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KyaryPamyu

Integrating everything to a central life purpose

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This is a puzzling one for me. According to Ayn Rand, your chosen central life purpose (career) is your highest value; every other value you might have is integrated to this central purpose, their hierarchy and importance is decided relative to the central life purpose.

As I understand, a central purpose is something that you love to do and that you can turn into a life-long carrer that satisfies your need of continued growth, achievement, challenges, problem solving, earning a feeling of self-efficacity and mastery over life and existence (self esteem). Time is limited, and being a jack-of-all-trades would prevent us from rising very far in either of our endeavors.

But is love and sex a standalone value, or is it also integrated to work? Peikoff and Rand repeatedly stated that achievement and romantic love are the topmost values, and that removing either of them can make life not worth living. If the integration thing still holds for love, then love is integrated as: an expression of the self-esteem you gain from your achievements - two people sharing the same values, connecting deeply over them, celebrating their achievements in various forms including sexual pleasure.

As far as leisure goes, it seems obvious. Tennis, reading, hiking, parties, movies, socializing etc. are great, but only if they're seen as a form of rest and recreation from work. Taken standalone they're not wholesome sources of satisfaction, unless you turn them into life-long careers.

From this perspective, integrating love and leisure to work (the central purpose) makes sense. However, I've read an article on this matter where the author claims that his top values (work, socializing and leisure) are separate, and integration occurs within each of them (see his first comment in the comment section). For example, he states that work only integrates the sub-steps and goals required for work. Leisure, taken separately, integrates his hobbies (reading, walking, bycicling).

Also, this specific issue has been criticized by Kelley in the Logical Structure of Objectivism book. He says that work as the sole integrating value doesn't make sense, but in the framework presented above it kind of does. So what's the catch? I'd like to hear your thoughts on this.

Cheers,
KyaryPamyu

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5 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

This is a puzzling one for me. According to Ayn Rand, your chosen central life purpose (career) is your highest value; every other value you might have is integrated to this central purpose, their hierarchy and importance is decided relative to the central life purpose.

What does it mean -- in concrete terms -- to "integrate"?

For instance, let's say my central purpose is to be a businessman... or a physics professor... or a musician. In was concrete ways would a love or friendship be integrated with this central goal?

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In the article (http://aristotleadventure.blogspot.ro/2008/05/what-is-central-purpose-in-life.html), he specifically says that your CPL is only one aspect of the pursuit of your "ultimate" purpose (which is happiness):

a CPL is an abstraction, one that subsumes and integrates the many particular productive tasks in which a man engages to support his ultimate purpose in life, happiness. A simple metaphor for the relationship between a man's ultimate purpose and his CPL is a great tent, which is a life of happiness. Its main (but not only) tent-pole is his CPL. Other high purposes holding up the "tent" might be social relationships and a favorite leisure activity. Howard Roark loves designing and constructing buildings. He loves Dominique Francon and befriends Mike the construction worker. When time permits, he enjoys swimming.

Edited by epistemologue

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epistemologue,

To me, Rand and Laughlin seem to provide contradictory accounts.

Here's what Ayn Rand said on this matter. The first quote is from The Objectivist Ethics, the other ones are from Atlas Shrugged (author page and Galt's speech). 

Quote

Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values.

and:

Quote

“I decided to be a writer at the age of nine, and everything I have done was integrated to that purpose.

and:

Quote

your work is the purpose of your life, [...] any value you might find outside your work, any other loyalty or love, can be only travelers you choose to share your journey and must be travelers going on their own power in the same direction.

Laughlin, on the other hand, states that happiness (the ultimate value) is like a tent, supported mainly by your central purpose, but also separately by relationships and leisure - the other tent poles. He integrates examples to each of the three categories of values (work, relationships, leisure), then he further integrates those to the ultimate purpose (happiness). On the other hand, Rand seems to insist that love and leisure are part of the CPL, that your life should follow a single theme, the same way a a Roark building or Rand novel does.

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Rand is consistent on the point that your ultimate purpose is your own happiness. I think Laughlin is accurately representing her position.

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For those interested, Kelley covers this in a sub-chapter of his Logical Structure of Objectivism (page 166). His interpretation is as follows:

Because one’s basic purpose is the maintenance of one’s life, and productive work is the principal means of achieving that end, one’s productive work deserves a high priority among one’s various purposes. Both Ayn Rand and Leonard Peikoff have emphasized this point by arguing that productive work is the sole, “central value” upon which all others depend.

(bolded words mine)

He then claims that the concept of a CPL is flawed and that it's based on faulty logic.

This is a core tenet of Objectivism, so it surprises me that there are different interpretations among Objectivists. 

My take on it is different from Kelley's. Yes, the goal of all human action is furthering one's life (the emotional concommitent being happiness). However, Life and Happiness are extremely abstract terms. They open up an infinite amount of choices, but they don't provide any standard of discriminating between them, according to your own unique interests and individual characteristics. What is their hierarchy of importance? Which movies or books should you choose? Love is also closely tied to our values. When we choose a romantic partner, "virtue" is obviously not enough to fall in love with them - otherwise we couldn't take any pick.

For Rand, a creative purpose wasn't only a means of 'material production, it was the primary way in which people enjoy their ultimate value (life). If your central purpose isn't financially fruitful (e.g. poetry), Objectivists often point out that you can pick a side-job to support your passion. Doing something you love is superior to making a lot of money but spending most of your days doing stuff you hate.

Rand seems to see the central purpose as an objective guide to choice. Our time on earth is limited, and context-less whim and instinct are not objective, "scientific" approaches to making the right choices. A central productive purpose is a filter that:

serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man’s life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind;
(Ayn Rand's Playboy interview)

A central purpose can give you a much-needed clarity of choice in every field, including romance and leisure activities. If you're a pianist, will you connect better with a physicist or with an artist? What will you even talk to them about if you don't have a mission in life? Will you choose the movies you watch on whim, or according to the purpose you have chosen for yourself? You'll obviously want to watch artsy movies, read books that deal with creativity or music or art. You'll seek leisure activities that aren't dangerous for your hands. You'll pick clothes that fit your identity. In short, all of your choices will follow a central, concrete standard that eliminates confusion and prevents you from making bad/time-wasting choices, or from miscalculating the priority of your chosen values.

