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DonAthos

Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die

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Recently, this forum has seen a wide-ranging discussion of the morality of suicide, first in "Reification and Suicide" and then (and co-currently) in "Spies who Commit Suicide." It is perhaps one of the features of attempting to hold an integrated philosophy that the slightest string cannot be plucked without reverberating throughout the entire body, so that to question the morality of suicide also necessarily raises questions in a host of other related areas. In this case, it led to the creation of a further thread in "The Relationship Between Motivation and Purpose," and then my own thread, "Pleasure and Value."

It did not stop there. In discussing my position regarding pleasure (which I have not yet fully explicated, nor applied, nor even grasped in its entirety), and referencing the topic of the morality of suicide which has helped to inform my position, another forum member raised the nature of "the choice to live," writing:

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As for suicide, this is a revisiting of the choice to live which is outside of and whose answer is presupposed by morality. [...] ...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.

When I attempted to argue that, indeed, suicide has bearing on morality -- and following the suggested path of discussion by calling into question whether "the very choice to live or not is a moral choice" -- I was castigated as follows:

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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.

So I would ask any interested forum member to please forgive me for continuing to debate "the most central and important aspect of Objectivist philosophy," in this or any other manner, but in this thread I intend to demonstrate that the argument which states that "the entire subject of suicide" is somehow "outside of morality," or amoral, is faulty.

To do so, and as the forum member who made this particular argument has apparently excused himself from the responsibility of defending it any further, I shall rely on a video presentation by Craig Biddle to supply the initial argument. I do not know Biddle generally, or his "standing" within the Objectivist community (insofar as such a thing should matter), but I shall use his thoughts as a springboard in lieu of another offered argument:

I'm going to now try to relay Biddle's argument as I understand it, with intermittent commentary. As I do, please note that I do not have an official transcript of this video handy, so any errors in quoting, etc., are my own.

Biddle starts by saying that the question "why should I choose to live" is "illegitimate" and doesn't need an answer. He then says that the only reason a person "needs values" is in order to live: "Life makes values possible and life makes values necessary; ...you don't need to seek [values] unless you want to remain alive."

So far, this seems to re-enforce what I had been told by that forum member: the question "why should I choose to live" exists outside of morality. But there is then a turn in Biddle's video at about 2:23:

He then introduces a (separate?) question "why should I continue living?" in some given context, such as with a painful, terminal illness. Biddle appears to consider this question "why should I continue living in X context" to be a meaningfully different question from "why should I choose to live?" And as regards the "continue living" question, Biddle seems to believe that there may well be an answer either for or against: "...it might be that he shouldn't [continue to live given his circumstances]; it might be that it would be better [for him] to 'leave life,' because 'remaining in life' is too painful."

Biddle here is clearly saying that a choice to commit suicide may have reasons (in that it may "be better" to live or to die), that the question it answers is legitimate (as opposed to the earlier sense of "why should I choose to live" he had previously discussed), and it is my inference that such a choice thus pertains to morality.

Further, I agree with him. When life is "too painful" (the details of which being appropriate to the suicide-specific threads linked above, but beyond our scope here), suicide may be the "right" or "justified" or "moral" choice; it may be "better" than the alternative.

Let me stop here for a moment to observe that, should my understanding of Biddle's argument reflect "the Objectivist position" (which it might not; but as I say, this is the argument I have, so it is the one I will work with), then it immediately appears to contradict the forum member who initially upbraided me for deviating from his own understanding of Objectivism. Perhaps that is our question answered.

But no matter. Let us continue with Biddle, because, while I have perhaps in some fashion satisfied the question that brought me to this topic, I have not yet satisfied myself that "the choice to live" is in any sense amoral, whether asking such an impertinent question could bring me into conflict with Biddle or any other (including Ayn Rand).

