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MisterSwig

The Relationship Between Motivation and Purpose

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What is motivation? And how does it relate to purpose?

Ayn Rand wrote:

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What do we mean, in real life, when we say that we do not understand a person? We mean that we do not understand why he acts as he does. And when we say that we know a person well, we mean that we understand his actions and know what to expect of him. What is it that we know? His motivation.

She goes on to describe motivation as:

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... a man's basic premises and values that form his character and move him to action--and in order to understand a man's character, it is the motivation behind his actions that we must understand. To know "what makes a man tick," we must ask: "What is he after?"

("Basic Principles of Literature," The Romantic Manifesto, p. 88)

That last question--what is he after?-- implies that understanding a man's purpose is critical to understanding his motivation. But what exactly is the relationship there?

Let's say, in general, that a man's purpose is to do productive work, which Rand considered to be man's central, rational purpose in life. And let's also say that a particular man expresses a desire to work on starting a relationship with a particular woman. He tells us that this is what he's after. He's going to ask her out on a date. It's his own application of the abstract productive work to his individual, concrete life.

Now we might consider how such a purpose relates to his motivation. Why did he pick this goal, and why does he work toward achieving it? As Rand suggested, is it because of his "basic premises and values"? If so, this man could have any number of different reasons for pursuing a relationship with the woman. Which is why we would need to understand his premises and values before we could really understand why he chose that purpose in the first place.

Now, let's suppose we are that man. (Women, feel free to reverse the sexes in the example.) Why are we acting toward achieving this particular purpose? Let's say we think the woman is smart and attractive, a fairly standard reason for asking someone out. But why are we pursuing a smart and attractive woman? What really motivates this action?

I'm not sure such a question can be answered by fantasizing, or imagining, a possible future with the woman. For example, we could say that we hope things work out and that she becomes our lover, and that that would make us very happy. But this doesn't explain why we want to pursue a smart and attractive woman in the first place. Furthermore, we would have established no logical basis for assuming that such a woman could possibly make us happy.

It seems that we must look at our values for the root of motivation. Perhaps, in this case, we have learned to value relationships by interacting with family members and friends all throughout life. We've learned to value romantic relationships by watching couples in love, and possibly by having a lover in the past. We've learned to value intelligence by personally experiencing and recognizing the benefits of knowledge. And we've learned to identify and value attractiveness by experiencing the physical and emotional responses we have to certain women, as opposed to others. Given our specific and individual set of values, we are now morally impelled to act in pursuit of this particular woman. Our motivation literally springs from our recognition of the fact that she is what we value. And depending on how thoroughly she embodies our own values, our moral need for her will be that much greater. Our initial need, for example, might only be a dinner date to have a chat or kiss her goodnight. But should she turn out to embody our entire moral code, or idea of a perfect woman, our need for her might become so critical to the maintenance of our own happiness that we would protect her with our own life, if necessary.

If we accept the idea that motivation is a moral impulsion which springs from the recognition of certain values, then purpose could be understood as the expression of our need for those values. Purpose would be the productive work required in order to satisfy our particular needs for particular values. And if purpose is indeed a function of our value-based needs, it must adjust to the relative importance of our values. If all we know about the woman is that she is smart and attractive, a dinner date would satisfy our need to speak to her and admire her beauty. In this way, our purpose is simple: to gain the values of her intelligence and beauty. But if during the date, we notice that she embodies many more of our important values, such as kindness and affection, our need would increase proportionally. At some point our purpose might become: to gain her emotional and sexual affections. And this purpose would be expressed by the effort we put into achieving that value, such as asking to see her again, buying flowers for her, and inviting her into our house. In this way, purpose depends upon and directly corresponds to our established value system.

If the above is correct, then purpose necessarily depends upon motivation. One must first be motivated to act toward the acquisition of some needed value. Then, because man does not act on instinct but by free will, a related purpose must be chosen to help guide his planning of any actions required to gain the needed value.

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MS

The above is less succinct than preferable and it is difficult to tease apart the descriptive elements and the prescriptive elements.

As an observation, in the quotes above Rand is describing how to develop characters for literature.  The link between values and premises and motivation here are purely descriptive.  What she says in this context is valid for telling a story about a rational hero, but also for characterization of a villain, a mystic, a child, or a border line irrational, and just about any kind of human being. The actions the character takes should be linked to their nature: hence the relevance of  motivation, premises, values. 

When you introduce the subject of "purpose" AS productive work, you have flipped the discussion into the "prescriptive".  Man's "rational purpose in life" is not relevant to assessing the motivations of actions of say an irrational villain.  In a sense there is no link between that purpose and his motivation.

Simply put, a description of the "link" between purpose and motivation in all people (which of necessity will be broad and include a wide spectrum of purposes and motivations) is not the same as a prescription of what the link should be between productiveness and motivation in order for a man to act consistent with rationality.

Is there a narrower question which is to be answered here?

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Posted (edited)

14 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

What is motivation? And how does it relate to purpose?

Let me first say that I think StrictlyLogical makes a good point about the context of Rand's remarks -- she is describing "motivation" as a literary device and compositional tool, just as I might describe "plot." If I were to describe plot, there are not necessarily moral lessons to take from my description; or at least, such was not necessarily my intention.

I also agree with SL that the OP is somewhat difficult to parse. Or at least I find it so. I have not yet identified a central argument with which to agree or disagree -- and so I will treat my own response as more of an "exploration of ideas," rather than try to argue for or against, or make a particular point.

You've asked "what is motivation" and "how does it relate to purpose." Can we first determine that there are two separate concepts "motivation" and "purpose," and can we relate them to reality such that we understand the nature/meaning of these concepts? (Note that by "purpose," I mean in the ordinary sense of "having a purpose to do something"; not necessarily Purpose as a cardinal virtue, which is a much more specific idea; I expect that this speaks best to your meaning, since you speak of choosing to pursue a mate as an example, and etc.)