This is my guess on Rand's meaning. Either way, before following any Objectivist tennet we must actually understand it first. Otherwise, we'll just follow stuff as dogma, without understanding what we're doing.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

A central purpose can give you a much-needed clarity of choice in every field, including romance and leisure activities. If you're a pianist, will you connect better with a physicist or with an artist? What will you even talk to them about if you don't have a mission in life? Will you choose the movies you watch on whim, or according to the purpose you have chosen for yourself? You'll obviously want to watch artsy movies, read books that deal with creativity or music or art. You'll seek leisure activities that aren't dangerous for your hands. You'll pick clothes that fit your identity. In short, all of your choices will follow a central, concrete standard that eliminates confusion and prevents you from making bad/time-wasting choices, or from miscalculating the priority of your chosen values.

This is my guess on Rand's meaning. Either way, before following any Objectivist tennet we must actually understand it first. Otherwise, we'll just follow stuff as dogma, without understanding what we're doing.

I agree with you at an abstract level, but not on many of the concrete examples. I think the difference comes from what is means to "integrate" multiple values. 

For instance, where I stay, the amateur cricket league uses a softer (non-standard) ball because the doctors who play do not want to risk injury (like your "hands" example). This is integration. Note however, that they could have chosen other sports that were just as interesting, with even less risk, but integration would not require them to do so. 

I also like your example of someone who might choose certain clothes that go with their public persona. Even when Lady Gaga is not performing -- e.g. when she gives a talk at Google -- she remains "in character" as much as she can. I have places where I wear a suit, because I know that the people I'm meeting have certain views/biases on "professionalism" and my clothes must not distract from my professional purpose.

The process of integration works a bit differently in those two examples. In the clothes example, it is more directed:  this is my goal; what clothes do I need to wear to achieve it? In the cricket example, the process is a bit different: I love playing cricket; how to do it in a way that's compatible with my other goal?

When it comes to choosing a romantic partner, I don't think one can say that (say) an artist will connect better with a pianist. Similarly, being an artist or a physicist does not need to drive one's choice of movies and other art-consumption. It all still needs to integrate in the sense of being compatible though. I've seen examples of people who say something along the lines of: "my job requires me to travel so much that I need a spouse who does not travel or else we'd never meet." It makes sense to consider such practicalities, even if one finally decides "we can make this work, with a tweak or two". 

Finally, it is also possible to switch a CPL -- to choose a different one, or more likely a different "implementation" which is similar in its basics -- in order to make it more compatible with other goals. This too is a form of integration. Clearly, we're not born with a CPL. We choose one as a route to happiness, but most people could choose one out of many different CPLs and still be equally happy.

Edited by softwareNerd

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softwareNerd,

You make a very good point about distinguishing direct integration from compatibility-adjustment. It's uncertain to me wheter Rand meant integration in the true sense, or a mixture of complementarity and direct integration, or merely establishing "the hierarchy, the relative imortance, of your values" in relation to the CPL. 

In my mind, it seems as if Rand is refering to both integration and complementarity. Peikoff, in OPAR, seems to agree with this view of integration:

A central purpose is the long-range goal that constitutes the primary claimant on a man’s time, energy, and resources. All his other goals, however worthwhile, are secondary and must be integrated to this purpose. The others are to be pursued only when such pursuit complements the primary, rather than detracting from it.

I personaly find that assesing the relationship between my CPL and my other values can lead to better mental organization and makes my life feel like an integrated whole. For example, I can see cricket not merely as a fun activity, but as a way of recharging my creative batteries for when I get back to my work projects. 

I also agree that being an artist or physicist need not drive one's choices of movies and art, but I think it's useful to consciously do so, from the perspective of integration or complementarity. If you carefully choose what you consume, you can deliberately turn your art consumption into a source of creative ideas, career inspiration, a renewed sense of life.

Since I covered the idea of consciously relating your goals to your CPL, I want to cover another aspect: people's passions or "life themes" can unconsciously affect their choices in surprizing ways. This being said, I want to cover what you said about love. I've found, through personal observation, that the like-attracts-like maxim holds true more often than not. It goes beyond mere common interests - many lovers have similar careers and music tastes, they look strangely alike (also applies to dogs and their owners), they even like to 'mirror' eachother's movements. I don't doubt that, once in a while, a physicist will kick it off with a painter, but I think it's (statistically) less likely than the cases where both lovers share at least a marginal interest and technical knowledge of their lover's craft. It has to do with a feeling of rapport and connection. It's not mandatory, but better.

So is conscious integration of every single thing you do crucial? I still can't say. It does make choices a lot clearer though.

Edit: I realized that "complementary to" is not the same thing as "compatible with". I have analysed Peikoff's statement, and my current understanding of it is this:

Everything you do must somehow be complementary to your central purpose. How something complements your CPL is up to you to figure out. If you see sports as mental rest, art as emotional fuel for achieving your goals, and love as two people sharing the same values and inspiring eachoter, then I guess they're complementary and integrated to the CPL, not merely separate-yet-compatible.

KyaryPamyu

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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I'd like to contribute to this thread, if/when I have a little more time... but in the interim, I just wanted to thank the participants for an interesting and thoughtful discussion.

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First, criticism of Laughlin's definition of CPL.

"THE NATURE OF A CPL. First, a CPL is a statement of action. It takes this form: "My central purpose in life is to ...," followed by an action word (for example, "design," "portray," "tell," or "write") that names a form of production. What is being produced? Something of high value to the producer and, ideally, to others in society who might wish to buy the product." -Laughlin

I don't see how it is a CPL needs to name a form of production, such as Roark's CPL is going to be about designing buildings. Why so specific? Laughlin seems to be talking about picking an ultimate job for yourself, like writer, basketball player, or even chef. But I think he's missing the point of a central purpose. As quoted earlier in this thread:

"A central purpose serves to integrate all the other concerns of a man’s life. It establishes the hierarchy, the relative importance, of his values, it saves him from pointless inner conflicts, it permits him to enjoy life on a wide scale and to carry that enjoyment into any area open to his mind; whereas a man without a purpose is lost in chaos." -Rand

Yes, a CPL is something you do. But it's really not primarily about carrer even as "overarcing job". Rand is saying it is a means of establishing a hierarchy of values. She's referring more about why get up in the morning, to a level more actionable than "my purpose is to live". What establishes your value hierarchy that takes into account any unique circumstances of your life on top of shared aspects from your nature as a human.

