Nate Smith

What is the Nature of Man as a Social Animal?

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I have some questions about man as a social animal; in particular, what is this nature exactly? I’ll give some examples of questions in a moment, but I want to begin with some of my interpretations of Objectivism and how they relate to this question.

I’ve learned from Objectivism that the values we hold we choose volitionally (though not necessarily consciously). We see people accept as “good” some very bizarre things, things that have clearly no benefit towards their life and in many cases things that are very harmful. We see people drive their lives into the ground in an attempt to live by their chosen moral codes. Acknowledging that we have the ability to learn what is good for us and to be guided towards this end is of immeasurable value in living one’s life.

I do wonder though if we have the ability to truly choose all of our values. Are there any values that are “programmed” into us? For example, there seems to be a strong desire for food, water, happiness, sex, etc. By nature, do we desire these things or are they things that we learn to desire? Could it be possible to not value these things? The latter two I am more comfortable saying yes to, the former seem more difficult to imagine not valuing.

I ask because I wonder how this relates to man’s seeming “need” for relationships (both romantic and friendship). Is this a “programmed” need? Or is it something we learn to value at a young age and would have a hard time not valuing (maybe like food)?

The Fountainhead was one of the first things I read by Ayn Rand, and I think I inferred some qualities about man’s nature that aren’t correct. Watching Howard Roark live, we see a man with an almost singular drive towards architecture. He seems to have no need for friendship. He is not bothered by irrational people, and he only values others’ opinions insofar as he can learn from them. It seems he would be very happy living in solitude as long as he had the ability to perform his work.

On one hand, this seems very consistent with a major aspect of Objectivism—that is, that we choose our values and our psychological life is a result of these values. Some people really value studying physics, others do not. Some value theater, others do not. It seems “right” that we could choose to not value relationships and only get happiness from the other values we choose.

On the other hand, I don’t want to be a rationalist and prescribe what I think is “right” onto reality. There seems to be so much evidence that man’s social nature is much more complex than what I described above. Almost all people have a very strong desire to find someone to love. (Could we go so far as to say this is a need?) We see the power of public opinion on changing minds and influencing cultures. There are numerous threads on this site where people discuss the difficulties of being surrounded by irrational people. The depiction of the type of man that Roark is seems very “unreal” in some ways. His genius and his integrity seem very possible to me; his indifference to others and to irrationality are hard to relate to and don’t seem fully possible.

So in questioning my premises, I don’t have much of an answer at all as to how to regard the “social needs” we have. Are they needs, or just wants? Is it possible to live happily all by oneself? Why do we have these needs, and what is their origin?

What do we get out of friendships and why? For example, I have a couple good friends, and I really enjoy great conversations with them and what I can learn from them. But the same could be said for a good book (the learning at least). Yet there is obviously something different. Friends are more than a source of information or learning. Does having a friend one agrees with serve as some kind of validation? If so, this seems second-handed. If not, then what other benefits do we get from friends? I can experience the benefits of friendship, but I can’t give much of an account of it, and I’d like to understand this better.

I’ve got a lot more questions, but I’ve said enough. I’d appreciate to hear others’ thoughts on this. Thanks.

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In a sense the nature of man as a social animal is radically different for a first-hander and a second-hander. The second-hander *really* needs social relations. The first-hander doe not. You could say that each and every second-hander, by his nature, *is* a social animal. Whereas a first-hander is not (at least he is not fundamentally).

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In a sense the nature of man as a social animal is radically different for a first-hander and a second-hander. The second-hander *really* needs social relations. The first-hander doe not. You could say that each and every second-hander, by his nature, *is* a social animal. Whereas a first-hander is not (at least he is not fundamentally).

Interesting, but I'm interested in the social nature of man qua man, not particular men who have created themselves in a particular way. I presume you aren't claiming that there are men that are second-handed by nature, therefore all men are capable of being first-handers. So to clarify, are you saying that men do not need social relations? That seems like a strong claim with a lot of empirical evidence to suggest otherwise. I'm open to any arguments though.

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Here's a quote from Ideal that is interesting.

I want to see, real, living, and in the hours of my own days, that glory I create as an illusion. I want it real. I want to know that there is someone, somewhere, who wants it, too. Or else what is the use of seeing it, and working, and burning oneself for an impossible vision? A spirit, too, needs fuel. It can run dry.

How do we get "fuel" from others? Is it second-handed to need it? And why do we need it? The sentiment of a spirit needing fuel seems very different from what is portrayed in The Fountainhead. Would Howard Roark feel that way? Am I correct in assuming that Ayn Rand created characters that are psychologically plausible? If not, then there's not much point in trying to answer these questions using these characters as guides.

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Here's a quote from Ideal that is interesting.
I want to see, real, living, and in the hours of my own days, that glory I create as an illusion. I want it real. I want to know that there is someone, somewhere, who wants it, too. Or else what is the use of seeing it, and working, and burning oneself for an impossible vision? A spirit, too, needs fuel. It can run dry.

How do we get "fuel" from others? Is it second-handed to need it? And why do we need it? The sentiment of a spirit needing fuel seems very different from what is portrayed in The Fountainhead. Would Howard Roark feel that way? Am I correct in assuming that Ayn Rand created characters that are psychologically plausible? If not, then there's not much point in trying to answer these questions using these characters as guides.

