Life as the Ultimate Value

Continuing a discussion on a recent article of mine, here is my reply to one of the commenters on that article. Because my reply is so long and explains in detail the Objectivist theory of rational values and life as the ultimate value, and refutes any alternative notions, I thought it would be helpful to display it here in a blog of its own:

Martin’s comments are in italic and bold:

Evanescent you are repeating yourself, saying nothing new and failing to answer the questions and avoiding them instead. I will analyze your last comment one more time and list the question for actual answer rather than avoidance.

Just because you refuse to accept the answers I give doesn’t mean I am avoiding anything.

Incidentally, you, like your anti-objectivist kin, have yet to answer the challenges that I have presented. Namely: name an ultimate value other than life (since I proved that there MUST be one), and: state your own objective moral system and justify it philosophically from reality.

I am still waiting.

“Life is the ultimate value because there is none higher – life makes value possible.”

This is the genetic fallacy. Just because life is the cause of value does not mean it is value. Alonzo made an equivalent argument over the existence of value versus the value of value.

Objectivist definition of value: that which one acts to keep and/or gain.

Does one act to keep and/or gain life? Yes. Therefore life is a VALUE.

Q1: Now please answer and try to refute either what I or Alonzo said.

“There is only one “ultimate” value, by definition, and because life is an end in itself.”

If a value is an end in itself – the other meaning of intrinsic BTW.

You are wrong here. An end in itself does NOT mean intrinsic, it means that it is not a means to any other end.

Intrinsic (in the case of value) means that something is a value in and of itself, without reference to a valuer. Life is NOT a value in itself and Objectivist doesn’t claim that it is. It does claim that life is a value to the VALUER. It does not claim that human life is sacred, or precious in and of itself. What it DOES claim is that a human being’s life is a value to HIMSELF/HERSELF.

…(versus a value that is a means instrumental), then there is no “by definition” that there is only one such value. Q2: Where is your argument that this is singular? Q3: What is the meaning of an ultimate value if it is not intrinsic? Do you just mean an end in itself?

Already answered in my paragraph above.

As Ergo and I have already proven, there must be an ultimate value for philosophical and logical reasons that is an end in itself. You haven’t actually rejected this I don’t think, since you recognise the epistemological nihilism that would await you, therefore I assume you accept it; you just deny that life is the ultimate value. However, it necessarily is, and it necessarily is the ONLY ultimate value for the reasons argued above.

“Nothing else is an end in itself. Further up, I challenged anyone to disagree with this by providing an example of something else that IS an end in itself. This challenge remains unmet.”

This challenge has been repeatedly met. A desire to avoid pain, a desire for happiness, a desire to avoid predators, a desire for food, a desire for drink, a desire for sex. These are all ends in themselves.

How can you not realise the absurdity of your own statements?

Why do you DESIRE these things? Why is happiness a value to you? Why is food, drink, sex, a value to you??

These are self-evidently NOT values in themselves. You eat because you ENJOY food, and pleasure makes life worth living. You eat because otherwise you will die. You eat ultimately because you are pursuing your LIFE. Eating is a means to an end. All forms of recreation are a means to an end. Food and drink are a means to an end.

To ultimately destroy this argument of yours, I will use another analogy using “food” and “drink”. Imagine you are immortal (like a vampire or something) and you don’t need to eat or drink at all – of what value would food and drink be to you then? None.

Imagine you didn’t care if you enjoyed your mortal life or not. Of what benefit would tasty food, good friends, great sex, be to you? None. Zero. They would be valueless.

Everything you can possibly think of is only a value to you in the context of enjoying your LIFE and furthering your LIFE. They are of NO value outside of this context. And it is this more than anything else that refutes everything you’ve said. More than just objective philosophy, this is just common sense. How can you fail to see that?

They are all relational values the value is in the relation between the desire and its fulfillment. Q4: Your “stealing the concept ” argument is invalid. How can you show these are not ends in themselves without breaking Occam’s Razor?

Occam’s razor is totally irrelevant here. For a start, O.R. doesn’t state that the simple-minded explanation is the best. First off, it has to ACTUALLY BE an explanation to begin with! Your suggestions for alternative “ends in themselves” explain nothing, contradict reality, and open more questions – therefore they are not parsimonious and in fact violate O.R.

“There are no rational “multiple ends” – this is logically self-evident.”