Laughlin's tent metaphor wouldn't work with this approach.

"A simple metaphor for the relationship between a man's ultimate purpose and his CPL is a great tent, which is a life of happiness." -Laughlin

CPL isn't a tent - it's the blueprint to make a tent. CPL isn't a pole of the tent at all. As Rand says, CPL serves a function to establish one's value hierarchy. Then you can assemble the tent because you'll know which things to build it with and their level of importance.

Rand thinks that "happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values". If a CPL integrates all concerns of a man's life, then it's not going to be an incomplete collection of values - it won't leave out leisure or relationships. Furthermore, it'd be a way to know if you achieved your values.

Laughlin misses this idea too, as he still formulates CPL as work.

"a CPL subsumes the particulars of career, jobs, and tasks but it is not any one of them." -Laughlin

There is more to a -central- purpose than this, you need to consider your -entire- value hierarchy. So I end up here, KP's position:

"Rand seems to insist that love and leisure are part of the CPL, that your life should follow a single theme, the same way a Roark building or Rand novel does." -KP

I see CPL as your explicitly chosen way of living. If sense of life is an emotional abstraction so to speak, then central purpose of life is the cognitive abstraction. To support that idea, take two lines from Rand explaining what sense of life is in Romantic Manifesto.

"[Sense of life is] formed by emotional abstraction: classifying things according to the emotions they evoke."

"Sense of life is involved in everything about that person; it is that which makes him a personality." -Rand

This parallels how Rand talks about central purpose.

A small example of CPL involving smaller things, take my avatar. If you can't see it, it's a cover of the book Neuromancer. I didn't pick it randomly. It's a small value, to like this cover, but it has plenty to do with a CPL. My CPL places establishes that book within my value hierarchy. I pick it as a great book for me, largely from how ideas within it help me to think about my bigger values. On top of that, it adds a style to me that I chose. Sense of life plays a role too, though, and may help to grasp more for establishing my value hierarchy.

 

 

Edited by Eiuol

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I found some references to this principle in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. I think Rand's novels are much more satisfying if you can tie everything to the abstract principles she was concretizing, but it can be tricky to discover them if you don't learn the abstract theory first.

A quote about Hank Rearden:
"He had moved toward his goal, sweeping aside everything that did not pertain to it in the world and in himself. His dedication to his work was like one of the fires he dealt with, a fire that burned every lesser element, every impurity out of the white stream of a single metal. He was incapable of halfway concerns."

and a quote from The Fountainhead:
"Nothing can be reasonable or beautiful unless it's made by one central idea, and the idea sets every detail. A building is alive, like a man. Its integrity is to follow its own truth, its one single theme, and to serve its own single purpose. A man doesn't borrow pieces of his body. A building doesn't borrow hunks of its soul. Its maker gives it the soul and every wall, window and stairway to express it."

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On 8/1/2016 at 10:43 AM, KyaryPamyu said:

Laughlin, on the other hand, states that happiness (the ultimate value) is like a tent, supported mainly by your central purpose, but also separately by relationships and leisure - the other tent poles.

"Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values." - Ayn Rand

I think that should solve the misunderstanding: happiness is not a value, or an emotion for that matter. It's the state of having achieved one's values/purpose. In other words, "I'm happy" is just a shorter way to say "I've achieved my ultimate values."

So, technically, declaring that your ultimate value/purpose is happiness is circular: you're saying that your ultimate value/purpose is to achieve your ultimate value/purpose.

So, I would restate that metaphor: the tent itself is the CPL, the poles are productivity, rationality, hard work, emotional fulfillment, meaningful relationships, etc., and happiness is "the state of being in a tent" (Note: for the purposes of this metaphor, the tent is in an air conditioned room...it is NOT protecting you from the elements, because that would add meaning beyond what I'm trying to convey).

 

Edited by Nicky

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42 minutes ago, Nicky said:

So, technically, declaring that your ultimate value/purpose is happiness is circular: you're saying that your ultimate value/purpose is to achieve your ultimate value/purpose.

"To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement." - Ayn Rand (from "The Objectivist Ethics," emphasis added)

I think that should solve the misunderstanding.

But in case it does not, happiness is not simply a byproduct of moral action, and "I'm happy" is not just a shorter way to say "I've achieved my ultimate values." Just as saying "I've achieved my ultimate values" is not just a longer way to say, "I'm happy." (Which helps to explain why Rand, as precise a thinker and writer as I've ever found, bothered to specify and then expound on both.) Happiness refers to a specific, internal, emotional experience of life, and one's existence, and while this and "holding one's life as one's ultimate value" may be "two aspects of the same achievement," when properly understood, they yet refer to two different aspects, and convey different information accordingly. This distinction is important to our understanding, and our subsequent application of Rand's moral philosophy, and it must therefore be preserved.

We do not pursue values for their own sake, nor even to maximize "life" in terms of survival (contra David Kelley, among others). We also do not live for the sake of our careers. Were any of those things the case, we should hardly have to speak of "happiness" at all: it would be enough to present the argument for life as the ultimate value, and then relate this to "productivity," or etc., and then say "act accordingly." Where "flourishing" is considered, happiness is the sine qua non; a man "flourishing" in every conceivable aspect, but unhappily, cannot really be said to be flourishing. Indeed, a man may believe himself to be pursuing his values and his ultimate value through them -- according to his understanding of the hierarchy of the same -- yet consult himself introspectively and find that he is not experiencing happiness as the concomitant emotional result. Such a discovery may well (and likely ought to be) the impetus for a change, whether in circumstance or perspective.

