Reply to Ari Armstrong
In my essay "Ari Armstrong on the Objectivist Ethics" (referred to below as AAOE), I point out what I see as the weaknesses in Ari Armstrong's arguments against Rand's ethics, presented in his book What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics, and with his proposed alternative ethics. Armstrong has written a reply to AAOE. This follow-up essay addresses Armstrong's points in his reply.
Rand and biology
As I argued in AAOE, Armstrong misses the point of the argument presented by Harry Binswanger in The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts (Los Angeles, CA: Ayn Rand Institute Press, 1990), in his rebuttal to the alleged counter-examples to the idea that non-human organisms act for their own survival. I think that in his reply Armstrong continues to miss the point.
The generally accepted consensus in modern philosophy of biology, which Armstrong accepts, is that non-human organisms act for the survival and propagation of their genes. Consider the following counter-example to this view: an animal running away from a predator; for example, a gazelle running away from a lion; remains visible while running away. It is clear that the survival and propagation of the gazelle's genes would be served better if it turned invisible; that would make it much more likely to succesfully escape and to then later produce offspring. Therefore, the fact that it remains visible should be taken as proof that it is not acting for the survival and propagation of its genes; it must be acting for some other goal, some goal that is better served by remaining visible even when that causes both its own individual destruction and the destruction of its genes.
The fallacy in this argument is, of course, obvious. It evaluates the goal of the organism's action, for example the gazelle's action, by an impossible standard; turning invisible might help the survival of the gazelle's genes in a fantasy universe in which it were possible, but it is irrelevant to identifying the goal of its action in the real world. Running away from the lion while remaining visible is the action that best serves the survival of its genes (and, in this case obviously, its individual survival) within the range of the options that are possible in the real world.
In the examples Armstrong cites, as counter-examples to the idea of survival as the ultimate goal of non-human organisms, the fallacy may not seem as obvious, but it is the same fallacy. When an organism's actions are deterministically controlled by its genome, acting differently from the way its close genetic kin acted in a similar situation in the past is the equivalent of turning invisible; it might best serve the organism's survival in a fantasy universe in which it were possible, but it is irrelevant to identifying the goal of the organism's actions in the real world. Within the range of the options that are possible to the organism in the real world, the action that best serves its individual survival is, in many cases, an action that causes it to die.
To illustrate this, consider Armstrong's example of the bee. When an animal threatens the hive, for an individual bee to act differently from the way bees in past generations of the same hive have acted in a similar situation is (barring mutations affecting this specific behaviour, which are necessarily extremely rare) just as impossible as turning invisible. Within the range of options that are possible in the real world, the bee could sting the threatening animal because bees in past generations also stung animals threatening the hive; or it could avoid stinging the threatening animal because bees in past generations also did not sting animals threatening the hive. Of these two options, the second one would be very likely to result in the hive being destroyed long before the bee was born; and so the first one is the option that best serves its individual suvival.
In arguing against Rand's view, that non-human organisms act for individual survival, Armstrong is therefore wrong in treating the example of the bee and other similar examples as a refutation of this view. He is further wrong in claiming that Rand's idea requires an expanded view of survival that "hardly relates to the sort of egoistic ethics that Rand has in mind". When we evaluate organism's actions within the range of options that are possible in the real world, rather than by fantasy options such as turning invisible or acting differently from one's close genetic kin, the organism's actions, including in the case of the bee and all the other cases Armstrong discusses, are the actions that best serve the organism's survival in the egoistic sense that Rand advocates in her ethics.
Survival as the ultimate end
In his book, Armstrong claims that the fact that we experience many values as valuable for their own sake refutes Rand's view of survival as the ultimate end. In AAOE I point out that an equivalent argument would also refute the idea, accepted by the modern consensus in philosophy of biology, of gene survival and propagation as the goal of the pleasure-pain mechanism.