Empty rhetoric. Q5: Where is your argument that this is self-evident.

Every goal that you pursue, you do so with your life as the ultimate value. You might deny this but that’s irrelevant, as I’ve already shown it’s the case whether you realise it or not.

Example: to pursue multiple ends is contradictory: it is akin to smoking whilst having therapy for lung cancer (which of course some people do). This is irrational. If one wants to live, therapy is the answer, but smoking is inimical to human life. One might claim to be pursuing pleasure by smoking, but if one’s wishes to stay alive, the irrational pursuit of pleasure (or pain for that matter) is contradictory. Either you want or live or you don’t. If you do, don’t smoke. If you don’t, kill yourself immediately. There is no rational middle ground.

Incidentally, this AGAIN shows you that pursuing pleasure/pain CANNOT be an end in itself. IF it was, then one should pursue pleasure <i>for the sake of it</i>, which means one should take harmful drugs, rape girls for pleasure, steal money, hurt people if necessary etc etc – do WHATEVER brings happiness to you! Is this what you’re suggesting?? I doubt it, but if pleasure is an end in itself as YOU claim, this is the logical corollary.

I won’t labour this point further: it has well and truly been established: to avoid irrationality and contradictions, an ultimate goal/value is necessary.

Far from being “empty rhetoric” this is the objective rational basis of Objectivist morality. And if you think about it, this is probably how you live your life – so why do you deny it here?

“All values (or subvalues I should say in this context) as pursued because they ULTIMATELY either benefit your life or detract from your life.”

This is a beneficial side effect. We have evolved to have the desire-as-ends that we do as they enabled our ancestors to survive and reproduce and we are the result. No animal reasons nor is able to reason this way. As humans we can go further but only need to replace this as needed. Q6: The same argument is made by genetic biologists that the ultimate goal is successful reproduction. As far as I can see these are both abstractions. How can you refute the geneticists and show your is better than theirs?

Because Objectivism identifies man as a rational being, not as a mindless animal. How we evolved to become rational beings is really irrelevant. Evolution is NOT a prescription on morality, and you won’t find a single evolutionist who would claim that it is!

Objectivism recommends that a rational being pursue his own rational happiness in his life. Happiness is not to be found by pursuing arbitrary emotional or instinctive impulses, such as to eat, defecate, or fornicate wherever and whenever one wishes (like an animal would).

Evolutionists describe how life developed to the point it is. Philosophers attempt to answer the question: “how should man live his life? What is right or wrong?” These questions are NOT answered by evolution, and even Richard Dawkins would agree with me on this. Ayn Rand was a monumental philosopher because she answered these questions objectively, rationally, and derived them from existence itself.

“One cannot pursue rational values that conflict with this.”

Q7:Define rational values. I suggested means-end rationality but you appeared to reject this. Means-end rationality is about reasoning over means not ends.

A value is that which one acts to keep and/or gain. If it is non-contradictory with the hierarchy of one’s other values (which themselves are subordinate to life itself), the value is rational.

To use the earlier example, cigarettes are an irrational value.

“Even if you want to talk about “sub-ends”, the way we talk about subvalues, in other words, where one acheives or accomplishes something – even the acheival of this “end” is itself a means to another. The only way to avoid an infinite regress of “means” and “ends”, where all values and goals take place in a vacuum of arbitrary and random action – is to have an end that is an end in itself – something is not a means to anything else: life.”

Q8: Geneticists would disagree with this (see above). What do you say to them

Infinite regress can be also avoided with multiple desire-as-ends so this does not refute such a position.

As I have shown, multiple desires-as-ends do NOT exist, because they result in contradictory irrational behaviour.

To repeat: let’s say my smoking is a desire as an end in itself. Let’s also say that my wishing to avoid dying of lung cancer is a desire as an end in itself. Here we have multiple “ends” – notice the contradiction??

This is just one example, but it is impossible to name ANY “desires as ends” that either: do not conflict with each other, or: reduce ultimately to the pursuit of one’s life. This proves the point.

“Objectivism posits LIFE. What do YOU posit? What is YOUR philosophical alternative?”

You are implicitly equivocating over life. I post life too but this does not lead to Objectivism, that is the whole point. I am not presenting an alternative as such, I am saying that everyone seeks to fulfill the more and stronger of their desires.