Picking up at about 3:23, Biddle says, "Human life is not just...remaining alive...it is being able to pursue the kinds of goals that...deliver happiness and make life wonderful." I also agree with him completely on this point. He continues: "And if you can't do that, then the question 'should I continue to live?' can be valid." Again, agreed.

Here's where things get interesting (and this part gets a little rough in my transcription, as I've had to elide much to preserve his meaning, so please listen to Biddle for yourself for full context, at about 3:50):

"But absent a context like that [where suicide is justified due to painful circumstance]...we can answer the question 'is life worth living'? Yeah! 99.999% of the time for people, it is! There are very rare cases though when somebody is simply too ill or the situation is just too horrible [... ] I can see somebody asking the question [in those cases], 'Is it worth remaining alive?'

But you can't answer the question 'why should I choose to live?' without the context to surround it. And if you have the context, it's a fairly easy answer to arrive at in most cases..."

Okay, so let's assess where we are currently. Biddle started by saying that the question "why should I choose to live?" is an invalid question. Then he considered cases of (what I'd contend Peikoff would describe as "justified") suicide, and said that in such cases -- in such contexts -- it is valid to ask "why should I choose to (continue to) live?" Then he considered the case of people whose lives are not horrible (e.g. not doomed to a concentration camp; not plagued by painful, terminal illness; and etc.) and demonstrated that the question in such cases is also valid, in that it can be answered -- in the affirmative; which is to say, why should (most people) choose to live? Because... "I've got this great business. I've got this great family. I've got this great life. 'Should I keep living?' Of course!"

And so, the question "why should I choose to live" becomes answerable for every human being who has a context. For some people, the context will be such that they should choose to die, in both reason and morality; for most people (99.999% of them), the context will be such that they should choose to continue living.

If this question is "valid" and thus answerable for every human being who has a context (which means: every actual human being) I finally wonder... for whom is the question (as proposed initially) "illegitimate"?

Biddle finally concludes (5:47):

"The question ["why should I choose to live?"], sans context, is an illegitimate question, because it asks for a value when you simply don't need values unless you choose to live. Once you decide to live, if you decide to remain alive, then you need values...."

Biddle is both right and wrong. His conclusion is consistent with his introduction, but it misses out on key insights from the bulk of his discussion and fails to reconcile them with his overall thesis; he cannot do so, in fact, because they are not compatible. The question "why should I choose to live," sans context, is illegitimate -- this is true. But this is because 1) there does not exist a human being (let alone one that could pose a question, or choose, or value) without a context; and 2) the question is not answerable without reference to that context. It is illegitimate because it asks for a value without a valuer.

But once a context is supplied (and every human being, so far as I can tell, comes equipped with a context), both the questions "why should I choose to live" and "why should I choose to die" become answerable. In fact, Biddle says that it is "a fairly easy answer to arrive at." And I suspect that for the vast majority of people, that is true.

The supposed illegitimacy of this question -- and I would also argue the "amoral" status of its answer -- stems from the supposition of a human being that could ask such questions, or "choose," or exist at all sans some context which will make both the question and answer meaningful -- and moral. But the supposition of such a human being is, itself, a contradiction in terms.

And so I conclude (for now, at least) that the question "why should I choose to live" is a fully valid, legitimate, and (yes) moral question... but only for every human being who lived, lives or ever will live.

I can live with that.

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2 hours ago, DonAthos said:

But the supposition of such a human being is, itself, a contradiction in terms.

Newborns have that context. You would just need to ask if the choice to live is a choice actually pre-volitional. I have no reason to say newborns lack volition, though. Or just ask if life is a given start to all people, thus "choosing" a given makes no sense, as if this is true, all people reach for life by nature, by teleology. I have no reason to call life a given start.  

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Rand did say that living is a choice throughout Galt's speech and in her essay "Causality Versus Duty" - a choice distinct from another type of choice, namely your choice of the goal that your moral action is meant to serve. 