Armstrong counters by claiming that I am misusing the concept of "goal", and that "a goal pertains to an intentional and conscious act". Here, again, Armstrong fails to address Harry Binswanger's arguments. The center of Binswanger's book is his detailed discussion of the concepts of "goal" and "end", and of how a proper understanding of evolution makes these concepts applicable to all living action, including the actions of plants and the non-conscious actions of animals (as against the concept of "purpose", which does pertain to an intentional and conscious act). This is the sense in which I was using the concept of "goal".
This is also the sense in which Rand used the concept of "end" when identifying survival as the ultimate end. On Rand's view, our emotional capacity, programmed by our values, is an extension of the physical pleasure-pain mechanism and is aimed at the same goal; survival should be the ultimate end of our values in the same sense in which it is the goal of the physical pleasure-pain mechanism (and in the same sense in which the modern consensus claims that gene survival and propagation is the goal of the physical pleasure-pain mechanism). The fact that we experience many values as valuable for their own sake does not in any way refute Rand's ethics; to the contrary, identifying this fact, combined with the fact that we can consciously reconsider and change our values, learning to change what we experience as valuable for its own sake, is central to the foundations of Rand's ethics.
The only time that, by Rand's ethics, one should consciously think about survival as one's purpose is while in the process of reconsidering one's values; when reconsidering one's values, survival should be the standard for identifying which values are the right ones to hold. The values that we choose by that standard are often, by the nature how the human emotional capacity functions, then experienced as valuable for their own sake.
When considering the implications of Rand's ethics for some specific value, the appropriate question to ask is not whether one should experience this value as a means towards one's survival; or whether one should, while acting to pursue this value, be thinking at that time about how one is supporting one's survival. These questions set up a straw man that has no similarity to the ethics that Rand actually advocated. The question relevant to Rand's ethics is whether this value is in fact likely to contribute to one's survival; if it is, then by the standard of survival it is an appropriate value to hold, and, in many cases, to experience as valuable for its own sake.
We can't evaluate the connection of a specific value to survival merely by looking for some obvious way in which it is needed for survival. Some of the requirements of man's survival are not obvious, and may only be identified by extensive study, observation and thinking. This is especially true for values that support psychological requirements. I discussed psychological requirements and their role in survival in detail in a previous essay, and don't have anything new to add to what I said before, so I will quote the relevant parts of my discussion here:
The central non-obvious fact about man’s means of survival is one which Rand has fully identified for the first time: man’s central means of survival is reason. This identification has crucial consequences for ethics. It is the basis of Rand’s view of rationality as the central virtue. Further, since reason is man’s means of survival, anything which helps to maintain man’s rational faculty is needed for survival. An entire new class of requirements for man’s life is thus opened: psychological requirements.
Rand, of course, was not the first to realize that man’s psychological wellbeing has requirements; but she was the first to connect psychological needs to survival. ... On Rand's view ... such needs can be proven to be necessary for survival; not by demonstrating a direct causal connection, but—analogously to understanding the role of a cooling system in an automobile—by demonstrating their role in maintaining the proper operation of one specific faculty—reason—which, in turn, is needed for survival.
In addition to reason, Rand identified two central values for man: purpose and self-esteem. Purpose has a direct, existential role in survival; it is the commitment to using one’s reason for achieving the goals that would help one’s survival. In addition, purpose also has a psychological element. For man’s rational faculty to function properly, it requires a purpose; without such a purpose, man can gradually lose the ability and motivation to fully focus his mind, threatening his success in dealing with future problems. This means that purpose remains necessary for survival, even in those cases in which its existential role in survival does not apply (for example, Rand’s view of purpose implies that if a person has a job which does not challenge his abilities, then even if it paid enough to provide for his economic needs, it would be self-destructive for him to remain in that job and not find any more challenging purpose).
A corollary of the need for purpose is the need for forming values. Purpose, if it is to guide one’s actions and fulfill its existential and psychological roles, must not be abstract; it can’t consist of general ideas like “I should do what I need to survive” or “I should be productive;” it has to consist of specific values—central values relating to one’s productive activity, as well as values in all other areas of life—which guide one’s concrete, day-to-day actions. The existential role of purpose implies that such values should be ones that objectively contribute to survival. The psychological role of purpose implies that such values—or at least the most central of them—should be held strongly and passionately, and experienced by the person as extremely important to him.
