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DonAthos

Pleasure and Value

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Over the last few threads in which I've participated substantially (here, here, and here), I've been pushed to look more and more into a conception of ethics that I've been developing for quite some time. A conception I've temporarily labelled as "life-as-experience," which I contrast with the "life-as-survival" view I attribute to David Kelley1, among others -- where "life-as" refers to my understanding of what "life" in "life as the standard of value" means.

I hold that Kelley, et al., contend that Rand truly means that survival is the standard of value; whereas I think this fails to express Rand's full meaning, and moreover fails to express the truth of ethics, which is that it is not survival alone which is the standard of value, but "life as it is experienced." By "experience," I primarily mean as it is characterized by pleasures and pains.

I'm not yet ready to try to describe this idea in full. I have not yet settled on a terminology. I haven't satisfied myself that I even understand what I'm driving at, in totality, let alone thought the whole thing through in all of its application. I don't know whether I will finally accept this burgeoning concept or modify it substantially or discard it altogether. I don't know whether I will come to find that it still fits with Rand's ethics (though so far I think this is the case), or whether it will finally constitute a breach with Objectivism and the emergence of some new philosophy more reflective of reality.

This thread, then, is an attempt to try to "think out loud" about some of these issues -- it is an "exploration," rather than an argument (though arguments for or against my position are welcome in response). Specifically, I would like to explore the relationship between pleasure and value. It is my current position that there is a a deep and abiding relationship between the two. One that is under-realized and consequently underappreciated, or even absent from the stated ethical reasoning of other Objectivists. (I have even seen some Objectivists display what I would call hostility, or suspicion at the least, against the pursuit of pleasure.2 I believe that this sort of attitude is deeply misplaced.)

One of the key confusions that often plagues this sort of topic, I find, is that "pleasure" can refer to a variety of experiences. Eventually I mean to speak to all that sort of thing "pleasure" represents, in totality, but first and foremost we should consider pleasure in its most basic sense: a positive physical sensation. This is the pleasure of the taste of good food, or the soft caress of satin sheets, or the cooling of the skin from a breeze on a hot day, or the whole-body lightning of orgasm.

In the first place, we should wonder whether there is any relationship at all between such pleasure and value. Value is, as always, "that which one acts to gain and/or keep," but it is more to the point to ask whether there is any relationship between pleasure and that which a rational man values: value consonant with Rand's conception of ethics, holding "life as the standard of value."

I say that there is. Moreover that Rand was aware of this, describing this relationship thusly (in "The Objectivist Ethics"):

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Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of “value”? By what means does he first become aware of the issue of “good or evil” in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation.

The capacity to experience pleasure or pain is innate in a man’s body; it is part of his nature, part of the kind of entity he is. He has no choice about it, and he has no choice about the standard that determines what will make him experience the physical sensation of pleasure or of pain. What is that standard? His life.

Consider first that this observation implies that it is pleasure (i.e. physical pleasure) which allows a man to have some conception -- any conception at all -- of "the good." It is through the experience of such pleasure that teaches man to discern good from evil (which finds its corresponding analogue in physical pain).

Now, this cannot be the end point of ethics. Moreover, the standard Rand refers to in that final sentence (His life.) is not describing the full standard of the Objectivist Ethics, where "life is the standard of value." If it were, then ethics would be as simple as equating pleasure to good and pain to evil: Objectivism would be hedonistic.

What we come to learn, however, is that some things our "natural standard" pronounces good (which is to say, that which we find physically pleasurable of our nature) will lead, in time, to pain and death. Even that which is very pleasurable, should it ultimately lead to pain and death, cannot be "the good," then, as we come to understand it conceptually, abstracting away from our experience of temporary, momentary pleasures -- which, remember, is our source of the very concept of "the good" in the first place.

How would this operate in a person? Rand describes the experience of pleasure/pain as the "first step in the realm of evaluation." Well, what are the subsequent steps? And where do they lead?

Consider a child. Or a baby. There are pleasure and pain for the baby ("innate," as Rand has it), and though the baby has no conceptual understanding of it initially, what these sensations communicate are the launch points for "good" and "evil." Pleasure is the good, it is what is desired, it is what is wanted, it is what is valued. And pain is not simply the lack of such pleasure, or a "neutral" state, but it is a negative analogue to pleasure. (Pain is no less "real" for that, and matters just as much as any other fact... despite any admirable sense of life which may eventually inspire a man to act as though some pain is "less important" than a corresponding pleasure). Pain is thus the evil, it is what is shunned, what is avoided, and I believe it sensible to say that it is disvalued in consequence.

The baby grows and matures. With experience and development comes the understanding that certain things cause pleasure and others cause pain. Concrete values follow suit, as the baby comes to value those things that bring pleasure and disvalue those that bring pain. Such simple associations develop and grow into childhood and can persist well beyond, into adolescence or even adulthood. The young child will, more than likely, not wish to go to the dentist. The young child sees no good in it, whatever lecture he hears, because for him the dentist is simply a bringer of pain. The young child wishes instead to eat ice cream, morning, noon and night. Ice cream is pleasurable, and the young child cannot conceive of even the mid-range consequences of overeating ice cream, let alone the long-term effects of habitual poor eating. Those long-term effects have no reality whatever to him.

But as the child grows, and acquires perspective (and continues to gain experience, and continues to develop mentally), he may come to see the sense in putting down the ice cream from time to time and going to the dentist. He understands that his forbearance from eating ice cream comes at the cost of some "good" now (i.e. pleasure), but will help him to avoid even greater "evils" (pains) to come. So, too, the dentist, such that eventually the mild pain of a regular cleaning may be borne for the sake of avoiding worse pains later, or to continue to enjoy the pleasures that having healthy teeth affords. It may be, in time, that the child can pronounce going to the dentist as "good" and eating too much ice cream as "evil" (though "bad" is more likely, but amounts to the same) -- just as an adult might -- because he finally and thoroughly understands the actual relationship these activities have with pleasure and pain, long-term.

As I'm describing it, it is not that man acquires some perspective which completely divorces pleasure from "the good" (or pain from evil), but that he comes to understand that the simple equation of pleasure to good (which is natural, "innate") will not serve him long-term, because it will lead to far more pain than pleasure. If he would like to have more pleasures as he lives, and fewer pains, then he must learn to value accordingly.

These are the "next steps" of evaluation.

But is it the last step? Is it ever the case that good and evil stand free and clear from pleasure and pain? (For instance, does the final conception of "life as the standard of value" have anything at all to do with pleasure and pain, apart from heritage? Or are they utterly separate by that point, such that one may evaluate "good," qua the Objectivist Ethics, without ever any need to consider such pleasures or pains, or even reference them?)

I will most likely approach this question more substantively in a later post, but for now, let me introduce another quote from Rand (per the Lexicon, from "Our Cultural Value-Deprivation" in The Objectivist, 4/66; and please note Rand's use of the term "experience" here, which obviously predates my own adoption of the term to express my meaning, but was wholly independent of it, as I was completely unaware of this quote at the time):

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The form in which man experiences the reality of his values is pleasure . . . . A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experiences, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man’s emotional vitality, which he may ignore or repress, but which is recorded by the relentless computer of his subconscious mechanism that registers an ebbing flow, then a trickle, then a few last drops of fuel—until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on, unable to find any definable cause of his hopeless, chronic sense of exhaustion.

I am open to the interpretation of other intelligent, rational minds (as I always strive to be), but this suggests to me that the relationship between pleasure and "the good," or value more generally, is not just that pleasure provides some initial spark for evaluation, before they go their separate ways... but that there is an ongoing, vital relationship between them.

I would go so far as to say that a life without pleasure (again: this is "just" physical pleasure in my current usage, though I mean to argue that there is also a vital relationship between such physical pleasures and those of the corresponding cognitive/emotional/spiritual kind -- including happiness) is not worth living. The consequence of a life filled with pain is something else entirely, and far, far worse.

_____________________________________
1) Kelley's written position is a convenient way to address what I consider to be a widespread understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Objectivist Ethics, where he's written (in The Logical Structure of Objectivism):

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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.

2) The pursuit of pleasure can sometimes be misread as "hedonism," but these two things are not -- or need not necessarily be, at least -- the same thing. Hedonism is, as Rand writes, "the doctrine which holds that the good is whatever gives you pleasure and, therefore, pleasure is the standard of morality." Yet it is possible to reject the idea that "the good is whatever gives you pleasure" and that "pleasure is the standard of morality," while still wanting to experience some particular pleasure consonant with life, with man's nature, and with a rational standard of morality.

Pursuing such a pleasure, even for the sake of that pleasure alone, is not "hedonistic" but life-affirming.

Edited by DonAthos

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DA:

Let me make a few observations which are a little less abstract.