To put it in context, Rand denied the existence of a self-preservation instinct in humans, instead calling it a 'desire to live', which she believed to not be automatic, and she mentiones that some people do not even have this desire, simply living because everybody else seems to do it. 

Rand was right that you don't need morality if you're dead. If you're alive but choose to die, then by definition you're a soon-to-be dead person. In that situation, you wouldn't need any morality anymore, you would need a suicide method. Wanting to be alive is the precondition of morality.

So, is living a choice? You could say that any person that is alive right now expresses his choice to live by the very fact of being alive and intending to take future action toward self-preservation. Every moment in which a man is alive is a testimony to his choice. The choice is expressed the moment a baby cries in order to signal to his mother that he's hungry or in distress.

But, can you make that choice consciously and volitionaly, and does the choice take place in a certain place and time? Not likely, unless you extend 'volitional choice' to mean: the volitional choice to obey or defy your natural self-preservation drive. In this sense, any conscious choice to live is simply a rationalization of a desire that people can't actually control (If they're sane).

(But unlike plants and other animals, humans have a distinct 'capability' to volitionaly kill themselves to reach higher, immortal levels of existence, and cults such as Heaven's Gate are the scary testimony to this).

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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There's been a lot of initial response, which is wonderful to see. That said, some of it seems to veer into discussing issues which are better addressed by other (current/ongoing) threads, such as the role pleasure has in value. Accordingly, I have moved those posts to the thread "Pleasure and Value."

In this particular thread, if possible, I'd like to focus on this issue of whether "the choice to live" is moral (versus amoral) -- or actually, whether it exists at all.

An initial confusion is that there seem to be two distinguishable senses in which we can (and do) discuss "the choice to live."

The first sense is the sense in which we can contrast an individual's decision to commit suicide. Given a life of some context, an individual may assess things such that he decides that it would be better for him to live or to die. I think it clear that this choice exists -- people can and do decide to end their own lives. I also argue that this choice can be evaluated morally, which, while it disagrees with the forum member I'd quoted in my OP (and his understanding of Objectivism), I think is consonant with Craig Biddle's presentation -- and also accords with Leonard Peikoff's discussion of circumstances in which suicide may be "justified." (And those who believe that "suicide is always immoral" seem to disagree with me and Biddle and Peikoff to that extent, but at least agree that the question itself is a moral one.)

Before moving onto the second sense, I wonder: does anyone in the thread disagree with my position that this sense of "choosing to live" (and as a corollary "choosing to die") is a moral question?

If there is no substantial debate about the first sense, then it is the second sense of "choosing to live" which is apt to form the bulk of further discussion.

My position as stands is as follows: I am unconvinced that any such choice in this "second sense" exists at all. That's the position I largely mean to develop as I regard the following replies:

On 1/15/2017 at 4:53 PM, Eiuol said:

Newborns have that context.

All right. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that a newborn does not have the necessary context to answer the question of whether it should choose to live or die.

What else doesn't a newborn have? Any developed understanding of its own life or surroundings. Any concept of "life" as such. Any immediate ability to make a "choice" in the sense of conscious choosing, or to have a standard of value, or etc.

So what if I proposed this, re: Biddle's presentation? Any person who has the ability to ask of himself the question "why should I choose to live?" (in the "first sense," contra suicide) in a meaningful fashion will also have the context to answer it.

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Or just ask if life is a given start to all people, thus "choosing" a given makes no sense, as if this is true, all people reach for life by nature, by teleology. I have no reason to call life a given start.  

What do you mean "a given start"?

On 1/15/2017 at 4:57 PM, Nerian said:

I find your arguments convincing but I'm still on the fence if it's amoral.

Biddle proposes that there are certain scenarios in which it would be "better" for a person to kill himself. (And that for the vast majority of people in the vast majority of circumstances, it is better not to do so.) Do you agree with that?

On 1/15/2017 at 4:57 PM, Nerian said:

For someone who doesn't want to live, he says really the thing to do is to get them to connect with values.

