organon

A question regarding a particular venue of wealth acquisition, in an ethical context.

339 posts in this topic

A potentially helpful quote here from Dr. Peikoff in OPAR on the issue of the virtue of productiveness:

In a division-of-labor society, a man may properly specialize in cognition. But as long as the knowledge he acquires remains unembodied, it is not yet a productive achievement (nor does it work yet to support man's life). If the scientist or scholar is to qualify as productive, he must proceed in due course to the next step. He must give his discoveries some form of existence in physical reality and not merely in his consciousness - usually, by writing treatises or delivering lectures.

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John, without changing the defintion, please explain to me why "the application of reason to the problem of survival" does not qualify as productiveness for your speculator who has created a profit, a value and wealth that allows him to survive?

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I get the impression that your concept of productivity here is different than the Objectivist definition and conception.

On what basis would you argue that my grasp of productivity is not rational?

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Have you not said that a speculator is not productive, or not doing productive work, or you can't see what has been created? Productiveness is recognition of the fact "that all work is creative work if done by a thinking mind." (Galt's speech) So what is it that you don't see being created when one person ends up with money rather than something he doesn't want, another person ends up with that something rather than the money he doesn't want, and the speculator ends up with a monetary profit? I see three things created.

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So when I'm home reading a book I'm not being productive?
That would depend, wouldn't it? If that is one step in a larger process of creating a material value, that could indeed qualify as productiveness.

After thinking about this for a while, I withdraw my objection to Dr. Peikoff's definition. Clearly, since we live in a material world, productiveness must have material results in the end. The virtue of pride is concerned with the issues of soul, although it also has an existential component.

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Clearly, since we live in a material world...
Aaargh. One knows the brainwashing of pop culture is complete when the name Madonna comes unbidden to ones mind here. :ph34r:

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I am merely pointing out that, when one posits a question, invalid assumptions, if granted, can confuse the issue. Because I am one of those who isn't all that talented at such arbitrage, as a rule, I am aware of the falsity of assuming that there is no such talent and ability required, and that it requires no effort or skill and that there is no value added by the middle man, as if the seller would have achieved even the price he did and the buyer would have found that house or equivalent and paid less. It's possible, but that would have required more time and effort and, possibly, money, on the part of both. That time and effort is what was saved by the middle man. Sometimes the middle man is superfluous; if so, keep him out of the transaction. Otherwise, faulting him for making money in the transaction is an injustice.

I find no fault in him that I can identify; and yet, as with poker, or trading currencies (all of which can involve, without question, virtue, in the form of, e.g., rationality) -- I don't see how productive virtue is exercised. Take trading currencies successfully, over the course of thousands of trades, over a course of years. Does this require significant virtue? Yes, I think so. But is productiveness involved?

OK, I think I see the question here. The wider issue is whether something in which a skill such as selling is applied to make money is productive, since that person is not creating something new. One might say that the author of a book on selling who comes up with new ideas, and/or integrates ideas into a new method of selling that enables others to sell more or for more profit, would be productive, but a salesman who reads the book or takes his course and then sells up a storm is not 'productive', because he's creating nothing new. Hmm.

I think there are degrees of creativity and, hence, productivity. The middle man in your example is not creating something new as Marie Curie, or Einstein, or Linus Pauling, or Thomas Edison, or Bill Gates did. He's applied his skills, located product, seller, and buyer, and conducted a transaction that allowed the three of them to get something they wanted. Nothing new resulted, although 3 people achieved values. ------------

THIS is the answer, so why do you concede "The middle man in your example is not creating something new"? If three people achieve values, creation has occurred. If I don't have something today, but I do have it tomorrow, it was created.

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Clearly, since we live in a material world...
Aaargh. One knows the brainwashing of pop culture is complete when the name Madonna comes unbidden to ones mind here. :ph34r:

:o Happens to me too when I write that expression.

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Then it is fortunate NO "particular material manifestation" has been insisted upon. Only that there be some type of material manifestation. Without it, there can be no claim to property because there is no referent in reality to identify that which cannot then be duplicated.

One last try. If everything which could be a value is material then material is an unnecessary redundancy. If everything was a "good" there would be no need to have the concept of "service" either - what does "material value" applied to a service mean?

Point to a copy of Atlas Shrugged and tell me where the material value is - vs. its overall value. (Hint: it's the difference between less than a penny's worth of paper and ink, and an enormously valuable set of ideas that must be processed by non-material consciousness to impart value.)

One more example did occur to me that clearly shows that "material" is overly limiting (again, if it's being used as a physical object): a good teacher is highly productive, but the object of their work is another individual's mind (as with a psychiatrist.) Point to the "material value" being provided by the teacher.

