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on September 6, 2017
Excellent book that covers the base of ethics. Tara Smith writes in a straightforward, logical manner that is easy to understand and at the same time very convincing. This is a refreshing break from some of the esoteric philosophy works out there, which seem like they are purposely written to be indecipherable. She takes a clear stand on her views and provides rational analysis supporting them but at also provides alternate explanations and the reasonings behind them.

Smith starts at the base and defines and describes the concept of value and how it arises from the facts of reality, making it objective. She slowly builds her hierarchy of concepts while also keeping them connected to the universal standard- reality. Her analysis highlights the importance of morality and demonstrates what it entails and the costs of ignoring it. She does not go into what a specific moral code would require but builds an unshakeable foundation for why some sort of code is required. She also integrates the importance of rationality, objectivity, and the importance of action in her analysis.

If you ever feel frustrated by not being able to start from a solid foundation or feel undercut by common skeptics claims regarding the futility of philosophy, I highly recommend this book to relieve those concerns.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 3, 2016
In this book author puts forward not only a concise but sound case for the Randian view of ethics but also discusses problems with alternative views of morality which she labels as intuitionism, contractarianism, and rationalism. Randian ethics, which now typically goes by the name of rational egoism, has been subjected to an abusive commentary in print, at a level of vituperation that goes totally beyond the pale of any expected standards of rational debate. It is doubtful that this book will dissuade those who have the murderous brute image of what constitutes self-interest, but it does finally give a place for Randian ethics in professional philosophy. And it does this thankfully without engaging in the uncritical adulation that sometimes accompanies the writings of those who are admirers of Rand.

There are many very interesting discussions in this book, and some surprises, such as the author’s stance on the ethical viability of suicide. As expected, a lengthy discussion of the goals and rewards of morality is found in the book, which gives clarity and context to what Rand attempted to do in her massive tomes of fiction. The damaging effects of hedonism and frivolous, unfocused living are given ample treatment, even though to give more solidity to the claims in this context one would need to bring in the tools of science and statistical sampling. Since this is a philosophical work one should not expect scientific issues in ethics to be discussed however.

But along these lines, even though the author has definitely made a plausible case for the viability of values in the Randian context, she has not really addressed the reliability of these values. To what degree can a person rely on these values in order to lead a more productive life, i.e. to “flourish” or attain a kind of Aristotelian eudaimonia? And if over a given time scale, one studied the lives of two collections of individuals, one of which is living a life of hedonistic unfocused frivolity, the other one that of focused rationality as advocated in this book and in Rand’s philosophical and literary works, would one be able to tell which group has “flourished” during the time scale of interest? Answering these kinds of questions is warranted in the author’s framework of ethics since it demands adherence to facts and a very rational disciplined mind, such as what you find in the scientific profession. And there is no doubt when studying this book that the Smith-Randian ethical framework could benefit from, and even requires justification from, the research in neuroscience and the new field of neuroethics.
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on November 19, 2011
Viable Values by Tara Smith
Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.
11/19/2011

"Viable Values" is an excellent read for anyone concerned with rational values and what code of morality stems from this approach. After surveying modern approaches to values and morality, and dismissing them due to their lack of logic and a rational standard, Tara very thoroughly investigates what is required for something to be an objective value. The topic of the book is meta-ethics - the relationship between the facts of reality and moral codes and values. She demonstrates that only Ayn Rand's ethics of rational egoism is based on the facts of reality and the facts about man. If logic is the non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality - which I think it is -- then this book is extremely logical, and very thorough in its scope to discuss and analyze the factual basis of the concept "value" and how only life as the standard gives one an appreciation of the concept. The subtitle of the book is "a study of life as the root and reward of morality" and the book lives up to this. Not only is life the standard, but a proper ethical code has life as the reward for being moral. That is, if one is pursuing those things in reality that are in fact beneficial to oneself, then not only is one being rationally moral, but one gets more life out of one's actions.

There is one drawback to the way the book is written. After bringing up the issue of "Why be moral?" and showing that previous approaches to morality are not logical, she doesn't answer this question until about page 117. Consequently, I would not recommend the book to those who are novices to Ayn Rand. I would say that "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Virtue of Selfishness, " both by Ayn Rand, are pre-requisites because these do not get bogged down in other approaches to morality. In "Viable Values" one can become disheartened that there is no legitimate answer to "Why be moral?" and put the book down before Tara gets to the answer, which would be unfortunate.

I also have one philosophical misgiving about her approach to "Why should one live?" and focusing on acting to gain and or keep rational values. She states that such questions are pre-rational - that is, one has to decide to live one's life before the issue of values and morality become paramount. While I agree with her analysis, I don't agree with the phrasing. In a sense, all of the facts of reality are pre-rational - they come before reason (this is the Primacy of Existence approach) - but that is an awkward way of phrasing it, since I think it implies that rationality is the fundamental standard. Actually, the facts of reality are the ultimate and fundamental standards - and the starting point. The moon orbiting the earth is a metaphysical fact, it is neither rational nor irrational; it just is. Similarly, the choice to focus one's mind on living is a fundamental fact about man. That is, free will in man is a basic fact about his consciousness, and like the moon example is neither rational nor irrational; it just is.

