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Pleasure and Value

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1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

In summary:

Let me respond to the last, first, because I think it sets up an important context for our conversation.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

I agree with you that pleasure is key, but it is key the way a dot of paint is key to a painting, or a word is key to Atlas. It's a starting point, but the bulk of Ethics is explaining how it comes together across our lives.

I agree with this, 100%.

Whatever you take me to mean otherwise, please understand that I agree with this (metaphorical) methodology: specific experiences of pleasure are as the dots of paint to the, uh, painting of our lives. In a sense I have been building towards throughout this thread, pleasure is the paint.

If I may extend the analogy?

Certain kinds of cognitive/emotional/spiritual pleasures (including happiness most centrally) are like brush strokes.

Survival itself is the canvas.

And ethics is our guide to painting a masterpiece.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

Post-script:  I think your focus on pleasure is important though, because some people read Fountainhead and Atlas as enshrining the virtue of hard work, but do not keep the link to pleasure and happiness in mind.


As I have said, I've seen disdain shown for pleasure among self-styled Objectivists. But embracing "life as the standard of value" ought lead to no particular suspicion or scorn of pleasure, let alone such animosity. Considering pleasure to be of value only when it serves survival is bad enough in my estimation, but the sense I have often gotten is that pleasure is somehow the enemy of survival (or at least that the desire for pleasure is the enemy of virtue).

To say the opposite, to stress the opposite, to affirm the deep value of pleasure -- not as a means to any further end, but as the enjoyment of life, an end in itself -- is no call for hedonism, and it is no blow against survival, for pleasure may be enjoyed in reason and in concert with overall well being.

To affirm the value of pleasure, rather, is to insist upon the celebration that life, life qua man, a life fully lived, can and ought to be.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

By dropping that link, and by seeing work as an end in itself, drops the crucial justification for work. Work then is a duty: an end that we just do, because it is good... don't ask any more questions!

I have seen it expressed (and explicitly so) that we live to work (or work to work). I have seen it that we live to achieve values (where sometimes "happiness" is kept on, seemingly in name only, as a sort of fringe benefit; pleasure, too, which is even more remarkable). I have seen it, at least implicitly and time and time again, that we survive to survive to survive to survive... and then to die, perhaps unavoidably, but that is best not discussed or even thought about--!

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

This is why I think the recent moves by The Undercurrent/Strive: abandoning the focus on Politics, and linking Objectivist Ethics to individual happiness, is great.

Though I'm not familiar with The Undercurrent/Strive, I agree with you.

It's sometimes amazing to me how Objectivism is so often (mis)understood in greater society (to the extent that it is known at all) as primarily being a political platform, and virtually nothing but. ("Selfishness" is sometimes known too, in distorted fashion, but typically held up as a flimsy rationalization for the Capitalist politics, which are themselves often misunderstood.)

Yet the point -- the point -- is individual happiness. Even politics is a means to that end.

But now, back to the beginning.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

I think you're trying to focus on the point-in-time thing we should try to optimize.

I don't quite agree. I think we ought to optimize our total life's experience. That said, we do live in the moment, one moment at a time, and so we must be aware that our experiences "now" matter to that "total life experience." (As do our experiences in the past, which is a subject which I expect I shall have more opportunity to reflect upon as I age.)

If we live always "for the future," then we never stand to reap the benefits of our efforts. We must strive to both invest and savor.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

Rand's "Objectivist Ethics" highlights two key linkages:

  • first, that this pleasure is -- in turn -- based on our biology.. on the survival of life (today we might speak of this in terms of the role of pain/pleasure in evolution). "Good" (i.e. recommended action) is thus (mostly) tied to survival in its original cause

I can agree that pleasure evolved with respect to survival (or perhaps even more accurately, reproduction -- which is to say, survival... to a point :)). Though this is important information, I have grown wary of drawing ethical conclusions on this sort of basis.

Pleasure is. How pleasure came to be, and how pleasure operates mechanically, only matters (philosophically) insofar as such information helps us understand us how best to achieve it, how best to survive, how best to be happy.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:
  • second, she takes the focus away from point-in-time pleasure, to acknowledge that there are causal links between things. Seeing the pain in a dentist's visit is not good enough, we have to understand the pleasures and pains from the visit as a causally linked set. That's how we get to: "how to we get a better mix". The decisions move from considering a single thing (imagine someone making an excuse not to visit the dentist, because he's focusing on the pain alone). "Good" is the concept that embraces the evaluation of such mixes, and going far beyond these small bundles, to encompass one's life. Good it is the integrated evaluation of pain and pleasure.

I agree with this. It has been my project to relate pleasure (and pain, in its turn) to this "integrated evaluation" which we call "good" or "evil," in full context. To insist that they have a role -- moreover a vital (or even a central) role -- and to attempt to demonstrate it.

But this is not to say that "any activity which is pleasurable is good" or "any activity which is painful is evil," a threadbare strawman version of my position which I've unfortunately had to disavow repeatedly. For after all remember that I introduced the "dentist example" myself in my OP, and concluded:

On 1/9/2017 at 4:48 AM, DonAthos said:

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.

I have made reference to this idea repeatedly since, and never once have I said that "seeing the pain in a dentist's visit is good enough."

But rather what I have insisted upon is that the pain in a dentist's visit matters to our evaluation, even as adults, even with "life as the standard of value," and that the pain, in itself, is not ever good -- not even if we evaluate a trip to the dentist, pain inclusive, as good in context, good overall for our lives.

And I hold that I have demonstrated these claims by positing twin dentists who provide the same service, though one with pain and the other without it; even should the painless dentist cost slightly more, it might be the reasonable thing to do to select that alternative, which I believe would show, again, that the pain "matters," and that it is not "good in itself."

