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A negative concept identifies the negation of another concept, its object, on which it logically depends. Negative concepts refer only to an absence of the specific object, not to the presence of anything else - they are merely the logical negation of the object, not the assertion of the existence of some other object. To assert the existence of a negative thing, as a different kind of existent, is a fallacy of the Reification of the Zero, a variant of the fallacy of the Stolen Concept. The concept "nothing" does not assert the existence of something called "nothing" - there is no such thing as "nothing" in and of itself, only the absence of a thing (the word literally means no-thing). The concept "non-existence" does not assert the existence of a "non-thing" - there is no such thing as "non-existence" in and of itself, only the absence of a thing in existence. In the same way, the concept "evil" depends on the concept "good". Evil is a negative concept indicating the logical negation of the good. The concept "evil" does not assert the existence of a "non-good", there is no such thing as an "evil" in and of itself, only the absence or contradiction of a good.1 Pain and fear are innate capacities to alert us that something is wrong, that there is a potential threat to our life and our pursuit of the good, but they do not by themselves offer us any positive value to seek. Pleasure tells us what is good, what is right, but pain can only tell us that something is wrong - it cannot tell us what is good or right.2 Rationally we can identify pain and suffering as a contradiction to the good, as a negative and an impediment, but innately pain simply does not offer us any pleasure, that is, it is a zero. It do not offer us the presence of any incentive to seek, so it cannot logically be the source of any conceptual values, nor can it be the fuel that makes us function.3 Man is by nature faced with a fundamental alternative: identity or non-identity, existence or non-existence – life or death. The concept of value, of "good or evil", is not an arbitrary human invention, but rather is based on a metaphysical fact, on an unalterable condition of man's existence: his life. The ultimate value, the final goal or end to which all lesser goals are means, is man's life. His life is his standard of value: that which furthers his life is the good, and that which threatens it is the evil.4 The choice to live is therefore the most basic moral choice that one faces.5 Only in life do we have any possibility of acting to seek the good or to enjoy happiness. Death offers no possibility of action or enjoyment. Moral action means to act for one's own rational self-interest, but there are no interests to seek in death. Only life can offer us a positive incentive. Death, like pain, cannot offer any positive incentive, but rather it is a zero. Suicide is the act of sacrificing life for death. Suicide is the sacrifice of the good for the sake of a zero. But it cannot be in one's self-interest to destroy one's self. One cannot rationally or morally act to end their life. John Galt Atlas Shrugged Observe the contradiction present in Piekoff's "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" (aka. OPAR): and later, On the one hand he says the commitment to life is essentially axiomatic, and that there's no basis for questioning it, and on the other hand that suicide is justified if you're suffering and your condition seems hopeless. This is an apparent contradiction. But Peikoff is not the pope, OPAR is not the Bible, and Ayn Rand is not God. It's possible that this is merely a contradiction. OPAR is not inerrant. Finding such a contradiction does not fundamentally break the philosophy of Objectivism, either. On the contrary, the fundamental moral conviction of the Objectivist philosophy is that life is the ultimate standard. This defense of suicide is inconsistent with the basic moral premises of the philosophy. The mistake here is derivative, not fundamental. The philosophy as a whole is sound; only the position on suicide is not. I submit to you that this position on suicide is a contradiction to the fundamental moral philosophy of Objectivism. If you disagree, let's hear your arguments. I'll start by responding to Peikoff's argument for suicide: can suicide be an "affirmation" of life if it's impossible to achieve happiness? Suicide cannot be an affirmation of life - it's the deliberate choice to destroy life. You cannot affirm your life by destroying it. As long as you are alive, and you are conscious to think and act, then you can either choose to act in the best interest of your life and happiness, no matter how tragically hopeless the situation may seem, or you can choose to sacrifice your best interest for something lesser. Suicide is the sacrifice of all possible interest. Death is non-existence, it knowably has no value at all - it is a zero. You cannot seek values in death. To act on the assumption that happiness is impossible would not be an affirmation of a happy life - that would be in fact be the most damning denial you could make. In such a tragic situation where happiness seems impossible, the way to affirm your life is to continue to seek your happiness despite the tragedy and hopelessness of the situation. In Peikoff's own words: That is an affirmation of life. Footnotes: (1) John Galt Atlas Shrugged (2) - The Objectivist Ethics, Ayn Rand (3) John Galt Atlas Shrugged Howard Roark and Dominique Francon The Fountainhead Atlas Shrugged (4) See "The Objectivist Ethics", in "The Virtue of Selfishness" by Ayn Rand (5) John Galt Atlas Shrugged
Recently there has been some talk on this forum about the ethics of suicide. In my view it is a mistake to argue that suicide is universally right or wrong, moral or immoral. Like all judgments of human behavior, context is critical. With that in mind, perhaps we can focus here on an unusual type of suicider: the captured spy. Sometimes a spy is captured, or about to be captured, by the enemy, and he or she decides to suicide rather than cope with whatever future awaits them. Let's consider a couple specific examples, which I've found on a list at Wikipedia. Meir Max Bineth was an Israeli agent who spied on Egypt in the 1950s. He got caught during a failed operation and was then tortured for months. The Egyptians wanted to put him on trial, but the night before his court date Bineth killed himself in jail. He did not want to give the Egyptians the satisfaction of publicly executing him. I think this is a perfectly justifiable reason to kill oneself. While some might argue that Bineth could have enjoyed a day or two more of imprisoned life, I would counter that such a brief and pointless extension of life might be utterly worthless compared to the final psychological satisfaction in knowing that one's suicide will deprive the enemy of a public victory. Sarah Aaronsohn, a Jew working for the British during World War 1, was part of a large network who spied on the Ottomans in the Middle East. The enemy discovered Aaronsohn and tortured her for days. She refused to reveal any secrets. Her captors then let her return to her house to change clothes. While inside she grabbed a hidden pistol from her bathroom and shot herself in the head. Aaronsohn killed herself rather than suffer more torture and possible betrayal of both her fellow conspirators and their greater cause in pursuit of a Jewish homeland. Not betraying her friends was clearly a more important value than the continued physical and psychological torment that awaited her. Such cases of captured spies killing themselves are perhaps the closest thing we have to a truly moral suicide. They are done with great and serious purpose, which might be condemned but certainly cannot be denied or evaded. The purpose is not merely to escape the pain of torture, but to deprive an enemy of the value which is the spy's own self. By killing themselves, they are maintaining the integrity of their chosen purpose in life, which is to fight the enemy and give them nothing. Spies like Bineth and Aaronsohn probably died with whatever joy they could get from knowing that they remained true to their purpose until the bitter end.