Having read Laura Rift's article, "The Generation of Life," in the September Full Context, I commend her for producing a thought-provoking piece. However, I found her argument ultimately unconvincing. I wanted to address a few points in her essay I found especially problematic.
Laura seems to take umbrage at considering love as a "reward" (i.e., a "secondary" value) while productive work is viewed by Rand as a "central purpose...central value."
"Love" is an emotional response to one's highest values, i.e., a reaction to the virtues of another person (or thing), a "spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure" (VOS, p. 29) one derives from the being of another individual. "It is for your own happiness that you need the person you love, and that is the greatest compliment, the greatest tribute you can pay to that person." (Playboy interview, p. 7.) "One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns and derives from love...Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one's selfish interests." (VOS, p. 44.) "The practical implementation of friendship, affection and love consists of incorporating the welfare (the rational welfare) of the person involved into one's own hierarchy of values and acting accordingly." (VOS, p. 46.)
The "reward" love represents to a productive person is not a reward he gives himself but what he earns from another person who recognizes his values; conversely it is the reward he gives to the object of his love, i.e., the person he values.
Unfortunately, Laura equates "production" merely with economic "goods and services." By doing so, she artificially limits the concept and creates a conflict with "love" where none must necessarily exist. Admittedly, Rand focused the bulk of her discussions on production primarily on the economic realm. This is hardly surprising. While governments do regulate some aspects of love/sex/reproduction, most of their violations of rights affect business and personal economic behaviors. Still, production is more broadly concerned with "the application of reason to the problem of survival." (CUI, p. 17.) Since love and sex and reproduction can all affect one's ability to survive physically and/or emotionally in certain contexts, they hardly represent the distinct and separate realm Laura attempts to establish for them (her reference to "Rand's bifurcated world of work and romance").
One must first produce (in oneself) the values of character and action which make one worthy of being loved before an objective, rationally selfish love can given (or received). To love someone simply because they exist, without any evidence of values they have achieved (on whatever level appropriate regarding age/relationship), or to love because one is supposed to do so (as a mother, parent, or offspring) as a matter of duty is to obliterate the essence of what objective love is: a response to objective values.
Altruism charges people with the false notion that they should love others regardless of what values of character those others have produced within themselves. While a parent-child relationship may require a smaller "threshold" of values to justify an emotion of love, love should still have some basis in real values. There is no dichotomy between production and love. Production precedes reward whether in the material realm or the spiritual.
Rand fought vigorously against the mind-body dichotomy. Laura's inadvertent reintroduction of that tension (exemplified by her attempt to divorce a "psychological issue" from production) can only be maintained by ignoring what production means for both body and mind: that physical survival and psychological health are each necessary for the full existence of a rational human being. The fact that rational love flows from production in no way diminishes the former. To suggest that it does is to implicitly endorse another false dichotomy: i.e., between means and ends. Since an end can often be regarded as a means in a different context, it is an error to hold that one of them is somehow inferior to the other (that love [a reward, i.e., an end] is somehow inferior to the means [production of individual character/values] which produced it). Pragmatism may endorse such a separation, but it violates the basic unity of Objectivist principles.
Laura also fails adequately to consider that production (or productiveness) is the virtue necessary to obtain and keep the value of a purpose, a purpose being that which integrates ones values. She treats production as an end in itself, forgetting that "Virtue is not an end in itself. Virtue is not its own reward... Life is the reward of virtue--and happiness is the goal and reward of life." (FNI, p. 161).
Because Laura fails to recognize the proper relationship between love and production and what each means in a wider philosophical context, she finds herself at a loss how to integrate the existence of her son, her love for him, and the romantic love that "produced" him. She says that her son is equal in value to herself, as though that somehow fails to "fit in" with these ideas.
Laura further compounds the confusion by ambivalent usage of her terms. In her fourth paragraph, she takes Rand to task for treating "sex as an issue entirely separate from reproduction." While Rand does consider sex, she does so primarily in terms of its ethical significance as an expression of values, i.e., in regard to romantic love. A rational person is not ruled by his purely physical urges/propensities/impulses but directs them according to his value choices.