There are common uses of "motivation," at least, that I might treat as roughly identical to what I would also mean by some uses of "purpose." If I were to stipulate that the chicken had crossed the road and ask you the chicken's purpose, I expect that you would answer "to get to the other side." Should I expect a different answer, if I'd asked about the chicken's motivation? I don't believe so; I think that we would ordinarily say that the chicken's motivation was equally "to get to the other side."

"Motivation" is obviously related to "motive," and when I look up "define motive" on Yahoo! and "define purpose," here is what I initially see ("Powered by Oxford Dictionaries," so Yahoo! tells me):

"motive - a reason for doing something..."
"purpose - the reason for which something is done..."

This comports with my understanding of these terms, in this usage. But maybe there is nuance or meaning that "motivation" captures which is absent from "purpose," which I am failing to identify? Or maybe there is a different salient use for "motivation" altogether.

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Ayn Rand wrote:

Quote

What do we mean, in real life, when we say that we do not understand a person? We mean that we do not understand why he acts as he does. And when we say that we know a person well, we mean that we understand his actions and know what to expect of him. What is it that we know? His motivation.

She goes on to describe motivation as:

Quote

... a man's basic premises and values that form his character and move him to action--and in order to understand a man's character, it is the motivation behind his actions that we must understand. To know "what makes a man tick," we must ask: "What is he after?"

("Basic Principles of Literature," The Romantic Manifesto, p. 88)

It is a second common usage of "motivation" (though not as strictly related to "motive" in the sense I've defined above) that we feel a sense of motivation to do things, to get up out of bed, to get things done and not procrastinate; this is the Tony Robbins sense, if you will -- that of "motivational speakers."

We may imagine two college students who, if we were to ask them their "purpose" for attending college, might equally say "to graduate/get a degree," and yet we might say that they are unequally "motivated."

We could say of one that he is "highly motivated." He attends every class, reads every assigned passage, and does everything within his power to achieve his chosen goal. The other student might "lack motivation," even as he consciously believes himself to want the same results. He might skip classes, forget to read his texts (or choose other activities instead), and generally fail to do those things that would make his own success more likely.

Is this the sense of "motivation" we're after? ("Purpose" can also be purposed for this purpose, when we speak of someone acting "with great purpose"; all puns are purposeful.)

Perhaps in describing "motivation," for the purpose of writing literature, Rand combines both of these common meanings. When we speak of someone's "values," insofar as they have things that they act to gain/keep, we speak to their motivation as purpose; but "basic premises" and that which "moves us to action" seems to imply motivation in the Zig Ziglar sense (perhaps "as drive"?).

And when I consider this drive, and these "basic premises," what it leads me immediately to think of is: sense of life.

For what might give one child (say) more drive than another, should they hold the same conscious goals: one to keep trying despite all setback, and the other to abandon some project in the face of an otherwise surmountable obstacle? Perhaps it accounts to a sort of fundamental expectation of success -- or relating effort to success -- that I think might be considered an aspect of one's sense of life.

Note Rand's use of "motivational" (from "Philosophy and Sense of Life," The Romantic Manifesto, 25):

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What began as a series of single, discrete conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion—an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

Apart from attempting to interpret Rand's meaning in these passages, I myself might relate motivation (as drive) to focus and/or understanding. When I'm faced with some choice, some alternative, I am more motivated to perform some action when I can see clearly that it will lead me to what I value -- or more generally achieve my purpose.

If my understanding is hazy -- if I only suspect that my actions will vaguely aim at my chosen purposes, or feel otherwise unsure -- my internal sense of drive, or motivation, consequently suffers. The greater one's clarity of thought, and the deeper one's understanding of relevant issues, the more sharply I would expect their motivation (or disinclination) to pursue certain actions to be felt.

I don't know. I'm spitballing.

But hopefully this material helps us to hone in on what we're after, even if it is finally rejected as off-target.

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Now, let's suppose we are that man. (Women, feel free to reverse the sexes in the example.) Why are we acting toward achieving this particular purpose? Let's say we think the woman is smart and attractive, a fairly standard reason for asking someone out. But why are we pursuing a smart and attractive woman? What really motivates this action?

I'm not sure such a question can be answered by fantasizing, or imagining, a possible future with the woman. For example, we could say that we hope things work out and that she becomes our lover, and that that would make us very happy. But this doesn't explain why we want to pursue a smart and attractive woman in the first place. Furthermore, we would have established no logical basis for assuming that such a woman could possibly make us happy.

This seems to ask a lot of questions, the answers to which might each spark conversations in their turn. (As for instance why a man might prefer a smart woman to a dumb one; how do we determine what might make us happy; what is the "logical basis" for such conclusions/"assumptions," and etc.)

The example of pursuing a mate, girlfriend, wife -- or asking someone out, which might not always be the same thing -- is a complicated one. Perhaps it would be simpler to approach something a little less complex first? (And maybe it will not prove to be simpler at all, but such is my "intuition.")

Consider, if you would, an example I'd raised elsewhere: the lowly (or glorious) hamburger.

Instead of pursuing a smart, attractive woman, suppose a man who stops at In-N-Out to order a Double Double, animal-style (you may substitute Five Guys, if you're an east coaster). What do you suppose motivates this action?

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It seems that we must look at our values for the root of motivation. Perhaps, in this case, we have learned to value relationships by interacting with family members and friends all throughout life. We've learned to value romantic relationships by watching couples in love, and possibly by having a lover in the past. We've learned to value intelligence by personally experiencing and recognizing the benefits of knowledge. And we've learned to identify and value attractiveness by experiencing the physical and emotional responses we have to certain women, as opposed to others. Given our specific and individual set of values, we are now morally impelled to act in pursuit of this particular woman.

I am a bit put off by the phrase "morally impelled." We choose to pursue our values through our actions; we are not forced to do so. There are many people who fail to pursue their consciously held values and suffer consequently, are there not?

