Welcome to Objectivism Online Forum

Welcome to Objectivism Online, a forum for discussing the philosophy of Ayn Rand. For full access, register via Facebook or email.


  • Content count

  • Joined

  • Last visited

1 Follower

About DonAthos

  • Rank
    Senior Member

Profile Information

  • Gender Male

Previous Fields

  • Country United States
  • State (US/Canadian) California
  • Relationship status No Answer
  • Sexual orientation No Answer
  • Real Name Tyler
  • Copyright Copyrighted
  • School or University UC Santa Cruz
  • Occupation Would-Be Writer
  1. Is this your own view, or are you claiming that it is the Objectivist view? Because, to me it seems that the Objectivist view is consistent with JTB. Rand says that "knowledge is the mental grasp of a fact of reality." Which means that it must be true. Consider Peikoff's discussion of "certainty" (from a lecture, per the Lexicon): This discussion, and the last paragraph especially, seems to me to accord with Eiuol's description of "true as far as I know."
  2. The thing about Ayn Rand is that she's a bloody genius. And the people who try to relay her ideas, even when they are intelligent themselves, and sympathetic to her ends, do not tend to reach Rand's level, in my opinion. (I put myself squarely in this camp.) Are there important subtleties lost in Rand's writing, when someone of "lesser skill" (or more shallow understanding) attempts to communicate them? While I have no specific example to point to, such is always my fear. So with Rand, I do counsel "getting it from the horse's mouth." (And as a bonus, Rand is an incredible non-fiction writer.) As to specific recommendations, I can say that I regard The Virtue of Selfishness and ITOE as being Rand's most central and crucial non-fiction works, although ITOE is not where I would first direct someone "new to abstraction." It is possible, if you're really a "beginner," that the best place to start is not with Rand's ideas at all. Someone else recommended studying logic first, which is a good idea. Applied logic, such as Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World or Henry Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson may be fun and informative ways to exercise the muscles you'll need to truly tackle Rand. Above all, what I recommend is: go slowly. Think things through, one step at a time. Take nothing for granted and nothing on authority, and chew, chew, chew.
  3. I honestly wish I could explain more, Eiuol, but the extent of this conversation already pushes at my (admittedly narrow) boundaries. If we were discussing bacteria, which I would stipulate are vastly simpler creatures than man, even there I could only say so much as to how they operate. I don't know where, as we regard creatures great and small, "pleasure" and "pain" can be said to begin. But there are some stimuli which draw and some which repel, of their nature -- or perhaps somewhat more precisely, according to their relationship with our nature. Such is the world as I find it. I know what it is to experience both pleasure and pain, and I can talk about their being "charged" positive and negative (which is a rough, yet apt, analogy), and I can trace their relationship to value, as I am attempting to do in another thread, but I don't know how thoroughly I can describe pleasure and pain in themselves, or how they operate. (In a somewhat similar fashion, I can discuss various things about gravity, in terms of my experience of it, and memorize equations to work out its force, and so forth, but I could not give you a full accounting of how gravity operates). In "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand wrote: Here Rand makes no claim as to how pleasure or pain work, so far as I can tell (either in infancy or adulthood), but she goes on to describe what she takes as their purpose: Well, how does this function in an infant? The infant has no conscious understanding that pleasure indicates that he is pursuing the right course of action; nor that pain means that he is pursuing the wrong course of action. All that the infant is privy to is pleasure and pain itself (in that he experiences them; not even that one is "pleasure" and the other "pain"). So if these physical mechanisms are to do their job as "automatic guardian," then the responses that pleasure and pain generate must be automatic as well: pleasure draws the infant on, pain repels, according to the biological mechanisms that the infant's nature supplies (e.g. crying). Infants do not remain infants. Men can make choices. You can have conscious awareness of alternatives and select from among them. But this is an ability that an infant does not possess. Consider that dogs, as infants, experience pleasure and pain -- and that pleasure and pain work as "automatic guardians" of the dog's life, just as with the infant. Yet an adult dog does not have the kind of volition that an adult human does, and therein lies the difference. But even so, as we trace back to earlier stages of man's development, to adolescence, to childhood, to infancy, to fetal stages and embryonic, we find states of Homo sapiens that do not have the same ability as an adult human. I agree that focus is where "choice" starts, and cognition, and volition, yet even so an infant is limited. (I couldn't tell you what all is involved in "the choice to focus," which remains to me one of the most occult of Objectivist ideas; yet I fully anticipate that it's not some light switch that is thrown on some day of prenatal development, or at birth. I expect that learning how to focus is an ability that the infant develops over time.) But again, there's no "choice to live" hidden here, waiting to be unearthed. I may as well say that there's also a "choice to eat Big Macs" entailed in the "choice to focus." If you were to object that an infant doesn't even have a conception of what a "Big Mac" is, so how is he meant to "choose" it, I would be forced to agree... but then, neither does an infant have any conception of what "life" is. You cannot choose that which you cannot conceive.
