Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Kierkegaard

Objectivism, Preferences, and Happiness

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

What I got out of Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics", is that ultimately what is moral to man is that which "really" (that is to say actually, reasonably, and in accordance with reality) promotes his own life. From here the good and happy life is one which one is living to advance and maintain one's own life. As I recall this is, for Rand "the ultimate end", what all actions are ultimately seeking to do. Moreover, I remember Rand claiming that happiness was the goal, but that this wasn't something one directly strived for, rather it is something that resulted from the maintenance of life. There are two things that have always puzzled me about this, so I wonder if I am misinterpreting this view.

 

My first problem with this is what it says about preferences and the way that one lives life. Both of these can be simply summarized in one (true) example: my adoration for ice cream. I absolutely love ice cream, it's great, it's delicious, I like it. However, does this mean that I have a "rational" reason for eating ice cream or valuing ice cream? This is not a reason that has anything to do with forwarding my own life, it is simply something arbitrary that I experience from the act of eating ice cream, but this is a feeling from wholly non-rational sources. Is this irrational from an Objectivist standpoint?

 

At the same time, from the viewpoint of extending and constantly working towards the perpetuation of my own life, it would seem that if anything it is irrational to eat ice cream. Ice cream is high in calories, bad for your teeth, and I usually eat it in addition with a full meal, meaning that it's high caloric content is even worse. Therefore, if anything there is a perfectly rational reason NOT to eat ice cream. However, I can tell you know that I am willing to accept the small detriment to my health that results from eating ice cream for the enjoyment that I experience from it. This is rational in the sense that it is perfectly in accordance with objective reality, and even with happiness as my long term goal.

 

So am I misinterpreting Rand on this crucial point, or is there some reason that I should go cold turkey on ice cream?

 

I have other thoughts on the subject even in the event that the answer is "no", but I'll leave that for further responses.

 

Thanks.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi Kierkegaard,

 

Welcome to the forum.

 

My first problem with this is what it says about preferences and the way that one lives life. Both of these can be simply summarized in one (true) example: my adoration for ice cream. I absolutely love ice cream, it's great, it's delicious, I like it. However, does this mean that I have a "rational" reason for eating ice cream or valuing ice cream? This is not a reason that has anything to do with forwarding my own life, it is simply something arbitrary that I experience from the act of eating ice cream, but this is a feeling from wholly non-rational sources. Is this irrational from an Objectivist standpoint?

 

There is plenty of room in Objectivism for optional values. For example, the virtue of productivity simply says that man must provide himself with the material values necessary for existence. It doesn't say, you have to create value by being an architect (Roark) or by being an industrialist (Rearden) or by being an artist (Halley). The choice of a career is an optional one based upon your specific, objective, experiences and preferences. I, unlike you, prefer cake to ice cream. I prefer cake for objective reasons- the texture in my mouth is more enjoyable to me- but ultimately it comes down to the context of my own life. Both are desserts and we both have individually acquired tastes for different desserts. The same is true for many many other things, like preferring tennis to soccer. Both are sports. Which one you prefer depends on your individual experiences and value judgements in the context of your specific life (which sport you grew up watching, etc).

 

 

At the same time, from the viewpoint of extending and constantly working towards the perpetuation of my own life, it would seem that if anything it is irrational to eat ice cream. Ice cream is high in calories, bad for your teeth, and I usually eat it in addition with a full meal, meaning that it's high caloric content is even worse. Therefore, if anything there is a perfectly rational reason NOT to eat ice cream. However, I can tell you know that I am willing to accept the small detriment to my health that results from eating ice cream for the enjoyment that I experience from it. This is rational in the sense that it is perfectly in accordance with objective reality, and even with happiness as my long term goal.

 

So am I misinterpreting Rand on this crucial point, or is there some reason that I should go cold turkey on ice cream?

 

This second question is a point of much misunderstanding, especially among people that are new to Rand. When Ms. Rand refers to 'life' she refers to the full meaning of the concept 'life'. She doesn't just refer to a beating heart or open eyes but to the entire meaning of the concept. Thus, the goal of the Objectivist morality is not merely to extend your life for as long as possible. If this were the goal, I agree that you could argue that eating any dessert is immoral. You could probably even argue that leaving your house is immoral because of the probability you get run over crossing the street.