Finally, I think it important to note that, insofar as I am aware of the conversation which has sparked this new thread, I'm not altogether certain that you have yet spoken to the issue of one's ability to "imagine" future possibilities, or the consequences of one's actions, as it relates to selecting from among alternative actions -- or choosing.

I recognize that you've said that you're "not sure [the question of whether to pursue a smart, attractive woman] can be answered by fantasizing, or imagining, a possible future with the woman," but I'm not sure that it can't. As I've said, pursuing a mate is an extraordinarily complicated topic -- I think it would be best to start with a burger, or something equally pedestrian -- but I can tell you, for instance, that when I was dating my current wife, I did project forward to try to imagine what living with her might be like, what raising a child might be like, and so forth. It was not for the sake of her qualities (those I might be said to "value") alone that I popped the question, but as I could see them producing outcomes in my own life that I find desirable. And this required some ability on my part to assess such outcomes (to the best of my ability; whether I was right or wrong; though I can report that several years later, at least, I remain happily married).

Even if we restrict ourselves to talking about values in the sort of syllogistic method you've described (as in, "I value intelligence" and "my wife is intelligent," therefore "I value my wife"), I'm not convinced that the ability to project forward, as it were, is not related to one's valuing intelligence (or etc.) in the first place. You say that we learn to value intelligence by "personally experiencing and recognizing the benefits of knowledge," true -- but in "recognizing the benefits" of intelligence, don't we in part mean that we can foresee future scenarios (though perhaps undefined) in which intelligence will again be of value? For it is not alone, "I can see how intelligence mattered before," but also, and most importantly, "I expect that intelligence will matter again."

Edited by DonAthos

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7 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

As an observation, in the quotes above Rand is describing how to develop characters for literature.

Perhaps I shouldn't have cut out the line between the two quoted passages.

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Motivation is a key-concept in psychology and in fiction.

Rand wasn't describing motivation only for fiction writing, but for psychology too. She was trying to show what is essential to a man's character in real life, and why it therefore should be recreated in a work of fiction in order to make the character seem realistic.

7 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Simply put, a description of the "link" between purpose and motivation in all people (which of necessity will be broad and include a wide spectrum of purposes and motivations) is not the same as a prescription of what the link should be between productiveness and motivation in order for a man to act consistent with rationality.

Is there a narrower question which is to be answered here?

You're right that the description is not the same as the prescription. Mostly, I'm still trying to describe what goes on.

I argue that values are the link between motivation and purpose. But I have not prescribed what specific values they should be for a rational person.

Man chooses values according to a standard of value. But his standard might be rational or irrational. And it's rarely an Objectivist standard. I necessarily had to use some standard in order to present even a bare-bones example of pursuing values. So I tried to apply the Objectivist standard to value-selection. But I certainly did not attempt to argue for this standard as being the right one. Nor have I attempted to prescribe a rational standard for productive work in relation to motivation.

A narrower question might be: Is the relationship between motivation and purpose the same regardless of the values or standard of values involved?

I think so. Because the relationship, as I see it, depends upon the relative importance of the perceived value according to a particular standard, but the value and the standard could be any value and any standard. Less value leads to less motivation and therefore less purposeful action. More value leads to more motivation and therefore more purposeful action. I think that would be my general idea, but I'll work on a fuller response. 

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Posted (edited)

5 hours ago, DonAthos said:

If I were to stipulate that the chicken had crossed the road and ask you the chicken's purpose, I expect that you would answer "to get to the other side." Should I expect a different answer, if I'd asked about the chicken's motivation? I don't believe so; I think that we would ordinarily say that the chicken's motivation was equally "to get to the other side."

We could probably pluck this chicken example to death. But could we first establish that what we mean by a human purpose is not what we mean by a chicken purpose? A chicken does not conceive of a purpose for its actions. It operates at the perceptual level, and is therefore motivated by perceptual awareness and instinctual knowledge.

The chicken didn't cross the road to get to the other side. It crossed the road because the road was in the chicken's path.

Your post deserves much more attention. I'm out of time today, but I'll get back to it soon.

Edited by MisterSwig

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6 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

We could probably pluck this chicken example to death.

Heh. Could I suggest that observing "poultry in motion" in itself implies some avian motive power? Or would that be fowl play? ;)

But in all seriousness...

6 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

But could we first establish that what we mean by a human purpose is not what we mean by a chicken purpose? A chicken does not conceive of a purpose for its actions. It operates at the perceptual level, and is therefore motivated by perceptual awareness and instinctual knowledge.

The chicken didn't cross the road to get to the other side. It crossed the road because the road was in the chicken's path.

In referring to the "chicken crossing the road," I did not mean literally to introduce as a topic of discussion a chicken that might have a "chicken purpose" (as opposed to a human purpose). It was instead meant as a tongue-in-cheek reference to a well-known joke, solely to demonstrate that we often use "purpose" and "motivation" as synonyms in common parlance.

Allow me to stipulate agreement as to the differences between human consciousness and chicken consciousness, with respect to purpose/motivation (though I am no expert on the topic).

My apologies for any confusion.

6 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Your post deserves much more attention. I'm out of time today, but I'll get back to it soon.

No rush. I will look forward to your reply.

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Posted (edited)

On 1/4/2017 at 8:12 AM, DonAthos said:

We may imagine two college students who, if we were to ask them their "purpose" for attending college, might equally say "to graduate/get a degree," and yet we might say that they are unequally "motivated."

We could say of one that he is "highly motivated." He attends every class, reads every assigned passage, and does everything within his power to achieve his chosen goal. The other student might "lack motivation," even as he consciously believes himself to want the same results. He might skip classes, forget to read his texts (or choose other activities instead), and generally fail to do those things that would make his own success more likely.

Is this the sense of "motivation" we're after?

I like this example. It describes a problem in which we have the same stated purpose (to graduate from college) yet two clearly different levels of motivation (high and low). Even if we disagree on the relationship between purpose and motivation, this is a good example of what I'm talking about.