You are correct that people seek to fulfil their desires, but that is because they DESIRE what they VALUE. And if you wish to live as a rational being, your values should be rationally chosen. Since I doubt you disagree with this, we can proceed to: desires in themselves are NOT guides to actions. Why? Because our desires and emotions are not always rational. Emotions are REACTIONS to the world, not descriptions of the world, therefore they are not reliable guides to what is good or bad for us. E.g.: I’m sure heroin feels amazing (I’ve never taken it) but it is not a rational value (desire) to pursue, because it is BAD for me; for my life; it is ultimately deleterious and potentially lethal.

If on the other hand, one pursues (or desires) rational values, then one’s means will never conflict with each other, or with one’s ultimate end: happiness (non-contradictory joy) in life.

“The examples that you mention, such as pursuit of happiness or avoidance of pain are YOU begging the question – you steal the concept of value into YOUR argument, but these are concepts that are epistemologically dependant on and derived from LIFE.”

Confusing instrumental again. Your are imposing an ad hoc rationalization

Q10: where is your logical or empirical argument that your approach is correct?

Already answered this.

“By even suggesting that you SHOULD desire to avoid pain, and SHOULD desire pleasure, you ASSUME that one already lives a life that makes such values or non-values possible, and that one is pursuing one’s life and happiness in such a way to avoid that which detracts from such life and seek that which benefits and aids such life! Which is exactly the Objectivism theory of rational values.”

There are no SHOULDS here. Once you have burned your hand in a flame you do not want to do so again. There is no should involved. Desires exist we are not arguing over having desire-as-ends people do not have have, only recognizing the desire-as-ends they do have and the implications of this. You are performing the same instrumental error as before. It does not matter how often you assert it this error will not just disappear without an argument.

I have dealt with the issue of “desires as ends” etc above.

“An ultimate value is actually philosophical necessary, and the fact that you would question this with “multiple desires-as-ends” is propesterous!”

Q11: How about making an argument as to why this is preposterous.

Already done above.

“Otherwise one would not act with any rational goals – one could eat healthy food one day and drink poison the next; why not, unless life was your value?”

Q12: What is a rational goal? This sounds very Kantian, I thought Rand did not like Kant.

Already explained rational goals above. There is nothing Kantian about this.

Q13: What is the logic that leads one to eat poison one day, certainly not the desire-as-ends already listed.

“One could be obnoxious and vicious one day and pleasant and mild the next; why not, unless you had an ultimate goal?”

One always has “ultimate goals”, which ones are activated depends on the situation. When you are thirsty you seek to satiate that thirst. When you are not thirsty you do not.

But if you were incapable of dying of thirst, you wouldn’t seek water! Water sustains life, therefore water is a value (a means) only because life is the ultimate value (an end).

However, life is a not a means to ANYTHING ELSE. One drinks in order to live, but one does not live in order to do anything else. Life simply is; it is metaphysically given.

“It should not even need to be spelled out that desires are NOT ends!”

To be accurate it is their fulfillments that are the ends.

As I’ve shown many times above, it is rational values that should be pursued, because they are consonant with life.

“If they were, I could desire to chop off my big toe, as an end in itself.”

Q14: Why would you want to do this?

Why would I NOT want to do this??? That’s the point!

You cannot answer that without begging the question. You’d have to answer that it would be painful. But when I’d ask: why avoid pain? And you’d answer: “avoiding pain is an end in itself, so avoid it for the hell of it.” And I’d answer: “well, pursuing pain is an end in itself, so I’ll chop off my big toe for the hell of it.”

“I could desire to shoot you in the head, or eat the bark of a tree, or masturbate on the street corner, or eat nothing but chocolate all day, FOR NO OTHER REASON that the desire itself.”

All these desires are possible and people have had and acted on them. Who is going to recommend and encourage them, rather they are to be condemned and discouraged?

You are begging the question: why should they be condemned rather than encouraged?? If they are ends in themselves they cannot be condemned on any grounds! If would take a foundation of higher value from which to judge an action not good or bad, because “good” and “bad” are terms that presuppose the question: “good or bad to whom??? To what??”

Again, Objectivism answers: life. You don’t answer anything, which means you have no grounds to condemn any action. That is yet another reason why “ends in themselves” is a meaningless bankrupt notion.

“But then we wouldn’t be talking about rational values! All desires are desires precisely because we believe we accomplish something by attaining them; by acheieving these values.”