Another psychological requirement for man, which Rand has identified, is the need to observe objective, concrete instances of one’s abstract values. This need explains the role of art in man’s life and is also central to understanding man’s need for interpersonal relationships.
In understanding these and other requirements for survival—and, consequently, for the good life—the method is basically the same. Once we have identified the basic faculties which man needs to sustain his life, we observe what is needed to maintain these faculties; and this provides the evidence for demonstrating what is a value by the standard of survival. (Eyal Mozes, "Flourishing and Survival in Ayn Rand: A Reply to Roderick Long", in Objectivist Studies 3, ed. William Thomas (Poughkeepsie, NY: Objectivist Center, 2000), pp. 89-91)
Rand's view of sex
This general understanding of Rand's meta-ethics, and how it is used to justify specific values, provides the context for understanding Rand's view of sex and its relation to her meta-ethics.
Rand explained her view, of sex and its place in man's life, in several of her writings; her central discussions on the subject are in Francisco's speech in Atlas Shrugged, and in her 1968 talk "Of Living Death" (reprinted in The Voice of Reason, ed. Leonard Peikoff, New York: NAL Books, 1989, pp. 46-63). Rand identified the importance of romantic love as providing the most intense form of the psychological value offered by interpersonal relationships, the experience of one's highest values expressed in another person; and the central role of sex in romantic love.
Armstrong is aware of Rand's view of sex, and cites it in his book (p. 115); but he does not cite it in the context of discussing the relation of sex to survival. When he is discussing the relation of sex to survival, he seems to forget everything Rand said about sex.
Armstrong states that "It is not remotely plausible that survival should be the ultimate moral aim of having sex". The only way to make sense out of this statement is to assume that Armstrong takes the idea, of survival as "the ultimate moral aim of having sex", in the straw-man meaning of dictating that we should experience sex as aimed at survival; or that a person having sex should, at that time, be thinking about how he is supporting his survival. If we take this idea in its actual meaning in Rand's ethics - that having sex is in fact likely to contribute to one's survival, and is therefore a proper value by the standard of survival - then, given Rand's discussion of the role of romantic love and of sex, it is not merely "remotely plausible", it is clearly true.
Recognizing this, however, still doesn't do justice to the magnitude of the achievement represented by Rand's view of sex. To do justice to it, we need to remember the contrast of Rand's view to the historically prevalent view of sex.
For several millenia, the universally accepted and unquestioned view of sex was that it is a purely physical, animal desire. Sometimes it was accepted as legitimate only as a necessary means to procreation; sometimes accepted as a legitimate indulgence of an animal need; most often, condemned as shameful and sinful; but common to all these different attitudes was the undisputed premise that sex is a purely physical desire, of no spiritual significance and unrelated to or opposed to the rational faculty. To the extent that the connection of sex to romantic love was recognized, sex was seen as a low accompaniment to romantic love, destroying its purity but made necessary by the animal side of human nature. Against this background, Rand's view of sex, recognizing the deep spiritual significance of its role in romantic love, was a magnificent, revolutionary achievement. The extreme changes in cultural attitudes towards sex, since Rand wrote on the subject, brought the mainstream view of sex much closer to Rand's; we have to remind ourselves of just how revolutionary Rand's view of sex was at the time, and how liberating it was to so many of her readers.
Rand first presented the essentials of her view of sex in Atlas Shrugged, several years before formulating her meta-ethics in "The Objectivist Ethics". However, I see no reason to doubt that Rand held her ideas about the standard of survival in some form long before she wrote them out in a formal discussion. The standard of survival provided Rand with a method for examining her values at their foundations; by asking, for each of her values, whether it in fact contributes to her survival and if so how, she was able to identify the essence of that value's place in her life, without depending on how it is conventionally regarded. Applying this method to the value of sex was crucial to making possible her revolutionary identification of the meaning of sex.