  4. These are delicate topics. I would say that because there is a great deal of truth in Objectivism, I care for it -- but only to that extent. If I ever found Objectivism and truth in conflict, surely I would love truth more. Frankly, I don't expect to find any Objectivist (worthy of the title) who would feel any other way, including Leonard Peikoff. This sounds tongue-in-cheek...? But just to clarify, and speaking only for myself, I don't consider my attractions to be arbitrary, and neither would I reduce the kinds of "pleasures" I'm talking about (or intend to talk about, at least) to sex, or etc. Though I mean to argue that they are sourced in physical pleasure, eventually there are many kinds of pleasure, including (most importantly) happiness. (Neither do I mean to discount sex, but that topic is a whole can of worms.) This forum typically exercises a fair degree of latitude for posting style, in my experience. There is something, at times, a bit obnoxious about finding someone posting three, four, five, six posts in a row (some consisting of a single sentence or etc.), but lots of people do that occasionally. I tend to favor long and thorough posts myself, though I'm sure others find that obnoxious, too. Ultimately, use your best judgement about what seems appropriate, given the culture as you find it (it may take a bit of time to adjust). I'd advise taking Eiuol's request into serious consideration, and if it turns out that you drown the forum in an endless series of posts -- you know -- then we'll have to take further action to correct for that. But I'd bet things never reach such a point.
  5. I'm saying that there is no such choice to make initially. (Nor the means to make one.) Later on, you (accurately) identify the unique role pleasure and pain have as motivators (note for the sake of our other conversation how this is different from red and purple, and meaningfully so). A baby does not "choose" to be motivated into some response by pain and pleasure; that pleasure and pain serve this function -- just as they do for many "lower" lifeforms -- isn't a matter of "choice," but a matter of nature. "One's teleology is activated" when sperm fertilizes egg, when cells divide, when physical and mental faculties are created, and when stimulus is introduced. Initially there is some automatic reaction to that stimulus, just as one kicks when the doctor strikes the patellar tendon with a rubber hammer. At such a level, such choice is neither necessary nor possible. All right. So you're positing a "choice," but one that is "non-conceptual," and a baby "participates" in its choosing (choosing what? to experience pleasure as pleasure; pain as pain? does the baby "choose" to have its heart beat?), but... "perhaps no baby will ever choose not to live"? That's like a dictator getting 100% of the vote! It rather calls into question the legitimacy of the vote itself. But, in fairness, the baby -- even before birth -- is certainly doing something of its own accord. Can we relate that something to "choice"? Perhaps in a sense -- in the sense that Rand intends by talking about the root of volition being "the choice to focus," which is another sense in which I would not say that it is "choice" in the way we otherwise mean. If we were talking about early experiments in cognition (coming into focus, focusing on various sensations), or flexing muscles, receiving feedback, then I could agree that the baby is participatory -- though I would still disagree that the baby is "choosing" anything in particular. And this is still far from any sensible way in which we could say "the baby is choosing to live." Or at least, it makes zero sense to me. I agree that "pleasure is nice" (or has a positive charge, of man's nature) and a newborn accordingly acts for the sake of more of that pleasure (when it achieves awareness such to link its own actions to the pleasures it receives) -- but that's exactly what's happening. There's no need for an additional layer of "choosing to live" on top of it, and thou shalt not multiply entities beyond necessity. We could in some sense say that the baby is "choosing" pleasure and "choosing" to avoid pain, if you'd like, but even there I'm not satisfied that this represents any actual choice. A baby is designed (via natural selection) to want pleasure and to react towards it in that exact way. This is why, when we have conceptual thought and can make actual choices, we can also evaluate things to be good (i.e. in the manner of pleasure) or evil (in the manner of pain). Do you know what kind of baby would not "choose" to seek pleasure, or to avoid pain? The kind of baby that is physically damaged such that it cannot experience pleasure and/or pain. But I would suppose that perhaps these are the children that you would say "do not choose life"? What a choice! Eiuol, I think we are closest when you describe a baby as "participatory" in its actions -- which I agree with. And I further agree that there are mental states involved (though as to the exact nature of such mental states in early development, I cannot speculate; the brain is yet developing, and I would not necessarily expect the mental capacity of a newborn, or prenatal infant, to allow for mental states such as we experience, identify, and remember). But choices, lest we use the concept where it doesn't actually apply, are for people with conceptual thought and conscious volition. Compare them without retaining the particulars which make them dissimilar, in context? No. But abstract similarities from otherwise dissimilar cases for the purpose of conceptualization and analysis? Yes -- I would do that, whatever John Galt might think of it. (And if he is as smart as reputed, I expect he would approve.) A person who doesn't expect to live much longer, in reason, is a person who doesn't expect to live much longer, in reason; if that has implication for ethics, then it does. But I continue to believe that ethics remains about pursuing happiness to the extent possible, given one's context, whether one has a clean bill of health, at twenty or ninety, or is dying of cancer, at twenty or ninety, or is trapped on a cliff face by a tiger. Rather than "ethics" depending upon certain conditions, I would say that the possibility of happiness depends upon certain conditions (and the state of one's body and mind certainly play a large factor here). This is precisely why, in the event that such conditions do not permit for happiness (and rather promise that which is ethical to avoid -- pain and suffering), I would say that it is moral to commit suicide.