Yea duh!. I am thirsty and I fulfill my desire for water by drinking water.

Because you want to LIVE.

“But this assumes that they are of VALUE TO SOMETHING, and beneficial TO SOMETHING… but to what??”

When I drink this satisfies me.

And when a paedophile rapes a kid he satisfies himself. Desires as ends, eh?

I’ll underline this because it’s important and the crux of the matter:

You cannot condemn the paedophile for pursuing his desires “as ends” because that would require you to posit something higher than “desires” as a guide for right and wrong. Objectivism can condemn the paedophile, because LIFE is the ultimate value and must be pursued rationally, therefore all desires are means to an end, which means they can be judged in relation to THAT END. But since you accept multiple desires as ends in themselves, you can no basis to judge anything.

“Objectivism answers: LIFE.”

Q15: So when you are thirsty you want a drink because it will save your life. If you don’t think it will save your life you will not drink?

Well, yeah! I drink water to live, just as I avoid poison in order to live. What alternative are you suggesting??

“A further example of the validity of the Objectivist philosophy is that it is impossible for you to provide two examples of rational values that one would pursue that ultimately conflict with each other.”

You need to define what a rational value is then we can see it is impossible or not.

Did this above.

Certainly desires can conflict and this leads to dilemmas, a subject of much philosophical analysis, partly because there can be rational support to both sides of certain dilemmas.

Ultimately, there cannot be rational support to both sides of a dilemma. That is like saying there is rational support for the propositions that the moon is made of cheese, and that is isn’t. In the end, the facts of reality always win out because reality does NOT contain or tolerate contradictions.

Morality also pertains to facts of reality, so there is always a right vs wrong; there is always a good vs bad, and there is always an irrational vs rational.

To suggest that two contradictory positions can be equally rational is illogical.

“All your philosophical attacks and positions are premised on a foundation of air (because you reject the notion of ultimate ends in themselves, a contradiction);”

This is false, no-one here rejects ultimate ends, it is just we have defined what we mean and you have not.

I had. And if I wasn’t clear before, I certainly have been with this post!

“…in fact, you have to assume Objectivist metaphysics and epistemology for yourself in order to attack it (the fallacy of concept stealing: because even your warped notion of values and ends presuppose Objectivism).”

This is a completely empty argument we have covered before. One does not need and can indeed reject Objectivist “metaphysics” and epistemology and make these arguments as we have all done here.

You can indeed reject Objectivism but you must still steal its concepts in order to make your arguments work. That is the point I am making.

I don’t think I could have been more detailed and complete in this post. I believe all your objections/questions/suggestions have been answered and refuted.

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9 Responses to “Life as the Ultimate Value”

  1. B. Dietz Says:

    Excellent post. It answers many questions. But I have a question that I am usually presented with by evolutionary psychology advocates when I try to argue for Objectivism. They will say that an individual’s life is not the standard of value for morality because in the “eyes of evolution” individuals are irrelevant. All that matters is reproduction and passing on your genes. What is the best response to this argument?

  2. evanescent Says:

    First of all, if someone says “all that matters is reproduction etc…” stop them right there. For a start, “matters” to whom?? Values are not intrinsic, nor do they exist in a vacuum. As Ayn Rand said, a value presupposes the question “of value to whom?”

    Evolution is an explanation of the natural world, it is not a prescription for what is right or wrong. And by “right” or “wrong” we mean: what is good or bad for a rational being. Based on what? Based on that rational being’s life and its relationship to reality.

    That is why Rand identified the good as that which benefits the life of a rational being, and evil as that which harms it.

    The highest moral purpose man can pursue is his own happiness. This is not to be found by spreading one’s seed at every opportunity like an animal, because man is not an unthinking instinct-driven animal, (although a lot of our behaviour is indeed a result of evolution), we are rational beings. Which means to live AS rational beings, in Rand’s words “man qua man” we must pursue reason in order to attain happiness.

    Whenever anybody tries to say something like “all that matters…” outside of the context of life, they are stealing the concept of value away from its antecedents (as I explain in the article).

    The standard of value for morality IS life, because it cannot be anything else and still be objective. All other “standards”, such as god or religion or authority or altruism or society etc all reduce to subjectivism and nihilism.