It's an interesting question as to whether Kelley contradicts his own "survivalist" position. (Reading over what you've written, I believe he does.)

I'll respond to that question more substantively when I can next reply to that thread.

On 1/15/2017 at 9:29 PM, Eiuol said:

I mean, it's interesting to ask the depth of all the ways to discover values, but it won't tell us about if the origin of why a newborn would choose life.

Do you believe that a newborn "chooses" life?

If you do, can you explain the specific process by which a newborn does that?

On 1/16/2017 at 2:02 AM, KyaryPamyu said:

Every moment in which a man is alive is a testimony to his choice. The choice is expressed the moment a baby cries in order to signal to his mother that he's hungry or in distress.

I can see that babies are going to be a running theme for this discussion. I hope that the limited experience I've had in raising my own can help lend me (and consequently the thread) some insight.

You say that a choice (or "the" choice) is expressed when a baby cries to signal his mother that he's hungry; do you believe that the baby is choosing something, with respect to life? What specifically?

And actually, maybe it would be best to lay down some fundamentals here. What do you think it means to "choose" something?

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I believe that the choice is made for you, via an innate self-preservation drive. The same story applies to (mostly) every other living being on earth. But human beings have a distinct capacity to defy or skew that innate desire to live. So if the question is the moral value of suicide, it depends on the context.

I don't think that 'moraly justified' is the same as 'moral'. If a Christian man kills a criminal that intends to bomb a school, then his action is generally seen as 'moraly justified' by the Christian community, but not necessarily moral, since he broke one of the Ten Commandments. If an Objectivist kills himself on understandable grounds, maybe he was moraly justified to do so, but not moral insofar as morality's purpose is to teach you how to live and flourish as long as life is both possible to you, and desired by you.

An example of an immoral type of suicide would be the Heaven's Gate incident. Those people wanted to live, but they believed that in order to achieve their goal they must escape the 'recycling' of the Earth and enter the Kingdom of God. They let themselves be fooled by an extraordinarily ridiculous claim. 

If morality is a guide to fulfilling your life in the context of already wanting to live, what about the man who does not want to live? Say that a man is born with a rare condition that makes him impulsively suicidal. I don't know if such medical condition exists, but I've read about some very weird cases, and would not hasten to say that it's impossible. The doctors try in vain to cure him, but there is no hope is in sight. Would the man be immoral if he kills himself? Christian ethics would say: immoral, or not subject to moral judgement due to the nature of his motivation. But what would O-ist ethics say?

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I would not conflate 'choice' with 'commitment'. A commitment is something you do at a specific moment in time, and then you try to stick to the commitment as honorably as you can. But a choice can be a one-off decision, like choosing a parking space at a comic book convention, or choosing what to eat at said convention. 

Deciding to go to a comic convention is a one-off choice, and you can say that every moment a man stays at the convention is a choice in favor of being there, as opposed to the choice of leaving that convention and doing something else. At some point in time, such a man can say 'Well, that's enough cosplay for today', and then choose to go home.

Not so if you commit to going to every possible comic convention in your country or state, and to attendending all of them for a minimum of six hours. That's a decision you try to go through regardless of momentary emotions or inner protests to the contrary. 

I believe that most people have no choice in this matter - as I wrote previously, saying 'I choose to live' is, in most cases, a rationalization of a desire you have no control over. But for the purpose of defining what I see as a 'choice to live', I would say it falls into the first category: an ongoing type of choice that need not necessarily be conscious or explicit.

If life is an ongoing choice, people don't endure hell because they are 'selflessly' commited to life, they do it because they see a light at the end of the tunnel and want to be alive to enjoy that bright future. But a man who 'commits' to living does so on an alleged moral ground (moral duty), and even if he faces a terminal illness, he either chooses to stick to his commitment no matter what, or he decides to 'break off' his commitment - he does not choose to die, mind you, he breaks off his commitment, the same way he would break off a marriage. 