It is possible that "material" is used in the original context to mean "economic", in which case it makes more sense, but it would still be limiting.

One could differentiate between two men A and B each on different desert islands and not interacting, and observe that man A was more productive than man B, though no trade (economic activity) is involved. It may be the case that man A spends 3 months apparently doing little more than getting bare necessities and sitting on a rock doing apparently nothing and man B spends those months creating far more elaborate shelter - a material output. Then it turns out that man A was spending the time contemplating the best way to leave the island for civilization, finishes his thinking, then carefully builds an appropriate raft in 3 days that man B couldn't figure out. Man A makes it back to civilization, man B ends his days on the island. Who was more productive in those 3 months?

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I don't see the point of having the adjective "material" on "values".
Are there values which are not material? If so, what are some of them?

Intellectual property can be represented in a limitless number of particular material forms, but what is copyrighted are the actual words. The same with computer code, which can reside in magnetically aligned regions on a hard disk, tape, or any other storage format, but the form does not change the copyright. That's why IP is fundamentally different than a particular owned object - recognition of its validity depends on going up a layer of abstraction. You can in fact purchase a copy of say Atlas Shrugged but that gives you ownership of that particular physical copy. It does not give you any ownership in the text itself, even though it is represented in a material form in your particular copy. Arguably, what is copyrighted is not a material item, but an abstract sequence of words/bits that can be physically (materially) manifested in endless ways.

I'm don't understand what you mean by "an abstract sequence of words."

Every word we use ... is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.

A symbol is a concrete, therefore a word is a concrete, not an abstract sequence. What is copyrighted is the idea that the words express in the particular form that the idea is expressed in, not the actual words. It is not a violation of copyright for me to memorize the text. It is a violation of copyright to paraphrase without attribution, isn't it? Ownership of copyrighted material means that I can not reproduce or sell the material.

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-------------

I'm don't understand what you mean by "an abstract sequence of words."

Every word we use ... is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.

A symbol is a concrete, therefore a word is a concrete, not an abstract sequence. What is copyrighted is the idea that the words express in the particular form that the idea is expressed in, not the actual words. --------------

Just to follow up on this, suppose an author wrote a sentence with words in such a way that another completely different meaning could be attributed to the sentence. I don't think that the author could claim copyright privileges if someone else wrote the same sentence but in a context that had the other meaning.

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If everything which could be a value is material then material is an unnecessary redundancy.
This is quite true. Fortunately no claim has been made here that there exist only material values. In fact, a request had been made many posts ago for the names of some values which are not material. Unfortunately such names were not forthcoming and the point in the discussion where they would have been useful has since passed.
Point to a copy of Atlas Shrugged and tell me where the material value is - vs. its overall value. (Hint: it's the difference between less than a penny's worth of paper and ink, and an enormously valuable set of ideas that must be processed by non-material consciousness to impart value.)
It is a very good thing no claim was ever made here that a material value has to be greater than the non-material value it may embody.

Review again Dr. Peikoff's statement, provided a scant few posts ago:

In a division-of-labor society, a man may properly specialize in cognition. But as long as the knowledge he acquires remains unembodied, it is not yet a productive achievement (nor does it work yet to support man's life). If the scientist or scholar is to qualify as productive, he must proceed in due course to the next step. He must give his discoveries some form of existence in physical reality and not merely in his consciousness - usually, by writing treatises or delivering lectures.
Nowhere in this statement will one find the claim that the paper on which the scientist commits his formula, or the treatises in which he explains it, is worth more than the formula or explanation itself. All this statement essentially says is that a man's thoughts must be given some material form in order for him to be considered virtuous in the productive sense. Nothing more. But, also, nothing less.

Why is this considered a problem?

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John, without changing the defintion, please explain to me why "the application of reason to the problem of survival" does not qualify as productiveness for your speculator who has created a profit, a value and wealth that allows him to survive?

Hello Ray,

A definition of productiveness as "the application of reason to the problem of survival" cannot, I think, ignore the context in which that statement is made, namely, the larger definition of productiveness, as the creation of values.

Consider the currency trader; or rational gambler; or the example provided relating to Edward Lewis, in the film Pretty Woman.

John

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Hi Phil,

It is possible that "material" is used in the original context to mean "economic", in which case it makes more sense, but it would still be limiting. (italics added)

I would agree, if this is what you mean, that a legitimate service profession -- including one with no material manifestation, e.g., that of a rational psychologist, whose sole work is therapy; or that of a teacher, whose sole work is the aiding of the development of the young minds in her classroom -- in of unquestionable value, and economic value, should such value be defined as the offering of authentic value to the marketplace, in whatever form.