 

But what Rand means by 'life' is a full life specific to man. In other words, man is a certain entity with a specific identity. He is rational, experiences emotions, has two arms, etc. Living, for a human being, means living in accordance with your nature. Which means living a rational, fulfilling life, with deep emotions, relationships, and all of the wonderful values that are distinctly human. Merely existing in a miserable state is not living in the true sense. Yes, you are alive in that you are fulfilling the minimum requirements to continue the process of being alive- but you are not living in the full sense of the concept. Existing as a slave may be the kind of life proper to an animal but you would not be living a flourishing life in accordance with your identity as a man.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So am I misinterpreting Rand on this crucial point, or is there some reason that I should go cold turkey on ice cream?

To say that high calories means you ought to avoid it is something like an is/ought fallacy. I know you probably mean that keeping healthy is good, thus ice cream can be bad. But there is certainly a level of variability where ice cream is bad for some people yet not as much for others. There is no absolute level of calorie intake to maintain, even if there is a range of healthy levels. I think the whole point of Objectivism is to treat all values similar, where there is no absolute value to hold, while there are principles that I should follow in virtue of the similarities I share with all people by definition. If rationality wasn't needed for me, I wouldn't be human - it is the essential feature giving rise to an objective morality.

 

I'd be careful with the  word "preference" or "optional" though. Optional makes sense if you take it to mean lacking it doesn't inherently reduce quality of life. Ice cream isn't necessarily bad or good. If I choose to forgo ice cream, that is IN GENERAL optional. THAT it is optional doesn't mean there is no best choice for me. Compare that to valuing self-esteem. If you forgo that, the requirements of your existence won't be met.

 

Preference makes sense if you mean values that don't necessarily go with a reason. There is no particular reason I prefer chocolate to vanilla, but insofar as I really do prefer chocolate, there is no sensible reason to choose vanilla. So in that context, it's a preference. In either case, for *me*, there will be a right answer. If I'm diabetic, it's against my life to then eat ice cream. If I prefer chocolate, it goes against my life to choose vanilla over chocolate. On the other hand, if someone else preferred vanilla, and bought that, it's consistent with their life. IF something has no detriment to my life and I enjoy it, I see it as self-sacrificial to deny myself whatever it may be.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"This is not a reason that has anything to do with forwarding my own life, it is simply something arbitrary that I experience from the act of eating ice cream, but this is a feeling from wholly non-rational sources."

 

This is not strictly true.  You are evolutionarily predisposed to value fat and sugar - especially fat due to it's high caloric density.  HOWEVER both fat a sugar are very rare in the Paleolithic environment in which you evolved.  That's why you have such a strong desire for it.  Sugar (fruit) was typically seasonal and highly competed for among many different animals.  Fat is mainly found in the organs of lean game - not the muscles/protein.  Marbled rib-eye steaks don't occur naturally.  You do strongly crave these things.  Your body is telling you to EAT UP!

 

The problems with fat and sugar is that they are now easily obtainable.  All you have to do is waddle from your couch to the pantry.

 

All values stem from this basic pleasure/pain balancing game played out in our mind/body to achieve homeostasis.  Ethics is direct tied to our biological make up.

 

Do you value drinking salt water?  Do we fight wars over salt water like we did sugar and spices?  Why not?  Is it just arbitrary to not value drinking it?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Since we know that everything has an identity, and thus a reason for behaving as it does, you could phrase an answer to the Ice Cream Problem thusly: "I know there is an objective reason for my preference, but it's not possible for me to trace it in my brain (if that is indeed the main reason). But, I at least know that I want ice cream right now, and since I can't think of any good reason not to ignore that desire, I'm going to eat it."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's nobody's fault that ice cream = tasty. Other kinds of things one may or may not find pleasure from due to thoughts, but this isn't one of those cases. One isn't immoral or moral for liking the flavor of that stuff consequently. So, you don't need to look for a rationale to justify finding the taste of ice cream pleasant. It just is by now. Take it as a given, like that getting poked with a stick produces unpleasant physical sensations. So, with the morality of liking it being out of the question, you're left with just the question of under what circumstances is it going to be a net harm to you or not to pursue that particular pleasure. This same question applies to everything and anything you find pleasurable for any reason, so you can treat ice cream pretty much the same way you would treat anything else in judging when/where/how much/if you can have it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

