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epistemologue

Reification and Suicide

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2 hours ago, epistemologue said:

Pain is information. In absolute terms, it's even a positive experience, since every experience is positive to some extent. In relative terms, it tells you that something is wrong, something is interfering with your health, your fullest experience of pleasure, your positive pursuit of life.

I don't understand. If pain and suffering is a zero, how can it be a positive? That would make it more than zero. You are saying even pain has a value by virtue of being an experience that you are still breathing. This is super Nietzschean, that the pain ITSELF has at least more value than a zero by making yourself stronger. I'd say more specifically,"nothingness" of pain leads one to seek a positive at any cost.

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13 hours ago, epistemologue said:

This conclusion is only consistent with pain being a zero. If pain were a negative, commensurable value with pleasure, then it would entirely make sense to trade away a positive value in exchange for the subtraction of a negative, i.e. avoiding pain at the price of pleasure, or a disvalue being negated at the price of a true value. 

That depends on what kind of pain you mean. When we say that "pain doesn't matter", that's conceptual shorthand for a much more complex and nuanced attitude (as exemplified by Rand's heroes).

There was one character in Atlas Shrugged who would literally bear an unlimited amount of pain for whatever meager amount of joy he might experience - Hank Rearden. And that was what made him the guiltiest man at Taggart's wedding.

 

As I said, you are onto something (which I'll come back to, shortly), but it's not as simple as "pain just doesn't matter". There are important details which, if omitted in haste, will leave us unable to identify what's wrong with this picture:

 

 

13 hours ago, epistemologue said:

There is no such special "physical sensation of pleasure" - every sensation is pleasurable. Awareness itself regardless of any extrospective sensation, is pleasurable.

But are all sensations equally pleasurable?

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7 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

But are all sensations equally pleasurable?

Of course they aren't.  Such is irrational idealistic and "rationalistic" nonsense and is in complete disregard of the concept "pleasure" as applicable to specific sensations.

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On 11/29/2016 at 7:02 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

Such is irrational idealistic and "rationalistic" nonsense...

[Strikeout mine]

Would be. My reason for asking questions like that is that sometimes people (particularly moral and rational people) accidentally imply errors which, if named explicitly, they'd drop like a hot potato.

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On 11/27/2016 at 9:15 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

I do think you're onto something, there, only it isn't that pain is a zero; it's that pain is (and ought to be) less important than pleasure.

Pain exists and ought to be avoided - just not at the price of your pleasure. Disvalues are not to be negated at the price of true values.

 

On 11/28/2016 at 9:49 AM, epistemologue said:

This conclusion is only consistent with pain being a zero. If pain were a negative, commensurable value with pleasure, then it would entirely make sense to trade away a positive value in exchange for the subtraction of a negative, i.e. avoiding pain at the price of pleasure, or a disvalue being negated at the price of a true value. 

 

On 11/28/2016 at 11:16 PM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

That depends on what kind of pain you mean. When we say that "pain doesn't matter", that's conceptual shorthand for a much more complex and nuanced attitude (as exemplified by Rand's heroes).

There was one character in Atlas Shrugged who would literally bear an unlimited amount of pain for whatever meager amount of joy he might experience - Hank Rearden. And that was what made him the guiltiest man at Taggart's wedding.

 

Values do not exist in a vacuum. In our every waking moment we hold a multitude of goals, desires, hopes and fears; everything from satiating one's physical hunger to creating the content of one's character. That is not optional.

To disvalue pain and act to address it is metaphysically optional, but morally mandatory. The alternative is illustrated by Monty Python's Black Knight, whose absurdity is obvious.

When Galt says "you exist for the sake of avoiding punishment; we exist for the sake of achieving rewards" the issue he indicates is not a binary question of which values to hold and which to discard, but a matter of primacy; of how to prioritize our values and commensurate disvalues, neither of which may be discarded altogether. It is a principle to guide the formation of a rational valuative hierarchy.

 

To make the elimination of suffering your highest value is to attempt to stand still and hold yourself in a certain state of affairs. But life is motion; just as a single-celled amoeba or a corporation must pursue its values and expand its efficacy or else perish, so must a mind go on growing or else rot. Life does not permit stagnation.

This is why we must prioritize our values and disvalues in the manner implied in Galt's speech.

 

Now, the question of whether suicide can be moral is also about how to form a rational hierarchy of values, and the first step in answering it is to identify the values and disvalues involved.

You already started that in the OP but I fear I'm out of time; I'll have to come back to it, soon.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
Clarity

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On 11/16/2016 at 0:08 PM, epistemologue said:

Rationally we can identify pain and suffering as a contradiction to the good, as a negative and an impediment, but innately pain simply does not offer us any pleasure, that is, it is a zero. It do not offer us the presence of any incentive to seek, so it cannot logically be the source of any conceptual values, nor can it be the fuel that makes us function.

There is so much in this thread, potentially, to address. But let's start here.