Sex can be merely an expression of lust, of simple physical attraction, of an indulgence in one's physical desires, but that is not an ethical, rational way to use one's capacity for sexual interaction. It takes no conceptual thought, no integration of objective values, no intellectual effort simply to fornicate and/or reproduce. Sex becomes philosophically significant only when the physical act is linked to values, both physical and psychological, i.e., when sex is considered in connection with love. Sex merely in its function as a means to reproduce is, in and of itself, an issue for biology, not ethics.
Too many individuals have sex carelessly, have children (sometimes unplanned) without thinking through the long-term consequences/implications of their choices, without considering that the physical and psychological components of sex and love must be integrated. Reproduction can result from a rational choice or random chance and obviously has ethical ramifications in terms of its impact on one's life and values.
By failing to differentiate adequately between "sex when it is engaged in as a mere physical act" and "sex as an integration of physical and psychology values," Laura criticizes Rand for what she did not say. Rand did not "treat sex as a physical capacity that could be explained in purely psychological terms" (emphasis added). Any attempt to do so would, again, be an example of the mind-body dichotomy (in favor of the mind). Rand treated sex/romantic love as an expression of both the physical and the psychological. Implicitly equating sex and reproduction as Laura frequently does in her essay (as though one necessarily leads to the other) only confuses the issue.
Laura is precisely right that the importance of sex should be defined "objectively" (her emphasis), but that is precisely what she fails to do. She does not fully consider that the "ultimate standard of value" is not just "life" but "the life proper for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan --in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice." (VOS, p. 24.) (Which would include the choice of whether or not to reproduce.) Moreover, this formulation is complete only when expressed in the life of an individual person (as one's own ethical purpose). "Life" as an equivalent for the human species or as some collective abstraction is hardly the same concept. That "ultimate standard of value" is not mere existence, not for oneself and most assuredly not the existence/survival of the human race.
Evolution may explain how and why sex/romantic love came into existence and how they contributed to the survival of certain individuals (and the transmission of their genetic characteristics), but that origin does not dictate how they should be used/viewed now by rational individuals. (Indeed, in many societies in the past and even today, the very notion of romantic love is seen as a fantasy, let alone as a necessity for pair-bonding or creating/raising a family.) The establishment of societies/civilizations also provided an increased chance for the survival of certain individuals, as well, but what constitutes a proper society is hardly determined by the exact nature of those early nations. Indeed, the conditions necessary for an ethical, truly human society have only been known for a few decades and have yet to be implemented.
As yet another example, free will also arose through evolutionary means, but how we should properly view and use that volitional nature of ours is hardly to be held hostage to its physical origins.
At first Laura says that families are "only possible if romance...replaces simple mating as the standard and goal of sexual behavior." Then she softens this by saying that "at least pair-bonding" is required. But there is a huge gap between pair-bonding and a romantic relationship. Many birds and animals "pair-bond," but romance has nothing to do with their success or failure as parents. Laura generously acknowledges "that sexual love exists without reproduction and is experienced as a value and end in itself" but then proceeds to argue that this is somehow not enough; that we must include a consideration of reproduction if human sexuality is properly to be understood.
Laura makes the blanket statement that "men are more promiscuous, more casual about sex than women." Perhaps some are. But all men? More so than all women? Neither research, history, nor experience confirm such sweeping, universal statements. Even while Laura complains later in her essay about the false view of women promulgated throughout history in which they are viewed as being secondary/devalued/inferior/sub-human/low when compared to men, she reinforces and perpetuates here the sexist and fallacious notion that women have less sexual interest and weaker sexual urges than men.
Yes, women may potentially suffer greater consequences than men from unprotected sex in the form of a pregnancy. But this in no way implies that women are less interested in "casual sex" than men. A rational woman considers the potential adverse consequences of unprotected sex or the possibility of a birth control failure and thus may be more reluctant -- rationally -- to engage in such sex. But to suggest that women are, by nature, more chaste than men...
There are a lot of women who engage in casual sex and who may do so precisely because they have failed to "think things through." I would suggest that any greater chastity among women is a result of nurture (in the form of lessons learned from concerned parent[s] or their own discovery) rather than any inherent sexual deficiency in the female body and mind.