JASKN said:

Since we know that everything has an identity, and thus a reason for behaving as it does, you could phrase an answer to the Ice Cream Problem thusly: "I know there is an objective reason for my preference, but it's not possible for me to trace it in my brain (if that is indeed the main reason). But, I at least know that I want ice cream right now, and since I can't think of any good reason not to ignore that desire, I'm going to eat it."

This is exactly what I say about my preference for blondes with DD's...... ;) I DO know why they have to be smart though.... Edited by Plasmatic

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Substantially in agreement with what has been said above.

 

I think the key is to simplify the complexity of:  standard of value being life, the quality of life, and over the long range, by this simple procedure which is a bit mathematical.

 

[Preliminarily: The long range is contextual.  It will differ for a 15 year old versus an 80 year old.  So long range really means for the rest of your reasonably foreseeable lifetime.]

 

Imagine a graph - a curve, projecting into the future a number of years until your reasonably predicted death, not just of your status as living or dead, but of the quality of life you lead.  It will have happiness as a major factor but whatever factors actually go into it, imagine it varying over the years directly with your quality of life.

 

Now (this is where the math comes in) image the area under that graph.  If you extend your end point where it stops (extend your life) the area increases, if you shorten the end point (cut your life short) the area decreases.  If you increase the quality of your life at any point, with a spike or a nice peak, it will contribute to the area under the curve.  Conversely if you decrease the quality of your life at any point, the area under the curve will decrease.

 

The area under the curve is what you are trying to maximize when you are taking Objectivist ethics into account. Particular actions can and will cause peaks and/or valleys at various points in the curve and can influence the end point of the curve.  The key is to measure the quality of life based on objective standards and to realize that actions affect it and also the end point of your life.

 

So for ice-cream, you can have some every week, and the end point will likely not move, but the entire graph will raise a little.  This is good.  If you go cold turkey... well the graph would drop and your end point might extend somewhat, but I would guess not much (unless your have weight problems or sever life threatening lactose intolerance or whatever).  If you ate it 3 times a day I think your graph would increase upward by a little more than it would if you had ice cream once a week, but I think your end point would move much closer...i.e. it would shave years off your life. 

 

So there is a sweet spot where your graph area can be maximized, and I think it includes a case of eating some amount of ice cream!!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Incidentally this kind of analysis can "account" for or illustrate cases where a person may choose to save their own child while risking the price of his/her own life.

 

Compare the graph of 5 minutes at a level of intensity which reflects the great love of a parent and an intense feeling of relief and pride/accomplishment at saving the child, to a graph perhaps of decades filled with sorrow and regret.

 

This also must be multiplied by a risk factor because in reality the parent would try to save the child and himself the first graph is not inevitable.  So there is another graph where both the child and parent survive. 

 

Things to think about.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Now you're sending me precariously down a path toward rationalism with your very handy way of thinking about this!

 

It's not rationalism (Ideas > Reality) if the considerations (reality) that inform it (idea) are proper!  :)

 

Keep in mind "Reality > Ideas" to the extent that the ideas are invalid... i.e. the wrong ideas. If the ideas are right and come from reality then there is a correspondence, or equivalence (although not an identity). 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
So there is a sweet spot where your graph area can be maximized, and I think it includes a case of eating some amount of ice cream!!

I hope this is satire of rationalism. There is a grain of truth to the whole thing, but it lacks any mention of context of one's life and knowledge, while presuming an absolute measurable value of certain consequences. Yeah, all this is helpful for approaching decision theory, but any theory of decision making presumes what is deemed as valuable. If, somehow, you would rather be unhealthy, then this whole thing is a different graph. To me, the question of the OP is how we determine what values to pursue.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

No, the answer is fine - if you already determined in general the value of some set of items.