Here epistemologue identifies pain and suffering as "negative," which is a good start. (Later, I believe, there is an attempt to claim that all sensation, including pain, is enjoyable or something like that.) The existence of pain absolutely does incentivize. Elsewhere in the thread, Harrison relates the example of touching the hot stove: it is fine incentive to both remove one's hand and to remember not to touch a hot stove in the future (and maybe to invest in oven mitts). Hunger pains incentivize a man to seek relief from that pain in the form of sustenance, and disease incentivizes the search for cure.

Discussions of metaphorical "fuel" aside, and whether we "prioritize" our pleasures or pains, or howsoever we relate this to "conceptual values," pain is a metaphysical reality, it is negative in character, and man is right to take action to limit or eliminate his pains where possible.

This seems to be much more than a "zero."

On 11/19/2016 at 7:14 AM, epistemologue said:

Let's concretize this issue. Suppose you are in extreme, persistent pain, and the most complete state of suffering possible, but you are still conscious (If you want to talk about pain disrupting the capacity for consciousness in the first place, note that if you are not capable of conscious awareness, then you are in essence already dead. But as long as you are effectively capable of consciousness, no matter how disruptive the pain is otherwise, you are still alive.)

[...]

No matter what torture you are undergoing, even in the worst imaginable level of suffering and hell, the practice of these virtues still leads to the achievements of values within your mind, the pleasure of which is a non-contradictory joy - it is the achievement of happiness.

This is utterly divorced from reality.

Why not be "in extreme, persistent pain -- the most complete state of [physical] suffering possible" and attain "non-contradictory joy, the achievement of happiness?" Because man is a physical being; because physical pleasures and pain are vital to one's experience of life (including conscious experience); because "non-contradictory joy" is not possible while "in extreme, persistent pain."

If you are undergoing true torture (let alone the "worst possible torture"), you are not going to take anything recognizable as pleasure or joy in music or writing or "silent amens": you will be utterly devoted to ending your torture and the cessation of pain, which will be the singular focus of your consciousness.

If you are in such a state that the torture cannot be ended -- if all life has to offer you is pain -- then suicide would be both rational and moral.

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On 12/3/2016 at 6:14 PM, DonAthos said:

This is utterly divorced from reality.

Read Dagny's words:

Quote

It does not count - it is not to be taken seriously. She knew these were the words, even in the moments when there was nothing left within her but screaming and she wished she could lose the faculty of consciousness so that it would not tell her that what could not be true was true. Not to be taken seriously - an immovable certainty within her kept repeating - pain and ugliness are never to be taken seriously. 

Or Rearden's:

Quote

He saw the day when he stood on a rocky ledge and felt a thread of sweat running from his temple down his neck. He was fourteen years old and it was his first day of work in the iron mines of Minnesota. He was trying to learn to breathe against the scalding pain in his chest. He stood, cursing himself, because he had made up his mind that he would not be tired. After a while, he went back to his task; he decided that pain was not a valid reason for stopping. He saw the day when he stood at the window of his office and looked at the mines; he owned them as of that morning. He was thirty years old. What had gone on in the years between did not matter, just as pain had not mattered.

These are fictional examples, but this is a reality for people.

People can and do make up their mind that pain does not matter, that pain is not a valid reason for stopping. It is possible to decide that pain is acceptable and quitting is not acceptable.

They are at least alive, and they've made up their mind to use that priceless opportunity productively, to make the most of whatever existence they do have, to be everything they can be and ought to be given their condition, because anything less than that would be a sacrifice - a pointless, immoral sacrifice.

 

On 12/3/2016 at 6:14 PM, DonAthos said:

"non-contradictory joy" is not possible while "in extreme, persistent pain."

Even in the most extreme circumstances, if you are alive and conscious, you have the ability to act. Your actions can be virtuous and productive, your thinking non-contradictory, and your conclusions that you achieve true. That achievement will invariably provide you with a feeling of self-esteem - a feeling of self-esteem that is not tarnished, but if anything only enhanced, by the degree to which you suffered in reaching that achievement. This non-contradictory joy, this happiness, absolutely is possible to anyone alive, and so in every case suicide is not a rational or moral option.

Edited by epistemologue

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On 12/3/2016 at 5:14 PM, DonAthos said:

If you are undergoing true torture (let alone the "worst possible torture"), you are not going to take anything recognizable as pleasure or joy in music or writing or "silent amens": you will be utterly devoted to ending your torture and the cessation of pain, which will be the singular focus of your consciousness.

 

It is possible to do otherwise; to mentally isolate the pain and disconnect it from one's self, refusing to take it seriously. We teach certain members of our armed forces to do this (the ones who're likely to actually be tortured) and I believe they teach similar exercises to pregnant women, for labor and delivery.

However, even if one is using such a technique to control the pain, the whole of one's consciousness is still focused on it (which makes it hard to even contemplate anything pleasurable).

Furthermore, as a general rule one shouldn't just shrug off any little pain one might experience on a daily basis (even if you can). I think Rearden's story demonstrates exactly where that policy leads.