    The thing to bear in mind is not to let people steal concepts that they have no epistemological basis for. Take this article for example: Martin tries to use the terms value and “ends” with no regard to where they actually come from. When he tries to suggest that desires such as pleasure can be ends in themselves, he shoots himself in the foot without realising it.

    This is why Ayn Rand always said to her opponents: “name your primaries” and let’s go from there.

  3. archiblog Says:

    Your point is?

  4. evanescent Says:

    What a strange question. My point is contained in the article.

  5. Johnathon Says:

    Excellent Post!

  6. FO Says:

    As pointed out by critics in the other thread, it’s rather obvious that you eqivocation on the term life makes your argument vacous. As an analogy, if you are going to selct a car then you have to do two things, first you have to indentify qualities that are, so to speak, ends in themselfs, and then you have to find a method that reconcile those distinct ends. You might recognies that it is good to have a fast car while it is also good to have a cheap car and those ends may conflict. An ultimate end according to Objectivism would then serve two purposes 1) it tells you what is good and 2) It tells you how to reconcile distinct goods.

    If life as an ultimate value meant that man ought to live as long as possible then you would have an answer to both questions. Survival is the only good and in the choice between two options we ought to choose the one that has the greatest positive impact on our lifeexpactancy.

    Now, you don’t accept this; life as an ultimate value means, by eqivocvation, the life proper to a rational being. It’s just that in order to find out the content of the concept “life proper to a rational being” you have to answer the questions 1 and 2, and now you cannot motivate a good by saying that it is good because it is conductive to the ultimate end of a life proper to a rational being, that would be circular, you thus have to use some other method. What exactly is this method? As an example, if a person is putting forth a competing ethical ideal that he claims is “proper for a rational being” that involves self preservation as well as the pursuit of other peoples happiness, how are you going to prove that his ideal is wrong without making a circular reference to “the life proper to a rational being”? He is saying that the pursuit of other peoples happines is a part of a proper life for a rational being, therfore having you own life as an ultimate value implies pursuing other peoples happiness.

    The problem I think most critics have with Rands argument is that it fails either way; either we interpert life literally and accept that “life as the ultimate value” implies that we ought to pursue life expectancy maximization. This fails because it is obviuosly absurd and it also highlight the utter lack of logic in the meta ethical argument. The alternative is to eqivocate the term life and thereby smuggle in an ethical ideal, but that just raises the question where this ideal come from? It also makes the meta ethical argument inconsistent (as well as vacous), for example, Objectivists say that life is the ultimate value because without life we cannot value, but this is obviously false if being alive means to emulate a Randian hero.

  7. evanescent Says:

    As pointed out by critics in the other thread, it’s rather obvious that you eqivocation on the term life makes your argument vacous. As an analogy, if you are going to selct a car then you have to do two things, first you have to indentify qualities that are, so to speak, ends in themselfs, and then you have to find a method that reconcile those distinct ends. You might recognies that it is good to have a fast car while it is also good to have a cheap car and those ends may conflict. An ultimate end according to Objectivism would then serve two purposes 1) it tells you what is good and 2) It tells you how to reconcile distinct goods.

    If life as an ultimate value meant that man ought to live as long as possible then you would have an answer to both questions. Survival is the only good and in the choice between two options we ought to choose the one that has the greatest positive impact on our lifeexpactancy.

    Because survival qua animal is not what Objectivism recommends. Objectivism identifies man’s fundamental metaphysical nature as a rational being – therefore it recommends that he live this way and pursue his own happiness in accord with his nature. Therefore, happiness cannot be achieved by denying man’s nature. In other words, it’s not enough to merely exist from one moment to the next, scratching around in bins like an animal would.

    Now, you don’t accept this; life as an ultimate value means, by eqivocvation, the life proper to a rational being. It’s just that in order to find out the content of the concept “life proper to a rational being” you have to answer the questions 1 and 2, and now you cannot motivate a good by saying that it is good because it is conductive to the ultimate end of a life proper to a rational being, that would be circular, you thus have to use some other method. What exactly is this method? As an example, if a person is putting forth a competing ethical ideal that he claims is “proper for a rational being” that involves self preservation as well as the pursuit of other peoples happiness, how are you going to prove that his ideal is wrong without making a circular reference to “the life proper to a rational being”? He is saying that the pursuit of other peoples happines is a part of a proper life for a rational being, therfore having you own life as an ultimate value implies pursuing other peoples happiness.