If Armstrong denies that the standard of survival is a necessary foundation for Rand's view of sex, and claims that value-integration theory would serve just as well as a foundation, then it is not enough for him to explain how Rand's view of sex can be supported today on the basis of value-integration theory. He needs to explain how it would have been possible, in the 1940s or the 1950s, thinking about the subject based on value-integration theory, to come up with this radical new view, rejecting everything that was conventionally believed about the meaning of sex. I think it would be very difficult for Armstrong to make it plausible that this could have been done.
Far from being a problem for Rand's ethics, or an implausible claim that its defenders have to explain away, the value of sex is one of the strongest demonstrations of the power of Rand's ethics.
Rand's ethics and children
Armstrong challenges me to
do a lot more to explain what Objectivist moral commitments are and how they relate to the metaethics. If Mozes could offer a compelling case that having and raising children and having sex fit with Rand’s metaethics, that would be a great start.
As I've discussed above, if what Armstrong means here is that I should make a case that we should experience having sex and having children as aimed at survival; or that a person having sex, or taking care of his children, should at that time be thinking about how he is supporting his survival; that is a straw man. And if what Armstrong is asking for is an explanation of why these values are in fact likely to contribute to one's survival, making them appropriate values by the standard of survival, then in regard to sex, Rand has amply answered him.
On the value of having children, in contrast, Rand did not write anything in her published essays. I am aware of only one public statement she made on the subject, in her interview in Playboy, which Armstrong cites in his book (Alvin Toffler, “Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand,” Playboy, March 1964, reproduced as 50 Years of the Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand, Playboy Enterprises, 2012; cited by Armstrong, p. 67). In this statement Rand describes raising children as a type of productive career. As Armstrong acknowledges, this indicates what Rand would see as the basic justification by the standard of survival for having children; it supports the psychological element of the value of purpose, in the same way as other forms of productive work.
This is, of course, only a very sketchy indication of what the justification would be; it needs to be filled in with a lot of detail. A full explanation, of how having children is justified by Rand's ethics, would have to identify the specific aspects of raising a child that are similar to a productive career; also identify other psychological rewards of developing a relationship with one's child; and make a case that in the contexts of the lives of some people (though certainly not for all people) these rewards outweigh the risks and costs, so that on balance having children is likely to contribute to one's survival.
If someone who does not have children tried to write such an explanation, it would be based on theoretical speculation unconnected to experience, and inevitably devolve into rationalizations and "just so stories". For such an explanation to be an actual contribution to the discussion, it must be based on reality, by drawing heavily on the writer's personal experience as a parent. It is very likely that Rand recognized this, and that this is the reason why, not having children, she did not attempt to write such an explanation. And since I also don't have children, it is also the reason why I am not the right person to write this explanation.
The closest there is to such an explanation is the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids By Bryan Caplan. Caplan is not an Objectivist, and does not agree with Rand's meta-ethics; and he approaches the subject as an economist, not as a philosopher. However, Caplan acknowledges having been influenced by Rand to a large degree, and his point of view overlaps with Rand's sufficiently that Objectivists are likely to find his evidence and arguments persuasive.
Still, Caplan's book is not enough. A discussion of the subject from an Objectivist perspective, specifically addressing the connection of having children to the standard of survival, is very much needed. There are many Objectivist writers who agree with Rand's meta-ethics and who have children; and I completely agree with Armstrong that by now at least one of them should have written at least an essay, perhaps a book, providing a detailed explanation of how having children is justified by Rand's ethics. I regard the fact that no one has written such an essay or book as an indication of the bad state of Objectivist scholarship, and of the bad job that organizations like the Ayn Rand Institute and the Atlas Society have done in promoting serious work on Objectivism. However, I don't think Armstrong is justified in taking this as evidence that no such explanation is possible.
The slave-holder example
Armstrong continues to maintain that his example, of a slave-holder in the pre-civil war US south, demonstrates a problem with Rand's ethics. As I stated in AAOE, I agree that Armstrong makes a convincing case that Rand's ethics would not give the slave-holder a motive for unilaterally freeing his slaves; but he has not presented any argument for why this is a problem, why unilaterally freeing one's slaves would be the right thing to do. In his reply, Armstrong still has not presented any such argument.