Happiness, rather, is what we mean to achieve via moral action, and it is the reason why we otherwise wish to live and to flourish (indeed, happiness is the very thing which gives definition and meaning to "flourishing") which is to say, it is our purpose:

Quote

It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

Rand's particular insight into "happiness" is that it is something real and specific -- it has identity -- and that it cannot be achieved in random fashion, by whim, or via mistaken philosophical premises:

Quote

It is only by accepting “man’s life” as one’s primary and by pursuing the rational values it requires that one can achieve happiness—not by taking “happiness” as some undefined, irreducible primary and then attempting to live by its guidance.

Thus, this (i.e. the Objectivist Ethics, which holds that one's own life is his ultimate value) is Ayn Rand's proposed means to achieve happiness, over the course of an individual's life, here on Earth. Other ethical systems which propose other "ultimate values," or a lack of the same, or mismatched personal philosophies which are internally inconsistent and thus have aspects working at cross-purposes, are rejected precisely because they do not lead to happiness. (Describing the emotional result of poor philosophy -- even those which likewise hold "happiness" up as man's purpose -- Rand says that, "[it] cannot be properly designated as happiness or even as pleasure: it is merely a moment’s relief from [a] chronic state of terror.)

Yet every step in the process of coming to adopt Objectivism as one's own philosophy, and then applying it in life, is aimed at achieving one's own happiness -- and nothing less than that.

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Nicky,

Quote

"Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values." - Ayn Rand

I think that should solve the misunderstanding: happiness is not a value, or an emotion for that matter. It's the state of having achieved one's values/purpose. In other words, "I'm happy" is just a shorter way to say "I've achieved my ultimate values."

This is an incorrect understanding of her definition. Rand makes the distinction between value and ultimate value:

"An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism’s life is its standard of value [...] It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible." (The Objectivist Ethics)

All values are merely the means of achieving and enjoying your ultimate value. You enjoy it by means of the resulting emotions; happiness is definitely an emotional state:

"Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. [...] And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself." (The Objectivist Ethics)

In other words, when you enjoy sex or ice-cream, the actual thing you're enjoying is your life.

Laughlin states that the CPL is your most important value (source of happiness) but not the only one.
Your reformulation is that happiness (the tent) is itself the CPL, and the poles are the means to that, whatever those might be.

But the term happiness is too over-arching and doesn't tell you which specific forms of happiness (values) are right for you.

To quote Eiuol from this tread: 
"CPL isn't a tent - it's the blueprint to make a tent. CPL isn't a pole of the tent at all. As Rand says, CPL serves a function to establish one's value hierarchy. Then you can assemble the tent because you'll know which things to build it with and their level of importance. If a CPL integrates all concerns of a man's life, then it's not going to be an incomplete collection of values - it won't leave out leisure or relationships. Furthermore, it'd be a way to know if you achieved your values."

Ayn Rand described her CPL as fiction writing, but writing books wasn't all there was to it. To her, writing fiction was her means of creating the world she liked.

Here's an exerpt from her journals, where she explains how creating Objectivism was secondary, and integrated to her actual CPL.

"I seem to be both a theoretical philosopher and a fiction writer. but it is the last that interests me most; the first is only the means to the last; the absolutely necesarry means, but only the means; the fiction story is the end. Without an understanding and statement of the right philosophical principle, I cannot create the right story; but the discovery of the principle interests me only as the discovery of the proper knowledge to be used for my life purpose; and my life purpose is the creation of the kind of world (people and events) that I like-that is, represents human perfection

Philosophical knowledge is necessary in order to define human perfection. But I do not care to stop at the definition. I want to use it, to apply it-in my work (in my personal life too-but the core, center and purpose of my personal life, of my whole life, is my work)."

Ayn Rand spent most of her time writing, not because she wanted to make money, but because it was her favorite form of enjoyment, her form of "liquor". While she recognized the importance of love and leisure, those cannot exist without work. Here's a quote from Atlas Shrugged regarding work and sex:

"There was some unbreakable link between her love for her work and the desire of her body; as if one gave her the right to the other, the right and the meaning; as if one were the completion of the other – and the desire would never be satisfied, except by a being of equal greatness."

Without a CPL, any achievement would feel utterly meaningless, because you wouldn't know by what standard those achievements were worth pursuing or not worth pursuing. And 'life' and 'happiness' don't cut it as a central purpose. You need a specific  form of happiness that is unique to you. 

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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6 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Without a CPL, any achievement would feel utterly meaningless, because you wouldn't know by what standard those achievements were worth pursuing or not worth pursuing. And 'life' and 'happiness' don't cut it as a central purpose. You need a specific  form of happiness that is unique to you. 

I think there's a gap in the argument from the love/sex example to this. In what way is "the desire of her body" linked to "her love for her work"?
I can see this argument: being productive/purposeful, and the feeling of accomplishment and self-worth and happiness that comes with it appear to "give her a right" to bodily desire... "the right and the meaning".

However, it's not linked to the specifics of the productiveness/purposefulness.

More importantly, why does it have to be linked to a single central purpose / productiveness? What if someone is productive and purposeful without a CPL? 

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softwareNerd,

Since I am in the process of decoding this myself, all I can say is that, within the context of the novel, all of Dagny's work and productiveness is devoted to her central purpose, which is Taggart Transcontinental. For Francisco, it's D'Anconia Copper, for Hank Rearden it's his mines.

I was listening to a Peikoff course yesterday where he casually mentioned that for Francisco, Dagny was the expression of his love for D'Anconia Copper, so this seems to be a prevailing Objectivist theme. As to which way sex is tied to your one purpose, I am still in the process of figuring it out. Some historical geniuses were passionate enough to be polymaths, but they were/are few and far inbetween. A lot of people prefer choosing just one purpose and growing it as much as they can.

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4 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

A lot of people prefer choosing just one purpose and growing it as much as they can.

