Objectivism states, among the ethical aspects of its philosophy, that no human has the right to physically harm another in even the tiniest portion, except as just punishment. Environmental degradation obviously harms the general population, both as individuals and as a consolidated collective. So, does that mean that Objectivist philosophy states that actions degrading the general quality of the environment are highly immoral?

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    Is that "no" in the final sentence misplaced?
    – Dave
    Jan 6 '16 at 15:44
  • @Dave It is, in fact! Thanks for pointing that out. Jan 7 '16 at 13:42

Presumably, yes.

But this is why Objectivism is not taken very seriously. It opposes such harm, yet also and more ardently, it would seem, opposes the sort of government apparatus that could restrict environmental harms.

The whole philosophy starts off with a bundle of simple-minded Aristotelean principles and whenever it runs into conflicts or contradictions, simply defaults to the power structure of Capitalism. Hence, the trusts, patents, monopolies, and political influence that capitalist collectives generate are not considered "harmful" or even "collectivist." As in the recent exercise of "freedom" that uses state patents to extract ruinous prices for necessary medicines. The patient, after all, is perfectly "free" to become a billionaire or, failing that, perfectly "free" to die.

There is no way to evaluate the obvious conflicts of interest that arise in actual history, hence the utterly abstract "individualism" and default to power. I suspect most Objectivists would similarly propose that anyone harmed by corporate environmental damage is perfectly "free" to go to some other environment or perfectly "free" to invent advanced technologies to undo the damage. Rand was a fantasist and screen writer and I, like many others, find her "philosophy" a thin "screen" for the adulation of a power fetish.

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    "Hence, the trusts, patents, monopolies, and political influence that capitalist collectives generate are not considered "harmful" or even "collectivist."" I could never understand why most of my country men don't see the collectivism inherent to corporate America. How is McDonald's any better than some Stalinist/Maoist/Orwellian state controlled gruel dispensary? Jan 7 '16 at 7:44
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    Exactly. I mean, I don't know how on earth Objectivism is supposed to make sense in the context of human development. I mean, a civilization can't develop industrially unless it releases polluting agents at least in the beginning, and a fully Objectivist state wouldn't actually allow that. And yet, most Objectivists claim to be pro-industry. Jan 7 '16 at 14:04
  • Well, I must add in fairness that I have not read much in the Objectivist, anarcho-capitalist, or even libertarian lines of thought. There are undoubtedly many different schemes and ideas, but it is the "default" to power that I always suspect. A pivotal concept is the highly ideal, absolutist, yet incomplete concept of "freedom." This contrasts with the very different idea of "freedom" as developed by Kant and the German idealists. For a word that inspires so many causes, "freedom" is very poorly defined. Jan 7 '16 at 14:43
  • Much of the response is beside the point ranting about what you don't like about Objectivists "simple-minded Aristotelian principles" (something you "in fairness" later admit to not having read much about). Your appeal to popularity, reassuring us that Objectivism is "not taken very seriously" [by most people] wasn't relevant to the question, and somehow you managed to jab in a few personal attacks at Ayn Rand for having a "power fetish." Might you edit those bits out since they have nothing to do with the question? You might only be left with "Presumably, yes" which i guess is an answer?
    – Lucretius
    Jan 8 '16 at 4:28
  • There's nothing in Objectivism that speaks against cooperation and collective effort or organization, such as what McDonald's is. It's encouraged. The evil is in forced collectivism, such as Communism. It's the difference between free association and slavery. Jan 8 '16 at 17:24

The principle an Objectivist would emphasize for you is private property (and more fundamentally self-ownership). An Objectivist would argue that there are perfectly ethical occasions where force is the only rational course of action, such as in defending against attackers. So, the characterization of the Objectivist position you've put forward isn't quite accurate. If property is damaged then the victim has every right to prosecute and seek compensation.

So, the Objectivist wouldn’t be morally concerned so much with damage to “the environment.” Objectivism holds that the earth is a resource that must be exploited in order for human life to flourish. It could (and has been) argued that consumption of resources “degrades the general quality” of the environment, and this overreach has been Objectivism’s main disagreement with the environmental movements. What the Objectivist would be concerned with morally is damage to property. If perhaps someone set fire to a patch of land that was owned and operated by a private individual or company, such as a park, then damages would be provable and they would seek prosecution of the arsonist in the pursuit of just compensation for that particular case.