Armstrong claims that it is a "fact that it is extremely wrong to hold slaves, and that a slave holder has a positive moral obligation to free his slaves, even in the conditions that I outline"; that this represents "Rand’s own (likely) moral commitments"; and that he does not need an argument to establish his claim because "in today’s context I can reasonably take it for granted".
The problem with Armstrong's comments is that in today's context, his alleged fact does not seem to have any objective meaning. In today's context there are no slave holders, and holding slaves is not possible. What does a "moral commitment" mean in regard to a situation that can't possibly happen? What objective meaning is there to the alleged "fact that it is extremely wrong to" do something that can't possibly be done, and that someone who can't possibly exist "has a positive moral obligation"?
Despite Armstrong's denial, his argument is nothing but appeal to emotion. His alleged fact has no objective meaning in today's context related to guiding anyone's actions; its only meaning is emotional. When Armstrong asserts "the fact that it is extremely wrong to hold slaves, and that a slave holder has a positive moral obligation to free his slaves", the only meaning this has in today's context is A. that if you imagine yourself transplanted to the pre-civil-war South, and owning slaves, you should feel that you have a positive moral obligation to free your slaves; and B. that ethical theory should re-assure you about the validity of your feeling.
I agree with Armstrong on part A; any psychologically healthy person today who imagines such a fantasy situation would indeed have this feeling, and I'm sure Rand would have felt this way. However, Armstrong is wrong on part B, and Rand would not have agreed with him; the purpose of ethics is to guide our actions in actual situations, not to re-assure us about the validity of our feelings regarding imaginary ones. And since our emotions are based on our judgments, formed based on our experiences, we should not expect our emotional reactions to imaginary situations completely foreign to our experience to be a reliable guide to what the right thing to do would be in such a situation.
Other than how we should feel about fantasy situations, the only objective meaning of Armstrong's alleged fact is on how we should morally evaluate people of the past. Considering these implications, the evidence seems clear that Rand disagreed with Armstrong's claim. For example, in Atlas Shrugged Rand portrays the fictional Patrick Henry University, described as "the most distinguished institution of learning left in the world". This portrayal clearly implies an expression of admiration for Patrick Henry; the fact that Patrick Henry owned slaves, and did not unilaterally free them, did not prevent Rand from expressing admiration for him. Rand also, on several occasions, expressed admiration for the founding fathers of the United States. There was nothing in her statements to indicate that she is confining her admiration to founding fathers from northern states, such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams; it seems clear that she intended to include, for example, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both of whom owned slaves and did not unilaterally free them during their lifetimes (though Washington did arrange to have his slaves freed after his and his wife's death).
If Armstrong believes Rand was wrong to express admiration for these people, it is legitimate for him to state this view. But he can't defend it by saying that "almost all Objectivists, and Rand herself", would agree with him, since that is clearly false. And given the high regard in which the founding fathers are still generally held today in the United, Armstrong also can't defend his view by claiming that "in today’s context I can reasonably take it for granted". If Armstrong's view is that we should evaluate all slave-holders of the past who did not unilaterally free their slaves with contempt and moral condemnation, he needs to present an argument for this view.
Armstrong therefore fails to support his claim that Rand's ethics can justify initiation of force in ways that Rand herself would not have approved, or in ways that are objectively morally wrong. His example of the slave-holder does not support this claim; and he has not provided any other support for it.
Digression on "The Ethics of Emergencies"
Armstrong also writes in his reply:
Rand herself recognizes in “The Ethics of Emergencies” that there are cases in which normal moral considerations do not apply. My point is that the reasoning she lays out in that essay applies (in some cases) in any context of institutional force, in ways that Rand herself would not have approved.