Yes, and I'm not arguing against a CPL. My questions are aimed at chewing the concept. This means getting into the detail of the "why is it good.. in concrete terms of concrete resulting values?" and "what exactly is it about -- how concrete or how abstract should the concept of CPL be?" and "how is the Objectivist concept of CPL different from similar ideas offered by non-Objectivists?" (The risk of not chewing is to take CPL as an edict, and trying to live up to it -- the way people struggle to live up to exercise regimes.) Anyhow, I'm not arguing against anything you're saying as much as I am raising questions about the topic.

Advantages: Division of labor is the foundation of modern life. We can create more value in a division of labor society. We cannot create many modern values at all without specializing. If you want to be a good surgeon, you need to study and practice for years. If you want to be really good at developing ambitious software projects, you need to study and practice across years. If you want to be an author, you have to work on smaller projects before you write your magnum opus.

Does it require a context: Consider a factory worker on an assembly line 30 years ago (or in China today). The worker is specializing in a task, but its doubtful that they're overly happy by "the doing" as-such. What would the CPL of an Objectivist factory-worker be? In that context, is a CPL something only for a few who can rise to be supervisors and managers? Does the pursuit of a CPL make sense only in a certain context or for certain people? 

Is a sense of achievement relative: Producing your first piece of good work can be very satisfying: even if it is not much to the world, it might have been quite an achievement for you. Once you've done that, you need to target something more challenging to feel satisfied. However, this can be turned on its head to become a reason for NOT specializing: instead of developing more ambitious software, or building a slightly bigger business, or writing a larger work of literature, what if one chooses a new field and starts afresh? Wouldn't one feel success in a small achievement there as well, because one feels the sense of accomplishment relative to one's own abilities? Is our sense of accomplishment based on a combination of what we achieved ... and what we achieved?

Why think of a lifespan: It seems obvious that we should maximize happiness across our entire lifetime. There's no way to add up some numbers, but we don't want to be the guy regretting the hangover after the hangover has passed. If we have a hangover, and don't like it, we still want to be the guy who says "that was worth it" when it's over. However, does planning across a lifetime imply that one should hold a virtually unchanged CPL across that lifetime?

A fantastic hypothetical on longevity: Imagine that people are able to live and work productively for 200 or 300 years. Let's say one such person has published her magnum opus at 50. She's wondering what to do next and can think of various ideas within the ambit of her CPL that would be fun, but she does not think any of them will match the objective "what" of her magnum opus. She can still think of projects that would be a challenge to her personally, even if their scope would not be as large as her recent achievement. Should she focus on that genre of projects because they fit her CPL? What if she were to decide to change gears radically. Suppose she decides to become a historian and study Japan as her first goal. For her, that might be an even more ambitious goal. Or, perhaps she decides to go back to school and explore her early love of engineering, to become a real-life builder of bridges. Perhaps 50 is just too old to start afresh, but if 80 becomes the new 50 then a 30-year career lies ahead.

Extend this to someone who thinks that their ability will take them along a rising path that is longer than the worker on the assembly line, but (say) 15 years. After that, they find they've plateaued. Would it make sense to do something radically different? In material terms, leaving plumbing and becoming an apprentice mechanic would be less remunerative, but it might be more satisfying.

I guess that's enough questions for one post.

 

Edited by softwareNerd
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softwareNerd,

Very thoughtful questions. I very much doubt that a Chinese worker could consider his repetitious routine to be his CPL. Productive work, for Ayn Rand, involves  constant thinking about new ways to improve your field of work. So, mechanical work can't truly be a worthy purpose. If circumstances force people into that kind of labor, I guess the only workaround for them would be to support their real passion with the money they earn, and eventually build a better life for themselves. That, if they aren't already completely disillusioned with life on earth. I wonder: if in the future, all manual work of this type will be taken over by machinery, how would that translate to jobs? It's possible that Yaron Brook covered this in his books, but I am not acquianted with either of his works.

Regarding holding the same CPL for your entire lifetime, Ayn Rand's had the following to say about motherhood: it's a proper central purpose, if  it's approached as a career that requires the full use of your mind (in order to discover ways of doing it as well as possible), and as long as the woman knows that at some point she'll be forced to undertake a new purpose. Obviously, when all of her kids will grow, her 'career' will obviously become outdated. 

My take is that, if you switch your career and start achieving things within the new career, you should be equally fulfulled, if you tie your achievements to your new career/purpose. But I have to say this, while it's possible to switch, I think it's very uncommon. True mastery in any field can take a whole lifetime. You either love your field or not. 

If you look at the lives of great musicians such as Mozart, Beethoven or The Beatles, you'll see that many of them very quickly reached the plateau of what was possible in their genres. But instead of ditching music altogheter, they started to explore new possibilities within their chosen field. Mozart started incorporating counterpoint into his music, a musical technique that originated with the Baroque Period but was forgotten after the Classical period took over. This made his own music very unique. He then made very daring innovations to opera music, and this achievement is what really turned him into a staple of classical music programmes. Beethoven single-handledy made the transition from the Classical to the Early Romantic era through his innovations. The Beatles' recording career lasted for about 10 years (not counting their previous musical activity), yet they covered just about any genre that was popular at the time: Elvis-type rock&roll, 19th century music hall, blues, psychedelic rock, baroque pop, indian music, the first heavy metal song in history (Helter Skelter), ballads, avant-garde and many more. 

Many artists reached their real creative maturity and peak tens of years into their careers. For them, their earlier works were like the pages of a photo-book that documented their creative lives. So I don't really believe in the concept of a 'plateau'; if there's nothing else to do in your current endeavor, plenty of related possibilities should be open to you. For example, Hank Rearden of Atlas Shrugged started as a laborer in various mines while he made his way into owning his own mills. Then he created Rearden Metal, which took 10 years. The he began researching how his new alloy could be applied to various industries: airplanes, train diesels and so on. But if your career doesn't provide lots of possibilities and variety, then it's entirely normal to get bored and change your field.