John

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...

Paul - the problem arises because 'creating value' is being invalidly limited to one form. Note that the action which produces a material value - specifically material wealth (the 10k) - for one's SELF, where one previously did not have said material value, is discounted as the creation of wealth. That is the error here. (And it is correct to identify that error as the same which occurred in the discussion of 'virtue' in the other thread).

The claim of an error, here or in the other thread, requires, or should require, the presentation of some evidence of error, in either case. The burden of proof is on the man who asserts the positive. Such was not attempted here.

I, in contrast, have indicated the basis of my own position, to wit, that productive activity has not been demonstrated to have been exercised.

For him to claim an error -- to claim an error elsewhere -- to claim that something united the two errors -- in the complete absence of any demonstration, is not something, I would argue, that can be introduced to the realm of cognitive consideration.

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Hi Phil,
It is possible that "material" is used in the original context to mean "economic", in which case it makes more sense, but it would still be limiting. (italics added)

I would agree, if this is what you mean, that a legitimate service profession -- including one with no material manifestation, e.g., that of a rational psychologist, whose sole work is therapy; or that of a teacher, whose sole work is the aiding of the development of the young minds in her classroom -- in of unquestionable value, and economic value, should such value be defined as the offering of authentic value to the marketplace, in whatever form.

John

Another good example, is that of a salesman, engaged only in direct sales to his prospects.

Properly, what is the job of a salesman? To provide information -- and the effect of this information, given that he is engaged only in direct sale to the customer (e.g., he does not create promotional material), is entirely upon the consciousness of the man that he is seeking to inform.

What is the nature of this information?

Now, re a salesman. What value does he provide?

Properly, I think, information regarding the value of a product: a thorough summary of its advantages, and why it is preferable to other options on the market.

Is this a valuable service, that a rational man is willing to pay for? Without question.

But it is a service that does not necessarily include any material manifestation.

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Modified:

The [unqualified] claim of an error, here or in the other thread, requires, or should require, the [demonstration] of error, in either case. The burden of proof is on the man who asserts the positive. Such was not attempted here.

I, in contrast, have indicated the basis of my own position [in the context of this thread], to wit, that productive activity has not been demonstrated to have been exercised.

For him to claim an error -- to claim an error elsewhere -- to claim that something united the two errors -- in the complete absence of any demonstration, is not something, I would argue, that can be introduced to the realm of cognitive consideration.

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In relation to work that exists in electronic form:

It is not tangible, yes; but nevertheless, it does exist in some form -- namely, in an electronic form, e.g., stored on the hard drive of one's computer. It is does have, in this way, material existence.

But is a material expression of one's work needed in order to demonstrate productivity? No.

- The rational psychologist

- The rational classroom teacher

- The good salesman, who does not engage in the creation of any tangible, promotional material

(See above.)

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Paul - the problem arises because 'creating value' is being invalidly limited to one form. Note that the action which produces a material value - specifically material wealth (the 10k) - for one's SELF, where one previously did not have said material value, is discounted as the creation of wealth....

Let us examine this argument; the difficulty, so far as it appears valid, results, I think, from ambiguity as to the meaning of the word "produce".

A rational gambler, through painstaking effort, develops a system that beats the house on a regular basis. One evening, he gains $10k at a casino.

He now has an additional $10k in one's bank account. Has he "produced" $10k?

In what sense?

Have his actions "given rise to" that $10k (one definition of "produce")? Yes.

Has he exercised productiveness -- i.e., the creation of values -- in the process of gaining that $10k? Given that he created no values? No.

The rational gambler's actions "give rise to" his winnings. But he has not demonstrated productivity.

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John, without changing the defintion, please explain to me why "the application of reason to the problem of survival" does not qualify as productiveness for your speculator who has created a profit, a value and wealth that allows him to survive?

Hello Ray,

A definition of productiveness as "the application of reason to the problem of survival" cannot, I think, ignore the context in which that statement is made, namely, the larger definition of productiveness, as the creation of values.

Consider the currency trader; or rational gambler; or the example provided relating to Edward Lewis, in the film Pretty Woman.

John

Why do you keep overlooking the value of profit created for the speculator himself which allows him to survive? A real-estate agent does almost the same thing as a speculator, (which is much closer to what your speculator does than a gambler), and they take somewhere between 1 and 7% of the homes value at closing. It seems by your standard that someone is only good or productive if they create a value for someone else, but not themselves.

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Paul - the problem arises because 'creating value' is being invalidly limited to one form. Note that the action which produces a material value - specifically material wealth (the 10k) - for one's SELF, where one previously did not have said material value, is discounted as the creation of wealth....