Despite Laura's assertion, this view is not "nonsense." Men and women may "perceive and experience sex differently" and that difference may have arisen from evolutionary/reproductive reasons (i.e., evolution may explain differences in arousal time and recovery, preferred stimuli, length and nature of orgasms, etc.), but that fact says nothing about how a particular volitional individual will view sex, casual or otherwise.
Laura deems casual sex wrong "because of its consequences," both physical and social. She further states that its effects on self-esteem are "irrelevant in deciding if it is wrong." Yet casual sex can (and does) occur without any of those negative consequences she lists. Is such sex still wrong? How can it be if the standard she uses to judge it are not present, i.e., misbegotten children, etc.? She then creates a false analogy by comparing "casual sex/negative consequences" with "murder/destroyed life." Yet murder, by definition, always destroys an innocent life. As just mentioned, however, casual sex does not always lead to the potential problems Laura lists.
Laura next says there is "no point" in arguing with those who disagree with her position that sex is not "a secondary aspect of life" in comparison to production of wealth. (A position which, as noted earlier, arises from her constricted view of what production is.) She claims that it is "foolish" to argue which came first, the chicken or the egg, then proceeds to stake her own claim for the precedence of the egg!
Yes, none of us alive today would be here if our ancestors had not reproduced. Yes, life would be difficult if no one reproduced and young people disappeared (assuming scientists do not someday develop a way to keep us physically/mentally healthy for centuries). Yes, we could eat the moon if it was made of cheese. But to posit such unrealistic conditions as somehow relevant to how individuals should view the relationship between sex/romantic love and reproduction in our own lives is a non sequitur. (Plus, I would wager that the bulk of humanity over the millennia did not engage in sex primarily because they wanted children, but because it feels good. Children were [and, unfortunately, still are] frequently merely a by-product of that activity.)
Despite Laura's disclaimer that she is not advocating deriving "your purpose in life from 'serving the species'" and her denial that there is any "moral obligation to reproduce," it is to the species that she constantly refers in justifying her positions. She talks about "the necessity of work for the survival of the species and ultimately every member of it" and draws an analogy with reproduction. And later: "The process of reproduction and the process of wealth production represent the two great categories of activity that define life" and the "dependence of one generation on another." (Again she repeats her false, truncated view of the nature and purpose of production.)
But I do not work for "the survival of the species" even if parasites (or dependents I choose to support) survive only because of the work that I and others like me perform. That (positive) result (species survival) is a secondary consequence of living my own life. It is not "in my nature" to reproduce. If it were, I could not avoid it. It is a capacity I have, one I (and many others) have chosen not to actualize. It is not "in my nature" to be economically (or otherwise) productive, either. I choose to be, to actualize my potential in that area, in part because I want to live as fully as I can as a rational being. (I would not choose to be a parasite even if the opportunity presented itself to me, i.e., if I could physically survive by taking wealth from someone else.)
Laura states that the "urge to mate and bond" (emphasis added) and its consequences "are not secondary values." Here she elevates an urge to ethical primacy over a free will choice. An urge, an impulse, a desire, a whim, a biological capacity/tendency are hardly ethical reasons to justify her position, and, indeed, without rational verification, are not reasons to do anything.
Laura abruptly shifts back to a discussion of sex as "how one lives life" (original emphasis) and how it is of fundamental importance. She avoids using "reproduction" here, perhaps hoping readers will substitute that term for "sex" on their own. To claim explicitly that "reproduction" "is every bit as important as any other life-sustaining activity" would, of course, weaken her position immeasurably.
Laura's discussion of how women have historically been treated as sub-human may be interesting but is irrelevant to her initial project of criticizing Rand's view of sex and production. Rand never advocated such positions and, despite Laura's misinterpretations, did not implicitly smuggle such notions into Objectivism as hidden prejudices against women and reproduction.
Overall, Laura's biggest mistakes are in not understanding production and its relationship to purpose; in conflating sex and reproduction; in substituting physical sex for romantic love; and in failing to recognize that the purpose of a proper ethics is to provide a guide to individuals for leading their specific, particular, personal existences. Altruism may appeal to "humanity" or "the species" in justifying its claims. Such notions have no business in an egoistic, individualistic philosophy.