The way I see it, purpose is the action, the work, the graduating. Everything the student has done, is doing, and will do in order to graduate is his purpose. Life is a process, and so a purpose in life is also a process. The student's purpose is not his statement that he "wants to graduate." That's only words. In reality, his purpose is all of the productive work that goes into graduating, because "to graduate" means "to do what it takes to earn a diploma." It doesn't mean "to be handed a diploma."

Now we have two students with different levels of motivation. One works hard to graduate, and one does not. Why is this?

If purpose is the productive work itself, then motivation must be related to the level of devotion to this work. We often hear people talk about how committed or attached they are to their work. Some students love studying. Some hate it. Motivation is this psychological factor related to a purpose. But what causes it? And why are some students more motivated than others?

You said that the student with low motivation chooses other activities instead of studying. Let's say he would rather spend his time playing sports, because he wants to be a professional athlete. In this case, his low motivation for studying is related to his chosen priority in values. He values graduating less than becoming a pro athlete, therefore he works less on studying, and more on running or jumping or whatever he needs to do to get hired by a professional sports team. His level of devotion (motivation) to performing particular types of work (purpose) depends on the hierarchy and relative importance of his chosen values. 

Edited by MisterSwig

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Posted (edited)

On 1/4/2017 at 8:12 AM, DonAthos said:

And when I consider this drive, and these "basic premises," what it leads me immediately to think of is: sense of life.

For what might give one child (say) more drive than another, should they hold the same conscious goals: one to keep trying despite all setback, and the other to abandon some project in the face of an otherwise surmountable obstacle? Perhaps it accounts to a sort of fundamental expectation of success -- or relating effort to success -- that I think might be considered an aspect of one's sense of life.

I think you're on to something there. In "Philosophy and Sense of Life" Rand wrote:

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What began as a series of single, discreet conclusions (or evasions) about his own particular problems, becomes a generalized feeling about existence, an implicit metaphysics with the compelling motivational power of a constant, basic emotion--an emotion which is part of all his other emotions and underlies all his experiences. This is a sense of life.

It's interesting that she ascribes a "motivational power" to sense of life.

I'm working on an idea about how the mere recognition of chosen values produces a psychological desire for the value. This desire is automatic and part of what we call motivation. While it does not determine a particular action, it is what mentally impels us to perform some volitional action in relation to the chosen value.

Now I'll need to consider how the sense of life affects motivation and purpose before posting my idea. The "generalized feeling about existence" that arises from the "discreet conclusions" probably does relate to the measure of perseverance or expectation of success one has in the face of difficult obstacles. It would affect how they treat the obstacle on a psychological level. If they generally hate reality, then whatever it is they wanted beyond the obstacle probably has little value to them anyway, so they will feel little motivation to get by the obstacle. They might instead decide to seek a value that distracts them from reality, like going to the liquor store to buy some vodka. On the other hand, someone who loves reality and being alive probably values the desired goal intensely and will therefore think real hard on how to overcome the obstacle.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I like this example.

I'm glad. I wasn't certain what you were driving at, so I worried that nothing I had to say would be particularly worthwhile.

As it stands, I'm still not entirely sure what's in dispute -- whether we disagree about anything or not -- so I'll continue in an exploratory fashion. Apologies in advance if I continue to talk around things, but hopefully I'll strike at something you again find interesting.

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It describes a problem in which we have the same stated purpose (to graduate from college) yet two clearly different levels of motivation (high and low). Even if we disagree on the relationship between purpose and motivation, this is a good example of what I'm talking about.

The way I see it, purpose is the action, the work, the graduating. Everything the student has done, is doing, and will do in order to graduate is his purpose.

This strikes me as a somewhat idiosyncratic use of "purpose." Or maybe it's my lack of understanding your central contention. Either way, I have no challenge to offer until I can see how this would lead us to a meaningful contradiction.

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Life is a process, and so a purpose in life is also a process. The student's purpose is not his statement that he "wants to graduate." That's only words. In reality, his purpose is all of the productive work that goes into graduating, because "to graduate" means "to do what it takes to earn a diploma." It doesn't mean "to be handed a diploma."

Hmm... I expect that some students are primarily interested in the work (or rather, the learning; the work is itself a means to the end of knowledge; and then that knowledge is a means to making good choices; which are what allows one to "achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy" one's life, which is what stands as the ultimate end, the "end in itself").

Others may be more interested in the actual diploma, for the sake of professional achievement (e.g. as a qualification) or other reasons of varying merit.

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Now we have two students with different levels of motivation. One works hard to graduate, and one does not. Why is this?

If purpose is the productive work itself, then motivation must be related to the level of devotion to this work. We often hear people talk about how committed or attached they are to their work. Some students love studying. Some hate it. Motivation is this psychological factor related to a purpose. But what causes it? And why are some students more motivated than others?

With respect to "doing the work," we could perhaps speculate various reasons as to why some students are more motivated than others. Let's look at a specific example -- let's say some set of assigned algebra problems.

A common complaint among many students is that they fail to see a "real world" application for such problems. Given two students, one might be more motivated to do that assignment than the other if he expects to find application for algebra in his own life, in the future.

Or, suppose that one of the students has historically had easy success in mathematics. He may well be more motivated to invest himself in a math assignment versus someone who has long struggled to grasp basic math concepts, because the first student has an easier time envisioning his own future success -- and all that goes with it -- while the second student foresees further personal difficulty.

Yet again, someone who has historically been very successful with little effort might not see the need to devote himself to nightly homework, trusting in his own ability to succeed regardless (in terms of learning the material; or scoring well on a test; or passing the class; or etc.); someone who has struggled for meager success might be more assiduous, in understanding his own shortcomings and knowing the effort he must again expend to achieve some satisfactory result. Individuals can vary wildly in how they respond to the same set of circumstances, some of which I again relate to "sense of life."

And damn, I get the strong feeling like none of this is going to help you or benefit the conversation... Are we looking for something like a... common denominator of "motivation"? Such that, if someone does not "feel motivated" to engage in some work, or pursue some professed "purpose," we can say, "this is the reason why"?