 

2 hours ago, epistemologue said:

Even in the most extreme circumstances, if you are alive and conscious, you have the ability to act. Your actions can be virtuous and productive, your thinking non-contradictory, and your conclusions that you achieve true. That achievement will invariably provide you with a feeling of self-esteem - a feeling of self-esteem that is not tarnished, but if anything only enhanced, by the degree to which you suffered in reaching that achievement.

This is why I keep mentioning Rearden.

Self-esteem comes from living up to your own moral code (regardless of which code you've accepted). To achieve your self-esteem at the price of unbearable pain doesn't sound healthy, non-contradictory or life-affirming at all, to me; it sounds a like a moral code that asks you to value the frustration of your values.

Virtue is not its own reward; life and happiness are supposed to be the rewards that come from virtue. If you're practicing a virtue that brings you nothing but pain, as payment for your integrity, then I say you're better off ditching it.

To paraphrase a more eloquent summary:

'What would you tell Atlas if you saw him; knees buckling, blood running down his chest; still struggling to hold the world with the last of his strength?'

 

On 12/3/2016 at 5:14 PM, DonAthos said:

If you are in such a state that the torture cannot be ended -- if all life has to offer you is pain -- then suicide would be both rational and moral.

This is what I would actually dispute.

 

I agree with Epistemologue, not because of any alleged value in martyrdom (martyrs don't mix well with Egoism) but because, as long as we are alive, I don't believe there is any pain that cannot be ended; no torment that can truly be final.

 

There is no such thing as a Kobayashi Maru.

 

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

They are at least alive, and they've made up their mind to use that priceless opportunity productively, to make the most of whatever existence they do have, to be everything they can be and ought to be given their condition, because anything less than that would be a sacrifice - a pointless, immoral sacrifice.

You have posited a person "being tortured and suffering the worst possible pain," and you describe this condition as a "priceless opportunity"? This is not mere nonsense, or grotesquerie, but it approaches sadism. What is worse, you would hold such a person to some sort of abstract moral obligation to be what they "ought to be." "Ought to be" according to whom, exactly? Who is being made happy, precisely, when a man chooses to suffer and suffer and suffer because "suicide is morally wrong"? Not that man; he is the one suffering.

You have quoted fictional characters to support this supposed obligation, but there are real people on Earth who suffer from degenerative disease, who face constant, crippling pain (alleviated only, at times, by consciousness destroying medication), and who long for death... but are put off from choosing it for themselves because they believe that some deity's moral code forbids it (along with the attendant laws and social mores that have developed around this taboo). I'm sure you reject such religiosity, but what do you offer in its place as your moral whip? That such a sufferer must ceaselessly endure his pain -- for what earthly good?

1 hour ago, epistemologue said:

Even in the most extreme circumstances, if you are alive and conscious, you have the ability to act. Your actions can be virtuous and productive...

Productive of what? You speak almost as though "productivity" is some good for its own sake, but it is not the case. We do not produce to produce (or live for the sake of life): we produce to make ourselves happy, our lives long and pleasure-filled and (yes) pain-free. These are the ends of both our values and virtues, and it is by reference to this standard that we define them.

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4 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

It is possible to do otherwise; to mentally isolate the pain and disconnect it from one's self, refusing to take it seriously. We teach certain members of our armed forces to do this (the ones who're likely to actually be tortured) and I believe they teach similar exercises to pregnant women, for labor and delivery.

Certainly there are techniques for enduring pain. I practice both meditation and yoga, both of which speak to this somewhat. There are also good reasons for enduring pain in some measure, in certain circumstances. The pain of labor is one such circumstance, but there are also more routine (and gender inclusive) applications, like fatigue or soreness from exercise, or undergoing medical care. All of these suppose some goal at the far end which is consonant with life (qua the standard of value). I get the pus drained, the cancer cut from my body, and endure the attendant pain as best I can, because I look forward to/anticipate the state of my life on the far end of this operation. Because while today I may be distracted by pain and suffering, I expect pleasures and happiness tomorrow. (There are analogues to be found here, I suspect, with certain kinds of education and employment, and probably many other social situations, too, where we bear through some temporary emotional distress for the sake of a greater anticipated reward.)

But if there is nothing to look forward to -- if the state of life I may expect at the far end of the operation is repugnant to me, because it is filled with pain (an equivalent or perhaps even more) -- then the operation is not itself much to be recommended. I do not wish to sustain myself for its own sake (or god forbid, for the moral sanction of my fellow Objectivists), but for the experience of life that I enjoy. If that experience devolves from a net-positive to some great negative, then where is the value in persistence? At such a point it is only negative on top of negative: an endless deficit feeding a bottomless debt.

As to whether a man can refuse "to take seriously" any form of torture, well, I'm not sure I believe it. As good as we might become learning to mentally disconnect oneself from one's physical experience (and such a practice taken to an extreme... sounds dangerous in and of itself; I practice meditation, yes, but I would not devote my life to it), there are also people who give similar thought to an expertise in torture. Maybe the best one could hope for under truly awful circumstances is some form of catatonia or dissociative personality disorder? I don't know, and at this point, I'd guess I'd have to punt to medical/psychological research beyond my ken.