Armstrong surely knows better, and this is very much beneath the standards he has followed in his book for accurately presenting Rand's ideas. What Rand recognizes in "The Ethics of Emergencies" is that in emergency situations, the range of help that it is appropriate to offer to strangers is much wider than in normal situations. She says nothing in that essay to suggest that there are cases in which initiation of force becomes morally permissible; nor does she say so anywhere else. I do agree that it follows from Rand's reasoning in "The Objectivist Ethics", specifically from survival as the ultimate end, that there are such cases; but Rand never said so herself, and the reasoning she lays out in "The Ethics of Emergencies" has no relevance at all to this issue.
"The Ethics of Emergencies" is further irrelevant because, as the essay's name indicates, it is about emergencies. Rand defines an emergency as "an unchosen, unexpected event, limited in time, that creates conditions under which human survival is impossible"; and provides as her examples "a flood, an eathquake, a fire, a shipwreck". Institutional force, such as in a slave-owning society, has lasted in many historical societies over generations, with many people living their entire lives under these conditions; any concept of "emergency" that includes such cases is completely foreign to Rand (as well as to anyone who uses language reasonably), and so whatever Rand said about emergencies has no relevance to evaluating such cases.
Some pseudo-Objectivists have put in Rand's mouth the idea that initiation of force can be morally permissible in emergencies; and further put in Rand's mouth a conflation of emergencies with life in an unfree society; or even worse, the idea that in such situations all morality becomes inapplicable. The one who did this most egregiously is Tara Smith, in Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics (see my discussion of this in Eyal Mozes, "Tara Smith’s Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: A Positive Contribution to the Literature on Objectivism?", Reason Papers 35, no. 1 (July 2013), pp. 128-131). Such misrepresentations of Rand make it all the more important for the rest of us to take care to represent Rand accurately; and while debating what follows from Rand's principles, keep the record straight about what she actually said. It is disappointing that in his remark here Armstrong didn't take such care.
The alternative of value integration
Armstrong responds to my criticisms of his suggested alternative ethics, value integration theory, with the claim that I had misunderstood his theory, and that "value integration theory means nearly the opposite of what Mozes thinks it means". If so, then I have no idea what the theory means; and I strongly suspect that neither does any of Armstrong's other readers. There is no point, therefore, in my trying to debate the merits of value integration theory; instead, I will try to provide suggestions on how Armstrong could make his theory clear.
A central part of the problem is that Armstrong is evidently using "integration" as a term of art, with a meaning very different from its meaning in plain English. To the extent that the standard of "value integration" is consistent with the plain English meaning of the word "integration", value integration simply means having one's values fit well with each other, and I stand by all my comments about it in AAOE. To the extent that the word "integration" as Armstrong uses it means something else, he needs to make clear what it means.
Given Armstrong's strong interest in the subject of rights, an interest that I very much share, I would suggest concentrating on this subject. Armstrong claims that 'In general, I offer a far “thicker” theory of rights than what Rand offers'; supporting this claim, and explaining how value-integration theory supports rights, would be a good vehicle for clarifying the theory's meaning.
As I pointed out in AAOE, Armstrong in his book never addresses the value that many people place on imposing their morality on others. In his reply essay, he still never mentions this crucial fact, that any theory that claims to offer support for rights needs to address. Imposing one's morality on others is a value held widely and strongly, and experienced by most people as valuable for its own sake. This value is one of the central sources of danger to rights, and rejecting it is essential to respecting other people's rights.
Another central source of danger to rights is the willingness of most people to coerce others for what they see as the other's own good. This, again, is a widely held value that any theory that claims to offer support for rights needs to address.
In Rand's writings on non-initiation of force and on rights, she addresses why it is wrong to use force to gain material values at others' expense, but devotes much more space to why it is wrong to impose one's morality on others by force, and to why it is wrong to try to benefit others by coercing them. Rand recognized these as the two most important issues in supporting rights. Those who want to rob, rape, or kill for material gain, are a small minority, and no one seriously advocates the idea that they are justified. In contrast, those who want to impose their morality on others by force are the majority; those who want to coerce others for what they see as the other's own good are also the majority; and both groups have many defenders, who justify them not as a devil's-advocate thought experiment but as serious advocacy. These, therefore, are the two central sources both of practical dangers to rights and of theoretical challenges to rights.