Had those artists lived 100+ years, I have no idea if they would've eventually ditched their main love for another. But for the current life expectancy, I think one passion is enough, especally since some careers (arts and technology are the perfect example) couldn't exhaust their possibilities even if you lived forever.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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I've got a lot to say in this post. In the first place, I seek to deeply understand what makes someone a genius. I don't mean that in a hobby sort of way. Specifically, I've applied to psychology PhD programs to study creativity. They didn't pan out, but it's still a real interest. It's like my CPL. Not quite though, I'll explain later in my post how I'd explain my CPL besides as a career interest.

As far as I've seen, people we call geniuses aren't people differentiated with some innate ability. Some traits like IQ help for specific fields, but as far as becoming a genius, it's more about pushing oneself to think, to create, to live out one's ideas. This is a creative process. Creative processes aren't only about special and sudden insights. Largely, they're about changing and manipulating conceptual domains and achieving some end that requires making something new. You can start with a set of ideas learned from other people, which creates a framework of ideas to use. A creative person will take in new ideas, observations, analogies, hypotheses, curious thoughts, etc, and use those to find new sets of ideas. We may think artists like Mozart or The Beatles are simply tinkering within their field. They're actually creating new forms of organizing their concepts by bringing in other fields. Personal drives are part of it as well. These people may be expected to plateau, but they don't, because there's some purpose for their creations.

Broadly stated for philosophy: man's nature is to create for his survival. When Rand speaks of reason as a means of survival, she is talking about creativity. Coming up with new ideas that can be realized is absolutely critical for life as a whole, to exist. It's no surprise, then, Rand's best characters are all creators. Rearden wasn't some guy who ran a metal company. He came up with Rearden Metal - people helped him probably, but the concepts/ideas were a result of mixing and restructuring all sorts of ideas. Rand didn't detail it, but it's reasonable to say she meant this creative process. Dagny didn't create in the same way, Taggart Transcontinental wasn't her idea. Rather, she created new ways of acting, she's more an innovative manger, eager to take on new projects to see what happens.

More importantly, these aren't careers. The creations are all part of a life outlook, or a life pursuit. These are all individualized creations related to unique skills, life experiences, and personality. They see creations as a purpose to -their- life. Here, CPL starts to become clear, as a complete personal identity. Fiction is an idealization though. We need real world examples, not only concretized abstractions.

Take David Bowie. He is a supremely creative individual who I'd argue pioneered glam rock as a style, and helped (with Brian Eno) to make electronic music into a respectable style. Regardless of your thoughts on the quality of Bowie's work, he lived life as a creator. He's known for his music, but he didn't call himself a "musician". He liked painting and writing. He went to Berlin to conquer cocaine addiction, and it worked. His CPL is something like making himself into a mixer of popular art and ideas into individualized creations. Consider, though, Rand said sense of life cannot be determined by other people. I think CPL is similar. As the cognitive end of one's "style" to life, only Bowie could tell us his CPL. Either way, we can see how he lead his life purposefully up until the day he died.

See this video: https://youtu.be/uQOuz_Pz3ts?t=151 I'd suggest that listening to David Bowie's ideas to gain insight into someone who lead a purposeful, creative, and ultimately a happy life. Confidently, I say all people are capable of such lives. Becoming famous for one's work is not what I mean, or notoriety. It doesn't matter, as long as you're creative. But creative doing what, and how do things like leisure become part of that creativity? That's what a CPL is for.

A lot of creative people - scientists included -  don't do one thing. Holding back for a moment on if a person is wrong about important things. BF Skinner wrote fiction. Noam Chomsky is as big for politics as he is for linguistics. Da Vinci was basically a military engineer, but wrote lots about anatomy, and of course painted. Marcus Aurelius ruled Rome, and wrote philosophy. All these people have some sort of CPL, but it's not a particular job. Purpose for these people (probably) incorporates their creations and values.

((I wouldn't say Helter Skelter is the first heavy metal song, it's arguable probably. I'd rather point to most work by Jimi Hendrix. To me, Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin is really the -first- one. Hard, heavy, loud, warrior-ish lyrics, messy, constant aggression.))

Edited by Eiuol

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On 8/6/2016 at 10:08 AM, KyaryPamyu said:

I very much doubt that a Chinese worker could consider his repetitious routine to be his CPL. Productive work, for Ayn Rand, involves  constant thinking about new ways to improve your field of work. So, mechanical work can't truly be a worthy purpose.

Who says that a common laborer can't improve his technique while he's using it? If you could perform some task while half-asleep (which seems to be everybody's problem with factory work) then you can also perform it while figuring out how to do it better.

I've been able to enjoy many things that most people would call "shit jobs" by remembering that all work is creative work, if done by a thinking mind.

 

Except for politics.

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I apologize for the latency of this post.

 

I don't think the "Central Purpose in Life" is actually a worthwhile concept (at least not the way the article discussed it). Exactly how one ought to choose it has been a longstanding question, which we can only answer with some variant of "you just know it". The Fountainhead begins with Roark saying "I have chosen the kind of work that I want to do" - and that's basically where we've remained, since then.

In trying to find the right way to choose one's CPL, I've ultimately come to the conclusion that there isn't one; that we should fundamentally reexamine the way we think about the whole thing.

 

---

 

Each of us has a limitless capacity for desire. As soon as we achieve one goal, we find ourselves looking for another. We can suppress or impair this capacity to "covet" but, in general, we shouldn't; if it weren't for that trait (among others) we would still be living on the Savannah. We should, however, integrate our desires.

To integrate a pair of goals is to look at them and ask whether either of them (either in themselves or in the actions they require) prevents us from having the other. If not then groovy; if so then we have some choices to make.

For example: If my only desires were to have a $3 energy drink and a $10 pack of cigarettes, and I had $20 to spend, then "integrating" those desires only requires me to do some math. If I only had $10 to spend, or if I also wanted to quit smoking, then I'd have to choose which desires to fulfill and which to suppress.

 

This is trivial for any pair of goals, but gets much more complicated as more goals are added into it. Specifically (this is irrelevant but I get a kick out of quantification), for any number of goals G, it takes (G*(G-1))/2 integrations to unite them all. Which would tie back into the utility of moral principles.

If all of them were integrated without contradiction,* I believe the resulting plan (including every action necessary for the goals you'd chosen to pursue) would be the proper guide to live by, as opposed to a CPL.