Before I begin let me state that I do not think the standard of value, as being sheer life, needs any adjustment objectively speaking.  This is the fundamental, base or ultimate standard upon which objective value rests.  The facts of reality, the nature of man being some of them, however are not so obviously simple, and it is a mistake to dismiss things like pleasure from the evaluation of action, causation, personal change, and consequence in the context of survival.

That said let us look at the nature of man.  At any moment as a living being, he can be doing well or not doing so well.  He can be healthy or sickly.  It is true that WHAT he does in any particular moment affects his immediate and his long term survival, but one cannot forget the FACT that his current health, how he is doing, whether he is robust and flourishing or weak and sickly, affects his choices and ability to act - i.e. also affects his immediate survival and serves as a causal baseline for long term survival (it is after all possible for a person to change... but that takes time).

But what of man does survival depend upon, what constitutes this "health" or robustness or flourishing?  It has at least two aspects: physical and mental (one could use the term "spiritual" as well without invoking supernaturalism).  A man adapts to a fire or flood by reacting physically, his chances of survival greatly depend on his current physical robustness.  Has he kept himself in good physical health or is he overly obese or sickly and incapable of self preservation?  A man adapts to his company being dissolved or an impending plague of rats with is mind, with his ability to think through and choose his best way forward: is he emotionally robust and flourishing to adapt and react and think in the face of adversity or does he despair and give up; are his thoughts and feelings so muddied that he makes the wrong choices?

Man eats to keep his body alive... but for the best prospects to stay alive... he also eats to be healthy and robust to be vital and flourishing physically.  He has the choice to have a poor diet or an optimal one.  Man also thinks, experiences, achieves, contemplates... there is art, friendship, pleasures, and a multitude of various things in life which serves man mentally.  Man's mind, his motivation, his desires, his very choice to live are decimated when he neglects his mental and spiritual needs, he becomes weak and sick.  Many studies on depression and as an egregious example of deprivation, solitary confinement, on the damage these can do (not necessarily permanent but real) to the psychology of an individual.  Conversely, a man who enriches his mind, is mindful of his emotional, aesthetic, and other needs and nourishes them (not inconsistently with reality and survival) he will be robust, flourishing, and vitally alive... his mind quick, adaptive, creative, resilient.  Man's mental and spiritual diet, based on the activities he chooses for his mind and spirit, also can be a poor diet (just short of causing a sort of mental death) or an optimal one which leads to flourishing and ultimately survival.  Pleasures, when their natures and amounts are not inconsistent with survival more directly, are healthy for man's mind and hence a good for survival.

As such, I am now taking the position that there is nothing wrong in holding survival as the objective fundamental standard.  One error often made is the oversimplification of what provides for survival (not an oversimplification of survival itself which is stark and binary), and an ignorance of how survival depends upon a current state of flourishing or languishing of an individual, and finally that Man's flourishing both physically and mentally, specifically spiritually (a mental aspect) is crucial to immediate and long term survival.

One must remember, taking "life" or "survival" as the ultimate Good, or to indulge in a metaphor the "source of all good", that does not negate the fact that other aspects of reality, actions and a multitude of types of things, necessarily and consequently are themselves good (or not) by virtue of their serving (or not) the ultimate good, often in a very complicated unobvious way.  When you ask yourself, "But I like "Tiddly wink" music, is it morally good for me to listen to it, even though it does not in any way support survival?", think again.

 

After Notes:

I believe the above is consistent with Tara Smith's "Viable Values" and although I do not know of Rand explicitly addressing this (I could be wrong) I think it is clear from Rand's heroic view of man pursuing life and also its pleasures that it is implied in spades.

 

One could "hypothetically" argue "what IF man were not this way, and Man did not benefit from pleasure, would life still be worth living if he gave it up?", but such talk is nonsense, no man need worry about "what if" he were not what he is.

 

 

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

...  the relationship between pleasure and "the good," or value more generally, is not just that pleasure provides some initial spark for evaluation, before they go their separate ways... but that there is an ongoing, vital relationship between them.

I think that sums it up nicely.

You explore the child's transition from an animal-type "pleasure now" to an adult's conception of "pleasure over my lifetime".  If you plot time on the x-axis and pleasure on the y-axis... the adult moves away from maximizing the height of the curve at any moment. Instead, he maximizes the area under the curve. (Of course, this is somewhat metaphorical.)

Couple of points I'd add to this brainstorm: 

Firstly, and most important, some types of pleasure are not physical (though of course everything has a physical manifestation). Solving a puzzle might give a person pleasure. Building an app for Android might give another person pleasure. And so on. This category is important enough that it needs to be explored on its own.

Secondly, I'd take a look at what the Epicureans and Stoics said about this, since they gave it a bit of thought too. Might throw some more light on the issues.

 

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2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

DA:

I'm pleased to see your reply. Let's get into this.

Quote

Before I begin let me state that I do not think the standard of value, as being sheer life, needs any adjustment objectively speaking.  This is the fundamental, base or ultimate standard upon which objective value rests.  The facts of reality, the nature of man being some of them, however are not so obviously simple, and it is a mistake to dismiss things like pleasure from the evaluation of action, causation, personal change, and consequence in the context of survival.

I don't know that I'm necessarily calling for an "adjustment" to "life as the standard of value," but that I'm saying that describing Rand's meaning as "sheer life" -- or "survival" as David Kelley does -- does not capture her whole meaning. Instead, I'm calling for Rand's full meaning to be employed when discussing ethical reasoning, and that this includes more than "the context of survival," as such.

Here is Rand describing her standard of value (from "The Objectivist Ethics"):

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Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.

Though I know there are quotes elsewhere that can be taken to mean that survival alone stands at the root of the Objectivist Ethics, I think this quote clearly and meaningfully speaks to a standard that is more encompassing than that. "Survival" is fully expressed when Rand says that the "standard of that which is proper to man" is "in order to achieve [and] maintain...his own life." If that was all that she meant, it should not have been necessary to include "fulfill and enjoy," which seems to suggest something more than survival alone.

(But also: if we were to decide that Rand did mean survival, and this alone, then you're right that I would argue for an adjustment, for all of the same reasons I now argue for this expanded understanding. Agreement with Rand's extant writing is a secondary matter of far less import than agreement with reality.)

For instance, while I don't dismiss that such pleasure has a role to play for survival, neither do I believe that one may only pursue pleasure (in reason) for the sake of survival.

There is a recent conversation (linked in the OP) I know you to be familiar with regarding "purpose." Let us consider such pursuits, and such values accordingly, in terms of what a person considers to be his conscious "purpose" or his "motive" when he takes action. (Do you think that fair?)

From time to time, I make love with my wife. When I do, there are perhaps a number of ways in which this activity benefits my survival, including physical exercise, strengthening my relationship with my wife (who is an important value to me, and let's agree for the sake of conversation that valuing her also contributes to my survival), and providing me with the "fuel" I need to continue on living.

Yet none of these things are necessarily on my mind when I initiate sex. I'm not doing it for the sake of exercise, for the sake of strengthening my relationship with my wife, or to find the will to continue on. It is primarily because it is a pleasurable thing to do, and I enjoy doing things which are pleasurable.

Now, it is important for me to assess that engaging in this activity will not be otherwise damaging to my life; in full context, I do keep "survival" somewhere in mind, and I would not have sex with my wife while driving down the highway at 80mph (although I will confess that in my youth, I did take one or two chances I would not now repeat). But again, in terms of conscious purpose at least, I am not acting for the sake of my survival in initiating sex with my wife -- not even though I believe it to be consistent with my survival. Instead, I am acting for the sake of enjoying sex with my wife, as it is a pleasurable activity, and I hold this to be a rational purpose in and of itself.

Quote

That said let us look at the nature of man.  At any moment as a living being, he can be doing well or not doing so well.  He can be healthy or sickly.  It is true that WHAT he does in any particular moment affects his immediate and his long term survival, but one cannot forget the FACT that his current health, how he is doing, whether he is robust and flourishing or weak and sickly, affects his choices and ability to act - i.e. also affects his immediate survival and serves as a causal baseline for long term survival (it is after all possible for a person to change... but that takes time).

But what of man does survival depend upon, what constitutes this "health" or robustness or flourishing?  It has at least two aspects: physical and mental (one could use the term "spiritual" as well without invoking supernaturalism).  A man adapts to a fire or flood by reacting physically, his chances of survival greatly depend on his current physical robustness.  Has he kept himself in good physical health or is he overly obese or sickly and incapable of self preservation?  A man adapts to his company being dissolved or an impending plague of rats with is mind, with his ability to think through and choose his best way forward: is he emotionally robust and flourishing to adapt and react and think in the face of adversity or does he despair and give up; are his thoughts and feelings so muddied that he makes the wrong choices?

I agree that all of this is true. (And do not fear using "spiritual"; I will not mistake you for a mystic.)