“Environmental degradation”, the Objectivist would argue, is a fact of sustaining human life… unless your property rights are violated you have no recourse to action because no injustice has been done. It would be morally irrelevant if you merely have strong feelings against other people burning fossil fuels, or cutting down trees on their own land, or performing controlled burns, etc...

Also, I would be slower to assert the "obvious" when it comes to how individual actions impact the "general population." The cost benefit calculation is a complex problem, and there is a lot of politically motivated junk science that one could source to agree with just about any position. Take for example fossil fuels and climate change. The "consensus" is that burning fossil fuels "generally degrades the quality of the environment" and you would argue therefor harms the "general population." Great catastrophes await us! The end is nigh! Take for example one counter argument put forth by Alex Epstein in his book "The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels." In this book he points out that even though our population has boomed tremendously over the last 200 years globally, the number of climate related deaths is significantly down. Since everything requires energy, our ability to harness this energy to prolong our lives and raise our quality of life clashes with the doomsday prophecies of apocalyptic climate catastrophes. The argument contradicts the idea that fossil fuels harm the "general population" by pointing out all the ways in which they significantly improve and prolong human life.

Lastly, as a note about my own personal position on this. I'm both a conservationist and strongly sympathic toward Objectivism and Austrian economics. I fall in roughly the same camp as Patrick Moore, one of the founding members of Greenpeace, in that I think "sustainable development" is the most reasonable solution, but not one to be forced on others. He did a podcast late 2015 with Columbia PhD Historian Tom Woods where he explained his falling out with Greenpeace and the current environmental movement, and spoke at length about sustainable development. This doesn't add anything to the ethical question of self-ownership, but does illustrate how the two sides of the argument are not necessarily polar opposites... and how a harmonious and justifiable position can be found between both.

  • Which is perfectly true, except I'm not arguing that exploiting the environment is wrong according to Objectivism. I'm arguing that releasing substances that harm individuals without their permission is immoral according to Objectivism. Jan 7 '16 at 13:52
  • And I (as someone who studied Objectivism for 10+ years) pointed out that the answer is "maybe" if you can demonstrate actual harm and how your individual rights have been actually violated. Instead you asked a question about your understanding of Objectivism, and accepted a non-Objectivists answer (which was merely a criticism of (more of a rant about) Objectivism and in no way attempted to accurately reflected the Objectivist position.) It also didn't even attempt to answer the question. If you want to turn this place into a Reddit up-vote circle jerk, you're well on your way.
    – Lucretius
    Jan 8 '16 at 4:37
  • In fact, I only accepted his answer because of the first line: "Presumably, yes", and because he pointed out, though in the worst way possible, that there was a contradiction of principles that could be waived only by accepting that the philosophy is not fully compiled yet. And for what it's worth, I'm not anti-Objectivist. I am an Objectivist libertarian in practice and principle, but my brand of Objectivism is somewhat different from the one established in the original Randian theses. But I'm not an Objectivism-basher. Jan 8 '16 at 6:38
  • "only accepted his answer because of the first line" -- So you asked this question simply for hugbox responses to confirm a bias and not actually to confirm or deny (despite the wording of the question) your understanding of Objectivism. Got it. (And Ayn Rand disliked Libertarians. Objectivists are not, and never have claimed to be, Libertarians.)
    – Lucretius
    Jan 8 '16 at 6:40
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    This is precisely what I mean by the "default to power." Or, to cite Marx, where "equal rights" conflict "force decides." You seem to be answering the question not by an "objectivist" grounding to environmental regulation, but by a bald assertion that carbon pollution is not really harmful....overall, in the abstract, etc. You then turn to "science" by dismissing 90 percent of actual science ("truth is not democratic") and reaching for a popular, contrarian book, which, yes, simply defaults to power. Exxon shareholders inherit the earth...."not a democratic process, thank goodness!" Jan 8 '16 at 20:28

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