Well, surely Roark got fuel from the buildings of Henry Cameron, just as Dagny got fuel from the music of Richard Halley. Roark also got fuel from watching Mike at work, as he loved competence, just as Rearden got fuel from meeting disaster with Francisco. Seeing your own values objectified in the character and actions of another requires first-handed judgment in obtaining, or fighting for, the values in the first place. A second-hander's values are not really his own.

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Well, surely Roark got fuel from the buildings of Henry Cameron, just as Dagny got fuel from the music of Richard Halley. Roark also got fuel from watching Mike at work, as he loved competence, just as Rearden got fuel from meeting disaster with Francisco. Seeing your own values objectified in the character and actions of another requires first-handed judgment in obtaining, or fighting for, the values in the first place. A second-hander's values are not really his own.

There are two categories in your comment that could be labeled as first or second handed. The first is in respect to forming the judgments of Cameron's buildings, Halley's music, etc. We can decide for ourselves if these are valuable things or let other decide for us. I agree with you on this point. The question that I'm more interested in is why there is value in "seeing your own values objectified in the character and actions of another". Is this a chosen value, or does our nature choose it for us (if that is even possible)? People don't seem to rationally decide that they want friendship or companionship; it seems to be a natural human need or desire. Reason's role seems not to lie in the choice for friendship but in which friends one chooses. If this is correct, then it wouldn't be correct to label the valuing of friendship as either first or second-handed.

I want to think out loud on the topic of our nature choosing values for us. On one hand, this troubles me; it sounds like it's bordering on the notion of innate knowledge. In order to value something "by nature", doesn't one need to have knowledge of it "by nature"? I think so.

On the other hand, I think the "valuing" of food can be used as a good analogy. The need for food is objective, that is chosen for us by our identity. But what about the valuing of it? I would claim that since we don't have any innate knowledge of food, we don't value it initially. But in the first days of our life and every day after that it satisfies a strong biological desire. After we come to know of food and we acknowledge that it satisfies a desire, only then can we value it. And though it would be very difficult to not value food (perhaps someone with an eating disorder would be close), the valuation is still volitional.

I'm comfortable with this evaluation. I think I was confusing a biological desire with a nature-chosen value. Since values are volitional, the latter is a contradiction in terms. I am assuming then that friendship is very much like food in this respect. We have a natural desire for it, and in turn we early on come to regard it as a value (assuming that one has had at least some valuable friendships early in life).

I think about the question that I started this thread with often, and the reason is that there seem to be second-handed elements to friendship, and I'm trying to figure out why this is. I'll keep thinking.

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In a sense the nature of man as a social animal is radically different for a first-hander and a second-hander. The second-hander *really* needs social relations. The first-hander doe not. You could say that each and every second-hander, by his nature, *is* a social animal. Whereas a first-hander is not (at least he is not fundamentally).

How would a "first hander" learn how to speak without a nurturing adult? "First Handers" do not pop out of nowhere the way Athena popped out of the Brow of Zeus fully armored. No matter how talented a "first hander" is he is unable to provide for all his needs. He needs goods and services from others. Do you think a "first hander" could grow his food, make his clothes, put a roof over his head, and cure his ills, and still have enough time in the day to invent or produce new stuff? All humans are social animal. It is our nature.

But our social nature is such that we are neither a herd animal or a hive animal.

ruveyn

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I want to think out loud on the topic of our nature choosing values for us. On one hand, this troubles me; it sounds like it's bordering on the notion of innate knowledge. In order to value something "by nature", doesn't one need to have knowledge of it "by nature"? I think so.

On the other hand, I think the "valuing" of food can be used as a good analogy. The need for food is objective, that is chosen for us by our identity. But what about the valuing of it? I would claim that since we don't have any innate knowledge of food, we don't value it initially. But in the first days of our life and every day after that it satisfies a strong biological desire. After we come to know of food and we acknowledge that it satisfies a desire, only then can we value it. And though it would be very difficult to not value food (perhaps someone with an eating disorder would be close), the valuation is still volitional.

You are working on the assumption that values are always consciously held. I don't think that is so. What we value is often determined by our very nature, as you mention in regard to food. Food is a value to you if you want to live, regardless of your conscious awareness of this.

I'm comfortable with this evaluation. I think I was confusing a biological desire with a nature-chosen value. Since values are volitional, the latter is a contradiction in terms. I am assuming then that friendship is very much like food in this respect. We have a natural desire for it, and in turn we early on come to regard it as a value (assuming that one has had at least some valuable friendships early in life).

I think about the question that I started this thread with often, and the reason is that there seem to be second-handed elements to friendship, and I'm trying to figure out why this is. I'll keep thinking.

Values are volitional, in that we can choose to ignore them, but we are not free of the consequences. Reason is of value to man; it is his means of survival. He is free not to reason, but he is not free of the consequences.

Some values are optional, and we choose them because they give us pleasure. Since we are all different, these optional choices will vary.

Friendship, is an evolutionary part of our identity I believe. It helped groups survive when they supported each other. We have an innate need for love and companionship, but this has nothing to do with second-handedness. Second-handedness is deriving one's sense of worth not from one's dealing with the world around one, but getting approval of other people regardless of one's own achievement.

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