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Man eats to keep his body alive... but for the best prospects to stay alive... he also eats to be healthy and robust to be vital and flourishing physically.  He has the choice to have a poor diet or a optimal one.

Yes, he has that choice.

And I know that you've discussed emotional robustness, and such. But suppose that one cannot convince himself (finding the argument a bit tenuous and ad hoc) that he ought to have a slice of cheesecake because he may one day be faced with an impending plague of rats, and in such a time of extreme stress he would be reliant upon the emotional robustness that the physical pleasure of eating this slice of cheesecake would confer. This seems an unlikely train of thought in any event, and others can answer for themselves, but I don't think it sounds like any human being's actual reasoning process.

It is a difficult case to make, I believe, that eating a slice of cheesecake can be otherwise justified in terms of health and physical flourishing (whatever calories, nutrients, and etc., it provides usually can be found elsewhere with even greater health benefit); and many people would regard such a thing as symptomatic of a "poor diet," though also I believe that there are nutritional authorities who would say that such a thing is acceptable in moderation, if not quite "optimal."

Well -- what of it? Apart from confronting plagues of rats, and given that it does not necessarily reflect an "optimal diet" (depending on how one defines "optimal" in this context, but I'm taking it initially as "optimal qua nutrition/physical health"), is there ever reasonable justification for eating a slice of cheesecake?

What of my own justification/decision-making process, which usually runs something like this: cheesecake tastes really good, I really enjoy eating it, yet eating too much would be a mistake for a host of reasons. Therefore, I will have a single slice which will provide me the experience of pleasure I seek, yet not run me too far afoul of my diet.

Again I do not trouble myself to try to find some way to link my desire or my action to my "survival,'' as such. I reach the point where I believe it will be enjoyable (or pleasurable), and do not see any portended disaster (even allowing that there is some potential for it, in eating too much cheesecake), and that's where I'm content to stop my reasoning process and take action.

I should note that I have known people who appear to take "health" (and perhaps "survival") so seriously that they never are willing to "indulge" in something like a slice of cheesecake. What should we make of such a mentality, I wonder? I don't know, but I have always found it rather repugnant. Yet I would not be surprised in the least to meet an Objectivist who feels likewise, and who moreover considers himself morally superior to me on such a basis. Ah well, more cheesecake for me!

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Man also thinks, experiences, achieves, contemplates... there is art, friendship, pleasures, and a multitude of various things in life which serves man mentally.  Man's mind, his motivation, his desires, his very choice to live are decimated when he neglects his mental and spiritual needs, he becomes weak and sick.  Many studies on depression and as an egregious example of deprivation solitary confinement, on the damage it does (not necessarily permanent but real) to the psychology of an individual.  Conversely, a man who enriches his mind, is mindful of his emotional, aesthetic, and other needs and nourishes them (not inconsistently with reality and survival) he will be robust, flourishing, and vitally alive... his mind quick, adaptive, creative, resilient.  Man's mental and spiritual diet, based on the activities he chooses for his mind and spirit, also can be a poor diet (just short of causing a sort of mental death) or an optimal one which leads to flourishing and ultimately survival.  Pleasures, when their natures and amounts are not inconsistent with survival more directly, are healthy for man's mind and hence a good for survival.

Again, I agree with all of this.

But there is a difference between recognizing that "pleasures...are healthy for a man's mind and hence a good for survival," and valuing such pleasure for the sake of survival... or arguing that such pleasure has no value in and of itself, apart from its relationship to survival. (Quite a turnaround from discovering/fashioning the concept of value and "the good" itself on the basis of pleasure!)

Suppose that a person could persist in some woeful state that you describe above, such as solitary confinement. Perhaps a recipient of all of the psychological damage you mention... but then, let us say that we're discussing a prisoner in the current US justice system, and let us say that initially/prior to his confinement, when in robust health (physically, emotionally and psychologically), the man is utterly certain that his physical needs qua survival will be met for the length of his incarceration. He will live to a ripe old age, and receive the best of nutritional science and medical care, even if we continue to expect some emotional or psychological deterioration, or otherwise a lack of "flourishing."

Well, should such a prospect distress him in contemplation? Wherefore? If the value of such flourishing rests solely in its contribution to survival, to factual survival, "the literal alternative of life versus death, existence versus nonexistence," and if we know that the question of survival is wholly satisfied -- then is there any remaining reason, in reality, to prefer "flourishing," or to despise the life of solitary confinement?

I think that there is. I think that it relates to "enjoying" one's life, as opposed to merely enduring it. But I think that's a different (wider) standard than "survival."

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As such, I am now taking the position that there is nothing wrong in holding survival as the objective fundamental standard.

I know you are, lol! And I think you're just as mistaken as David Kelley for doing so. ;)

Look, if you'd really like to put "life-as-survival" to the test (and why didn't Rand just use the term "survival" anyways to describe what she meant? "survival as the standard of value" would have led to a lot less confusion, albeit probably fewer Objectivists), you can take on the question of suicide.

In my OP, I linked to two separate ongoing threads dealing with the topic -- so we do not need to turn this one into a third, but it's worth reflecting on, I think. (And if you would like to deal with it directly, those threads remain available for comment.)

Here is Leonard Peikoff on the subject:

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Suicide is justified when man's life, owing to circumstances outside of a person's control, is no longer possible; an example might be a person with a painful terminal illness, or a prisoner in a concentration camp who sees no chance of escape. In cases such as these, suicide is not necessarily a philosophic rejection of life or of reality. On the contrary, it may very well be their tragic reaffirmation. Self-destruction in such contexts may amount to the tortured cry: "Man's life means so much to me that I will not settle for anything less. I will not accept a living death as a substitute."

I think it a hard case to make in any event (even harder than "cheesecake because plague of rats"), that suicide is either justified by or consistent with a morality that holds survival as its "objective fundamental standard." And yet Peikoff calls it "justified" in certain cases. Maybe this does not align with Rand's own views (although audio provided in one of those threads seems to suggest that it was, along with the evidence provided by her fiction, also discussed in those threads).

Yet this (the quote and conversation it engendered) moved epistemologue to say that Peikoff's writing on suicide was inconsistent with the rest of the Objectivist corpus, and for MisterSwig to invoke a "greater good" to explain the justification for such actions.

My conception of "life as the standard of value" (life-as experience) can help me account for such a decision or justification -- the reasoning of which I attempt to provide in those threads -- but I do not believe that Kelley's account (life-as-survival) can get one there at all.

Edited by DonAthos

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42 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

arguing that such pleasure has no value in and of itself

This looks like non-objective value.  Are you arguing non-objective values "ought" to be pursued for some reason... according to some standard, what standard informs your "ought"?

Recall values are objective according to Rand but they are contextual. 

 

52 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

Look, if you'd really like to put "life-as-survival" to the test (and why didn't Rand just use the term "survival" anyways to describe what she meant? "survival as the standard of value" would have led to a lot less confusion, albeit probably fewer Objectivists), you can take on the question of suicide.

As for suicide, this is a revisiting of the choice to live which is outside of and whose answer is presupposed by morality.  Note Peikoff says "justified" not "moral".  This excerpt and the entire subject of suicide has no bearing on morality and its standard unless you are willing to claim the very choice to live or not is a moral choice.  Which would be highly surprising and in which case, what is the standard of morality that would lead one to the right answer?

 

 

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Despite Rand's insistence that she made her point as clear as humanly possible in Galt's Speech, there are a lot of diverging views about what she really meant. One writer actualy lists five different camps:

Quote

1. Life-Happiness Correspondence - pursuing life necessarily renders the attainment of happiness.
2. Survivalism - life is the "standard." All other values, including happiness, must be instrumental to life.
3. Life-Happiness Duality - both life and happiness are seen to be independent sources of value.
4. The Happiness Ethic - happiness is the "standard," and all other values, including life, must be instrumental to happiness.
5. Man-Qua-Man Deontology - life as constrained by deontological rules is the standard

I have to say that I completely agree with everything DonAthos has written in the main post. It is my personal view, and I also believe it was Rand's. Plenty of examples come to my mind. 

  • When Francisco asks Dagny what she would say if he asked her to leave her railroad, she answers: "What would I say if you asked me to consider the idea of committing suicide?". 
  • The famous John Galt quote about killing himself over his top value (Dagny): "If they get the slightest suspicion of what we are to each other, they will have you on a torture rack — I mean, physical torture — before my eyes, in less than a week. I am not going to wait for that. At the first mention of a threat to you, I will kill myself and stop them right there."

Work and Sex have almost deity-status for certain Objectivist thinkers. When Ayn Rand used the term 'highest values', she was literaly referring to those two. Leonard Peikoff goes as far as comparing them to your left eye and right eye. Notoriously, Peikoff also said that he would not condemn people for commiting suicide over, say, losing their ability to enjoy sex or even a career in ballet (can't find the ballet one, but if my memory is correct it was about suffering an accident that prevented you from pursuing your dream of being a ballet dancer).

