul as subject), volition (the soul as agent) and valuation (which gives rise to the emotional life). But additionally, the soul has a social dimension, which is not entirely reducible to the said three powers. This fourth aspect of soul is fundamental to its nature, although hard to pinpoint.

We do not exist as isolated entities, but as part of a social fabric. Why else would people congregate in communities and nations? An unloved baby is as good as dead psychologically, losing intelligence, the ability to communicate, and so on[10]. People need each other, not merely as means but as ends. This is a complex issue that deontology must take pains to integrate.


4.         Tai Chi, Karma Yoga and Faith


Doing Tai Chi some years ago, led me to an insight concerning “virtue”.

The Tai Chi form comprises a great number of incremental individual ‘positions’, which slowly flow into each other, forming whole ‘moves’, which in turn naturally succeed each other, resulting in a complete ‘form’.

No position in or portion of the form is justified by any others, although stringed together they form a consistent and powerful whole.

Each incremental Tai Chi position within a move must be experienced as important in itself, and not merely as a ‘way station’ en route towards the final position in that move. It is not instrumental, but to be enjoyed and appreciated as it is, without anticipation of its eventual destination or utility. Every ‘intermediate’ position is a ‘value’ or goal in itself, and not merely a ‘virtue’ in the sense of a means to an end.

The movement from one such position (or one whole move) to the next is also a moment of which we should always be firmly aware. The instant of change, of shifting over into a new position, is also to be felt with great concentration.

By so treasuring every point and transition in the trajectory of Tai Chi, we incidentally maintain its full potential towards an infinity of other moves. We also get a sense of the discontinuity and continuity of time.

A move has little value if one is not intensely conscious of all the segments comprising it. For this reason, Tai Chi is considered a meditation and should be performed as slowly as possible.

Tai Chi illustrates the Stoic principle that “virtue is its own reward”[11]. It teaches us how each virtue is a value, and how the expression of many varied virtues is also a value.

Such a lesson in living may be valuable even at the time of our death.

Rather than be afraid of that great unknown, no matter what form our death takes, we could regard it as a great opportunity! Just as we should go through life contemplating its course with equanimity, viewing the bad as well as the good as a great and interesting show – so, when death arrives, we should meditatively watch it come.

Just think: your one and only chance to experience this mysterious event first-hand! It is worthwhile training oneself throughout life to be conscious in all circumstances. Watching oneself die, if only for a moment, one may at last know what death is – or what life is.

Another Oriental discipline that teaches the same concept is “karma yoga”. Karma yoga is going about your daily work activities without concern for the advantages they may bring you personally. This is practiced in yoga ashrams and the like; for example, a Zen monk may sweep the courtyard or do a bit of gardening every day.

Many people suffer much in their work life, wondering why they have to perform certain boring routines to earn their living. Karma yoga teaches: enjoy it! Do the job, without involving your ego – without ‘selfish motive’. This is of course an idealization, not a call to or justification of amorality or immorality. It merely means: concentrate on the job you have undertaken to do; take one thing at a time, and all tasks eventually get done.

It is important to realize that faith is an essential building block of all ethical systems.

Religions, like Judaism or Buddhism, are ridiculed by some people because of their requirement of ‘faith’. Such people argue that in an ethic based entirely on reason and experience, nothing would be assumed worth doing until and unless we first established that our proposed actions were bound to or likely to have certain positive consequences considered worth pursuing – whereas in religious ethics, we cannot know the truth and value of the goal (God or Nirvana, as the case may be) in advance of ourselves attaining it, and we must also take it for granted that the alleged means (suggested to us by the tradition concerned) lead to that putative goal.

Thus, religious ethics would seem in principle contrary to reason, since their defining characteristic is faith – in both the goal and the means. They are made to appear as a sort of gigantic con game, whereby some future events inaccessible to experience or strict inference from experience are forecast (heaven or hell, or similar notions), and we are told (as a revelation or ‘witnessing’) that we must do this and that, and abstain from doing so and so, to achieve the positive consequences and avoid the negative ones.

But though such arguments have weight, they are not entirely fair and conclusive. In truth, all purposive action involves faith. For our knowledge of the empirical world through reason is essentially an inductive, tentative one. It consists mostly of generalizations and adductive arguments, based on past experience and dependent for confirmation on future experience – which means, ultimately, it is built by trial and error. Most propositions we believe are attempts at truth, which we hope will hold, but which we may need to correct further on.