But these misgivings are paltry compared to the immense value of the book and how it analysis the concept of "value" and squarely places it into a logical hierarchy.
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on November 26, 2001
Why be moral? Anyone who has ever done any serious reading on the subject has probably been disappointed with how most writers respond to that question. However, in her latest book, VIABLE VALUES, philosopher Tara Smith gives one of the most convincing, rigorous, and readable answers to the question I have ever read. As someone who is NOT an Objectivist or a follower of Ayn Rand, Smith has given me much to think about.
Tara Smith defends the metaethical theory known as egoism, which is the view that morality requires you pursue your own self-interest. However, as Smith convincingly shows, many of the traditional objections to egoism are based on misunderstandings or, more often, caricatures of what egoism entails. Egoism is incompatible with hedonism, materialism, and subjectivism; an act may be pleasurable or may make a person happy and yet not be in a person's interest. Anyone committed to pursuing their rational self-interest must adopt ethical principles to guide them through life. Moreover, though it may initially seem that an egoist would be in competition with everyone else, Smith convincingly shows how this is not the case. By grounding morality on life as the source of value, what is in a person's interest is "flourishing," to live one's life in a life-promoting manner. The egoist benefits when other people flourish.
Perhaps Smith's most controversial claim is her argument rational self-interests never conflict. I haven't decided if I am convinced of that yet, but if she is right then egoism *is* universalizable, thus avoiding one of the traditional objections to egoism.
At any rate, it appears that Smith has answered all of the traditional objections to egoism as an ethical theory. Whether Smith is ultimately correct remains to be seen, however it is clear that Smith has provided rigorous, prima facie answers to those objections. I strongly recommend VIABLE VALUES to anyone interested in the foundations of morality.
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on July 21, 2014
One of the most cogent explications of the morality of individualism. Stands in stark contrast to the continuing blah, blah of collectivist moral systems passing themselves off as rehashed Christianity.
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on November 8, 2014
Excellent discussion of metaethics. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the ethics of Objectivism.
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on April 24, 2013
Ms Smith details why some things should be important as well as describing how one identify s a method for each one to choose what to include.
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on March 25, 2000
The basic question asked in this book is: Why be moral? The author, Prof. Tara Smith reviews and critiques the various historical positions on this question before providing what I consider the only valid answer. This was the answer provided by novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand as part of her Objectivist philosophy. Prof. Smith writes in the last two sentences of the book: "Life sets the standard of value, life is the goal of morality, life is the reward of morality. What stronger answer can one imagine to the question of why we should be moral?"
The meat of the book is devoted to detailed argumentation for the above points and a reader would be well rewarded by carefully reading through those chapters.
This book is a must for moral philosophy courses.
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on April 2, 2016
Smith clearly lays out at least one plausible meta-ethical interpretation of Ayn Rand's "Objectivist" ethics. That is not to say that the theory thus elucidated is plausible. To the contrary; indeed, one of the virtues of this book is that it shows clearly that the theory rests upon completely implausible premises. Perhaps most central is the fundamental confusion made, on p.89, between the evolutionary origin of our values, and the justification of those values themselves. Set aside for the moment the fact that some of our instinctive values--which in various situations, might lead to violence, rape, coercion, etc.--are obviously immoral, even by Objectivist standards. The more basic problem is that Smith writes here as if the sudden transformation of a moral person into an immoral being, who needed to do nothing in particular to stay alive forever, would forthwith cease to value anything, and even to be alive in any meaningful sense. This confusion between agency--the particular mode of some living things which stay alive in part by having evolved the capacity to believe and value various states of affairs--and life itself, is especially astounding for a philosophy which purportedly places such a huge value upon the capacity to be rational--which, however defined, is certainly a subset of agency. Grounding this value in what we share in common with protozoa is an odd move; and yet, perhaps, an inevitable one given Rand's scattered remarks describing her generally confused approach to meta-ethics. Smith is merely following Rand here in confusing (1) our "values" as what we consciously aim at with (2) the evolutionary reasons behind our having those values. Of course, in the same swoop she fails to distinguish (3) the evolution of some particular values or others (as directly adaptive tendencies) from (4) the evolution of our general capacity to value one thing or another, as well as the capacity to evaluate the latter (perhaps in light of yet other values, or in light of our valuation of our valuational dispositions as types, hence subjecting the latter to a universalizability test of the sort hailed by Kant, and despised by Rand). Of course, any philosopher worth their salt would recognize 1 & 2 as among the many distinctions of various kinds of causes made by Aristotle, whom Rand purports to praise at times. But by ignoring such ancient points, Smith's work, again following Rand here, honors a reading of Aristotle more in the breach than in the observance. If you want to make the most sense you can of Rand, Smith's works may help; if you want an ethics that actually makes sense, period, you could do better by reading real philosophy--starting with Aristotle and going forward from there.
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on April 27, 2000
Why be moral? Prof. Smith's "Viable Values" provides the most comprehensive answer to this question that I've seen.
Although Smith unapolegetically follows the philosophy of the late Ayn Rand, she does not simply recapitulate Rand's position. First, Smith provides an original defense of Rand's question "Why does man need a code of values?" Second, she utterly demolishes the life/flourishing dichotomy through a series of extended, thoroughly analyzed examples. But the most rewarding section contains an illuminating analysis of why ill-begotten gains are not values. Her analysis here is explicit enough that it should allow readers to identify how *any* con-artist must be self-defeating.
As an aside, I can't help but defend Smith's thesis against one silly objection--that she provides no reason for an irrevocably suicidal person to live morally. Her answer would be simple: If morality is the art of living well, then a person irrevocably committed to suicide has no more reason to act morally than a person irrevocably committed to poverty has reason to invest wisely. The *reason* to practice any code of action (whether morality or the art of finance) is the acceptance of the *goal* of that practice (whether it be life or wealth). Thus, demanding an ethics that will compel moral action from those who seek never to act again is akin to demanding an economics that will compel good investments from those who've taken a vow of poverty. Following Smith's argument, if you meet an *irrevocably* suicidal airline pilot, don't get on his plane; if you meet a monk who dabbles in the stock market, don't give him a dime to invest. There's no hole in the logic that leads to "seek a pilot who loves life and an investor who loves profits."
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