4 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

I agree with Epistemologue, not because of any alleged value in martyrdom (martyrs don't mix well with Egoism) but because, as long as we are alive, I don't believe there is any pain that cannot be ended; no torment that can truly be final.

 

There is no such thing as a Kobayashi Maru.

I don't know about the Kobayashi Maru, and maybe every bad thing will one day be solved, but there are conditions that seem to be final in context. "Final," at least, such that a reasonable man cannot see any way out, given what he knows today, given his circumstances, and given even what he may expect in optimism. My grandfather had Alzheimer's, and I got to watch him waste away over years, dragging out a miserable experience that appeared to make absolutely no person happy. So did my father who (after burying my grandfather) made me promise that if he ever lost his faculties to such a point, that I would help him end his life on his own terms. I agreed. Because I love my father.

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9 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

But if there is nothing to look forward to -- if the state of life I may expect at the far end of the operation is repugnant to me, because it is filled with pain (an equivalent or perhaps even more) -- then the operation is not itself much to be recommended.

Absolutely. And if you could show me a situation in which someone had no hope at all for any sort of joy, somewhere down the road, then I'd happily concede the morality of their suicide.

 

11 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

I don't know about the Kobayashi Maru, and maybe every bad thing will one day be solved, but there are conditions that seem to be final in context. "Final," at least, such that a reasonable man cannot see any way out, given what he knows today, given his circumstances, and given even what he may expect in optimism. My grandfather had Alzheimer's, and I got to watch him waste away over years, dragging out a miserable experience that appeared to make absolutely no person happy. So did my father who (after burying my grandfather) made me promise that if he ever lost his faculties to such a point, that I would help him end his life on his own terms. I agreed. Because I love my father.

So did my grandmother (and my mother had the same request for my siblings and I).

 

For me, since Alzheimer's runs in my family and I've done plenty of heavy drinking (which, combined, make me almost certain to get it at some point), I've asked my closest friends to play Chess with me regularly, when I start to lose myself. That, along with certain dietary changes (which escape my memory, at present :stuart:), seems to significantly slow the process.

 

If I was in chronic pain, I'd seek medical treatment. If I was in captivity, being tortured day and night, I'd seek to escape.

Even without any cure, though; even if consigned to a permanent state of pain...

 

50 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

...alleviated only, at times, by consciousness destroying medication...

We, in Objectivists circles, tend to give drug addicts a lot of flak. And for the most part, this is for good reason; they're crippling their only means of survival.

 

However, if survival as "man qua man" ever becomes too painful to endure, isn't semi-consciousness Objectively better than the total and permanent blank of death? If it's wrong to partially destroy one's own brain then how can it be good to completely destroy it?

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48 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

What is worse, you would hold such a person to some sort of abstract moral obligation to be what they "ought to be." "Ought to be" according to whom, exactly? Who is being made happy, precisely, when a man chooses to suffer and suffer and suffer because "suicide is morally wrong"? Not that man; he is the one suffering.

What do you mean? One ought to be what they are, as far as this is the point of ethics. To be fair, Epist said that if one truly lost their capacity to live by their nature, that one is not really able to think even, thus is basically already dead. So I think Epist would say that if your father lost his faculties, he'd be already dead, or that you'd be wrong to call it suicide.

I agree with Epist to the degree that if one has an ability to think and reason, suicide will always be wrong. A person may feel "unbearable" suffering, but I'd say the person is wildly mistaken - life is unbearably valuable!

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1 hour ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Absolutely. And if you could show me a situation in which someone had no hope at all for any sort of joy, somewhere down the road, then I'd happily concede the morality of their suicide.

Yes, precisely.

I believe that in allowing for suicide under certain circumstances (whether she would have termed it "moral" or not, strictly speaking; yet I would), Rand posited this very thing: the possibility for situations in which a person has no hope at all for any sort of joy.

I would go further and affirm that pleasure and pain are so fundamentally integral to a human being's experience of the world that a life of unending torture is also necessarily a life devoid of joy. I expect others to continue to disagree on this point, but I believe that they treat ideas like "suffering," "torture," and so forth as mere variables in an equation -- placeholders, devoid of their actual, real-world meaning. Actual torture does not leave one free to take joy in expressions of self-esteem, literature, fine wine, or anything else; this is, in part, why we regard it as torturous.

1 hour ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

For me, since Alzheimer's runs in my family and I've done plenty of heavy drinking (which, combined, make me almost certain to get it at some point), I've asked my closest friends to play Chess with me regularly, when I start to lose myself. That, along with certain dietary changes (which escape my memory, at present :stuart:), seems to significantly slow the process.

You would do better to play Go. With me. :P

1 hour ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

If I was in chronic pain, I'd seek medical treatment. If I was in captivity, being tortured day and night, I'd seek to escape.