    None of that makes any sense – nor does it bear any resemblance to Objectivism.

    I have already established above (although I did it in the article and subsequent comments) that there is no equivocation over “life” – I have used it quite clearly in context to mean “life as in existence” and “life qua man”. The context and my comments determine the usage. For example, an animal’s values are ends to the animal’s ultimate value, life. The same for a man, except the man’s life is that of a rational being.

    Now, what is proper to the life of a rational being is not merely survival, although man should indeed treat his life as the ultimate value. But this does not mean “survive at all costs” – indeed, there might be circumstances where it is necessary and MORAL to end one’s life.

    Now, here I mean “life” as in “existence” or “just being alive”: The reason life is the ultimate value, and I have explained it time and again, is because it makes all other values possible; all other values are means to the end of that life. To eat, to drink, to have sex, are all means to the end of life. However, life is not a means to anything else! Even animals have values – their life gives rise to values that they must pursue in harmony with their ultimate value, their life. The difference with animals is that they have no control or understanding of their values, no freedom of thought and action, and therefore the concept of morality is lost on them.

    Philosophically, an ultimate value is logically necessary. It is necessary because it is the only way to avoid contradiction in thought and action, and it is necessary because it provides an objective standard by which the word “value” and as a corollary “morality” has any meaning. There is only one value in this universe which does not reduce to any other value; which does not further anything else – and that is life. I challenged anyone to name another ultimate value – as you can see from all the comments above (which I suggest you read), they all failed. That is not a boast on my part, they lost because they denied reality.

    He is saying that the pursuit of other peoples happines is a part of a proper life for a rational being, therfore having you own life as an ultimate value implies pursuing other peoples happiness.

    Well he would be contradicting himself – and it’s staggering that you can’t see it: pursuing other people’s happiness as your PRIMARY concern would NECESSARILY place your life as less important. It would make you a sacrifice animal for the whims and emotions and needs of others – it would require you to give up the things you value in exchange for the things you don’t – it would require you to be irrational and servile – it would ask you to be anything except a rational intelligent being, that is, a man.

    Needless to say, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take care of people (I have to add this, as there are always those willing to misunderstand Objectivism), the point is that you shouldn’t LIVE FOR other people. Whatever place helping others has in your life, it must come within the hierachy of your values. That is why, obviously, I don’t go around helping out enemies with money, but I do help my friends out.

    The problem I think most critics have with Rands argument is that it fails either way; either we interpert life literally and accept that “life as the ultimate value” implies that we ought to pursue life expectancy maximization. This fails because it is obviuosly absurd and it also highlight the utter lack of logic in the meta ethical argument. The alternative is to eqivocate the term life and thereby smuggle in an ethical ideal, but that just raises the question where this ideal come from? It also makes the meta ethical argument inconsistent (as well as vacous), for example, Objectivists say that life is the ultimate value because without life we cannot value, but this is obviously false if being alive means to emulate a Randian hero.

    FO, you would do well to proof-read your comments in future before posting.

  8. FO Says:

    Now, here I mean “life” as in “existence” or “just being alive”: The reason life [as in “existence”] is the ultimate value [C1], and I have explained it time and again, is because it makes all other values possible [P1]; all other values are means to the end of that life. To eat, to drink, to have sex, are all means to the end of life.

    Let me spell out your derivation:

    P1: You have to be alive in order to value
    C1: Therfore all values ought to be directed at keeping us alive

    Let me eloborate on C1 a bit:

    C2: Therefore all our actions ought to be measured by thier impact on our life expectancy.

    This conclusion does generate plenty of content that could be condensed into a code for action, but the ultimate end is obviously silly, and it is obvious that the logic isn’t faulty between C1 and C2, C2 follows straight from C1. The problem is of course that C1 doesn’t follow from P1. Nothing whatsoever forces me to accept C1 once I have accepted P1. There is a semantic relation between P1 and C1 since they both alludes to the concept life (as in “existence”), but that’s all.

    The problem for you is that you don’t accept C2, which means that you don’t accept C1 even though you fomulated this exact derivation in the cited paragraph. The derivation you need in order to get the conclusions you want is:

    P1: You have to be alive (in the normal sense of the word) in order to value
    C1: Therfore all values ought to be directed at keeping us alive “qua man”.