*This isn't to say that all of them should necessarily be integrated, right down to bowel movements. G*(G-1)/2 means infinity when G stands for infinity. However, if our biggest and most important goals are all integrated then we can approximate the same thing, anyway.

 

Why the distinction?

 

A CPL is meant to guide one's choices in a top-down manner; whatever doesn't fit with it has to go. And that's good. But one can't choose the top, itself, (the CPL) in any top-down or deductive manner; one has to choose it in a bottom-up (inductive) manner.

Furthermore, as to the results of this circular-deducing approach:

 

Quote

First, a CPL is astatement of action. It takes this form: "My central purpose in life is to ...," followed by an action word (for example, "design," "portray," "tell," or "write") that names a form of production. What is being produced? Something of high value to the producer and, ideally, to others in society who might wish to buy the product.

 

This is not the way to live like Roark. This is a good way to end up on a therapist's couch in a few decades, wondering why your life didn't conform to the fill-in-the-blank questionnaire which told you what your CPL was.

It also strikes me as an attempt to cheat the arduous process of actually integrating everything you want from life, but that's irrelevant; it will not help anybody (except, perhaps, Laughlin).

 

And that's my case for a solid valuative hierarchy, instead of a copied-and-pasted statement of one's CPL.

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Tara Smith discusses this in her book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. Here are two exerpts; check the book out for an excellent resource on Objectivist ethics.

Quote

As I will explain in the next section, productive work must become the central purpose of arational egoist’s life. And by occupying this role, productiveness brings with it further spiritual values. A central productive purpose will serve a person’s need for coherence in his activities, providing a rational basis for choosing and weaving in to an integrated, seamless fabric pursuits that might otherwise be disparate, dangling threads. A commitment to productive work, because of the dominant place it will necessarily assume, establishes what a person’s life is about and thereby lends meaning to his activities, enabling them to add up to a unified, valuable whole. In this way, productiveness will also strengthen a person’s sense of his identity. If a person embraces productive work as his central purpose and devotes the requisite time and energy to it, it will become an integral part of his self-image, refining his sense of what is important to him and of who he is. The embrace of productive work as one’s central purpose will naturally carry ramifications on other of a person’s activities. Other things will be of interest – certain books worth reading, certain people worth meeting, certain events in the news worth following or trying to influence–because of their potential impact on that end. Not only those interests and activities most directly affecting a person’s work, but the value of many of a person’s ancillary ends and activities will be influenced by hiscentral productive purpose. Thus, again, a person’s overall identity and sense of identity can be more deeply and more finely engraved by his exercise of the virtue of productiveness. 

Quote

When we say that a person works in order to live, accordingly, this means that he works in order to do still further work. For productive work is the principal activity that sustains a person and normally occupies a person’s days. As such, productive work ideally becomes an end as well as a means. It is an indispensable means of achieving the material values that sustain a person’s existence, but it should also be the activity that a person wishes to engage in further, with the time that his productive effort buys. Although I need the salary that my philosophy work provides in order to pay the mortgage and grocery bills, for example, one of the chief reasons that Iamglad to be able to pay those bills is so that I can continue doing philosophical work. That work is not merely a means to other things that I value; it is itself an activity that I enjoy, that enriches my life and that I would like to pursue even if it did not pay, could I afford to do that. Obviously, many people are not in this enviable position. The point is that this is the ideal; a person should strive to do productive work that provides the greatest spiritual as well as material rewards. Indeed, it is precisely because a person typically needs to devote so much energy to the work that will sustain him that he should try to do work that provides values beyond monetary compensation. For spiritual gratification is itself vital to self-sustaining action.


 

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On 8/22/2016 at 1:57 PM, KyaryPamyu said:

Tara Smith discusses this in her book, Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist. Here are two exerpts; check the book out for an excellent resource on Objectivist ethics.

Caveat: I've not read Tara Smith's work in whole, and little of it at all beyond what you've quoted. I recognize, accordingly, that I may not take these quotes with enough context to respond to them as she'd meant them.

But I would like to see some more discussion on these matters, and as this thread has gone a touch cold of late, I shall take (ignorant and likely misguided) issue with what has been quoted of her monograph:

Quote

...productive work must become the central purpose of a rational egoist’s life.

[...]

When we say that a person works in order to live, accordingly, this means that he works in order to do still further work.

Productive work is a central part of any rational person's life, but it is not his primary motivation or his purpose. These are all still issues I'm grappling with (as, I suspect, most are), so I cannot yet express everything I intend as directly or fully or efficiently as I'd like. Please forgive me if this is a touch discursive, but...

There are aspects to life or living which are experienced as (a kind of) pleasure. There is pleasure itself, but there are also the joys of art, the satisfactions of accomplishment, the pleasures one takes in love and fellowship, and so forth. Productive work underlies a man's ability to experience any of these, yet the doing of productive work is not his end: it is the experience of those things which provide such pleasures which is man's end, and towards which his productive work is aimed.

It is by virtue of the pleasures such work provides -- or the capacity for such pleasures, such as an increased lifespan or resource -- that we recognize certain work as being "productive," initially: twiddling one's thumbs is motion, action, and perhaps "work" in some sense... but it is not "productive" (unless someone is paying you to do it) precisely because it does not achieve (or "produce") in reality those things which are properly a rational man's ends -- those things which, in fact, are pleasant to experience, and which roundly constitute "happiness," or the material from which such happiness is made.

Consider Robinson Crusoe for a moment. The role of productive work for such a man is laid absolutely bare. If he does not do what is necessary for his survival (never mind "flourishing"), he will die, and there is nothing about death to recommend it. Yet as he fishes and constructs his hut, and does what a shipwreck survivor must (it has been a while since I've read the novel, to be frank; I mean "Crusoe" more generically), we would not say, I don't believe, that such things have become some "CPL" for him, whether temporary or permanent, or if he were to retain some earlier formed CPL (perhaps he was an architect back on the mainland?) that all of this action is now geared to getting back to building buildings. He is not necessarily living for the sake of architecture, and he's certainly not spearfishing because he loves it, and only wishes to do it more often...

