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Happiness by a Proper Standard

By Thomas M. Miovas, Jr.

05/15/2012

Many people seem to vacillate between “doing what is right” and “pursuing their happiness”, which, largely due to their religious upbringing, puts them in a bind either way. To do what is right generally means to do one’s duty or to follow principles not connected to living a joyful life on earth. A joyful life is considered “selfish” and is to be avoided by most moralities, so in order to pursue their happiness, many people eschew morality and just do what they feel like doing, acting on feeling in an effort to satisfy themselves. The trouble is, either stance is not in favor of one’s joyful life – religious morality because it says to avoid happiness on earth, and following one’s feelings because it doesn’t generally end up being good for oneself. Suffering, by most moralities is considered a virtue, and no reasonable man would want to suffer his whole life through; so they cheat every once in a while and do what they feel like doing.

But feelings (or one’s emotions) are not tools of cognition (thinking) and are not pre-programmed to do those things which are in-fact good for oneself. Take a drug addiction (say cocaine): It may very well make you feel good while the hit lasts, but at the cost of disconnecting one’s mind from reality. Trouble is, reality is still there, and believing one can jump off a tall roof while high is not going to be good for one’s own life. So, if a morality of duty will make one miserable, and following feelings can be dangerous to one’s health, what’s the alternative to really pursuing a happiness that is both good for you and moral?

Ayn Rand came up with the solution by coming up with a standard of morality that is based upon man’s factual nature. One doesn’t follow one’s duty nor one’s feelings, but rather pre-decides, before acting , what is in one’s best interest taking all the relevant facts into account. And since happiness is the result of successful living, acting according to what is good for oneself will lead to a happiness based on man’s nature – it will be good for oneself and one will experience joy due to the accomplishment of living a fact-based successful life. An example of this is to eat nutritious meals; these are good for oneself, so it is moral to eat well, and by eating well one will achieve an overall feeling-good about oneself on the biological level. On a more consciousness level, it is moral to think about the facts relative to one’s own life – those facts influencing one’s life – and to think it through before taking an action with regard to those facts. Thinking is a joyful process; the ability to reason is a natural aspect of being human, and a rational man gains psychological pleasure when he is thinking something through. Consequently, one does things in one’s life – both physically (biologically) and in tuned with one’s consciousness – that lead to a successful state of joy in accomplishing goals that are beneficial to oneself.

The heroes of Ayn Rand’s two most popular novels – The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged – contain many such examples of her moral characters gaining through rational action those values which sustain their own individual lives – to show what it means to be moral by a rational standard – and enjoying their lives greatly in the process. Howard Roark goes on to gain a great, uncompromising career; and John Galt goes on to gain his freedom to live his own life in a world run-amuck with irrational philosophy that seeks to enslave him. Their struggle was not easy, in either novel, but by following the principles of a fact-based, man-centered morality, they were able to be successful, in the long-run, because they put the facts on their side by using reason as a guide. The same can happen in any man’s life, so long as he is rational and going by the facts according to what those facts mean towards his own life by a rational standard. By acting on those goals which are in fact beneficial to his life – on all levels – his happiness can be achieved in a moral state of living well. As Tara Smith put it in her book on egoism (Viable Values), to be moral by a rational standard means gaining more life to live and to be happy about it – one gains a more joyful life, because one is not fighting either the reality of man’s nature or reality in general, attaining a harmony between both.

http://www.amazon.co...ostRecentReview

Edited by Thomas M. Miovas Jr.

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Man learns about the value of life in the early stages of his development via pleasure-pain mechanism. But does it mean that such a mechanism becomes obsolete in the later stages of the conceptual existence. I don't think so. Yes, man should eat the healthy, balanced diet, but he also should enjoy it. Thinking is joyful process and man sometimes can think simply for the sheer pleasure of it-like in chess game.

Edited by Leonid

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I probably need to flesh out the original essay with a paragraph or two about the role of emotions, because, though I stated that emotions are not a guide to what is good for you, I didn't give any clear-cut examples. Cocaine has both a physiological pleasure component and a emotional general feeling-good emotional component to it, given what I have been told by some users I have known and by reports I have read. In this case, clearly, the pleasure-pain mechanism backfires, giving oneself a feeling of joy and happiness that is actually against one's own life. Similarly, I've read that one reason children and pets try to drink antifreeze is that it tastes sweet, but drinking it will kill you, so obviously, even the biological pleasure-pain mechanism, in and of itself, is not necessarily a good guide to what is in fact good for oneself.

Emotions are different, because they are not hard-wired in. Emotions stem from psychologically and subconsciously accepting various value premises, and are definitely not geared necessarily to you enjoying those things which are good for you nor being sad about those things which are bad for you. Those women and some men who fall in love with a total ass who is out to do them ham is a very good example of this emotional mechanism turned against one's factual well-being. Somewhere along the lines, they have accepted value premises that are anti-life. Another good example is someone feeling sadness when something good happens to them, because they have accepted a value premise that states that good things happening cannot be enjoyed indefinitely and that something will happen to screw it all up.