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My own view is that the standard of value is indeed pleasure, but definitely not in the Epicurean sense. Rand's revolution in the field of ethics was her concept of rational self-interest. This means that, as Tara Smith puts it in a lecture available for free on the ARI Institute Campus, selfishness is not transparent. It requires a lot of thinking, including: choosing pleasures that do not kill you in the long run, finding ways to secure them over long spans of time, comparing different choices and so on.  I also disagree with any pretense at moderation for its own sake when it comes to pleasure, and I would only justify any moderation if excess would lead to negative consequences. So I regard the 'happy life' as a standard of value, not merely 'Life'. 

Regarding Rand's view:

  • If by 'Life as standard', Ayn Rand meant the happy/pleasurable life, then our reverence for romantic love, sex and even child rearing makes sense (she did not have children but a mother is present in Galt's Gulch, and she said many things about parenting).
  • But if Rand regarded love, sex and children as stemming from the standard of survival/survival of consciousness, then she is wrong, but on scientific grounds not in her intention. Reproduction is a key source of pleasure in living beings. I'm always stunned to turn on the TV and see male Praying Mantises getting their heads eaten during mating, or female polar bears making extraordinary sacrifices for their offspring.

Regarding the role of reproduction in ethics, Harry Binswanger covered this in a PhD thesis that has probably the most boring title ever, which is on my reading list for a long time. I'm curious about what he has to say about reproduction.

Bottomline, if there wasn't any pain-pleasure mechanism built in humans, or if the things that helped us survive gave us pain rather than pleasure, I would echo Peikoff's spirit from a lecture in which he talked about whether staying in focus - the precondition of morality - requires 'excruciating effort'. His answer was something like: "if that were the case, then to hell with morality!" If life would be a painful or emotionless affair, the proper reaction to it would definitely be: to hell with it!

Edited by KyaryPamyu
The editor is turning my text into all-italics

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18 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

KP

1. AND 2. 

For me it's a mixture of 1 and 4.

Ayn Rand absolutely hated nr. 3. In her last public appearance she was asked to elaborate on life as the standard and happiness as the standard. If looks could kill...

Edit: here's the link.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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6 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

For me it's a mixture of 1 and 4.

Ayn Rand absolutely hated nr. 3. In her last public lecture she was asked to elaborate on life as standard and happiness as standard. If looks could kill...

Interestingly, notice that 1. implies pursuit of life necessarily leads to happiness.

So doing 2. always leads to life and happiness.

Notice that doing 4. does not always lead to life and happiness...

 

What can be said about the non overlap of 2 and 4... and the consequence of their being inverses of each other?

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24 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Interestingly, notice that 1. implies pursuit of life necessarily leads to happiness.

So doing 2. always leads to life and happiness.

Notice that doing 4. does not always lead to life and happiness...

 

What can be said about the non overlap of 2 and 4... and the consequence of their being inverses of each other?

Upon closer reading, I'd also throw in nr. 2 into the mix, but only if we remove the "happiness as merely instrumental to life" part.

Not everything that leads to pleasure (point 4) will necessarily lead to happiness, e.g. drug abuse. But on the other side of the coin, pursuing life does not always necessarily lead to the attainment of happines (points 1 and 2), e.g. toiling day and night for bare sustenance, or being kept alive exclusively by medical devices. Or here's a horror-story scenario:

Imagine there is a peculiar device attached to your neck that monitors all of your activities. You are allowed to pursue your basic survival needs: food, water, shelter, clothes, walking. But pursuing any social relationships, hobbies, entertainment, love or work is denied to you. If you attempted to trangress this restriction, the device would instantly kill you. The device cannot be removed by any means.

This is why I think that points 1, 2 and 4 must somehow all be present.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Imagine there is a peculiar device attached to your neck that monitors all of your activities. You are allowed to pursue your basic survival needs: food, water, shelter, clothes, walking. But pursuing any social relationships, hobbies, entertainment, love or work is denied to you.

Um... was not this addressed in my post?  Restricting one to "Basic survival needs" as you put it, actually handicaps a person's ability to survive and is thus increases the risks to a person's survival.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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1 minute ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Um... was not this addressed in my post?  Restricting one to "Basic survival needs" as you put it, actually handicaps a person's ability to survive and is thus increases the risks to a person's survival.

I skipped your long post when I first posted here. I have read it now and it looks like we're on the same page, especially with:

Quote

 

I am now taking the position that there is nothing wrong in holding survival as the objective fundamental standard.  One error often made is the oversimplification of what provides for survival (not an oversimplification of survival itself which is stark and binary), and an ignorance of how survival depends upon a current state of flourishing or languishing of an individual, and finally that Man's flourishing both physically and mentally, specifically spiritually (a mental aspect) is crucial to immediate and long term survival.

One must remember, taking "life" or "survival" as the ultimate Good, or to indulge in a metaphor the "source of all good", that does not negate the fact that other aspects of reality, actions and a multitude of types of things, necessarily and consequently are themselves good (or not) by virtue of their serving (or not) the ultimate good, often in a very complicated unobvious way.

 

This being said, I personaly prefer thinking in terms of 'happiness' as the standard, since I already know that I'm not using it in the Epicurean sense. More explicitly, I hold happiness as the goal, while aknowledging that the only way to accomplish that goal is to choose values according to the standard of Life (physical and mental well-being).

This helps avoid two misunderstandings. The first one is a simplistic view of survival, as you pointed out. The second one is forgetting that survival is only desirable if happiness is possible, unlike the example of being kept alive in a hospital bed by medical devices, or being condemned to toil day and night for scarce amounts of food.

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47 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

This being said, I personaly prefer thinking in terms of 'happiness' as the standard, since I already know that I'm not using it in the Epicurean sense. 

I think #4 works just fine if one is looking for a guideline, but it remains unexplained in a very fundamental sense: i.e. "why?" OTOH, #1 and #2 can be supported by biology. In that sense, #4 is derivative. 

Also (an aside.... not really on point, but anyway): "Epicurean" should not be used as a synonym for "Hedonistic". [I used to conflate the two, so my antenna tingled :), but you may not have meant it that way.]

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5 hours ago, softwareNerd said:

I think that sums it up nicely.

In the first place, I should note that the Forum tells me I've exhausted my daily ration of bestowing "likes"; otherwise, I would have given out a few to some of the replies here.

My thanks to everyone for what is already an interesting discussion.

Quote

You explore the child's transition from an animal-type "pleasure now" to an adult's conception of "pleasure over my lifetime".  If you plot time on the x-axis and pleasure on the y-axis... the adult moves away from maximizing the height of the curve at any moment. Instead, he maximizes the area under the curve. (Of course, this is somewhat metaphorical.)

Yes -- this idea of "maximizing the area under the curve" speaks well to my concept. I shall temporarily steal the term "maximize," if you don't mind? (Or even if you do. Hence "steal." :P)

Quote

Couple of points I'd add to this brainstorm: 

Firstly, and most important, some types of pleasure are not physical (though of course everything has a physical manifestation). Solving a puzzle might give a person pleasure. Building an app for Android might give another person pleasure. And so on. This category is important enough that it needs to be explored on its own.

Absolutely right.

Quote

Secondly, I'd take a look at what the Epicureans and Stoics said about this, since they gave it a bit of thought too. Might throw some more light on the issues.

Thank you for the recommendation.

4 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

This looks like non-objective value.  Are you arguing non-objective values "ought" to be pursued for some reason... according to some standard, what standard informs your "ought"?

Recall values are objective according to Rand but they are contextual.

From "Who Is The Final Authority in Ethics" (per the Lexicon, The Objectivist Newsletter, 2/65; apologies for the length of the quote, but as this is what the Lexicon provides, I don't want to leave out any potentially relevant context):

Quote

Objectivity is both a metaphysical and an epistemological concept. It pertains to the relationship of consciousness to existence. Metaphysically, it is the recognition of the fact that reality exists independent of any perceiver’s consciousness. Epistemologically, it is the recognition of the fact that a perceiver’s (man’s) consciousness must acquire knowledge of reality by certain means (reason) in accordance with certain rules (logic). This means that although reality is immutable and, in any given context, only one answer is true, the truth is not automatically available to a human consciousness and can be obtained only by a certain mental process which is required of every man who seeks knowledge—that there is no substitute for this process, no escape from the responsibility for it, no shortcuts, no special revelations to privileged observers—and that there can be no such thing as a final “authority” in matters pertaining to human knowledge. Metaphysically, the only authority is reality; epistemologically—one’s own mind. The first is the ultimate arbiter of the second.