One may still contend that, whereas secular ethics make relatively small or at least discrete demands, religious systems demand we invest our whole life in a purpose whose validity and value may just be figments of someone’s imagination, and the efficacy of the means to which is far from evident. But is that fair criticism? Surely, in common pursuits like raising a child or pursuing a career, we invest our whole life in purposes without guarantees of success. Human beings inevitably gamble, whatever their course of action, whatever the way of life they choose.

So, the demand of faith by religious ethics should not be viewed as a determining argument in favor of secular ethics. Concerning religion, Pascal’s Wager comes into play; for those who totally reject religion, there are still great uncertainties to cope with. Thus, the deontologist must keep an open mind, neither rejecting religion offhand, nor (of course) naïvely accepting its claims.

I have elsewhere[12] attacked the principle of karma, dear to Indian philosophy, pointing out the epistemological difficulties involved (for us ordinary mortals) in establishing alleged karmic relations. Similar objections can be raised with regard to claims of Divine reward or punishment: how could such claims be proved? But here I wish to point out how even secular ethical principles are often based on mere suppositions, and do not for all that lose of their power.

If I claim, in accord with karmic law, that it is best for me not to do some deed harmful to others, because the same will surely happen to me if I do so – I am involved in a circular argument of sorts. I can claim this as a generalization from past bitter experience, but that generalization will not be tested in the particular case at hand if I believe in it and abstain from the deed, and so it will somewhat paradoxically remain forever unempirical!

On the other hand, it would suffice for me to claim more hypothetically that if a similar harmful deed were done to me, as it well might, I could not then consistently complain that I was a victim of some cruelty and injustice, having allowed myself to do the same. In this way, the benefits of karmic principle can be maintained – the consciousness of reciprocity – without having to prove actual causal connections.

Another example: I can pursue the Buddhist ideal of ‘cessation of desire, so as to avoid rebirth’, just in case there is such a thing as rebirth and on the supposition that it is caused by desire. Although these assumptions are unproved, and we cannot even imagine how they might ever be proved, they may still legitimately be used as working hypotheses. Similarly, one might argue: in case God exists and gave man the Torah, I had better act thus and thus. I have to do something, so it might as well be that.

In other words, behavior need not be based on certainties, which are anyway rarely if ever available, but can be based on frankly conditional judgments. The conditioning involved may have any mode – not only the natural mode, but also the extensional and the logical modes. Since human knowledge is inevitably limited, it is largely uncertain to some degree. Nevertheless, life cannot be blocked by this truth; volition still needs guidance. Therefore, action based on hypothetical reasoning has ethical validity.


Drawn from Volition and Allied Causal Concepts (2004), Chapter 17.


[1]           See chapters 3.4, 10.3 and 13.2, here; also, chapter 13 in Judaic Logic.

[2]           The term axiology is often used in the wide sense I here give to deontology. I prefer to use the term axiology more specifically with regard to the issue of norm setting, because of its similarity to the word axiom (they both have the same Greek root, ‘worth’).

[3]           Immanuel Kant appears to consider that we know of our freedom indirectly from our ‘sense of duty’ and the logical consideration that duty is only meaningful to a free agent. This is of course nonsense. The sense of freewill is, in my view, far more radical than that of duty. Also, I am not at all sure we have an innate sense of duty – our intuitions of duty are derivatives, not primaries. Even logically, liberty without duty is not something inconceivable; in a sense, we consider God as being free even of duties.

[4]           If the felt emotions are sufficiently distinctive, we might subdivide general desire into broad (intermediate) categories such as “lust for sex”, “power lust”, “greed for food”, “greed for money”, “yearning for fame”, etc. This supposes that not only do we feel vague ‘desire’ before we desire something specific, but also there is an intermediate stage where general desire first takes shape as vague lust or greed etc. before it focuses on a particular object of lust or greed etc.

[5]           Of course, such philosophers must be careful to remain modest, and not imagine they can tell everyone what to do in all circumstances.

[6]           Atlas Shrugged, p. 939.

[7]           Except for the lowest creatures in the food chain, which feed on minerals only.

[8]           It does not follow, of course, that genetic engineering is in the long-term favorable to life. Nor does this doctrine condone having sex with animals!

[9]           For example, one should not lie to someone just to avoid hurting the person’s feelings.

[10]          A few years ago, when the Rumanian dictator fell, orphanages were made public, where children were barely cared for at all. They were found to be horribly underdeveloped, mentally and physically. Interestingly, babies closer to the door of a dorm were slightly less affected than those farther away, because they experienced the rare passages of the nurses a bit more often!

[11]          See earlier discussion of this principle, in chapter 10.3 of Volition.

[12]          See Buddhist Illogic, chapter 9.

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