    This derivation fares even worse than the previous one. Since “qua man” means “the life proper to man”, and since what is proper to man is the very question we wanted an answer to in the first place, the derivation is pointless, it cannot generate any content. All content is smuggeled into to the conclusion via the “qua man” appendix, and you have not presented any method that let us determine whether an action is “qua man” or not. In the first derivation, what is proper is related to our literal survival, in the second derivation what is proper rests on “qua man” which rests on what is proper.

    Well he would be contradicting himself – and it’s staggering that you can’t see it: pursuing other people’s happiness as your PRIMARY concern would NECESSARILY place your life as less important. It would make you a sacrifice animal for the whims and emotions and needs of others – it would require you to give up the things you value in exchange for the things you don’t – it would require you to be irrational and servile – it would ask you to be anything except a rational intelligent being, that is, a man.

    You are begging the question. If pursuing other peoples happiness is “qua man”, then it would be detrimental to your life as a rational being not to pursue it. And if you wanted to live as a rational being and felt sympathy for this ideal, then the sacrifice would be to refrain from pursuing other peoples happiness. If you did not value pursuing other peoples happiness it would be a sacrifice to do it in the same sense as it would be a sacrifice for Mao to give up his preferred life as a dictator, that is, it would be a sacrifice of irrational values.

    What I’m getting at is that you have no non qustion begging method for determing whether this particual action is qua man or not. If you accepted C2, then we could point to the fact that pursuing other peopels happiness might have a negatve impact on our life expectancy, but since living “qua man” is “not merely survival” then you have nothing substantial to point to that links you fundamental premise to your desired conclusion. All you have in the end is the utterly trivial observation that we have to be alive in order to value, and very, very little follows from this.

  9. evanescent Says:

    FO said:

    Let me spell out your derivation:

    P1: You have to be alive in order to value
    C1: Therfore all values ought to be directed at keeping us alive

    Let me eloborate on C1 a bit:

    C2: Therefore all our actions ought to be measured by thier impact on our life expectancy.

    This conclusion does generate plenty of content that could be condensed into a code for action, but the ultimate end is obviously silly, and it is obvious that the logic isn’t faulty between C1 and C2, C2 follows straight from C1. The problem is of course that C1 doesn’t follow from P1. Nothing whatsoever forces me to accept C1 once I have accepted P1. There is a semantic relation between P1 and C1 since they both alludes to the concept life (as in “existence”), but that’s all.

    The problem for you is that you don’t accept C2, which means that you don’t accept C1 even though you fomulated this exact derivation in the cited paragraph. The derivation you need in order to get the conclusions you want is:

    P1: You have to be alive (in the normal sense of the word) in order to value
    C1: Therfore all values ought to be directed at keeping us alive “qua man”.

    This derivation fares even worse than the previous one. Since “qua man” means “the life proper to man”, and since what is proper to man is the very question we wanted an answer to in the first place, the derivation is pointless, it cannot generate any content. All content is smuggeled into to the conclusion via the “qua man” appendix, and you have not presented any method that let us determine whether an action is “qua man” or not. In the first derivation, what is proper is related to our literal survival, in the second derivation what is proper rests on “qua man” which rests on what is proper.

    “Well he would be contradicting himself – and it’s staggering that you can’t see it: pursuing other people’s happiness as your PRIMARY concern would NECESSARILY place your life as less important. It would make you a sacrifice animal for the whims and emotions and needs of others – it would require you to give up the things you value in exchange for the things you don’t – it would require you to be irrational and servile – it would ask you to be anything except a rational intelligent being, that is, a man.”

    You are begging the question. If pursuing other peoples happiness is “qua man”, then it would be detrimental to your life as a rational being not to pursue it. And if you wanted to live as a rational being and felt sympathy for this ideal, then the sacrifice would be to refrain from pursuing other peoples happiness. If you did not value pursuing other peoples happiness it would be a sacrifice to do it in the same sense as it would be a sacrifice for Mao to give up his preferred life as a dictator, that is, it would be a sacrifice of irrational values.

    What I’m getting at is that you have no non qustion begging method for determing whether this particual action is qua man or not. If you accepted C2, then we could point to the fact that pursuing other peopels happiness might have a negatve impact on our life expectancy, but since living “qua man” is “not merely survival” then you have nothing substantial to point to that links you fundamental premise to your desired conclusion. All you have in the end is the utterly trivial observation that we have to be alive in order to value, and very, very little follows from this.