The concept of objectivity contains the reason why the question “Who decides what is right or wrong?” is wrong. Nobody “decides.” Nature does not decide—it merely is; man does not decide, in issues of knowledge, he merely observes that which is. When it comes to applying his knowledge, man decides what he chooses to do, according to what he has learned, remembering that the basic principle of rational action in all aspects of human existence, is: “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” This means that man does not create reality and can achieve his values only by making his decisions consonant with the facts of reality.

I would not argue that survival was non-objective by this standard, as described. Life qua survival exists. Decisions can be made consonant with that fact, and if we take life-as-survival as our standard of value, and if our resultant ethical decisions or evaluations are similarly objective, then I would describe those values as objective as well. But if "life qua survival" exists, so too does happiness as an emotion, and so too does pleasure as a biological fact. If we value these things, we can only achieve them by making our decisions consonant with these facts of reality. This process is equally objective.

If we wish to maximize our survival ability or our longevity, in itself, we must learn much that is true about the world (including our own nature), via reason and logic, and value/make decisions accordingly. It is also true that if we wish to maximize our happiness, and/or our experience of physical pleasures, while we're alive (and minimize corresponding pains both physical and spiritual), we must learn much that is true about the world (including our own nature), via reason and logic, and value/make decisions accordingly.

I believe that more than even survival, we wish a maximum of pleasures (both physical and spiritual) and a minimum of pains (both physical and spiritual) -- that this maximized existence, if you will, forms our true standard of value. For as Galt says, "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live." Well, suffering and death are related, just as enjoyment and life, yet these are not the very same concepts. Accordingly there are times when holding the maximized existence I describe as one's standard of value could lead to different conclusions than holding survival alone as the standard of value.

One such notable area of difference is "justified suicide":

Quote

As for suicide, this is a revisiting of the choice to live which is outside of and whose answer is presupposed by morality.  Note Peikoff says "justified" not "moral".  This excerpt and the entire subject of suicide has no bearing on morality and its standard unless you are willing to claim the very choice to live or not is a moral choice.  Which would be highly surprising and in which case, what is the standard of morality that would lead one to the right answer?

This is also addressed in those suicide threads I'd linked to in the OP, but I am increasingly unconvinced about the idea of choices outside of morality, where there is no rational basis to make a decision (leaving it, I suppose, to pure whim; to the unconscious; or as Eiuol once argued, to "aesthetics"). I mean this for the initial choice to live/take action to sustain life, or when or how to die, or when and for what one may be justified in "sacrificing" himself for a loved one or for a country, and for emergencies and "lifeboats" of all types. I believe that so long as men have the capacity to experience (at least in terms of pleasure/pain), and so long as there is some relationship between our choices and what we experience, then we have moral choices to make hardwired in us, per our nature as beings that do experience in pleasures and pains -- choices that will lead us to favorable or valuable outcomes and choices that will lead us to unfavorable or disvaluable outcomes. (Or at least I would expect that, given some choice, one will tend to be favorable at least in relation to the other.)

And further, though Peikoff does not use the word "moral" in that quote, to what conceivable standard do you think he might be appealing in using the word "justified"? In what sense are men's choices "justified" or "unjustified," except by reference to some ethical standard? (Do you think he means legally? That men in those situations are justified by their local law codes to kill themselves? What are our other options? Justified per religious sanction? Tradition? What?) If Peikoff were to say that suicide in some conditions is justified, yet suicide in some others is not (which I would argue is implied) -- what could inspire him to say that such a suicide is "unjustified" if the choice to live or die stands apart from moral reasoning altogether? What is left to "justify" suicide, and by what means?

4 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Despite Rand's insistence that she made her point as clear as humanly possible in Galt's Speech, there are a lot of diverging views about what she really meant. One writer actualy lists five different camps:

Though I am arguing presently to the best of my ability and understanding, I meant it when I'd written initially that I'm still working all of this out for myself. (It is actually through this argument that I hope to discover my own mind better, and any mistakes if/when I make them.) I recognize that many thinkers (both inside and outside of the Objectivist tradition) have written extensively on these sorts of topics -- and I have to read more and think more.

If I know myself well enough to say, I'm probably still a few years away from knowing my mind completely on this subject, and even then it will take some time more for me to become fluent enough to explain myself to my own satisfaction.

Quote

I have to say that I completely agree with everything DonAthos has written in the main post.

Now this is the kind of thing I like to see, lol! :D

But, uhm...

Not to be the kind of person who finds a silver lining and immediately seeks out the cloud, but do you mean that there's something I've said following my main post that you disagree with?

I seldom meet my own aspirations, I'm afraid, but I try always to be correct in every way. If you ever see me err (and are... er, prepared for the possibility of rejoinder), I always appreciate the correction.

Quote

Bottomline, if there wasn't any pain-pleasure mechanism built in humans, or if the things that helped us survive gave us pain rather than pleasure, I would echo Peikoff's spirit from a lecture in which he talked about whether staying in focus - the precondition of morality - requires 'excruciating effort'. His answer was something like: "if that were the case, then to hell with morality!" If life would be a painful or emotionless affair, the proper reaction to it would definitely be: to hell with it!

Agreed.

(You should check out the Reification and Suicide thread sometime; many amazing things are therein claimed...)

Edited by DonAthos

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25 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

 Also (an aside.... not really on point, but anyway): "Epicurean" should not be used as a synonym for "Hedonistic". [I used to conflate the two, so my antenna tingled :), but you may not have meant it that way.]

Yeah, Hedonistic was the right word.

13 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

Do you mean that there's something I've said following my main post that you disagree with?

No, just that it was the only post that I read before I replied. I just finished reading the whole thread and I have no complaints. I also disagree with Kelley on this matter, and wholeheartedly subscribe to your thoughts about cheesecake.

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Part of me would like to let this thread "breathe" for a bit... but another part is more excited at the prospect of continuing to work at fleshing this idea out. There is so much to explore -- so much to discuss!

This present post might be considered a bit of an "appendix" to my main post(s) (or so I believe now, as I begin to compose it). I mean to explore that quote of Galt's I'd recently introduced: "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live."

I believe that this quote alone demonstrates the meaning of my central thesis (not in the sense that it "proves" anything, but in that it reflects and expresses what I mean to argue). Survival is not enough. If it were, then we could equally and more simply say, "The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to die, but to live." It would yet remain to unpack "live" -- so maybe we could do an even better job with "...is to teach you, not to die, but to survive." But the point is that including the word "enjoy," as Galt (and Rand by extension) does, demonstrates that "the purpose of morality" is not alone survival. It is more.

Rather, the meaning here is that morality has a two-fold purpose: living and enjoying one's life. Note how this is different from the survival view. In this view -- the Kelley view -- "enjoyment" is of value (when it is) because it contributes to survival. This is fundamentally different from the assertion that morality is to teach us to enjoy ourselves and live: it instead asserts that we should enjoy ourselves so that we may live (when we can rationally establish that connection, and then alone).

Where does this leave cheesecake? I've no idea.

Remember, too, that this quote is no fluke. We've seen the word "enjoy" before -- it crops up, too, in Rand's explication of her standard of value in "The Objectivist Ethics," when she'd said (emphasis added) that "man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man—in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life."

Obviously, how one goes about "enjoying" life is a question that pertains to morality (qua the Objectivist Ethics, at least). So may I propose?

Biologically speaking -- speaking with regard to the "facts of reality" -- man may either live or die. "Enjoyment" without "survival" is the hardest case of all to make (harder than "cheesecake because rats"; harder even than "justifying suicide in an ethics based on individual survival," or at least as hard) -- enjoyment requires survival. But survival alone does not guarantee enjoyment. Enjoyment requires more than survival.

What?

At a minimum: pleasure. Physical pleasure. (Though softwareNerd is right that there are non-physical pleasures; I consider these utterly crucial, and directly applicable, and mean to address them as well, accordingly. But I'd like to keep things as simple as possible for as long as possible.)

We enjoy our lives through our capacity for pleasure. (And pain entails not only that we do not enjoy our lives, but the opposite -- that we suffer.) Just as one may either live or die, one may either experience pleasure or not, or experience pain or not. These are also the facts of reality. And morality is meant to teach us how to both live and enjoy our life. Enjoyment without life is impossible and life without enjoyment is valueless (or worse; a life without enjoyment but filled with suffering is worse -- and it is a case for "justified" [which is to say "moral"] suicide).

Why eat cheesecake, then? Not because it promotes survival, but because it is through such pleasure that we enjoy our lives.

Pleasure is no mere "fuel," which implies that it is a support on some journey. But a journey to where? Live in order to... keep living? Survive for the sake of survival, for its own sake? No. Pleasure may well be a fuel, but that isn't the point of it. The reason why such pleasures give men the will to carry on is because it is for the sake of those pleasures that we carry on. The experience of pleasure is the destination of our journey. It is where we mean to go, again and again and again; for it is in such pleasures, in such moments, that we say YES -- this is what life is, what it can and ought to be, and why it is of value in the first place.