  6. In "Pleasure and Value," Nerian linked a short recording of Rand's on the "purpose of life." I attempted to transcribe what I found most significant: I agree with this. One should enjoy his life. He should be happy in it. His proper moral obligation is to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to himself, such that he can explain or prove to himself in rational, logical terms. And this is as true if a man expects to live for thirty more years, or three years, or three days, or three minutes -- even in those situations where we might describe someone as "dying" (though yet alive). The means by which man strives for happiness is the basis for moral reasoning. A man who will only live for three more months is not (contra the Peikoff recording you'd linked, which I consider incorrect in many respects) now somehow exempt from morality or moral reasoning; he needs it -- for the next three months -- so that those three months can be lived as well as possible (i.e. as happily as possible; as characterized by enjoyment and pleasure as possible), as an end in itself. At risk of further confusing a discussion already characterized by complexity, regard the famous Buddhist parable, "The Monk, the Tiger and the Strawberry": I don't know about you, but I consider this to be a moral tale.
  7. The system disallows me from giving out more "likes" today, so this will be my substitute. Perfect response.
  8. We may have reached an impasse in a couple of areas. I cannot agree, for instance, that "justifiable deviations" from a rational moral code exist; if such deviations are justified/justifiable, it can only be by appeal to a "larger" or more comprehensive (or more rational) moral code. I still cannot agree that there is any difference between "moral" and "morally justified." If the Objectivist Ethics cannot do so (though I'm not convinced that they can't), then perhaps they need amendment -- whether the resultant ethics are deemed Objectivist or anything else. (Or, and this might be more likely, some Objectivists need to amend their understanding of "morality.") When Biddle observes that some people in some situations would be better off "leaving life," he is implicitly appealing to a standard. Is that standard "survival"? Obviously not. But is Biddle's standard consonant with other possible understandings of "life"? That's a much more involved question, and it relates (in part) to the arguments I've made in the "Pleasure and Value" thread (and arguments that many other commentators have made in criticism of a survivalist ethos, despite agreeing that "life" is "the standard of value"). Consistency with the Objectivist Ethics aside, when we claim that certain choices can be termed "better" or "worse" by appealing to some standard, it is an ethical claim. We don't have the power to define morality out of existence. I'm not prepared, in this thread at least, to discuss your idea of a "self-preservation drive." I have described my current understanding of how and why a baby cries -- in an automated response to the pain of hunger, and without any conscious understanding of how its crying relates to its own survival, or anything at all. (At least at first; the baby will quickly make burgeoning connections between its cries and the response it receives, and thus move towards goal-directed activity, though the details of how this operates are beyond my expertise.) If that kind of description accords with your "self-preservation drive," then we can call ourselves agreed to that extent. But nowhere would I find it accurate to describe it as a matter of "choice." And when the baby does acquire the ability to take action specifically in order to get milk (whenever we could meaningfully say that it is "choosing"), it is for the sake of the milk and the pleasure that it provides (along with associated physical comforts/pleasures, such as the warmth of skin-to-skin contact, the sounds of the mother's voice, etc.) -- not for the sake of "survival," which is a conceptual understanding far beyond a baby's ability and experience. Whatever Biddle thought himself to be saying on the topic of "choosing to live," and whether or not we call it accurate, babies do not "choose" to live. Insofar as things happen without choice (whether we're discussing hurricanes blowing or babies crying), those things are amoral. Insofar as men make choices, there is morality. An amoral choice is a contradiction in terms.