I think that the closest I've come so far is an individual's understanding the relationship between his own efforts and the results of that effort (whether that "understanding" is explicit or implicit, attributable to conscious reasoning or emotion/"sense of life"). Insofar as a person is desirous of some result, or some value, and insofar as he expects that his own effort will result in getting or keeping that value, I would expect that person to feel motivated to expend that effort. The more tenuous the understood or felt connection between effort and result, the less motivation experienced in consequence.

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You said that the student with low motivation chooses other activities instead of studying. Let's say he would rather spend his time playing sports, because he wants to be a professional athlete. In this case, his low motivation for studying is related to his chosen priority in values. He values graduating less than becoming a pro athlete, therefore he works less on studying, and more on running or jumping or whatever he needs to do to get hired by a professional sports team. His level of devotion (motivation) to performing particular types of work (purpose) depends on the hierarchy and relative importance of his chosen values. 

Yes, I'm sure that this is true, too. Someone who says that he would like to graduate college, but devotes all of his time to drilling basketball skills, we can hardly say is "unmotivated," as such. He seems not to have much motivation to do the work required to graduate college (however much he says he "wants" it), but appears highly motivated to become a better basketball player.

And perhaps we can divine what he "truly" values accordingly (or their relationship on some sort of hierarchy), even if he makes protestations to the contrary, or fails to understand his own mind.

Yet I also find interesting the case of the "slacker." A person who doesn't fail to realize his professed values due to having some stronger passion which dominates his time, necessarily, but because he just doesn't make the effort required to achieve his ends. Is this the same thing? Does the slacker simply have other things he values more that what he believes himself to value, too? Or is his lack of motivation symptomatic of something else?

Writing through this post, I suspect it might be what I've described above: the slacker does not necessarily believe that his efforts will be met with success. Or I think that's a possibility, at least.

1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

The "generalized feeling about existence" that arises from the "discreet conclusions" probably does relate to the measure of perseverance or expectation of success one has in the face of difficult obstacles. It would affect how they treat the obstacle on a psychological level. If they generally hate reality, then whatever it is they wanted beyond the obstacle probably has little value to them anyway, so they will feel little motivation to get by the obstacle.

Hmm...

Or, what if they fundamentally misunderstand reality. Suppose, for instance, someone who fundamentally sees the universe as malevolent; who expects that every time he feels some measure of joy, it is only a precursor to some disaster; who sees happiness as transient and unsustainable of its nature; who subconsciously expects his hard-won values to be ripped from him despite all resistance.

Such a person might struggle to find motivation to pursue even basic ends.

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They might instead decide to seek a value that distracts them from reality, like going to the liquor store to buy some vodka.

Yes. Or the vodka might itself be the pursuit of some much more easily managed goal -- an immediate pleasure, just down the block, versus the longer-range and more difficult pleasures that his psychology will not allow him to believe are truly attainable. (Such a person might not see how, in context, the pursuit of vodka could be the very thing putting loftier ambitions out of reach. In a word: tragedy.)

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On the other hand, someone who loves reality and being alive probably values the desired goal intensely and will therefore think real hard on how to overcome the obstacle.

Yes again, so long as he has made the fundamental connection between his own efforts (like thinking real hard) and overcoming such obstacles.

I believe I've found a position! :D

Edited by DonAthos

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3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I like this example. It describes a problem in which we have the same stated purpose (to graduate from college) yet two clearly different levels of motivation (high and low). Even if we disagree on the relationship between purpose and motivation, this is a good example of what I'm talking about.

The way I see it, purpose is the action, the work, the graduating.

Life is a process, and so a purpose in life is also a process. The student's purpose is not his statement that he "wants to graduate." That's only words. In reality, his purpose is all of the productive work that goes into graduating, because "to graduate" means "to do what it takes to earn a diploma." It doesn't mean "to be handed a diploma."

Now we have two students with different levels of motivation. One works hard to graduate, and one does not. Why is this?

If purpose is the productive work itself, then motivation must be related to the level of devotion to this work. We often hear people talk about how committed or attached they are to their work. Some students love studying. Some hate it. Motivation is this psychological factor related to a purpose. But what causes it? And why are some students more motivated than others?

You said that the student with low motivation chooses other activities instead of studying. Let's say he would rather spend his time playing sports, because he wants to be a professional athlete. In this case, his low motivation for studying is related to his chosen priority in values. He values graduating less than becoming a pro athlete, therefore he works less on studying, and more on running or jumping or whatever he needs to do to get hired by a professional sports team. His level of devotion (motivation) to performing particular types of work (purpose) depends on the hierarchy and relative importance of his chosen values. 

I'm having a hard time understanding your conception of purpose.

OED: Purpose 1. The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

 

Generally speaking every action has a purpose.  There is a reason for expenditure of energy and time... usually it is taken to be a goal or end.  Often purpose (for an action) is often therefore simply equated with that goal or end, i.e. the goal or end is the purpose behind the pursuit of it.  Strictly speaking the achievement of the goal or end is the purpose of the pursuit.

Your statements:

3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Everything the student has done, is doing, and will do in order to graduate is his purpose.

and

3 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

If purpose is the productive work itself, then motivation must be related to the level of devotion to this work.

seem to indicate the "work" which I will equate with effort and time etc. expended toward the goal or end IS the "purpose".

So in addition to the goal or end being the purpose for the work or effort, an additional purpose, the work itself arises according to your formulation... but this raises the question if work is some additional purpose, what is it a purpose for? 

To state that A is a "purpose" presupposes something which has A as its purpose.

 

Your formulation of this "purpose" leaves me scratching my head.

 

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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27 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I'm having a hard time understanding your conception of purpose.

OED: Purpose 1. The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

I think I see your point. Is purpose the why we do something or the doing itself?

Here's my problem. If purpose is only the why, then which why is it? Because if we are always doing something in order to flourish in life and be happy, then are we going to school to graduate, to get a good job, to make enough money to raise a family, or to be able to retire at fifty and sail around the world before we die? Which larger reason is it? 