Edited by DonAthos

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The choice to live is purely subjective.  Objectivism holds that the choice is pre-moral or outside of morality.  It also holds that once that choice is made, an objective morality is implied.

IF I choose to live as such, THAT choice is outside of morality, it is subjective, but it gives rise to morality insofar as I have to deal with reality and my nature to achieve the choice.  The morality which arises from THIS choice is based on the objective standard of life AND morality IS objective.

Life ITSELF has metaphysical identity, the end chosen (by the subjective choice) is therefor itself objective.

 

DA your frame work seems to embrace a subjective choice other than choosing to live. i.e. one chooses to "live AND to be happy".  Does your framework imply that this subjective choice can take on a multitude of different forms? 

To live and be relaxed.

To live and be active.

To live and be at peace.

To live and be always satisfied.

To live and be sad.

To live and be unhappy.

To live and be in conflict.

Certainly happiness, relaxation, activity, etc. overlap sometimes, but certainly they diverge often, and as such are not equivalent.

If the morality originating choices are subjectively multitudinous does this imply there are a multitude of possible objective moralities?  Each for attaining the subjective choice of the individual?

Life as relaxed as the standard.

Life as active as the standard.

Life at peace as the standard.

Life in a state of satisfaction as the standard.

Live as a sublime form of sadness as the standard.

Life as a romantic tragic expression of unhappiness as the standard.

Life in endless conflict as the standard.

 

What if one simply drops life from the subjective choice?  Are the resulting moralities objective?  Surely reality dictates what should be done to attain the end, but what of the end not being objective?

 

Is a morality which is for attaining a purely SUBJECTIVE END an objective morality?

 

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2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

The choice to live is purely subjective.

Do you think so? I'm not so certain. Maybe we should get into what you mean by "subjective" more, so we can better examine this assertion. In "Art and Moral Treason," Rand writes that the subjective "means the arbitrary, the irrational, the blindly emotional."

Is that what you consider "the choice to live" (or to die) to be? Or do you mean something else by "subjective"?

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Objectivism holds that the choice is pre-moral or outside of morality.

Does "Objectivism" hold that? Perhaps. Again, I'm not so certain, and I would like to see this case made, quotes and all; it may be that my memory fails me -- I have not read many fundamental Objectivist texts in several years -- but as of 2017 I am mostly familiar with this idea through other Objectivists... (I don't doubt that it is a popular notion among Objectivists, and one I subscribed to myself not so long ago. I was looking for a thread from a few years back in which I relied upon this very argument, but did not happen upon it in my cursory search. Maybe I will find it later. I should like to review what I said and thought at the time.)

But let us say that it does. Yet even so, there might be important nuance worth investigating. Does Objectivism hold such a doctrine consistently and unambiguously, with respect to all of Rand's ethical positions and writings -- including Galt's apparent willingness to commit suicide? Is it consistent with Peikoff's remarks about "justified" suicide in OPAR? (Or maybe we should not even consider OPAR to have anything to do with "Objectivism" or what it holds, though sussing that out is certainly another conversation.)

But far more importantly, is such a claim consistent with reality? "Objectivism" may hold whatever it should like (whatever we take that to mean), yet I will continue to argue for the truth as I see it, to the best of my ability.

To paraphrase Rand somewhat, I am not primarily an advocate of the claims I make within this thread, with respect to pleasure, value, or ethics more generally, but an advocate of reason. Yet if we apply reason consistently (to reality, not necessarily any given Objectivist position), I believe my arguments follow. Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps being a (sincere) advocate of reason will eventually force me to recant any of these arguments or positions. I've said more than once that my views on this topic are burgeoning and not yet settled, in any event. But if I am wrong, I will have to be shown.

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

It also holds that once that choice is made, an objective morality is implied.

If we decide to survive, then certainly it falls to us to determine what virtues, values and actions the implementation of that decision entails, yes. And insofar as we believe that reality exists, and that men must use reason to apprehend what exists, then I think we would agree with respect to "objectivity."

Do you think I've been advocating subjectivity somewhere in this thread? That "the good bears no relation to the facts of reality, that it is the product of a man’s consciousness" ("What Is Capitalism?" CUI 21)? Or when I say that pleasure is real, a fact of reality, a consequence of man's nature, and that in order to enjoy one's life a man must employ reason to maximize his experience of pleasures -- am I appealing to reality and reason, and otherwise proceeding in an objective manner?

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

IF I choose to live as such, THAT choice is outside of morality, it is subjective, but it gives rise to morality insofar as I have to deal with reality and my nature to achieve the choice.  The morality which arises from THIS choice is based on the objective standard of life AND morality IS objective.

This is mere reassertion, not an argument. I trust you know that, but I think it necessary to point out that the content/evidence/reasoning for your assertion (that the choice to live, as such, is outside of morality and is subjective) has not yet been provided.

But since we're here, let us address what is here.

So if someone decided otherwise, choosing not to live, but wishing to kill as many people as possible in his suicide (perhaps by suicide bomb or mass shooting, as some of the more popular modern-day options), we should say that such a choice is fundamentally "outside of morality" and "subjective"?

Would we say that such a (subjective) choice then implies a... kind of morality, and moreover an objective one, in that even a suicide bomber must "deal with reality and [his] nature to achieve the choice"?

Is the only thing we can say with respect to ethics, Objectivist versus suicide bomber, that they have made different (subjective) choices with respect to the choice to live? Is there no reason to prefer one avenue to the other? (Assuredly there cannot be "reason" to prefer one to the other, right? Not if the central choice guiding their subsequent ethical philosophy and decision-making is "purely subjective.")

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Life ITSELF has metaphysical identity, the end chosen (by the subjective choice) is therefor itself objective.

I agree that life has metaphysical identity. So too does pleasure. So too does happiness.

(As a very minor note -- a pet peeve, if you will: on "therefor" versus "therefore." I beg your indulgence.)

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

DA your frame work seems to embrace a subjective choice other than choosing to live. i.e. one chooses to "live AND to be happy".  Does your framework imply that this subjective choice can take on a multitude of different forms?

In the first place, do you think this is my framework alone -- "live and be happy"? You don't think that it agrees with Galt's "enjoy yourself and live"?

Anyhow, I have not spoken very much yet about "happiness," as such. But as to the "multitude of forms," I believe that there is something special about survival, about happiness, and most centrally (for the purpose of this thread, at least) about pleasure (by which I continue to mean: physical pleasure).

When Rand writes (quoted more fully in the OP) that man "discovers the concept of value... [and] first becomes aware of the issue of good or evil" via pleasure and pain, she is speaking to this "special" quality. We do not "choose" to value pleasure, per se -- that is simply what pleasure is; it is through pleasure that we know what it is to value at all, that there exists something that is (or can be) "good."

It is hard for me to express my meaning on this point fully... I don't know if that's due to some error I'm making (including the possibility of evasion), my lack of familiarity with the subject, or something about the subject itself. But consider...

Consider the baby again, or even a young child. Do you suppose that a young child, in any manner, decides to value, or like, or "choose" pleasure. Or similarly decides against pain?

Perhaps a young child could choose or reject any number of things or actions which bring pleasure or pain, for any number or reasons (which then becomes the science of ethics) -- but the sensations themselves? I think that their relationship to those sensations (that pleasure is good and pain is bad) is beyond such choosing and a consequence of our very nature. It is foundational to ethics for this very reason.

Else, yes, ethics itself would be nothing more than an edifice (called "objectivity") built upon a shifting, subjective foundation. But how should we build a skyscraper on sand?

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

If the morality originating choices are subjectively multitudinous does this imply there are a multitude of possible objective moralities?  Each for attaining the subjective choice of the individual?

Life as relaxed as the standard.

Life as active as the standard.

Life at peace as the standard.

Life in a state of satisfaction as the standard.

Live as a sublime form of sadness as the standard.

Life as a romantic tragic expression of unhappiness as the standard.

Life in endless conflict as the standard.

What if someone rejects "the good" altogether and wishes for himself a life of evil? Does then the good become the not-good, and evil not-so-evil at all?

But no, no such paradoxes exist in reality. What "the good" is sources from our biological reality and our natural capacities. Pleasure is our source of "the good." It is the wellspring. It is -ahem- the fountainhead. And there is no other. When we speak of "life," itself, the good that it has comes from its relationship to pleasure (in that pleasure cannot be experienced outside of life, outside of survival; life is the vehicle which allows us to experience pleasure, and that makes life good). I suspect this holds true for happiness, too, which is a form of (non-physical) pleasure -- but I have not explored that issue in depth yet, and thus have little confidence to make any kind of claim, at present.

2 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Is a morality which is for attaining a purely SUBJECTIVE END an objective morality?