  9. Is that what the quoted material said? Let me look again: Erm... It looks to me like Earnest (what a name for a press secy!) is saying that both committed crimes, but Manning went through the criminal justice process and Snowden did not. Not that Snowden is guilty whereas Manning isn't. (He straight up says that she was found guilty and "acknowledged wrongdoing." That does not equal "innocence.") I know it might be read as though I'm commenting on the Manning case, or Snowden, or even on Obama's morality, which I guess this post is meant to implicate, but such is not my intention. It's just that I read through this post en route to approving it for the forum, and I was struck by the wide deviation between what Hurd quoted and his immediate commentary on it. I'm still mystified. It's as though he didn't read the same thing I did at all...
  10. Is this what Eiuol might mean by a "given start"? I'm not certain, though perhaps he will comment on the matter to clarify. For myself, I think that initially we are "driven" (by pains and pleasures, primarily) to pursue things which are conducive to our survival -- without any awareness or knowledge or conscious/directed participation. A baby is hurt (e.g. from hunger, which the baby will not identify as such, or understand) and cries. The baby does not "choose" to cry; the baby cannot "choose" not to cry. If a lion is roaming nearby, and the baby's cries will alert the lion to the baby's presence, the baby will not therefore not cry. It is: hunger=cry. This is a mechanism which has been evolved because, more often than not, mother is around and not a lion. More often than not, crying in response to hunger triggers the mother's care rather than the lion's own appetite. More often than not, this helps the baby to live long enough to develop the ability to make choices (and reproduce, which passes on the fundamental design); but when the baby cries, it is not because "the baby chose to cry." Not to put too fine a point on it, but a choice "made for you" is not a choice at all. I cannot comment on what kinds of paradoxes the Christian community might accept, but I do not accept that an action may be "morally justified" and yet not "moral." For a proposed action to be considered "moral," what we mean (the only thing that we can mean) is that the action is justified by our code of morality, in a given context; i.e. it is the "right thing to do." (The very idea of "justification" comes from the just, the right, the good.) You may have to explain what you mean further if you'd like me to understand the distinction you're attempting to draw, but at present those look like the very same concepts from where I sit. And if we hold that some action may be "morally justified" in a given context, but it does not appear to be consistent with our abstract understanding of some code of morality that we otherwise embrace, then either 1) we are wrong about the action (i.e. it is not morally justified by that code, and perhaps not at all) or 2) we must amend our understanding of the code of morality, or abandon it for one that better describes reality. In his YouTube video, Biddle appears to be appealing to something -- some implicit standard -- when he describes the cases in which he would consider suicide to be justified, or "better" than the alternative. (Just as he appeals to what seems to be the same implicit standard in describing those cases where suicide is not justified.) To what does he appeal, in your opinion? Upon what basis would Biddle make such a decision for himself (insofar as you can imagine it)? I don't know. In the case of such a commitment, I'd counsel at least giving a touch of heed to one's "inner protests," which sound as though they may be onto something. All right. If we're talking about a "choice" which (most) people "have no choice" about, then it isn't a choice. And whatever is left over to talk about -- whatever it is that you have in mind when you use the word "choice" -- is such a thing "amoral"? Sure! Why not!? Morality applies exclusively to the domain of choice (which is why, for instance, we exclude "the metaphysically given" from moral consideration; hurricanes may be bad for us, in a given context, but they are not "evil" -- hurricanes have no choice but to blow). Yet given choice (actual choice: not those "choices" where we have no choice), morality applies, and someone who is aware of his ability to take some action to further his life, or another action (or inaction) to end it, has an actual, honest-to-God choice to make; and the choice he makes will either be moral or immoral accordingly, depending upon his specific context.