 

The issue is question begging. How do you determine what values to pursue? Look at the quality and quantity they provide. How do you determine the quality and quantity they provide? Look at what your values are. Make as many graphs as you want, but you need to establish your normative claims first. With two flavors of ice cream to choose from, I need a more definitive method to establish the value of something before (abstractly) making my graphs (caveats for how people don't literally graph this out).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's not the point.  The point is length of life only... i.e. literally the "time before you die" is not equivalent to "life as the standard".  THIS is not meant to provide an answer but to point to the fact that more than one variable must be taken into consideration.  Addressing the question of Ice cream and its affect on the quality of life and potentially life span was merely an illustration.  This is not an example of question begging. 

 

I think the proper question is not so simple as "what value to pursue".  Really ...is the question "IS ice cream as such a value"?  No It is what actions give the most values... single actions can affect multiple values, some related to health, others pleasure, others happiness, achievement etc... One cannot assume that everything under the sun one can do or obtain must be categorized in and of itself "a value" or "a disvalue".  That would be absurd.  Things and actions have value, you evaluate those things and actions by the balance sheet of values they provide or erode.  As such "fresh water" when drowning is not valuable, "fresh water" when you are dehydrated is.  IS fresh water as such a "value to pursue"?

 

Really now.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Things and actions have value, you evaluate those things and actions by the balance sheet of values they provide or erode.

Then all you ended up saying is "measure values according to the value they provide", which is question begging. "Things have value, you evaluate value of things based on the values they provide". Paraphrased by mixing up the syntax.  It's more like "things have value or disvalue, and once you discover what standing it holds in your life, you finally determine if it has value". In other words, EVERYTHING is a value or disvalue, to some degree in context, nor is there an eternal context where we already know something has value. You agree I think, but what you said doesn't quite add up in total, and the topic is more specific than what is the standard of value. I don't disagree that your method is sufficient, but it's just way too generalized I think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Then all you ended up saying is "measure values according to the value they provide", which is question begging. "Things have value, you evaluate value of things based on the values they provide". Paraphrased by mixing up the syntax.  It's more like "things have value or disvalue, and once you discover what standing it holds in your life, you finally determine if it has value". In other words, EVERYTHING is a value or disvalue, to some degree in context, nor is there an eternal context where we already know something has value. You agree I think, but what you said doesn't quite add up in total, and the topic is more specific than what is the standard of value. I don't disagree that your method is sufficient, but it's just way too generalized I think.

I think (though he may correct me if necessary) that StrictlyLogical is not attempting to lay out a full theory of valuation, but just observing that in general it is not enough to base ones values on life-as-bare-physical-survival; that the quality of life is also a vital factor.

Come to that, I think he's correct. And while I wouldn't personally attempt to plot out my values on a graph, and don't take that as a serious suggestion, I think that's a valid way of looking at the reasoning involved, metaphorically. Much as one may try to find the most profitable point on a supply and demand curve, we seek to maximize our experience of life -- even if that may mean losing a few years on the back-end for a richer experience throughout.

The actual means by which an individual determines his own values and subsequent decisions (down to eating a bowl of ice cream) are complex and depend on a lot of context and specific information. But the point is that we do not decide whether or not to eat ice cream alone according to whether it is judged to extend or shorten one's years on the planet; the quality of the years we live, quality experienced in part at least as physical pleasure (such as ice cream may provide, according to one's own taste), is highly important to ethical reasoning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This was old draft I started before I read all the posts and realized there was nothing I could add. You and You, etc. had said it all. But  maybe my concrete ending might be of value to this great thread.