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

Only by starting from these two ideas can Rand end up saying Productive Work is one of the highest ideals. That's quite a huge integration that includes hundreds of observations that aren't mentioned in the essay. That's her key achievement: not her focus on pleasure -- which hedonists already took a shot at -- but explaining how we go from there to a message that sounds like "work hard".

I agree with you that this is a great achievement.

Relating this to my own position, I don't think anything I've said can be fairly read as standing opposed to productive work, but if so, let me clarify that now: productive work is man's means to achieve his own life, his happiness, and (yes) the pleasures he means to enjoy.

Yet it is also important to understand how productive work serves these ends (especially when "productive work" is thought of, reductively, as an actual job or career) so that we can understand how and why a man might, say, enjoy retirement in his old age.

1 hour ago, softwareNerd said:

The hedonists had already praised pleasure, but nobody can take a short-range approach too seriously. Aristotle spoke of Eudemia, and his golden mean is one way of conceptualizing the various choices we have to make all the time. The Epicureans had spoken about enjoying life in a relaxed way. These were attempts integrate the idea that selfish pleasure is the core of Ethics with other observations about the world.

The Stoics took a different tack: they recognized that men are driven to do "big things" which cannot be explained by "live a relaxed life" or '"do only what you need to be comfortable". They admired these men. At some level, they were admiring productivity, but could not quite explain why it was the good. They ended up with a somewhat "duty ethics". The Bhagavad Gita got to the same point too: work (karma) is good because it is, because it is a universal law. They both assumed a feedback: where the universe rewards us for doing our duty. The only alternative to work seemed asceticism, and Eastern philosophies thought that was good too...but, we can't all be ascetics. So, working hard was what the typical person had to do... just because. There was no tie to happiness, leave along to pleasure.

Rand stepped through the horns of this ancient dilemma.

I can't speak reliably to most other philosophy, though I've studied a good deal of it in my past -- yet there's always more to be learned (and relearned). But as to the dilemma you describe, and Rand, I am unspeakably grateful for her efforts.

Yet if this ancient dilemma has been solved, I still find myself making mistakes, blundering occasionally against its horns, and seeing mistakes made around me, including persistent and recurring misunderstandings in the Objectivist community. To the extent possible to me, and in concord with my own life, pleasure and happiness (which I might call the Objectivist Trinity, if such irony can be borne), I hope to draw upon the lessons of these mistakes and offer such correction as I can, where warranted and beneficial.

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On 1/9/2017 at 9:11 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

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.

I wasn't aware that survival is possible without music. B)


That cuts right to the core of it, though.

Since wasting any portion of your finite lifespan is a very evil thing to do, if "survival" is the standard then music is out (along with video games, cheesecake, novels, ice cream, puzzles, sex, drugs and rock-'n'-roll and anything else that doesn't pay the bills); if survival is the standard then the pursuit of happiness -as an end in itself- is wrong.

Talk about Of Living Death.


On 1/9/2017 at 6:48 AM, DonAthos said:

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.

Tis but a flesh wound!  :P


On 1/9/2017 at 12:40 PM, StrictlyLogical said:



On 1/10/2017 at 8:11 PM, StrictlyLogical said:



On 1/11/2017 at 12:48 AM, DonAthos said:

I only wish that member were still on the forum today.

Ditto. His "area under the graph" explanation was the most succinct and coherent I've ever seen before. Wherever he is right now, I hope he's doing Okay.


But are there actual people who try to live without music?



Edited by Harrison Danneskjold
I get knocked down but I get up again

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On 1/12/2017 at 11:05 PM, DonAthos said:

Neither pleasure nor pain can "deceive." We may experience pleasure and mistakenly conclude that whatever experience that caused the pleasure is, on the whole, good. ... But the experience of pleasure (or pain) does not deceive us -- it is what it is.

There is an analogy to draw here, I suspect, with the validity of the senses.

Well, in one sense, such "feelings" are introspectively self-evident. They may or may not be appropriate responses but (like the senses) you can't really help but know what they are. Even the most hardcore evader who was hell-bent on hiding the nature of his own feelings from himself would have to settle for evading their content (the thing to which he's responding), instead.

In the other sense, physical pleasure and pain literally are sensations with inherent valence

No, an identification is not an analogy; it's much better. :thumbsup:


On 1/15/2017 at 11:45 AM, Nerian said:



On 1/15/2017 at 11:45 AM, Nerian said:

"Screw it. It gives me joy. What more justification do I need?"

"The combination of the pain it gives me (if any) and life time it costs (if any) are less than the joy it gives me." Maximizing the area, remember.

Beyond that, you don't need to justify nothing to nobody.


On 1/15/2017 at 5:48 PM, Nerian said:



For me, a very technical minded person, this realization has opened up a flourishing in my appreciation for art, music, everything. I no longer poo poo it all like I used to and I've already felt so much richer for it. Embracing my feelings, and now trying to learn to embrace my desires.

It was the same for me.


On 1/19/2017 at 3:03 PM, Nerian said:

... I want to go to the gym very soon, so that I may pursue the value of an aesthetic physique, so I may attract the women that I arbitrarily find sexually attractive due to my monkey brain wiring, so that I may satisfy my arbitrary monkey drives, and thereby experience pleasure, which is the only reason to live...

None of the values you listed earlier are innate (I'm a bit rusty but I plan to explain why fairly soon) and neither is this one. Have you read Atlas Shrugged?


On 1/19/2017 at 3:03 PM, Nerian said:

Is there any way I can get a pass for responding in dribs and drabs? Pleeeeeeaaaase. :):):) 

Dear God, moderators, please! Did you see that run-on sentence?!?!! Just give him what he wants!!!


On 1/15/2017 at 11:29 PM, Eiuol said:



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