  11. I appreciate your enthusiasm. I think the most salient part (for this discussion) starts at 0:50, when Rand says, "Life is the purpose of life. You should enjoy your life. You should be happy in it. Your proper moral obligation is to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to you -- and can explain/prove your choice to yourself, in rational, logical terms." I recognize that this is Rand speaking extemporaneously, which is a meaningful context and worth bearing in mind... but at the same time, she is speaking about the very issues we're trying to understand. And insofar as this gets at the heart of the Objectivist Ethics, I would trust that Rand has some understanding of what she's trying to say, extempore or not. Can we note that she begins by invoking the term "life," as in "the standard of value." But then what does she say about it? Does she say, "You should seek to live as long as possible?" or "Your moral obligation is to be as fit for survival as possible?" No. She says immediately that you should enjoy your life and that your "moral obligation" is to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to you. I've emphasized that last phrase, because that is another important element. It is not simply to pursue the highest form of happiness possible (to man), but possible to you, given your specific context. (I believe that has heavy implication for questions of "justified suicide.") As to your amendments, Nerian, I agree with you that life is experienced (and most importantly, enjoyed) through consciousness, and that value in consciousness is experienced through pleasure. I think Rand would agree, too: "[Man's] emotions are not his enemies, they are his means of enjoying life." (Playboy, 3/64) "The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure." ("Our Cultural-Value Deprivation," in The Voice of Reason) This has my sentiment almost exactly, although your choice of "constraint" does not quite capture my feeling. It isn't so much that our nature "constrains" us in our pursuit of pleasure (or: positive experience), but that it allows for it -- and sets the terms by which it may be accomplished. Thus, in order to achieve such positive experience (or pleasure), we must understand our nature, and our context, and then take the right action to achieve it (which is called "morality"). I'm not certain that Rand could have explained in any great detail why she liked "tiddlywink music." Knowing that this music gave her joy, however, was probably sufficient, in context, to value it to the point of listening to it insofar as she did. Was there some reason why that music provoked the experience in Rand that it did? Undoubtedly. And thus we have hope in the study of music, or etc. (It is on this basis that musicians study in the first place; if man's reaction to music was utterly arbitrary, what would there be to "study"?) So... you might not be aware of why you like French and dislike Chinese, but I take it as certain that there is some reason for it. Must you invest yourself in discovering these kinds of answers, or can you act on the fact of your preferences without doing so? That's an interesting question. My suspicion is that in most contexts, it is fine to simply incorporate your preferences into your reasoning without hounding out their roots. (However, if one day you were appointed ambassador to China, you might have to do a little digging.) I question the notion of "innate" value, except (as this thread demands) for one: pleasure. I believe that pleasure is uniquely good (and pain uniquely bad), of our nature, such that they allow us to conceive of "good" and "evil." (This is different from having preferences whose origins may be currently unknown to the individual holding them, such as for the sound of French or the look of a slender woman; I would not say that you were born with a preference for the sound of French.) Well, it depends on whether the joy you take in X desire/activity will allow you to have still more joy -- or less -- in the future. If you're looking not only for an experience in a given moment of time, but to maximize your total experience over the course of your life, then you will have to justify your choices to that extent. This is the essential difference between what I'm advocating and hedonism. Agreed. It is also possible to experience pleasure with a negative emotional veneer. I have not yet listened to Kelley's remarks -- I'm relying upon your description of them -- but it's a curious thing, this. If someone doesn't want to live, given a survivalist ethos, we shouldn't have any reason to believe that we could get them to "connect with values." Presumably it is the desire to live which gives rise to their values in the first place, and absent that desire to live, how could any "values" exist for such a person at all? BOOM. Game. Set. Match. He just admitted it. They mean the joy, the positive emotional experience, that is what gives it the value, that's why you choose it as a value. LOL. Usually I don't have a lot of use for rhetoric like "Game. Set. Match." but here, I almost want to say that it's justified. Although it is a further question as to whether the things that a person might want "as ends in themselves" are utterly subjective or arbitrary, or whether they are objectively of value to a person (leading him to value life as such, and thus recommending the adoption of some objective moral code to secure life, to achieve those things which are of fundamental value). There's... a loop. Isn't there? We come to value some thing because it gives us pleasure (in the first place) -- like candy, or the feeling of the sun on our skin. But then as we grow and learn, we begin to understand reality (and our own nature) such that we can recognize that the pleasure, in itself, does not mean that whatever activity that gives rise to it is "good for us" (in the long run; in terms of "maximizing experience") and thus we might still have candy... but only occasionally, so that we can avoid tooth decay and the pain (and expense) involved in dentistry. Or we might wear sunscreen if we're going to be in the sun for a long time, lest we get cancer. When we "achieve our values" such that we can retire to a life on the beach, say, there is a joy in the achievement itself. But where does that joy come from? If we trace it all the way down back to reality, doesn't that joy come from experiences such as laying out on the beach, feeling the sun warm you, or the foam of the waves tickling your toes? (And your expectation that, in your retirement, you have fully earned that enjoyment -- which is to say that you have paid the price reality demands of you, in order to take that pleasure, and enjoy it fully, without further worry as to long-term consequence; all long-term consequences have been thought through and addressed. It is not a case of pleasure now, pain later; but pleasure now and pleasure later.) If I could wave a magic wand (well, I could, but what good would it do me?), I would try to get people (and especially Objectivists) to relax a bit on the issue of whether something is or is not "Objectivism proper." At least at first: there is a fine, but secondary, conversation to have as to whether or not something is or is not Objectivist, strictly speaking. What we ought to discuss at first, rather, is whether something is or is not real. Whether we're describing reality accurately, and in concord with reason. I dare say that this approach is "the Objectivist approach," which is itself more essential to Objectivist philosophy than any specific position (except the embrace of reason and reality in itself). If it turns out to be the case that something is real, but inconsistent with Objectivism, well then, so much the worse for Objectivism. If it turns out that something is real, and consistent with Objectivism, but that our earlier understanding of Objectivism was flawed (such that what we believed to be a "contradiction" was not), then there is no actual conflict. In either case, what matters most (by far) is: what is real.