And if you could hope for better, in reason, then I would think you right to do it. Much can be borne. I recently read Viktor Frankl's work Man's Search for Meaning, which is an interesting investigation into the mentality/psychology which is perhaps necessary to endure unimaginable suffering. Even a Holocaust can be survived, or the Gulag (see: Solzhenitsyn).

But not everything... and debilitating pain for the rest of one's life is the kind of prognosis that makes me question the value of bearing it, or pushing through, or dissociating one's self from experience (via chemical means or any other) so that one may yet persist in some poor simulation of human existence.

It's kind of like... well, Chess. If you are behind, but still have the pieces necessary to pull out a victory or stalemate, I say play on. Yet if you are truly finished -- if you have only your King against a number of pieces -- so that you can only draw out the game a few worthless turns by hobbling about the board, why do so? There comes a point at which resignation is not merely acceptable, but expected. This isn't down to any lack of fighting spirit, but a recognition of reality.

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On 12/4/2016 at 11:18 PM, DonAthos said:

I expect others to continue to disagree on this point, but I believe that they treat ideas like "suffering," "torture," and so forth as mere variables in an equation -- placeholders, devoid of their actual, real-world meaning.

If you're thinking of the OP, it's possible, but either way it's not the essential problem with the original argument.

 

In saying that even torture can be good, depending on what you spend that time contemplating, Epistemologue was chopping the realm of values in two (introspective and extraspective) and declaring that only one half actually matters; that while we may hold utilitarian goals in the other, they can only be means to the ends of the first, and never ends in themselves.

On 11/28/2016 at 9:49 AM, epistemologue said:

If you have a headache, the pain is a negative value merely instrumentally toward your other positive ends of the day; you won't be able to think as well because of the distraction.

This is a perfectly straightforward and internally consistent application of the soul-body split to the Objectivist Ethics.

 

So I think there's a bit more to it than that, and although Epistemologue provided such an excellent example (sorry, E) it also seems to be an extremely common mistake; I suspect we'll be discussing it again at some point.

It doesn't necessarily mean anything about suicide, though, and I have some alternative arguments to offer.

 

 

 

On 12/4/2016 at 11:18 PM, DonAthos said:

I believe that in allowing for suicide under certain circumstances (whether she would have termed it "moral" or not, strictly speaking; yet I would), Rand posited this very thing: the possibility for situations in which a person has no hope at all for any sort of joy.

Yes, she probably did, but still I disagree.

 

Chess is a game of "perfect information" in that everybody can see the position of every piece. In theory, all the information either player might need is right there, in front of them. Yet there are mistakes, gambles, ploys, traps, and disguises; every shade and variation of uncertainty springs naturally from a game with allegedly perfect information, simply because we're fallible. It's often the case that what may seem at first glance like an unwinnable scenario, on closer inspection, turns out to not even be problematic.

However, life is not quite like Chess; it's far more complicated and involves plenty of hidden variables; it's a game of extraordinarily imperfect information. And if it's difficult to judge the final outcome of the former then how much more difficult is it to predict the latter?

 

Under what circumstances can we actually declare that someone will never again be happy, epistemologically speaking?

 

On 12/4/2016 at 11:18 PM, DonAthos said:

But not everything... and debilitating pain for the rest of one's life is the kind of prognosis that makes me question the value of bearing it, or pushing through, or dissociating one's self from experience (via chemical means or any other) so that one may yet persist in some poor simulation of human existence.

Isn't a simulated value -although not as good as the value, itself- better than no values at all?

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41 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

However, life is not quite like Chess; it's far more complicated and involves plenty of hidden variables; it's a game of extraordinarily imperfect information. And if it's difficult to judge the final outcome of the former then how much more difficult is it to predict the latter?

 

Under what circumstances can we actually declare that someone will never again be happy, epistemologically speaking?

A person must do the best he can with the information he has available, in chess and in life. If it is reasonable for a person to conclude that he will not be happy again on the basis of what he knows (and whether you think this essential to the argument or not, I continue to insist on certain degenerative diseases as being a worthy example -- in part because this is a real life issue which inspires real life suicides), then I think it is reasonable to act on that conclusion.

Obviously not something to be taken lightly. It is, rather, the very weightiest thing. And against nearly any heartbreak or other emotional loss, there is good reason to have hope for the future, no matter how bleak things may appear. But in the case of some particular medical catastrophe, for example, a doctor might have more to say than a philosopher on whether there is good reason to have hope for a surcease of pain. When the philosopher then stands up to say, "Maybe so, but any pain must yet be borne... because morality demands it!" Well, against that I say phooey. I am here to enjoy life and that is all; you will not push upon me a painful existence because you believe I somehow owe it to the universe.

41 minutes ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Isn't a simulated value -although not as good as the value, itself- better than no values at all?

In the first place, I don't know. It's a good question, and the first thing it inspires in me is echoes of Randian quotes about not accepting "the almost," "the halfway," and so-forth. Maybe I'm mis-remembering. Maybe it doesn't matter.