So neither physiology nor emotions are necessarily good guides to what is good for oneself -- rather one has to take the facts into account intellectually and rationally access whether the planed action or evaluated event is in fact good or bad for one's well being qua man. This doesn't mean that one ought not to trust one's emotions nor not trust one's physiological reactions, but rather that one ought to live cognitively and check it out with one's own rational mind.

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Maybe one should distinguish accurately between emotions - and feelings and sensations?

The temporary euphoria - sensation - from a cocaine high is only a chemical effect on the brain.

However, the emotion a rational person would likely experience afterwards, could possibly be one of self-disgust, at having 'faked reality'. Similarly with something that tastes good but is harmful.

It's a potentially serious error to mix the two (true emotions and 'counterfeit' emotions) I think. Emotions help one separate the rightfully pleasurable, from the merely hedonistic.

[Oh, and I'm not "talking down" sensations and feelings, they just ARE. Without

context, they're meaningless.

Say you're on holiday in the mountains; you walk out of your cabin and take

a deep breath of cool air, survey the scene, and feel great. It's likely that the sensations have evoked emotions of contentment and happiness - which, in turn, are an evocation of conscious elements (satisfaction with your recent work, and so on) that enabled this moment of pleasure.

One's emotions serve as both warning and reward. ("...lightning calculators

giving him the sum of his profit or loss"). Our rationality's best friends, in fact, that we should stay close to, and habitually review.]

Edited by whYNOT

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Added a paragraph to my original essay online:

* There seems to be some confusion on this point about emotions, even among younger students of Objectivism. Emotions do not come about due to a thought process – a process of taking the facts into account using reason, judging those facts by a man-centered standard, and giving the output in the form of feeling an emotion. If this is the way it was, then following one’s emotions would present no problem. However, emotions come about due to a subconscious process of taking one’s value premises and making an automatic response based upon those value premises. But one’s value premises are not automatically pro-man’s-life; one’s value premises are generally accepted due to what you are taught is right or wrong, and what you pick up from the culture in general, and the value premises one figures out on one’s own. The problem is that without a proper explicit rational standard, one’s emotions come about due to a hodge-podge of conflicting value premises. Some of those subconsciously accepted value premises may well be for your life – you are happy that you got a new job that you will love – but many of them will be anti-life – your priest convinced you not to marry that girl who loves sex and enjoying her own life, and you feel happy about his advise. Similarly, one may come to accept the idea that geeks are silly and prone to being ridiculous in public, due to modern TV sitcoms and high school peer pressure, while this dampens your own enthusiasm to figure things out on your own and to rejecting reason as a guide to a happy life, feeling good about this all along. It is with regard to emotions and accepting emotions as a guide that Ayn Rand most cautioned that one ought to check one’s premises to find out if they are for your life or against your life. It is very sound advise and ought to be taken seriously in a joyful manner of living one’s own life as the proper purpose to achieve happiness and success.

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Emotions are automatic value-judgments but they are not metaphysically given, like animal instincts. They do come about due to a previous thought process of integration and internalization of the certain concepts and related values. If internalized concepts are wrong, emotion could be inadequate. Emotions therefore cannot be a source of the new knowledge, but if adequate, could give a proper guideness of actions. So emotions could be a source of behavioral knowledge in the certain circumstances. For example if you see a cobra your emotion of fear will tell you that you have to run for your life or to kill it.-fly or fight reaction. Later you may realize, that the snake was in fact harmless and your emotion of fear wasn't adequate.

Edited by Leonid

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Maybe one should distinguish accurately between emotions - and feelings and sensations?

The temporary euphoria - sensation - from a cocaine high is only a chemical effect on the brain.

However, the emotion a rational person would likely experience afterwards, could possibly be one of self-disgust, at having 'faked reality'. Similarly with something that tastes good but is harmful.

It's a potentially serious error to mix the two (true emotions and 'counterfeit' emotions) I think. Emotions help one separate the rightfully pleasurable, from the merely hedonistic.

[Oh, and I'm not "talking down" sensations and feelings, they just ARE. Without

context, they're meaningless.

Say you're on holiday in the mountains; you walk out of your cabin and take

a deep breath of cool air, survey the scene, and feel great. It's likely that the sensations have evoked emotions of contentment and happiness - which, in turn, are an evocation of conscious elements (satisfaction with your recent work, and so on) that enabled this moment of pleasure.

One's emotions serve as both warning and reward. ("...lightning calculators

giving him the sum of his profit or loss"). Our rationality's best friends, in fact, that we should stay close to, and habitually review.]

Sensation and emotion-very valuable distinction. The problem is that our language is ambiguous. Compare : I feel bitterness after eating almonds. I feel bitterness after separation from my girl friend.

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