    The problem FO, is that you are trying to formulate a summary or conclusion of the entire argument from me into a formal argument, without the context or content or everything else I have said. In essence, you’re attacking a strawman and that’s most likely because you haven’t read the entire article and comments.

    I believe I have already explained this in detail in the article and subsequent comments, but I will elucidate here again (hopefully) without labouring the point.

    A value is that which one acts to keep and/or gain. This implies that an agent is capable of goal-directed action. The only “agent” that is capable of such action is a living one. And there is only one objective standard by which “value” can be measured: the agent’s life. I have already explained why objectivity is essential (and from a philosophical point of view I assume you would not question the need), and why life is the standard (all values are directed towards the pursuit of life – this is a metaphysical fact whether one accepts it or not – since the alternative is death, and if one pursues values that lead to death, then a guide to life-sustaining values, i.e.: morality, is irrelevant, and one should kill oneself immediately. Any action that furthers one’s life is irrational if one does not accept life as the standard). Indeed, life is the only value that isn’t directed towards anything else.

    Now, Objectivism identifies man as an integrated being of body and mind. We are not mindless brutes nor are we brains floating in a jar. Just as man has a certain biological nature, he also has a certain intellectual nature, and that is the essence of being a man qua man. All lifeforms pursue values – that which is beneficial to their ultimate value: life. The difference is that animals do this automatically – humans do not. Objectivism identifies man’s most fundamental nature as that of a rational being (this cannot be denied without presupposing its veracity), and basically says “since you’re alive there are necessarily things which are of value to you. As a rational being, you must identify (as opposed to just knowing through instinct or being forced to accept) those values that are beneficial or inimical to your life. To do so means one must understand what type of being one is, and identify those things that benefit or harm you. Here arises a code of values to guide your actions, which is the purpose of morality. Notice that the standard is the life of a rational being: it is not the subjective whim of that being; “whatever makes me happy” nor is the idea of intrinsic values external “one must serve others/god because serving others/god is necessarily good” – indeed subjectivism leads to nihilism and intricism is a contradiction in terms anyway (as values don’t exist apart from a valuer).

    So, the question of morality is a matter of values: “what is of objective value to my life as a rational being? What is good or bad for my life? How do I achieve?” Man cannot survive without reason, therefore if one accepts reason as a primary value, and rationality as the only means to attain it, everything else follows; everything else, all other “sub”-values if you will, are harmonious and consonant with one’s primary value: life as a rational being.

    But unless one recognises that an ultimate value can and DOES exist, no other values are possible; morality is irrelevant, reason is arbitrary; one ceases to function like a man qua man; one becomes little more than an animal. In fact, an animal can survive without reason, a human can’t – so one becomes less than an animal.

    Now, morality is not a guide for how to surrender your life, it’s a guide on how to live it; YOUR life. But in order to live YOUR life as a rational being, one must act in one’s best interest. It is ironic that Objectivism has taken so much criticism for declaring that it’s in man’s best interest to act in his best interest! Since reason is man’s primary means of survival, irrationality is to be avoided. Yet that is exactly that opposite of what living for other people demands. If one treats other people as the primary value in life, it is MORAL to surrender one’s values to others. Yet values are the very things that guide our decisions! After all, why help your friends when you can help strangers? Why save the life of a lover over an enemy? Why give 70% of your wages to charity when you can give 80%? Why devote yourself to the love of your life when you could devote yourself to someone you care little about? All the above presuppose that the beneficiary of one’s action is ONESELF. Altruism, the placing of others above yourself, would negate the entire basis of value and morality. Therefore, it is illogical, irrational, immoral, for a man to NOT act in his best interest. And that is why living as a man qua man cannot mean to treat others as primary importance. You cannot redefine “man qua man” the way you tried to do above. Values arise through man’s nature and his relationship to reality. IF one intends to live as a rational being, one must use his own life and values as primary importance. This isn’t dependant on what one feels or “sympathises” (your words) with – it isn’t a product of whim or emotion or authority, but rather, reason.

    You’re welcome to re-arrange that into any logical structure you will, but I think that very briefly clarifies the Objectivism approach to life and value. Unfortunately, as rational and reasonable as that is, there are still people who love any excuse to attack Ayn Rand. Is it because they are afraid of the idea of ultimate objective values and definite black/white statements, is because they simply misunderstand her? Who knows.


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