But again -- and I think that once upon a time we may have had agreement on this point (whether we do now or not) -- this isn't just a matter of comparing some greater value to a lesser value... If it were, perhaps we would agree: I would rather have $100 than $5, but I would rather have $5 than $0. That said, a life of pain is not merely of lesser value than a life of pleasure, a life of pain is a disvalue. And a life of "torture," which promises no pleasure, no happiness, but only physical and emotional suffering, is a weight that no man has any duty to bear. He does not win points in heaven by doing so; he does not defy reality and become magically happy by allowing himself to suffer in full measure; instead all he gets for his efforts in prolonging his technical existence is yet more pain.

I think it right for a moral man to say to that, "no thanks."

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I was thinking about this topic this morning, and to those who say that suicide is immoral regardless of circumstance (or almost, given that I understand an exception is sometimes made for those whose consciousness has been destroyed), I have a bit of a thought experiment:

When saying to a man, "It is yet moral that you live, despite a tortured existence." I would ask, "What for?" Hopefully there is some good answer to this question. Hopefully it is some variant of pleasure and/or happiness that a man is supposed to expect through his existence, so that, though a man may be tortured he can also be imagined happy (even if I continue to insist that this is akin to imagining a squared circle, given what torture is, and what happiness is and what it requires, in reality). And if I were to compare the pains of torture (which I hold to be a "disvalue") against the riches of whatever happiness would be available despite that torture, I would be told that I was wrongheaded in my calculation: that the pain should count as a "zero" (not a disvalue at all) and that only the happiness should be recognized or found meaningful. To commit suicide then means only to flush away the value of that happiness, and there is nothing to be gained through the elimination of the pain itself.

I find that stance ridiculous, as it does not take the reality of what pain is and how it functions into account, but all right. Let's deal with that approach for a moment. Here is an example and a question, then. It is a highly contrived example, and not something I find remotely realistic (as opposed to those who today are dealing with crippling, unending pain; those people are quite real, and those who argue that suicide is necessarily immoral are doing them a great disservice)... but I hope it will be acceptable as a rhetorical device. Consider:

Suppose a man who can expect to live 100 years. The first 99 years, 11 months, and 29 days, we know will be nothing but unremitting, excruciating pain and emotional despair. Yet the final day of existence... will be quite nice, all things considered. There will, at the least, be a moment on that final day that will be joyful.

All right. Put us as the beginning of this journey. What would we say to this man? Knowing what we know, would we advise him that the only thing which matters -- the only item worth taking into account -- is the fact of momentary joy at the distant end of 100 years of misery? And that to bear 100 years of misery (or 1000, or 1,000,000) for a moment's joy is necessarily "worth it," and that to refuse such a journey would be sacrificial? Or would we rather say that it is rational to take both the expected pleasures and pains into account? For that is my position.

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I think it is a fine thought experiment. I think it frames two things. One is your main idea: How does one compare pain too suffering, or when does enduring pain become sacrifice? Your position is, seemingly, that unrelenting pain and torture is that point. Epist's position is that at no point does enduring pain become sacrifice, as long as one has the capacity to think, i.e. live according to man's nature - no matter how long it lasts. My position is Epist's, as far as I understand it.

But then there's another question to ask: what is excruciating pain and emotional despair? I'm lead to wonder what is excruciating pain is, because I suspect what is excruciating to you isn't going to be as bad for me. I honestly have a high pain tolerance, and I doubt that level of pain exists without some error of thought or choosing to focus. For example, Buddhist monks, leaving aside any error about ethics this implies, are quite amazing at enduring pain most likely due to their meditation skills. It isn't a matter of them embracing pain, or attempting to ignore the pain. Simply, they recognize it as present, and that's it.

One way to think of this is that Buddhist monks want to erase value, thus nothing will be able to harm their values. This is nihilistic, and anti-life.  

Or, another way is that they recognize how pain is meaningless, a zero, and adopt some mental skills to manage what life throws at them. To them, 99 years of despair and suffering is due to the wrong frame of mind. This mirrors the Stoics. Pain and suffering, in the usual sense people mean it, is due to frame of mind. With proper practice and study, this pain is entirely bearable. If you have the skills, your thought experiment wouldn't make sense. The real question is what pain is in the first place.

If the pain is a promise, he also knows it's time to start acquiring the proper frame of mind.

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22 hours ago, DonAthos said:

It's a good question, and the first thing it inspires in me is echoes of Randian quotes about not accepting "the almost," "the halfway," and so-forth. Maybe I'm mis-remembering. Maybe it doesn't matter.

No, I think that is the central issue; I'm only postponing it because the epistemological part is both simpler and more fundamental. My primary argument (which I am still working up to) concerns precisely that.

 

22 hours ago, DonAthos said:

When the philosopher then stands up to say, "Maybe so, but any pain must yet be borne... because morality demands it!" Well, against that I say phooey. I am here to enjoy life and that is all; you will not push upon me a painful existence because you believe I somehow owe it to the universe.