 

If a type of food is delicious, it's a value to me. If that food is healthy it's a greater value. If it's unhealthy, it's a lesser value. If it's so unhealthy that the pleasure of eating it is outweighed by the physical harm, then, overall, it becomes a non-value. [i'm not sure if "non-value" in the Objectivist lexicon was the right word; I pawned my Lexicon for rent money...I give the lefty book buyer credit for allowing it onto their shelves. Maybe Capitalism is stronger nowadays than I thought, 

 

My point is that even the things that can lead to an earlier death (than would've been had I not done them) can still be a value, because they make my lifetime greater. Though maybe shorter. Example: My dad was a great man who fought in the Korean War off air craft carriers as a lieutenant commander and was then one of the world's best interior designers since 1967 where he founded his business in Waikiki (knowing there was gonna be a boom there) and did hotels--all around the world-- a cruise ship, and an airplane until the day he died suddenly of a rare disease. He love to drink. He was an alcoholic but not in the "our lives had become unmanageable" doctrine of the flawed AA; he "Walked the Line" like the Johnny Cash movie I quoted meant. What I mean to say is that when I saw his medical records, my dad was given a year to live due to scirrocis (sorry no spell check) of the liver attributable to alcohol abuse since his days in the Navy till the morning he was taken to the emergency room for Hemachromatosis.

 

Here's my point: We can die tomorrow on our way to work, in a car crash. My dad's liver held all the way to his "car crash." So the physical damage I do to my body, might not even matter if I never make it that far, so the enjoyment of life must be weighed with the prolongment. 

 

Tying it back to the ultimate end: a full life specific to man is NOT me on life-support. If that's all it is, with nurses wiping my ass, I'll pull the plugs outta my arms like my dad did when he came to in the hospital. That's not what Miss Rand meant when she referred to Life. Though I'm sure she wasn't saying that if you're an old folk in a hospice you should kill yourself; please don't get me wrong.....there are still things worth living for when the pain is unbearable. Music. Film. Literature. Sex (Cialis can wake the dead). 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Someday getting myself killed for something worth dying for could be my highest value. But it will still imply that my life was the highest value until that moment...I can't imagine what could be worth dying for other than retaining the life of one I couldn't bear to live without.

Edited by theestevearnold

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think (though he may correct me if necessary) that StrictlyLogical is not attempting to lay out a full theory of valuation, but just observing that in general it is not enough to base ones values on life-as-bare-physical-survival; that the quality of life is also a vital factor.

Fair enough. After thinking about it more, the only thing I opposed was defining what it means to assign value to something. A circular explanation can grow unwieldy and lead to weird ideas if not pointed out. Besides that, I think there is a lot more to be said about preferences and options than the general point that values properly understood are about maximizing your values in time and quantity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you all for the detailed replies, although I'm afraid that I cannot respond to each of them individually.

 

So can we all agree that:

 

1. Life, as used by Rand, really means something along the lines of "the good life", the "happy and fulfilling life", and therefore that in my case while eating ice cream would increase my lifespan in the pure biological sense by some tiny amount, it would almost certainly harm my life in the Objectivist sense more, thus making ice cream a value

 

2. Desires, bodily, emotionally, and mentally, that lead to pleasure, happiness, longevity and fulfillment, are in themselves values, each of which have some value in being fulfilled This in turn leads to something of a "conflict of values", as all values cannot necessarily be fulfilled without contradicting other values. So for instance, if my desire for icecream lead me to consume four cones a day, then that might seriously start to damage my health, decreasing other values such as maintaining a reasonable level of weight and living a reasonably long life

 

3. Between individuals certain values will differ while others will remain the same

 

4. All pursuits of values need to be rationally pursued in such a way that conflicts of values are properly dealt with and the best life possible is (hopefully) attained

 

Is this basically what is being expressed, and are there any problems with what I have said, or have I missed something essential?

Edited by Kierkegaard

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/25/2014 at 4:58 PM, Eiuol said:

... caveats for how people don't literally graph this out...

 

On 7/26/2014 at 12:45 AM, DonAthos said:

... I wouldn't personally attempt to plot out my values on a graph, and don't take that as a serious suggestion ...

Challenge accepted.

 

P.S:

Quote

Fair enough. After thinking about it more, the only thing I opposed was defining what it means to assign value to something. A circular explanation can grow unwieldy and lead to weird ideas if not pointed out. Besides that, I think there is a lot more to be said about preferences and options than the general point that values properly understood are about maximizing your values in time and quantity.

I know it's been three years and I wasn't going to point this out if there'd been an apology in that post, but there wasn't.

So, Eiuol, you make me sad. Because there is no WTF response button, you make me sad.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
Sadness

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×