The Epistemological Basis of Anarchism:
An Open Letter to Objectivists and Libertarians
by R.A. Childs, Jr., continued

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To summarize thus far: the "good" for any organism is relative to the kind of organism it is, and is determined by reference to that which furthers and maintains its life. Thus, since self-interest is the pursuit of that which objectively benefits an organism, every organism should pursue its own self-interest. And since reason is man's basic means of survival (being his faculty of awareness and judgment), we can say that the basic ethical principle for man, that is, the basic principle which should be used as a guide to action by man is: pursue your own rational self-interest.

Though this is the primary in ethics, it is not the exhaustive content of an ethical code proper for man, since it does not show what is in fact to man's interest, other than reasoning, or thinking. The task of ethics is to elaborate a more complex code in order to guide a person's choices and actions. These demonstrable principles must then be applied by every man to the context of his own life, enabling him to choose among alternatives. The application of all principles is contextual, meaning: since everything which exists in reality is something (i.e., something specific, having definite attributes), all alternatives in concrete action are specific as well. The application of principles consists of observing and identifying the nature of the concretes subsumed by any principle in any given context, and applying the principle if it is relevant to that context. One cannot, for example, apply a principle necessitated by and derived from the existence of other people (society) in a context where other people are not present, e.g., on a desert island.

It should be clear at this point that a crucial corollary of rationality, in a social context, is independent judgment. Since only an individual mind can think, can reason, can integrate the facts of reality and come to conclusions based on the evidence, this is a necessary application of the virtue of rationality. All knowledge is contextual, which means simply that man is not omniscient or infallible, and has to learn or acquire knowledge. This learning is a continuum, and so is the knowledge which results: that is, man operates according to an "epistemological continuum" — from complete (epistemological) ignorance at one end of the scale to complete (metaphysical) certainty at the other. (An example of this is one's knowledge of any axiomatic concept or proposition, such as the fact that one is conscious, the law of identity, or the law of causality. "Metaphysical certainty" is certainty which is absolute. One step away from metaphysical certainty is "epistemological certainty," which exists whenever one has a great deal of evidence concerning some fact, all of it pointing to a single conclusion, and no evidence contradicting the conclusion.) Independent judgment is the refusal to subordinate one's own rational judgment to the assertion of another consciousness. If another rational consciousness has proven its contention or assertion, then one accepts it — not because another consciousness has asserted it, but because one sees it to be valid. This is the application of reason to the fact of communication of knowledge and beliefs in society. Independent judgment is the refusal to accept another's opinion without evidence that it is valid.

Now how does one make the transition from thinking, or rationality, or independent judgment as a fundamental ethical principle to a society? Since thought is the primary function or activity of the mind, and since the three biological functions of the mind are cognition, evaluation, and regulation of action, these are the three primary or fundamental life-serving functions of thought. Though the science of ethics can establish the absolute validity of certain principles of action, the application of every principle must be done by a reasoning mind working from within a unique context. (All contexts are unique by virtue of the nature of the time continuum, just to mention one reason.) Cognition, evaluation, and regulation of action are the contextual application of ethical principles.

Man needs to think in order to know reality; he needs to know reality in order to be able to choose between (or evaluate) alternatives; he needs to choose between alternatives in order to act; he needs to act in order to attain and keep those values necessary for furthering and maintaining his well-being — that is, to live. Hence the purpose of thought, existentially, is to enable man to act, which is necessary to life. If, then, the purpose or goal of thought, ultimately, is action, there must be some way of protecting the continuum between the two. In the case and from the viewpoint of the acting man, the bridge between thought and action, which preserves the purpose of the first, is integrity. Integrity is unity of life and convictions, of action and thought, between body and mind, between one's ideas and the reality of putting them into practice by a process of action. Existentially, then, the bridge between thought and life is the putting of ideas into practice; what makes this possible is freedom of action. If a man cannot, by the nature of reality, put his ideas into action to attain his ends, that means that he has made a mistake, he has not correctly identified some aspect of reality, and it is a signal for him to go back and rethink the issue, and try again. If a man can, by the nature of correct judgment and hence reality, put his ideas into action to attain his ends, that means that, ethically, he should do so. If he cannot because others coercively prevent him from acting — to attain either success or failure, then he is prevented from taking actions which are in his rational self-interest. For even if a man has made an error, he should, morally, be left free to discover it on his own, for that is merely a contextual application of independent judgment. In other words, he cannot be expected to accept the assertions of others without evidence. And the ultimate evidence of the truth or falsity of a belief (or judgment) is the success or failure of a contextual application of it, which means: an action. Hence, given the derivation of the moral principle of thinking, and its function in life, it is an immoral act (i.e., life-negating) in principle to use physical force against a peaceful man in preventing him from translating his judgment, his means of survival and evaluation, into reality, which is its purpose. If this is so, then if men are to live in a society (nothing says, metaphysically, that they have to), then there must be a means of protecting and preserving rational self-interest in a social context, i.e., of making a transition from a purely individual morality to interacting with others.

What defines and delimits a man's freedom of action with regard to other men, that is, in a social context, is the concept of individual rights. A "right" is a "principle which morally prohibits anyone from using physical force or any substitute for force against anyone whose behavior is noncoercive." (Definition from Morris G. Tannehill) [5] Since only individuals (particular human beings) exist, only individuals can act. Hence only individuals "have" rights.

Rights are the bridge between rationality, thought, and independent judgment — those primary virtues — and life in society, i.e., interaction with other people. They preserve and make possible the extension or exercising of the individual's morality in a social context. The recognition of rights, or the absence of aggressive force (which is freedom), is a condition of existence for man's proper survival in a social context for the simple and fundamental reason that if a man is to live and pursue his rational self-interest, he must be able to act on the basis of his judgment (see above). Without action, thought is purposeless. It is only life which makes action possible or necessary. Likewise, it is only action which makes thought necessary or, ultimately, possible.

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Published by permission of the Hoover Institution Archives, Elena S. Danielson, Ph.D., archivist.

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