  12. You don't happen to mean saint epistemologue, do you? I agree that neither red nor purple are "good" or "bad" (until we specify some context; if I want a red house, red paint is good for the job, and purple paint not so much); and neither any situation which involves either pain or pleasure. Sans context, sans a specific valuer in a specific situation, we cannot say that X pleasurable action is good (e.g. eating a slice, or ten, of cheesecake) or X painful action is bad (getting a tooth drilled). But there is an abstract sense in which pleasure is good and pain is bad -- and this is fundamentally and profoundly different from red and purple. It is the point of this thread, in a certain sense, to examine this difference -- and its further implication for ethics (if any). This is to say, the existence of red and purple cannot provoke man to a conception of "value"; but pleasure and pain can. Pleasure and pain, in this abstracted sense, are what what allow us to conceive of the universe (and all the facts therein) in terms of value. It is pleasure and pain which both give rise to and animate our understanding of value. You continue to discuss this in a manner that I believe both hides important information and (consequently) lends itself to confusion. It is not that "a pain IS good," but that a situation, or choice, or value, or action -- one that might involve pain -- is good. Going to the dentist, under normal conditions, is good. It's painful, but good. Yet the pain, in itself, is not good. And the reason why I continue to insist on preserving this distinction can be shown by the example I'd raised to demonstrate it: given two dentists providing the same services, one with pain and one without, it would be reasonable to select the dentist without pain. (All else need not strictly be equal, either. Suppose the painless dentist cost slightly more? Yet it might still be worth the money to go pain-free.) There is a question as to whether pain/pleasure "ceases to be an essential." I have not made my full argument for that yet -- I'm not there all the way there yet, myself, though I believe that the concept of "maximizing experience" points the way. But the first step is to recognize that pain and pleasure remain a feature of ethical reasoning. Pleasure -- pleasure itself -- is a motivating factor, apart from whatever pleasure's role might be in terms of "fuel" or "survival." That's like what you were talking about with respect to "mere pleasures," although I believe that "mere" undersells the vital role that pleasure has in our experience of reality. And further, if it were true that "stimuli provide information but lack a value" -- if that were utterly true with respect to pain and pleasure, then we should never have any concept of value at all. Then they would be like red and purple. But if you want to appreciate the actual role of pain and pleasure in life, and in this thread, then you first have to look at the reality of it. And the reality is that pain and pleasure are not mere stimuli. They are charged with respect to value, of their nature. @ Nerian and KorbenDallas, I hope to address your comments soon(ish).
  13. There's been a lot of initial response, which is wonderful to see. That said, some of it seems to veer into discussing issues which are better addressed by other (current/ongoing) threads, such as the role pleasure has in value. Accordingly, I have moved those posts to the thread "Pleasure and Value." In this particular thread, if possible, I'd like to focus on this issue of whether "the choice to live" is moral (versus amoral) -- or actually, whether it exists at all. An initial confusion is that there seem to be two distinguishable senses in which we can (and do) discuss "the choice to live." The first sense is the sense in which we can contrast an individual's decision to commit suicide. Given a life of some context, an individual may assess things such that he decides that it would be better for him to live or to die. I think it clear that this choice exists -- people can and do decide to end their own lives. I also argue that this choice can be evaluated morally, which, while it disagrees with the forum member I'd quoted in my OP (and his understanding of Objectivism), I think is consonant with Craig Biddle's presentation -- and also accords with Leonard Peikoff's discussion of circumstances in which suicide may be "justified." (And those who believe that "suicide is always immoral" seem to disagree with me and Biddle and Peikoff to that extent, but at least agree that the question itself is a moral one.) Before moving onto the second sense, I wonder: does anyone in the thread disagree with my position that this sense of "choosing to live" (and as a corollary "choosing to die") is a moral question? If there is no substantial debate about the first sense, then it is the second sense of "choosing to live" which is apt to form the bulk of further discussion. My position as stands is as follows: I am unconvinced that any such choice in this "second sense" exists at all. That's the position I largely mean to develop as I regard the following replies: All right. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that a newborn does not have the necessary context to answer the question of whether it should choose to live or die. What else doesn't a newborn have? Any developed understanding of its own life or surroundings. Any concept of "life" as such. Any immediate ability to make a "choice" in the sense of conscious choosing, or to have a standard of value, or etc. So what if I proposed this, re: Biddle's presentation? Any person who has the ability to ask of himself the question "why should I choose to live?" (in the "first sense," contra suicide) in a meaningful fashion will also have the context to answer it. What do you mean "a given start"? Biddle proposes that there are certain scenarios in which it would be "better" for a person to kill himself. (And that for the vast majority of people in the vast majority of circumstances, it is better not to do so.) Do you agree with that? It's an interesting question as to whether Kelley contradicts his own "survivalist" position. (Reading over what you've written, I believe he does.) I'll respond to that question more substantively when I can next reply to that thread. Do you believe that a newborn "chooses" life? If you do, can you explain the specific process by which a newborn does that? I can see that babies are going to be a running theme for this discussion. I hope that the limited experience I've had in raising my own can help lend me (and consequently the thread) some insight. You say that a choice (or "the" choice) is expressed when a baby cries to signal his mother that he's hungry; do you believe that the baby is choosing something, with respect to life? What specifically? And actually, maybe it would be best to lay down some fundamentals here. What do you think it means to "choose" something?