Well - yeah. Any morality that commands its adherents to suffer for the sake of suffering, itself, isn't worth any further consideration. I don't believe anyone has suggested that; even the strategy outlined in the OP was predicated on the (wrong) belief that it'd result in the happiness of the practitioner.

And to be clear, I'm not proposing that anybody owes it to the universe to survive. I'm proposing that they owe it to themselves.

 

22 hours ago, DonAthos said:

A person must do the best he can with the information he has available, in chess and in life.

As you pointed out, though, this is not to be taken lightly; it is, in fact, the weightiest matter anyone has or will ever consider. Nothing else even comes close.

 

In law, we recognize that we cannot sentence another human being to death unless we know them to be completely irredeemable, without any shadow of a reasonable doubt.

Shouldn't we pass the verdicts of our own lives with much higher standards than we'd use for any random psychopath?

 

22 hours ago, DonAthos said:

... whether you think this essential to the argument or not, I continue to insist on certain degenerative diseases as being a worthy example -- in part because this is a real life issue which inspires real life suicides ...

I agree, wholeheartedly. Let's delve into that.

If you can find any situation in which we could know someone to be doomed to permanent misery, regardless of their actions, I'll concede the point. Since my point is that no such cases exist, a single example would suffice.

 

You mentioned Alzheimer's, earlier. Let me brush up on the medical details and we can examine (probably in its own thread) whether or not it constitutes an unwinnable scenario.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
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14 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Suppose a man who can expect to live 100 years. The first 99 years, 11 months, and 29 days, we know will be nothing but unremitting, excruciating pain and emotional despair.

How do we know he'll be in despair?

 

I mean, 99 years of constant physical pain is one thing (and even that seems wide open to solution), but 99 years of nonstop despair is quite a claim to make.

What if he gets a hobby? What if he falls in love? What if he finds some really good drugs? What if, after the first year, he simply becomes accustomed to the pain and the despair - and they cease to actually impede him?

 

I know this is one of those scientific details, but it's not actually possible to wire neurons up that way; if you keep stimulating one of them day and night, without rest, you'll kill that synapse and numb it to your stimulation. And the fact that individual neurons cannot receive a certain stimulus constantly, in perpetuity, provides ample grounds to question whether an entire brain could.

I suspect you'd just stop caring about it, eventually.

 

But this is why I'd like to get into some real-world examples.

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1 hour ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

If you can find any situation in which we could know someone to be doomed to permanent misery, regardless of their actions, I'll concede the point. Since my point is that no such cases exist, a single example would suffice.

And to be excessively clear:

 

I do not believe there is any situation in which it's impossible for someone to ever be happy again - regardless of their actions.

There certainly are situations which will not lead to happiness, if left unchecked or handled stupidly. There is no such thing as a Kobayashi Maru.

Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
Musical concretization

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21 hours ago, Eiuol said:

...when does enduring pain become sacrifice? Your position is, seemingly, that unrelenting pain and torture is that point.

I think that's a point at which enduring pain becomes sacrificial, yes. There is sometimes value in enduring pain for the sake of something to be gained at the far end -- that "something" must be increasingly valuable, depending on the pain involved.

There is certainly a question of how we weigh these, in any given circumstance, but the first point is that there is a calculation to be made; that pain is not "nothing," not "zero," but it counts as part of our decision making.

21 hours ago, Eiuol said:

But then there's another question to ask: what is excruciating pain and emotional despair?

I'm sorry, Eiuol, but I can't play these sorts of games anymore. If you truly don't know what "excruciating pain" or "emotional despair" is, then you can find out on your own time.

13 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

And to be clear, I'm not proposing that anybody owes it to the universe to survive. I'm proposing that they owe it to themselves.

But these kinds of sentiments always leave out the "for what purpose." You're proposing that a man in constant pain (and please remember that epistemologue framed the kind of pain we're discussing as "torture," etc.; we're not talking about a hangnail that won't heal) owes it to himself to survive... for what purpose? In order to endure yet more pain? What precisely does he stand to gain by continuing on?

If you believe that a person can be in constant torture and be happy simultaneously (because he continues to think thoughts... or something), then you have a mistaken understanding of how man achieves happiness, and the vital relationship between what we actually experience in the world (importantly including pleasure/pain) and our conscious and emotional well-being. What we do matters, and what happens to us matters, too. Earthly happiness is not some infinitely malleable thing, and if, for instance, you're Prometheus bound to the rocks with your guts eaten away for eternity, you are not going to enjoy yourself. That's the point to torture.

In fact, it might be instructive to consider that "torture" is related to "torment," and the defining characteristic of "hell" is that it involves constant torment. In hell, you don't have to worry about survival -- you're not going anywhere -- but that's not a selling feature. So why not be in hell, undergo torment forever, and yet be happy? Because that's not how happiness works.

12 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

I mean, 99 years of constant physical pain is one thing (and even that seems wide open to solution), but 99 years of nonstop despair is quite a claim to make.

What if he gets a hobby? What if he falls in love? What if he finds some really good drugs? What if, after the first year, he simply becomes accustomed to the pain and the despair - and they cease to actually impede him?