Or consider the concrete-bound version. Why do I study as a student? To do well on the exams. Why do I take exams? To pass my classes. Why do I want to pass my classes? To graduate.

Do we have countless little purposes? Or one giant, overarching one?

I'm thinking that purpose is both the actions and the reasons for those actions. Man is an integrated body and mind. He acts with his reason. He acts with purpose. A human act without a purpose is a random or uncontrolled event.

In reality I doubt we can separate the act from the purpose, unless we want to act like beasts. Certainly we can direct our mental focus on our purpose or our actions and consider them separately or together in our mind for awhile, perhaps to refocus or plan our future behavior. Or to reprioritize our goals. But what would it mean if the action and the reason for the action were existentially or temporally separate things? I don't have a good answer for that one. Gotta give it more thought.

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12 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I think I see your point. Is purpose the why we do something or the doing itself?

Here's my problem. If purpose is only the why, then which why is it? Because if we are always doing something in order to flourish in life and be happy, then are we going to school to graduate, to get a good job, to make enough money to raise a family, or to be able to retire at fifty and sail around the world before we die? Which larger reason is it?

In the first place, we typically have some reason in mind for our actions, do we not? A purpose of which we are conscious.

If I go to the dentist, the reason for my trip is perhaps to get some specific tooth fixed. I think that would be sensibly described as my "purpose" for going to the dentist.

Now, why should I care whether I get my tooth fixed in the first place? Is there a greater purpose to which I could appeal? Sure. If pressed, I could relate my oral hygiene to my ethical standard and how it serves my life, or my "flourishing." In this way I could describe (some part of) my value system.

But I also don't think it wrong to say that my purpose for going to the dentist is to get my tooth fixed.

And just to note: I do not believe that everyone's actions can always be said to be done "in order to flourish in life and be happy." Even if pressed, not every action could be reasonably related to the Objectivist Ethics. There are people who have range-of-the-moment purposes such that they do not know the relationship between some goal and their long-term flourishing (like the man who drinks a bottle of vodka nightly); there are people who believe that their actions, and shorter-term purposes, serve their long-term goals, but are mistaken (many who go to college probably fit this bill, actually); and there are those who reject the idea that it is important to "flourish in life and be happy" altogether (or who define these ideas very differently, with great practical consequence). For instance, many religions promote happiness after death, rather than any earthly flourishing. And in recent threads about suicide, it has become clear to me that there are Objectivists who have a much different understanding of what "flourishing" entails than I do (supposing that one may endure a torturous existence and yet "flourish," as an example).

12 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Or consider the concrete-bound version. Why do I study as a student? To do well on the exams. Why do I take exams? To pass my classes. Why do I want to pass my classes? To graduate.

Do we have countless little purposes? Or one giant, overarching one?

Discussing a concrete example does not make that example "concrete-bound." :) If these ideas and discussions are to serve us in our own lives, we must be able to move from concrete to abstract and back again.

But yes, we have countless little purposes. We make countless little actions and they each of them have some reason (though not every action is necessarily related to a consciously held reason; yet momentous decisions probably ought to be carefully reasoned). And yes, insofar as we see long-range, or develop some ethical philosophy, we can relate our "little purposes" to larger purposes and larger purposes still -- and finally even to one which guides our entire life.

As an Objectivist, I would say that my own happiness is my "highest purpose." Over the course of my life, I mean to be as happy as I possibly can be. Working out the requirements to achieve that happiness, and all of the actions it requires, in context, is... well, it is a lot of work. It is a lifetime of work, actually. But it seems to me that it is the only work worth doing.

12 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I'm thinking that purpose is both the actions and the reasons for those actions. Man is an integrated body and mind. He acts with his reason. He acts with purpose. A human act without a purpose is a random or uncontrolled event.

In reality I doubt we can separate the act from the purpose, unless we want to act like beasts. Certainly we can direct our mental focus on our purpose or our actions and consider them separately or together in our mind for awhile, perhaps to refocus or plan our future behavior. Or to reprioritize our goals. But what would it mean if the action and the reason for the action were existentially or temporally separate things? I don't have a good answer for that one. Gotta give it more thought.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that we can somehow... remove a reason from an action "existentially or temporally," though perhaps I misunderstand what you mean. (And anyone is welcome to correct me if I mistake their views.)

But we can speak about things like "purpose" and "reason" (in the sense of purpose/motive) in the abstract -- "directing our mental focus," as you say, for separate consideration. This is an important ability, without which ethical reasoning would not be possible.

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Posted (edited)

14 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Here's my problem. If purpose is only the why, then which why is it? Because if we are always doing something in order to flourish in life and be happy, then are we going to school to graduate, to get a good job, to make enough money to raise a family, or to be able to retire at fifty and sail around the world before we die? Which larger reason is it? 

What "larger reason" can there be other than "to flourish in life and be happy"?

As for WHAT you need to do to achieve it that is not a simple matter.  The end goal requires achievement of other goals.  Goals purposes and actions are thus part of a hierarchy.  You should gather straw to make a straw hat if you want to make a scarecrow.. if you want to scare crows from your corn.. if you want to grow and sell corn. 

14 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Do we have countless little purposes? Or one giant, overarching one?

In reality BOTH.  The little ones must at least not contradict and ideally support each larger one in the hierarchy.

 

14 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

In reality I doubt we can separate the act from the purpose, unless we want to act like beasts.

This is odd.  If you mean to say one should not act absent a purpose for action... or one should not act aimlessly and randomly.. well sure that is true.  However, purpose and action are not the same things metaphysically.  You act ... whether you act based on a purpose is within your volitional control... WHAT you choose as your purpose is also within your control, as WHAT ACTIONS you follow in pursuit of the purpose of those actions is also in your control.

14 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

But what would it mean if the action and the reason for the action were existentially or temporally separate things?