This is a fine question for those who believe that the choice to live (or to be happy; or to experience pleasure/enjoy life) is subjective. I should like to see the answer.

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8 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Pleasure is no mere "fuel," which implies that it is a support on some journey. But a journey to where? Live in order to... keep living? Survive for the sake of survival, for its own sake? No. Pleasure may well be a fuel, but that isn't the point of it.

An aspect I didn't see in this post (not sure if it was mentioned in some earlier ones) is that -- at the level of original biological cause -- pleasure probably exists as a means to survival. It's easy to see how simple pleasure and pain -- "ouch, avoid that fire" -- contributes to survival. Maybe sweeter tasting leaves are more likely to be safe and bitter ones poisonous -- indeed we probably evolved as a species because our (possibly pre-human) ancestors found certain safe foods more pleasurable that unsafe ones.  

Cheesecake is pleasurable because there's something in our biology that responds to the sugar etc. So, the pleasure comes because -- in a sense -- the cheesecake was good for survival. (More accurately, the pleasurable sensations from eating cheesecake are linked to our survival.) Of course, in modern times, with so much food, we might wish we'd evolved a second mechanism: to hate the taste of cheesecake once we cross our dietary needs! 

I haven't read Kelley, but perhaps this is the survival basis that he speaks of? At it's very root -- in terms of biology and evolution -- life (as in survival) is an end in itself. Even that is not accurate: living forms that can survive best and multiply best, end up surviving across thousands of years of evolution. So, by necessary cause, this is the nature of living beings. 

Aside: There've been a couple of threads on the forum where people have taken this and asked: isn't having kids (go forth and multiply) very basic to the nature of living beings. Therefore, isn't being a parent an extremely important value.  

Edited by softwareNerd

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Rather than offering no explanation whatever: The fact that the most central and important aspect of Objectivist philosophy, namely Objectivist ethics, has been debated in the manner clearly on display above on this forum is thoroughly disheartening to me.

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4 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Rather than offering no explanation whatever: The fact that the most central and important aspect of Objectivist philosophy, namely Objectivist ethics, has been debated in the manner clearly on display above on this forum is thoroughly disheartening to me.

"Disheartening" is a good word to use here. I feel both disappointed and upset that this is your reply, and quite frankly I think it is unjust.

As for content...

I don't even know what "the manner clearly on display above" is meant to express. Do you mean that people are presenting arguments and attempting to validate them via reason and evidence? Is that the manner you're talking about?

And in what way do you believe that the Objectivist Ethics "has been debated"? Do you think that I or anyone else has been arguing against them, as such? Overthrowing egoism? Enshrining altruism? Is it that you believe so strongly that David Kelley's understanding of "life as the standard of value" is correct that you cannot conceive of another position -- even a mistaken one that could be held in honest error? (If you consider your position correct in any event, why can't you simply defend it, or show the flaws in mine, or in any other? Why must you resort to this instead?)

Hell, I can't even agree that the Ethics (let alone Kelley's precise understanding of "life as the standard of value") constitutes "the most central and important aspect of Objectivist philosophy." It's a sloppy way of thinking to begin with, honestly, but if pressed I would say that Objectivist Epistemology is both more "central" and "important." And I think Rand would concur, as expressed in the quote of hers I'd paraphrased earlier, writing:

Quote

I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

This—the supremacy of reason—was, is and will be the primary concern of my work, and the essence of Objectivism.

The very manner of debate you deride is both a testament to the supremacy of reason and an ongoing attempt to apply it consistently. If you consider yourself a reasonable person, you should support these efforts rather than castigate them.

******************

6 hours ago, DonAthos said:

(I don't doubt that [holding "the choice to live" as pre-moral or amoral] is a popular notion among Objectivists, and one I subscribed to myself not so long ago. I was looking for a thread from a few years back in which I relied upon this very argument, but did not happen upon it in my cursory search. Maybe I will find it later. I should like to review what I said and thought at the time.)

It's funny. I spent more time looking for the thread I'd mentioned -- because I was taking this discussion seriously and attempting to discuss these issues with StrictlyLogical earnestly, in a good faith effort that now appears wasted -- and finally found it.

But in my search, I came upon another thread first: one that doubtless put me on the path of thought (or led me further down that path) that finally led me to this present thread. In it, the subject of conversation was not cheesecake... but ice cream. Allow me to spend a moment to relate this thread, as it has intriguing parallels to our own current discussion (posts edited, but the full thread can be found here for context).

The OP asked:

On 7/22/2014 at 11:13 AM, Kierkegaard said:

What I got out of Rand's "The Objectivist Ethics", is that ultimately what is moral to man is that which "really" (that is to say actually, reasonably, and in accordance with reality) promotes his own life. From here the good and happy life is one which one is living to advance and maintain one's own life.

[...]

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

There were a number of replies, but one intrepid forum member attempted to explain his position over several posts. Here is an (edited) compendium:

Quote

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

[...]

Life has quality and quantity.  One must take into account the effect on both when determining "what values to pursue".

[...]

The point is length of life only... i.e. literally the "time before you die" is not equivalent to "life as the standard".  THIS is not meant to provide an answer but to point to the fact that more than one variable must be taken into consideration.

If one perhaps squints just a touch, he might see in this argument future echoes of the present conversation, including criticism of "life-as-survival," per Kelley, and a suggestion of the kind of "maximization" I have been arguing for (with softwareNerd's help). In fact, the word "maximize" is itself used above -- so I recant my apology for stealing that word from softwareNerd and offer it instead to this insightful poster.

Well, some members of the forum did not respond very favorably to this approach, but I could see great sense in it. So I wrote in defense (emphasis added):

On 7/25/2014 at 10:45 PM, DonAthos said:

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

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

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

So it is clear that these ideas have been percolating inside me for quite some time. And I have that forum member, at least in part, to thank.

He responded to my description of his views, in fact, writing graciously of my post:

Quote

That's the sanest thing I've read today on this forum.  Thank you. 

 

You understood my point perfectly and its intended scope.

I only wish that member were still on the forum today. This conversation in particular could desperately use his patience, civility and insight.

Edited by DonAthos

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10 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

... is thoroughly disheartening to me.

On the forum people will routinely shock you with their gross lack of understanding (in your judgement) of some very basic topic.

It is not a big deal if they're newbies or if they clearly do not understand a lot about Objectivism. Shock implies you expected much, much better (in your judgement). 

Emotionally, it is a let down. I first feel it as: "I expected better from you; I thought we shared a certain understanding". Then, I think "if this person is so clueless, and the other guy showed he was clueless two months ago, ... ... is there anyone who really gets it?" It's quite alienating and disheartening.

To clarify: this is not about any other post you made here, and not about agreeing or disagreeing with you on the core of this thread. I just empathize with the emotion, and wanted to say so.

Edited by softwareNerd

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On 1/9/2017 at 0:46 PM, DonAthos said:

But suppose that one cannot convince himself (finding the argument a bit tenuous and ad hoc) that he ought to have a slice of cheesecake because he may one day be faced with an impending plague of rats, and in such a time of extreme stress he would be reliant upon the emotional robustness that the physical pleasure of eating this slice of cheesecake would confer.

Godel of Incompleteness Theorem fame did, but maybe you meant sane people. :P After he was already famous, he grew mentally ill - paranoid all the time, and it got worse in time. Eventually, he stopped eating all food unless he knew who made it, for fear of being poisoned. Then he starved to death after some incident when no one was able to feed him.  Whatever pleasure there was, he didn't care.

On 1/9/2017 at 0:46 PM, DonAthos said:

I should note that I have known people who appear to take "health" (and perhaps "survival") so seriously that they never are willing to "indulge" in something like a slice of cheesecake.

I do. Then again, some things I do people may call an indulgence. Once a year, for example, I'll eat some greasy, delicious, too-fried chicken, but I don't have the impression I'm ignoring my health for a day. I don't see it as balancing later pains with pleasure now, I actually would deem it not an adverse health risk to eat that. Once a year may be no issue at all. I wouldn't indulge on bad movies to laugh at, unless I took it as bettering my comedy skills. I'd never do ecstasy, and see no benefit at all regardless of how good it is.

If you have no reason to do something besides "it's pleasurable", that's fine! It's just not fine if you do it instead of a greater value. Sex with non-romantic partners is the most controversial way to apply that idea, you might get more mileage out of that context.

On 1/9/2017 at 7:48 AM, DonAthos said:

So, too, the dentist, such that eventually the mild pain of a regular cleaning may be borne for the sake of avoiding worse pains later, or to continue to enjoy the pleasures that having healthy teeth affords. It may be, in time, that the child can pronounce going to the dentist as "good" and eating too much ice cream as "evil" (though "bad" is more likely, but amounts to the same) -- just as an adult might -- because he finally and thoroughly understands the actual relationship these activities have with pleasure and pain, long-term.