  14. Recently, this forum has seen a wide-ranging discussion of the morality of suicide, first in "Reification and Suicide" and then (and co-currently) in "Spies who Commit Suicide." It is perhaps one of the features of attempting to hold an integrated philosophy that the slightest string cannot be plucked without reverberating throughout the entire body, so that to question the morality of suicide also necessarily raises questions in a host of other related areas. In this case, it led to the creation of a further thread in "The Relationship Between Motivation and Purpose," and then my own thread, "Pleasure and Value." It did not stop there. In discussing my position regarding pleasure (which I have not yet fully explicated, nor applied, nor even grasped in its entirety), and referencing the topic of the morality of suicide which has helped to inform my position, another forum member raised the nature of "the choice to live," writing: When I attempted to argue that, indeed, suicide has bearing on morality -- and following the suggested path of discussion by calling into question whether "the very choice to live or not is a moral choice" -- I was castigated as follows: So I would ask any interested forum member to please forgive me for continuing to debate "the most central and important aspect of Objectivist philosophy," in this or any other manner, but in this thread I intend to demonstrate that the argument which states that "the entire subject of suicide" is somehow "outside of morality," or amoral, is faulty. To do so, and as the forum member who made this particular argument has apparently excused himself from the responsibility of defending it any further, I shall rely on a video presentation by Craig Biddle to supply the initial argument. I do not know Biddle generally, or his "standing" within the Objectivist community (insofar as such a thing should matter), but I shall use his thoughts as a springboard in lieu of another offered argument: I'm going to now try to relay Biddle's argument as I understand it, with intermittent commentary. As I do, please note that I do not have an official transcript of this video handy, so any errors in quoting, etc., are my own. Biddle starts by saying that the question "why should I choose to live" is "illegitimate" and doesn't need an answer. He then says that the only reason a person "needs values" is in order to live: "Life makes values possible and life makes values necessary; ...you don't need to seek [values] unless you want to remain alive." So far, this seems to re-enforce what I had been told by that forum member: the question "why should I choose to live" exists outside of morality. But there is then a turn in Biddle's video at about 2:23: He then introduces a (separate?) question "why should I continue living?" in some given context, such as with a painful, terminal illness. Biddle appears to consider this question "why should I continue living in X context" to be a meaningfully different question from "why should I choose to live?" And as regards the "continue living" question, Biddle seems to believe that there may well be an answer either for or against: "...it might be that he shouldn't [continue to live given his circumstances]; it might be that it would be better [for him] to 'leave life,' because 'remaining in life' is too painful." Biddle here is clearly saying that a choice to commit suicide may have reasons (in that it may "be better" to live or to die), that the question it answers is legitimate (as opposed to the earlier sense of "why should I choose to live" he had previously discussed), and it is my inference that such a choice thus pertains to morality. Further, I agree with him. When life is "too painful" (the details of which being appropriate to the suicide-specific threads linked above, but beyond our scope here), suicide may be the "right" or "justified" or "moral" choice; it may be "better" than the alternative. Let me stop here for a moment to observe that, should my understanding of Biddle's argument reflect "the Objectivist position" (which it might not; but as I say, this is the argument I have, so it is the one I will work with), then it immediately appears to contradict the forum member who initially upbraided me for deviating from his own understanding of Objectivism. Perhaps that is our question answered. But no matter. Let us continue with Biddle, because, while I have perhaps in some fashion satisfied the question that brought me to this topic, I have not yet satisfied myself that "the choice to live" is in any sense amoral, whether asking such an impertinent question could bring me into conflict with Biddle or any other (including Ayn Rand). Picking up at about 3:23, Biddle says, "Human life is not just...remaining alive...it is being able to pursue the kinds of goals that...deliver happiness and make life wonderful." I also agree with him completely on this point. He continues: "And if you can't do that, then the question 'should I continue to live?' can be valid." Again, agreed. Here's where things get interesting (and this part gets a little rough in my transcription, as I've had to elide much to preserve his meaning, so please listen to Biddle for yourself for full context, at about 3:50): "But absent a context like