Let us examine this argument; the difficulty, so far as it appears valid, results, I think, from ambiguity as to the meaning of the word "produce".

A rational gambler, through painstaking effort, develops a system that beats the house on a regular basis. One evening, he gains $10k at a casino.

He now has an additional $10k in one's bank account. Has he "produced" $10k?

In what sense?

Have his actions "given rise to" that $10k (one definition of "produce")? Yes.

Has he exercised productiveness -- i.e., the creation of values -- in the process of gaining that $10k? Given that he created no values? No.

The rational gambler's actions "give rise to" his winnings. But he has not demonstrated productivity.

The great thing about having one's own volition is that you get to choose your own values and although other people might not choose the same one's, this does not make it a non-value. It seems by your standard that anytime someone does not work in a profession that you consider productive, they are not not productive. Just because you do not like a certain field does not mean the person is not providing for their own survival. I would not choose to be a gambler, a janitor, a plumber nor many other fields of production but that does not mean they are not being productive toward their own survival.

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Why do you keep overlooking the value of profit created for the speculator himself which allows him to survive? A real-estate agent does almost the same thing as a speculator, (which is much closer to what your speculator does than a gambler), and they take somewhere between 1 and 7% of the homes value at closing. It seems by your standard that someone is only good or productive if they create a value for someone else, but not themselves.

Ray, I think that a good real estate agent provides an unquestionable service -- establishing the needs, desires, and budget of the client; surveying the market for potential matches given those criteria; showing the client the properties thus identified; and, when the client agrees to purchase or rent, being paid.

This is without question a legitimate, valuable service.

It seems by your standard that someone is only good or productive if they create a value for someone else, but not themselves.

I am unsure what you mean; my argument has been that, absent productive work of some kind, the money one receives is not received in exchange for created values.

Properly, one creates legitimate values, offers them to the market, and given that the judgment of the potential purchaser is that the product or service will add to his life, he will then purchase it, offering, in general, money in trade.

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The great thing about having one's own volition is that you get to choose your own values and although other people might not choose the same one's, this does not make it a non-value. It seems by your standard that anytime someone does not work in a profession that you consider productive, they are not not productive. Just because you do not like a certain field does not mean the person is not providing for their own survival. I would not choose to be a gambler, a janitor, a plumber nor many other fields of production but that does not mean they are not being productive toward their own survival.

I would not include a janitor, or plumber, or garbageman, in the same category as a gambler. They can provide unquestionably valuable services in exchange for their earnings.

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I'm don't understand what you mean by "an abstract sequence of words."
Every word we use ... is a symbol that denotes a concept, i.e., that stands for an unlimited number of concretes of a certain kind.

A symbol is a concrete, therefore a word is a concrete, not an abstract sequence. What is copyrighted is the idea that the words express in the particular form that the idea is expressed in, not the actual words. It is not a violation of copyright for me to memorize the text. It is a violation of copyright to paraphrase without attribution, isn't it? Ownership of copyrighted material means that I can not reproduce or sell the material.

Copyright is closely tied to a particular expression of ideas. I don't think that Cliff Notes or the like pay royalties to any of the authors whose books they summarize. (I'd be interested if they did, does anyone know for sure?) What I meant by "an abstract sequence of words", which admittedly isn't too clear, is that the copyright is on any particular physical expression of those words in any font or language or medium - the abstraction is with respect to the physical instantiation of the words, and even the particular language, so there's an element of copyright of ideas, but only if translations are closely tied to the original concrete expression of them. Does that make more sense?

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{quoting Dr. Peikoff} [...] or delivering lectures.}

Why is this considered a problem?

I never considered it a problem. My primary focus here has been exactly *what* is considered a *material* value. If lectures, which physically consist of a man exciting air molecules with his voice in order to convey information to a listener's ears, are considered a material value, that helps to answer my question - the term is being used in such a broad way that it applies to any external action of men, including any service professions.

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My primary focus here has been exactly *what* is considered a *material* value.

That said, this thread also (for me at least) brings up interesting issues related to productiveness and literally non-material values. It's a famous issue in engineering that poor managers equate physical output with productiveness - writing reports, etc. They are poor managers because they are not engineers and don't know what it takes to be one. The fact of the matter is that good engineering (including, broadly, computer programming) requires significant thought that has no visible external manifestation but is critical to actually doing something.

Granted, if that's all they ever did, they could not be considered productive; eventually something physical has to come out such contemplation in order for it to be externally useful. But without it, no good engineering would be possible. (As in the case of continuous interruptions throughout the day with no ability to quietly concentrate or muse.) If such (non-physical) contemplation is *not* productive, yet it forms the basis of any resulting value, then what is it? A question I'll think about.

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