The essence of respect for other people's rights is respect for their right to live by values different from one's own, and for their right to make choices one regards as unwise. In evaluating the support that an ethical theory offers for rights, the two central questions are how strongly this ethics supports respect for these two categories of rights. These are the two questions Armstrong needs to answer in order to justify his claim that value-integration theory offers strong support for rights.
On the right of others to live by values different from one's own, as I noted in AAOE, if we take the word "integration" in its plain English meaning, then value integration theory doesn't offer support at all for such rights. To those who value something strongly, it would seem to fit in well with this value to also value imposing it on others, by force if necessary; in contrast, the willingness to live and let live with those who oppose this value would seem like a bad fit and a lack of integration. Armstrong believes that by his meaning of "integration" the opposite is true; tolerance towards people of different values represents better integration of one's values. He needs to justify this claim, and explain how his meaning of "integration" leads to it. I think this would be a very good vehicle for making the meaning of value-integration theory clear.
On the right of others to make choices one regards as unwise, this is again an issue that Armstrong hasn't addressed at all. Armstrong claims in his book that value-integration theory supports concern for the well-being of others in a wider range than Rand's ethics; that may be true, but concern for the well-being of others is at least as likely to be a source of danger to, rather than of respect for, their rights, unless it is constrained by a clear understanding of why it is wrong to coerce others for their own good. Explaining how value-integration supports this category of rights would be another good vehicle for making its meaning clear.
I would further suggest that the best way to explain these two issues is to concretize them, by illustrating how they apply in specific examples.
For the right of others to live by values different from one's own, I think the example I raised in AAOE - the rights of same-sex couples, and of business owners such as bakers or florists who disapprove of same-sex marriage - is the ideal example that Armstrong could use for clarifying his meaning. Because it is an issue directly relevant to our lives today, rather than confined to imaginary or historical situations, addressing this example would allow Armstrong to illustrate how value-integration theory works in real life. And because it is a controversial issue, it would help Armstrong to demonstrate that value-integration theory does not just blandly support whatever values are conventionally accepted, but provides answers to real moral questions.
On this issue, as on so many others, those who respect other people's rights are a minority, most of them influenced to at least some degree by Ayn Rand. Armstrong evidently believes that this minority are the only ones who have their values well-integrated on this issue. That is what he needs to justify. By Armstrong's meaning of "integration", how exactly does integration of one's values lead on this issue to tolerance towards those whose values are different from one's own? What exactly is it about the desire of most people to force their values on others - either to "protect the sanctity of marriage" by preventing same-sex marriages, or to "prevent discrimination" by forcing businesses to provide services for same-sex weddings - that demonstrates a lack of integration of their values?
For the right of others to make choices one regards as unwise, probably the best-known example, most strongly relevant in today's world, is the war on drugs. On this issue again, those who fully respect other people's rights, by supporting full legalization of all drugs, are a small minority. On marijuana, support for legalization has in recent years become mainstream; but on other drugs, the war on drugs is still supported by almost everyone. This would again be a good example for Armstrong to use in clarifying the meaning of value-integration theory. By Armstrong's meaning of "integration", how exactly does integration of one's values lead to respecting the right of others to use drugs, even when one regards such use as self-destructive? How exactly does the desire of most people to forcibly stop others from using drugs demonstrate a lack of integration of their values?
If Armstrong can offer arguments to demonstrate how value-integration theory provides strong support for rights on these two examples, then obviously I can't say in advance whether I will find his arguments convincing. But whether I do or not, it will help me, and Armstrong's other readers, to understand what value-integration theory means and how it applies in practice, and would provide, in my view, the best possible start for a discussion of value-integration theory and whether it is a promising alternative.
If Armstrong cannot offer arguments on these two examples, then I think that would be conclusive proof that it is value-integration theory, not Rand's survival-oriented metaethics, that is the dead end.