They simply are separate things.  IF you exercise deliberate control over your actions (which I hope most humans do) then you can act in accord with your reasons for acting but you metaphysically have the choice to act without reason or purpose.  You have the choice to think or not.  You also have the choice to act in accord with thinking or, choosing to abstain from thinking you can choose to act in the absence of reason.

Edited by StrictlyLogical
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51 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

As an Objectivist, I would say that my own happiness is my "highest purpose." Over the course of my life, I mean to be as happy as I possibly can be. Working out the requirements to achieve that happiness, and all of the actions it requires, in context, is... well, it is a lot of work. It is a lifetime of work, actually. But it seems to me that it is the only work worth doing.

Well said.

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Posted (edited)

4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

There are people who have range-of-the-moment purposes such that they do not know the relationship between some goal and their long-term flourishing (like the man who drinks a bottle of vodka nightly); there are people who believe that their actions, and shorter-term purposes, serve their long-term goals, but are mistaken (many who go to college probably fit this bill, actually); and there are those who reject the idea that it is important to "flourish in life and be happy" altogether (or who define these ideas very differently, with great practical consequence).

I think this helps illustrate important facts about purpose.

1. Chosen: Purpose is volitionally chosen, not automatic, and therefore it's most likely a uniquely human thing. (I doubt chimps could have a human-like purpose.) It's possible to not choose a purpose, in which case we would act pre-volitionally like a baby or post-volitionally like an emotion-driven looney.

2. Good or bad, harmony or discord: Because man is fallible, his chosen purpose might be good or bad for his individual survival. Likewise, it might be in harmony or discord with his particular moral code. The two evaluations are separate and unique questions, meaning that a particular purpose could be good for survival while in discord with one's moral code, and vice versa.

3. Complex: Man is capable of setting short, mid, and long-term goals. And so there may be multiple chosen purposes for any particular action. When properly integrated, these single purposes become one complex purpose which we use to guide our entire life process. It's possible for man to set only short-term goals, in which case he drops the context of a future life and lives only for the present purpose. It's also possible for man to have a longer-term goal but lack the planning skills or ability to achieve it, in which case his shorter-range goals will not be integrated with the longer-term one, and ultimately he will fail or be frustrated, unless he learns and adjusts his goals accordingly.

4. Post-life: On account of having imagination, it is possible for man to set a post-life goal which is achieved (or not) only after and on account of his death. Despite not being alive to see this final purpose fulfilled, he can still act with purpose before death in order to best ensure that the imagined goal is achieved. And like all purposes, even this one can be good or bad for survival, and in harmony or discord with one's moral code.

To elaborate a bit on #4, a popular example of a post-life goal is: to get into Heaven and be with God. Religious folk may or may not attempt to integrate this final goal with their short, mid, and long-term goals in life before death. They may routinely choose to drop the context of such a supernatural afterlife and focus on pursuing more this-worldly purposes such as making money and raising a family. But if they do pursue Heaven, then they must do so according to some standard of value, such as whatever moral code they can glean from their favorite religious text. If they should decide that getting to Heaven and being with God requires killing infidels because that's what their favorite prophet said, then their shorter-range goals in life will probably include waging war upon non-believers. They might even conduct a suicide mission against the enemy to prove their devotion to their ultimate purpose.

Another popular post-life goal is: helping loved ones. This is accomplished by creating a will and bequeathing property to the people we love. But in order to have something to bequeath, this purpose must be properly integrated with pre-death goals, such as making a good living and buying valuable property. If one chooses to live hedonistically and spend everything on booze and gambling, there may be nothing left for loved ones in the end.

Edited by MisterSwig

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5 hours ago, DonAthos said:

If I go to the dentist, the reason for my trip is perhaps to get some specific tooth fixed. I think that would be sensibly described as my "purpose" for going to the dentist.

Now, why should I care whether I get my tooth fixed in the first place? Is there a greater purpose to which I could appeal? Sure. If pressed, I could relate my oral hygiene to my ethical standard and how it serves my life, or my "flourishing." In this way I could describe (some part of) my value system.

Yes, another example I like. I'm starting to conceive such situations as representing a complex purpose. A complex purpose is an integration of several related ones which are united by an ultimate one. Depending on your ability to maintain a context for your life, your ultimate purpose for going to the dentist might be only to stay healthy, or it might be to stay healthy to keep working to make money to buy a house to raise a family and live happily. All of that would be my general idea of a complex purpose.

Note: I'm experiencing weird issues with my smartphone, which I'm using to slowly type this. I'll get back to motivation once this issue is resolved. 

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19 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

1. Chosen: Purpose is volitionally chosen, not automatic, and therefore it's most likely a uniquely human thing. (I doubt chimps could have a human-like purpose.) It's possible to not choose a purpose, in which case we would act pre-volitionally like a baby or post-volitionally like an emotion-driven looney.

I should say (though I don't know how much this matters to the thread) that I can't speak to non-human experience; I don't even have the qualifications necessary to discuss it based on third-party observation, or biology, or etc. I know that certain animals (like chimps) are accounted very intelligent, and I have no reason to rule out the existence of alien creatures with volition or human-like consciousness. Further there is the question as to whether or not man could create machines with similar capacities. So as to whether purpose is "a uniquely human thing," or the likelihood of such a proposition, I have no idea.

As to whether purpose is volitionally chosen, I say: yes, with caveat.

Earlier, I had said that "we typically have some reason in mind for our actions, do we not? A purpose of which we are conscious." I think that true. But while the man who drinks vodka nightly may have some purpose in mind when he goes to the store, he might not be cognizant of all of his motivation -- some of which might be subconscious, and hidden from him. And further, he might not be able to relate his conscious purpose, his chosen purpose, with long-term outcomes or larger purposes. (His short-term and long-term purposes may even be in conflict.)

I say this, because I have found some Objectivists in the past who like to attribute all of the outcomes of an action with a consciously held purpose. As in, the man who drinks vodka every night works towards his own destruction (which is true), and purpose/choice/action is volitional (which is true), therefore, the man who drinks vodka every night is choosing his own destruction -- and is therefore an evil death-worshipper. But I don't think this kind of conclusion reflects reality.