If the thought experiment does not work for you for whatever reason, it does not, but the terms of the thought experiment are that we know those things will not happen. (What if Rand's Robot turns out to have a weakness, and it's not immortal anymore? Then it ceases to be the thought experiment that it is.)

12 hours ago, Harrison Danneskjold said:

There certainly are situations which will not lead to happiness, if left unchecked or handled stupidly. There is no such thing as a Kobayashi Maru.

As much as I love Star Trek, I think that the Kobayashi Maru analogy is not serving so much as confusing you.

I would agree with you that there's no such thing as a "no win scenario," as such. But. In context, there might very well be points at which a person cannot achieve some objective, including his own survival, or, I would argue, his own happiness. This is because both survival and happiness are real things; they have identity; they have a nature; and they cannot be satisfied without respect to the reality of the context in which a person finds himself.

Take the moment before a nuclear strike, and you stand at ground zero. If we roll time back sufficiently, perhaps we could argue that things didn't have to be as they are, that other choices could have been made (by you, by others), but when you find yourself standing at ground zero... well, that might be the end of your journey. Game over.

Could you construct some sci-fi scenario to extricate yourself? Perhaps. Maybe you're Indiana Jones and you hide in the world's sturdiest refrigerator -- I've seen that happen. But there are people who live in the world who get into situations that they cannot extricate themselves from, whether through their faults, the faults of others, or happenstance. Again: this is not to propose that there are unwinnable scenarios, as such, but only that there are scenarios which, in context (given a particular time, place, and person), are unwinnable. When you're reduced to your King in chess, you're not going to mate your opponent.

When my grandfather got Alzheimer's, he was not going to overcome it. This is not to say that Alzheimer's will never be solved -- that there is no way out, forever -- but it was not going to happen for my grandfather, and it was moreover reasonable to believe that at the time. Had he wanted to spare himself that descent into night (along with sparing others the same, which can certainly be of value), it would have been reasonable for him to commit suicide. That's the same calculation my father makes, when he insists that he would rather me help him die than suffer what my grandfather endured. And it is a rational, moral calculation to make.

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I think it's easier to say that suicide is always wrong when you are not in terrible pain. This is one of my issues with Stoicism - the Stoic implicitly argues "I can practice virtue now, so I could practice virtue under any circumstances, even in terrible pain." In practice, this is not the case, because there is no mind body dichotomy. When the body is subjected to terrible pain over a long period of time, the mind is unable to continue to function rationally and gradually becomes more and more detached from reality.

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56 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

I'm sorry, Eiuol, but I can't play these sorts of games anymore. If you truly don't know what "excruciating pain" or "emotional despair" is, then you can find out on your own time.

You're better then this, Don! One must always define their terms. Pain isn't simply a physical sensation, there are mental aspects, too. So when you say "excruciating pain", I know what you mean, but what I don't know anything at all about the pain. I know enough to say it is so vaguely defined that we can't reason about it well. Pain is a subjective thing - we would, for example disagree with Schopenhauer that there's pain and suffering all over, and so on. Perhaps being ALIVE is excruciating to him. So, presumably  your experiment is a rational person. Yet my position is what could possibly make it in fact unbearable? He'd need to be in the wrong mental state as far as -ending- his life and this eternal pain, and thus irrational or immoral. 

It's like asking what Judas should do in the 9th circle of hell. His torture is literally his own fault. Should he kill himself? It hardly matters. Forget that he's already dead - imagine his soul carried on. His excruciating pain is failing to be moral, it isn't only his physical dilemma.

Like with Prometheus, there is some kind of hope to become free somehow. Why should he believe Zeus that it is eternal pain? Point is, the long-lasting pain experiment applies to these myths, too.

Pain only counts insofar as you need to figure out how to deal with it and diminish it. It is essentially a zero, not that we act as if it is not there.

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

You're better then this, Don! One must always define their terms...

Perhaps you're right, but a few questions first:

What do you mean by "you're"? What do you mean by "better"? What do you mean by "then"? What do you mean by "this"? What do you mean by "Don"? What do you mean by "one"? What do you mean by "must"? What do you mean by "always"? What do you mean by "define"? What do you mean by "their"? What do you mean by "terms"?

Quote

...when you say "excruciating pain", I know what you mean...

All right.

Quote

...but what I don't know anything at all about the pain.

Do you know what "pain" is, Eiuol, or do you not?

Edited by DonAthos

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3 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Perhaps you're right, but a few questions first:

I don't know why it bothers you that I'm asking to qualify it better. It's vague. I don't know about the pain, as in to talk about pain, mental state info matters. Pain isn't something you just have like cancer - cancer is not something impacted by thought. Thought experiments are to provoke thought, so I'm getting you to question the nature of pain. I'm suggesting that either answer is pointless, the person already is at fault (failing to find ways to deal with adversity), or the person's rational capacity is already ruined (e.g. installing your brain in a vat to feel only pain for 99 years and pleasure for 1 minute denies you of employing rationality).

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