that [where suicide is justified due to painful circumstance]...we can answer the question 'is life worth living'? Yeah! 99.999% of the time for people, it is! There are very rare cases though when somebody is simply too ill or the situation is just too horrible [... ] I can see somebody asking the question [in those cases], 'Is it worth remaining alive?' But you can't answer the question 'why should I choose to live?' without the context to surround it. And if you have the context, it's a fairly easy answer to arrive at in most cases..." Okay, so let's assess where we are currently. Biddle started by saying that the question "why should I choose to live?" is an invalid question. Then he considered cases of (what I'd contend Peikoff would describe as "justified") suicide, and said that in such cases -- in such contexts -- it is valid to ask "why should I choose to (continue to) live?" Then he considered the case of people whose lives are not horrible (e.g. not doomed to a concentration camp; not plagued by painful, terminal illness; and etc.) and demonstrated that the question in such cases is also valid, in that it can be answered -- in the affirmative; which is to say, why should (most people) choose to live? Because... "I've got this great business. I've got this great family. I've got this great life. 'Should I keep living?' Of course!" And so, the question "why should I choose to live" becomes answerable for every human being who has a context. For some people, the context will be such that they should choose to die, in both reason and morality; for most people (99.999% of them), the context will be such that they should choose to continue living. If this question is "valid" and thus answerable for every human being who has a context (which means: every actual human being) I finally wonder... for whom is the question (as proposed initially) "illegitimate"? Biddle finally concludes (5:47): "The question ["why should I choose to live?"], sans context, is an illegitimate question, because it asks for a value when you simply don't need values unless you choose to live. Once you decide to live, if you decide to remain alive, then you need values...." Biddle is both right and wrong. His conclusion is consistent with his introduction, but it misses out on key insights from the bulk of his discussion and fails to reconcile them with his overall thesis; he cannot do so, in fact, because they are not compatible. The question "why should I choose to live," sans context, is illegitimate -- this is true. But this is because 1) there does not exist a human being (let alone one that could pose a question, or choose, or value) without a context; and 2) the question is not answerable without reference to that context. It is illegitimate because it asks for a value without a valuer. But once a context is supplied (and every human being, so far as I can tell, comes equipped with a context), both the questions "why should I choose to live" and "why should I choose to die" become answerable. In fact, Biddle says that it is "a fairly easy answer to arrive at." And I suspect that for the vast majority of people, that is true. The supposed illegitimacy of this question -- and I would also argue the "amoral" status of its answer -- stems from the supposition of a human being that could ask such questions, or "choose," or exist at all sans some context which will make both the question and answer meaningful -- and moral. But the supposition of such a human being is, itself, a contradiction in terms. And so I conclude (for now, at least) that the question "why should I choose to live" is a fully valid, legitimate, and (yes) moral question... but only for every human being who lived, lives or ever will live. I can live with that.
  15. I didn't say that a rational person couldn't. (Though in this case, it happens that the quote does not source from a rational person -- or at least, it was not a person acting in a reasonable fashion at the time; rather, it was an expression of contempt for pleasure as a source of motivation, as such. But it is probably best not to try to recreate an entire other thread within this thread, lest such recursion collapse space-time itself.) Indeed, I consider myself a rational person and I've said as much as the "rational version" of this quote several times over the course of this thread, fully taking such "causal links" into account. The example of a child who avoids the dentist chair due to the pain he expects is one such example; we could say of it that the child ought not be motivated by dislike of pain, but an objective standard of values. Yet, as in my discussion with Eiuol, if the benefits of dentistry were available (let us say through Dentist Two) without the pain associated with Dentist One -- all else being equal -- it would be perfectly sensible to be motivated by dislike of pain to go with Dentist Two. Such a decision would be consonant with "an objective standard of values" -- which is part and parcel to everything I'm arguing in this thread. But apart from that quote, what did you make of my attempt to answer the questions you'd posed? You'd asked, in part, what the implications for action might be in adopting my understanding -- and I tried to demonstrate some. What did you make of that?