There is a sense in which that is true that the man who drinks vodka every night is choosing his own destruction, so long as we retain the context; because it might well be the case that such a man does not understand that his path will lead him to destruction. If he understood everything that he could expect to lose, in reason, on the basis of the choices he's making... he might well make different choices.

(The basis of this "understanding" -- whether it can be an "honest mistake," or is necessarily reflects some kind of evasion, or etc., is another conversation.)

19 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

2. Good or bad, harmony or discord: Because man is fallible, his chosen purpose might be good or bad for his individual survival. Likewise, it might be in harmony or discord with his particular moral code. The two evaluations are separate and unique questions, meaning that a particular purpose could be good for survival while in discord with one's moral code, and vice versa.

I'm uncertain about the phrase "because man is fallible," but yes, a man's chosen purpose might be good or bad for his individual survival. And it might find harmony or discord with his particular moral code.

It is true that these are two different evaluations, but I think it necessary (especially given the context of this conversation) to say that there are many Objectivists who would argue that the basis of a rational moral code is whether some purpose is good or bad for the individual's survival. For instance, here is David Kelley, writing on his understanding of the Objectivist Ethics (from The Logical Structure of Objectivism):

Quote

Although Ayn Rand made it clear that she meant her morality to ensure a rich, fully human life, it is the bare fundamental alternative of survival versus death that stands at the root of all values.

Several admirers of Rand’s approach to ethics have debated the sense in which survival can serve the most basic criterion of ethics. Here we have argued that survival is the literal alternative of life versus death, existence versus nonexistence.

I disagree with him. While I believe that there is a fundamental relationship between survival and morality, I do not believe that "survival" alone, as Kelley has it, "can serve [as] the most basic criterion of ethics." I believe that "life" in the phrase "life as the standard of value" encompasses more than "the literal alternative of life versus death."

In "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand further her describes the standard she advocates (here describing it as "that which is proper to man"), saying that man must choose his values "in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life." This is the fuller meaning that constitutes my moral code, inclusive of "fulfillment" and "enjoyment," and I think that it is consequently more expansive than Kelley's understanding of "existence versus nonexistence," which seems to be wholly encompassed by "achieve" and "maintain."

If we conceive of my moral code as "it is good to do that which serves one's life" (where "life" is held in this fuller sense), then although it would remain true that it could be evaluated separately as to whether some purpose serves one's life or adheres to his moral code, I would argue that these evaluations ought always produce the exact same results -- insofar as a person has a rational moral code.

I do not believe that a rational moral code could ever counsel a person to act against his life, in this full sense. (Yet I believe that suicide in some cases is moral; this again accounts to my specific understanding of "life as the standard of value" -- what I have argued for elsewhere as "life-as-experience" -- but there are current topics [one and two] already dedicated to exploring the topic of ethical suicide, and I should not like to revisit it here.)

19 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

3. Complex: Man is capable of setting short, mid, and long-term goals. And so there may be multiple chosen purposes for any particular action. When properly integrated, these single purposes become one complex purpose which we use to guide our entire life process. It's possible for man to set only short-term goals, in which case he drops the context of a future life and lives only for the present purpose. It's also possible for man to have a longer-term goal but lack the planning skills or ability to achieve it, in which case his shorter-range goals will not be integrated with the longer-term one, and ultimately he will fail or be frustrated, unless he learns and adjusts his goals accordingly.

Agreed.

19 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

4. Post-life: On account of having imagination, it is possible for man to set a post-life goal which is achieved (or not) only after and on account of his death. Despite not being alive to see this final purpose fulfilled, he can still act with purpose before death in order to best ensure that the imagined goal is achieved. And like all purposes, even this one can be good or bad for survival, and in harmony or discord with one's moral code.

To elaborate a bit on #4, a popular example of a post-life goal is: to get into Heaven and be with God. Religious folk may or may not attempt to integrate this final goal with their short, mid, and long-term goals in life before death. They may routinely choose to drop the context of such a supernatural afterlife and focus on pursuing more this-worldly purposes such as making money and raising a family. But if they do pursue Heaven, then they must do so according to some standard of value, such as whatever moral code they can glean from their favorite religious text. If they should decide that getting to Heaven and being with God requires killing infidels because that's what their favorite prophet said, then their shorter-range goals in life will probably include waging war upon non-believers. They might even conduct a suicide mission against the enemy to prove their devotion to their ultimate purpose.

Another popular post-life goal is: helping loved ones. This is accomplished by creating a will and bequeathing property to the people we love. But in order to have something to bequeath, this purpose must be properly integrated with pre-death goals, such as making a good living and buying valuable property. If one chooses to live hedonistically and spend everything on booze and gambling, there may be nothing left for loved ones in the end.

It is certainly the case that men may have a morality which values things beyond an individual's life (even in the full sense I'd described earlier) -- a "greater good." But that does not describe my morality, and neither do I believe it consistent with the Objectivist Ethics, nor see the justification for it.

Such a "greater good" must hold something as the root of value (as Kelley relates the root of value to the individual's survival, and I do with the individual's "experience") -- so if you mean to advocate for a "greater good" than man's life (either here or perhaps preferably in another thread, specifically geared to do so), I would wish to concentrate on ferreting that "root of value" out.

At the least, I do not believe that a "greater good" must be invoked to explain such things as wills and bequeathals. I will observe here, for instance, that I am deeply interested in helping my loved ones, both during my life and to provide for them after my death -- but I hold that this serves my life, here and now, which is why I consider it rationally "of value" to take action to make such provisions here and now.

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Let's say, in general, that a man's purpose is to do productive work, which Rand considered to be man's central, rational purpose in life.

Rand said man's purpose is happiness. Productive work is a means to happiness.

Quote

By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.

http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/happiness.html

Edited by Nerian

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