I like the dentist, it's a good "pain". Sometimes it may hurt, but knowing its purpose erases or alters it. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, as Nietzsche said. Psychological strength.

On 1/9/2017 at 7:48 AM, DonAthos said:

Kelley's written position

I didn't read the other pages of Kelley's position, but for now, he seems to say that ethics, broadly construed, only sensibly springs from survival. No moral act will destroy you - or if it did, your ethics would be wrong. Flourishing is a further elaboration, as in survival isn't the whole story. There is value hierarchy, so if reading Buzzfeed were more important than watching Hamilton on Broadway, that's a sacrifice, even though both help you survive to some degree.

P.S. Regarding divorcing pleasure from ethics... Do you mean ignoring? Well, it is possible to use pleasure as a conceptual ladder to reach the concept good, then pull up the ladder to use pleasure as one way to measure good. The ladder metaphor is not mine, it's from WVO Quine originally.

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8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I didn't read the other pages of Kelley's position, but for now, he seems to say that ethics, broadly construed, only sensibly springs from survival. No moral act will destroy you - or if it did, your ethics would be wrong.

I wonder if this really implies he thinks suicide is always immoral. For example, most secular people see the sense in opting to end one's life if one is suffering from a disease that is going to kill you pretty soon, and where your only prospect is some months of increasing suffering before you die. In Oregon, a majority of voters agreed. Not to appeal to majority opinion, but I'd find it surprising if an Objectivist were against suicide in that situation.

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8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Godel of Incompleteness Theorem fame did, but maybe you meant sane people. :P After he was already famous, he grew mentally ill - paranoid all the time, and it got worse in time. Eventually, he stopped eating all food unless he knew who made it, for fear of being poisoned. Then he starved to death after some incident when no one was able to feed him.  Whatever pleasure there was, he didn't care.

Eiuol, I am so inexpressibly tired I... can't express it.

But I thank you for at least a moment of levity. Even an emoticon sticking its tongue out at me may be, at times, enough. (And I'm sure I probably deserve it.)

8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I do. Then again, some things I do people may call an indulgence. Once a year, for example, I'll eat some greasy, delicious, too-fried chicken, but I don't have the impression I'm ignoring my health for a day. I don't see it as balancing later pains with pleasure now, I actually would deem it not an adverse health risk to eat that. Once a year may be no issue at all. I wouldn't indulge on bad movies to laugh at, unless I took it as bettering my comedy skills. I'd never do ecstasy, and see no benefit at all regardless of how good it is.

Just to run down the list:

It happens that I had fried chicken for dinner last night. (Too fried? What is "too fried"? LOL)
I watch movies of all kinds, including many that are roundly considered "bad." I feel no shame and make no apology.
I have never tried ecstasy and I have no plans to try it.

I don't know what all of that amounts to -- whether it pronounces me as some sort of demonic Hedonist or something -- but if we're looking for "inductive evidence" as to my relationship to pleasure, or something, there it sits.

8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

If you have no reason to do something besides "it's pleasurable", that's fine! It's just not fine if you do it instead of a greater value. Sex with non-romantic partners is the most controversial way to apply that idea, you might get more mileage out of that context.

Ah - hahahahaha! No thank you! :) We'll not be having the sex discussion again today. (Maybe someday, but not today.)

Anyways, yes -- I agree that "if you have no reason to do something besides 'it's pleasurable,' that's fine." I don't know how far our agreement goes, but I believe that follows from what I've argued.

I also agree that when one loses out on a greater value for a lesser one, well, that's a bad exchange. That's a "sacrifice" in the full meaning. And it is immoral.

But part of what I am arguing, at least, I believe could be expressed as "there is value in pleasure." (Which I think coheres with "if you have no reason besides pleasure..." which recognizes that there is "reason" in pleasure.) This is not to say that any thing or action which promises pleasure is therefore a value; that's the very point at which we need ethical reasoning, to decide whether X pleasurable activity is actually a value (in full context and long-term, given everything that it factually entails).

But I believe that the recognition that "there is value in pleasure" (that, in fact, the very idea of "value" itself originates in pleasure) is a key insight which is ordinarily missing from Objectivist ethical discussion. (And if it is not "ordinarily missing," then that's okay, too. I don't need to be novel, only correct.) I further hold that the value that we find in pleasure does not come from pleasure's role in survival (i.e. as "fuel"), but from the nature of pleasure itself qua man's biological reality. We do not assess the situation and say, "Ah -- survival is a good (or the good), therefore I shall value pleasure, because that helps me to survive"; rather we experience pleasure and say, "WOW! What was that!? That was good (a wholly new concept to me; Mind. Blown.). I want more of that! Which means... that survival is good, too! (And I had better figure out how to survive.) Because that's the only way I can get more of that pleasure stuff!"

I would go further to say (at least in the spirit of exploration; my ground is increasingly tenuous, as I have yet to work this all out) that when we speak of some "greater value," in the face of which it would be moral to forego some experience of pleasure, that this greater value in itself must ultimately be rooted in an experience of pleasure. Come to it, a greater experience of pleasure. That is, we eschew some pleasure not because pleasure is not valuable: but because pleasure is valuable, and by foregoing this Level One Pleasure today, I expect to realize a Level Two Pleasure tomorrow (or a Level One Pleasure over the next week, or etc., but greater in totality. Or "maximized").

That is a topic which probably I'll have to explore in greater depth, later.

8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I like the dentist, it's a good "pain". Sometimes it may hurt, but knowing its purpose erases or alters it. What doesn't kill me makes me stronger, as Nietzsche said. Psychological strength.

I don't want us to get too sidetracked down the "Buddhist meditation and thumbscrews" road again (and I should stipulate, Eiuol, that I endorse both yoga and meditation -- which I think I mentioned elsewhere, too).

But I agree with you that having that context in mind -- knowing its purpose -- does alter the pain of getting a tooth drilled. "Erase"? I cannot go that far. (Are there people talented such that they can will themselves not to experience, as such? Perhaps. Yet I would expect limits.)

For all of that, I do not like the pain, in itself. Do I like going to the dentist? Yes. Because I like what going to the dentist does for my life (in its full sense, inclusive of pleasure). Yet I still do not like the pain. And if technology evolved to the point where I could reap the benefits of dentistry without the pain normally associated with it, I absolutely would, because just as there is value in pleasure, there is disvalue in pain.

(As an addendum, this is not to say that there isn't value in "psychological strength," and being able to deal with such pain as exists.)

8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I didn't read the other pages of Kelley's position, but for now, he seems to say that ethics, broadly construed, only sensibly springs from survival. No moral act will destroy you - or if it did, your ethics would be wrong. Flourishing is a further elaboration, as in survival isn't the whole story. There is value hierarchy, so if reading Buzzfeed were more important than watching Hamilton on Broadway, that's a sacrifice, even though both help you survive to some degree.

If what I say about Kelley's position does not ring true to you, based on your reading of him, I'm happy to concede any potential point; my interest is not in "proving David Kelley wrong," but showing the flaws in a specific position. I associate that position with Kelley because I do believe that he holds it (or at least that the monograph I'd linked makes a case for it), but I am far from an expert on his writing or personal philosophy.

I should also note that I believe that Kelley is linked to the "survivalist" view elsewhere and by others, so that I am not alone in my interpretation -- take that for what it is worth. And I should further note that Kelley himself, in the linked material, appears to distance himself from "flourishing" qua "life as the standard of value." Which isn't to say that he doesn't believe that all of the benefits of "flourishing" are available through "survival as the standard of value" -- I'm sure that he does (else why would he endorse a survival ethic?) -- but we should recognize that there are, at least, camps who contend that "survival is the standard of value" (and I put Kelley in that camp) and those who believe that "flourishing" or etc., is the standard of value, contra the survivalist view.

I will know more about my own view as we work through this thread -- and maybe over time -- but my suspicion is that neither of those two camps, as stated (survivalist vs. flourishing) satisfies my current position.

8 hours ago, Eiuol said:

P.S. Regarding divorcing pleasure from ethics... Do you mean ignoring? Well, it is possible to use pleasure as a conceptual ladder to reach the concept good, then pull up the ladder to use pleasure as one way to measure good. The ladder metaphor is not mine, it's from WVO Quine originally.

I don't know that I have the time or temperament to assess this "conceptual ladder" at the moment, but let me just say that I would think it an error to finally decide that some concept of "the good" has nothing to do with the experience of pleasure. Or any concept of "the good" which does -- which has nothing to do with the experience of pleasure (and I mean as understood and applied, with respect to ethical reasoning, not simply in terms of origin) -- is going to be a flawed concept.

44 minutes ago, softwareNerd said:

Not to appeal to majority opinion, but I'd find it surprising if an Objectivist were against suicide in that situation.

Well, then... you just might be surprised! :)

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