But what is there to live for, for him? Anything at all? I suspect so, or that there may be, at least. I think that many of the things which make living pleasant may yet be available to a man on a desert island, without respect to some notion of a CPL or career. There is yet sunshine, and occasional relaxation, and the sweet taste of tropical fruit, to name but a very few things.

Living "for its own sake" is shallow (and there are conditions under which where life is, perhaps, not even desirable), and I believe that the notion of living for the sake of one's career is misguided, and potentially dangerous, but there are the myriad of experiences (hopefully daily) which constitute an enjoyable life, and "happiness" more generally, towards which our activities (including our work) are aimed at achieving.

Quote

For productive work is the principal activity that sustains a person and normally occupies a person’s days. As such, productive work ideally becomes an end as well as a means. It is an indispensable means of achieving the material values that sustain a person’s existence, but it should also be the activity that a person wishes to engage in further, with the time that his productive effort buys. Although I need the salary that my philosophy work provides in order to pay the mortgage and grocery bills, for example, one of the chief reasons that Iamglad to be able to pay those bills is so that I can continue doing philosophical work. That work is not merely a means to other things that I value; it is itself an activity that I enjoy, that enriches my life and that I would like to pursue even if it did not pay, could I afford to do that. Obviously, many people are not in this enviable position. The point is that this is the ideal; a person should strive to do productive work that provides the greatest spiritual as well as material rewards. Indeed, it is precisely because a person typically needs to devote so much energy to the work that will sustain him that he should try to do work that provides values beyond monetary compensation. For spiritual gratification is itself vital to self-sustaining action.

Is life superior when one's job or career provides a person with an intrinsic, spiritual satisfaction? (When it is, in itself, a source of some of the pleasures I'm describing.) Undoubtedly. But even the Chinese factory laborer can conceivably be happy in his life (notwithstanding Harrison's point that there are possibly spiritual pleasures to be had in such a job, too).

__________________________

For another brief perspective on these issues, consider the idea of the sudden windfall. Suppose that tomorrow you were given a billion dollars (this could be the result of a lottery, or an inheritance by some unknown relative, or etc.). Would this alter your notions of "career" at all? Perhaps it would not, in some given case (perhaps Tara Smith would continue on her current course, or redouble her efforts given her expanded capacities), but I expect that many people would orient themselves differently in terms of what they plan on doing with their time, now and into the future. The schoolteacher who takes pride and satisfaction in trying to be the best schoolteacher he can possibly be, and who enjoys it and sees himself doing it for the rest of his life (who might, in fact, describe it as his "CPL," if prompted)... may yet decide, now in this radically altered context, that he would prefer to do other things with his time, up to and including a "life of leisure."

I don't think this is necessarily irrational or immoral, or that such a "life of leisure" is necessarily devoid of productivity, despite the terminology. But this idea that a schoolteacher works (or lives) for the sake of teaching more does not hold water, in my estimation, nor do I believe that to be a moral ideal.

Edited by DonAthos

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On 8/27/2016 at 8:47 AM, DonAthos said:

It is by virtue of the pleasures such work provides -- or the capacity for such pleasures, such as an increased lifespan or resource -- that we recognize certain work as being "productive," initially: twiddling one's thumbs is motion, action, and perhaps "work" in some sense... but it is not "productive" (unless someone is paying you to do it) precisely because it does not achieve (or "produce") in reality those things which are properly a rational man's ends -- those things which, in fact, are pleasant to experience, and which roundly constitute "happiness," or the material from which such happiness is made.

Exactly.

 

And alternatively, since "the root of money" is (or at least necessarily involves) man's mind, consider a professional Chess player.

In her open letter to the Russian Chess Champion (I believe his name was Boris-something) Ayn Rand referred to the mastery of Chess as something like 'the ugly spectacle of the human mind devoted to no purpose at all'. And, in a certain sense, that's true. Chess doesn't feed, clothe or house anybody; you can't use it as fuel and it doesn't contribute anything to our understanding of the universe; at first glance, it may seem purposeless.

However, neither do novels (either in writing or reading them) do any of those things. They're not for eating, wearing or even studying; their purpose is simply to be enjoyed. And if someone enjoys Chess more than reading then it's not purposeless at all, for them; the purpose is simply to have fun.*

And if that person can make the money to feed and clothe themselves, either by writing novels or by playing Chess, then it's also "productive" for them to do so - specifically because it allows them to achieve so many of their goals, simultaneously.

 

*This would be different if that person didn't actually enjoy what they were doing, but I think that point should be fairly obvious*

 

And yet, just because somebody finds a way to pay their bills by doing something they love, doesn't necessarily mean that they must devote the rest of their lives to it. I don't know of anything that should prevent anyone from mastering Chess today, Go tomorrow and Halo the next day.

In fact, given that "flourishing" specifically means achieving one goal after another, each one bigger and more difficult than the last, in an "ever-increasing range of achievement" - if anything, I think Egoism encourages that.

 

Life is motion.

 

On 8/27/2016 at 8:47 AM, DonAthos said:

I don't think this is necessarily irrational or immoral, or that such a "life of leisure" is necessarily devoid of productivity, despite the terminology.

 

I'm not sure there's actually anything to dispute, here, but since we're kind of exploring...

 

I can't imagine Howard Roark, say, spending the rest of his life on the couch watching Netflix, regardless of his monetary concerns. 

Would there be an ever-increasing range of achievement in that? There could be achievements to be had (such as watching every single episode of Voyager or eating every kind of potato chip), but I'm not sure such a "life of leisure" would meet the requirements of the perpetual sort of self-improvement which I take "flourishing" to mean.

What I could see (and what I kind of envy Thomas Jefferson for) would be using his surplus of spare time to go out and remake the world in whatever ways he saw fit; to study science and philosophy, or perhaps to devise even better ways of doing architecture.

 

Is there a clear distinction to be made there, though? Is it a difference of degree? Or is this just a personality quirk that isn't related to "flourishing"?

If life is motion then what are its actual, concrete requirements?

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