If you see the choice to live the way I see it, then yes, it's a choice and it's pre-moral. I can justify wanting to live on non-moral grounds, such as 'a self-preservation instinct' or 'life's awesome', but not on moral grounds, i.e. "I have a moral obligation to live, and it's my duty to stay alive even if I don't want to".

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

I don't think that 'moraly justified' is the same as 'moral'.

I can no longer edit my previous post, but I want to clarify that a justified tweak to an otherwise fixed morality is still moral. I merely pointed out that since those tweaks are rare exceptions, they need to be distinguished from the parent moral code that is being tweaked.

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6 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

I believe that the choice is made for you, via an innate self-preservation drive.

Is this what Eiuol might mean by a "given start"? I'm not certain, though perhaps he will comment on the matter to clarify.

For myself, I think that initially we are "driven" (by pains and pleasures, primarily) to pursue things which are conducive to our survival -- without any awareness or knowledge or conscious/directed participation. A baby is hurt (e.g. from hunger, which the baby will not identify as such, or understand) and cries. The baby does not "choose" to cry; the baby cannot "choose" not to cry. If a lion is roaming nearby, and the baby's cries will alert the lion to the baby's presence, the baby will not therefore not cry.

It is: hunger=cry.

This is a mechanism which has been evolved because, more often than not, mother is around and not a lion. More often than not, crying in response to hunger triggers the mother's care rather than the lion's own appetite. More often than not, this helps the baby to live long enough to develop the ability to make choices (and reproduce, which passes on the fundamental design); but when the baby cries, it is not because "the baby chose to cry."

Not to put too fine a point on it, but a choice "made for you" is not a choice at all.

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I don't think that 'moraly justified' is the same as 'moral'. If a Christian man kills a criminal that intends to bomb a school, then his action is generally seen as 'moraly justified' by the Christian community, but not necessarily moral, since he broke one of the Ten Commandments. If an Objectivist kills himself on understandable grounds, maybe he was moraly justified to do so, but not moral insofar as morality's purpose is to teach you how to live and flourish as long as life is both possible to you, and desired by you.

I cannot comment on what kinds of paradoxes the Christian community might accept, but I do not accept that an action may be "morally justified" and yet not "moral." For a proposed action to be considered "moral," what we mean (the only thing that we can mean) is that the action is justified by our code of morality, in a given context; i.e. it is the "right thing to do." (The very idea of "justification" comes from the just, the right, the good.)

You may have to explain what you mean further if you'd like me to understand the distinction you're attempting to draw, but at present those look like the very same concepts from where I sit.

And if we hold that some action may be "morally justified" in a given context, but it does not appear to be consistent with our abstract understanding of some code of morality that we otherwise embrace, then either 1) we are wrong about the action (i.e. it is not morally justified by that code, and perhaps not at all) or 2) we must amend our understanding of the code of morality, or abandon it for one that better describes reality.

In his YouTube video, Biddle appears to be appealing to something -- some implicit standard -- when he describes the cases in which he would consider suicide to be justified, or "better" than the alternative. (Just as he appeals to what seems to be the same implicit standard in describing those cases where suicide is not justified.) To what does he appeal, in your opinion? Upon what basis would Biddle make such a decision for himself (insofar as you can imagine it)?

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I would not conflate 'choice' with 'commitment'. A commitment is something you do at a specific moment in time, and then you try to stick to the commitment as honorably as you can. But a choice can be a one-off decision, like choosing a parking space at a comic book convention, or choosing what to eat at said convention. 

Deciding to go to a comic convention is a one-off choice, and you can say that every moment a man stays at the convention is a choice in favor of being there, as opposed to the choice of leaving that convention and doing something else. At some point in time, such a man can say 'Well, that's enough cosplay for today', and then choose to go home.

Not so if you commit to going to every possible comic convention in your country or state, and to attendending all of them for a minimum of six hours. That's a decision you try to go through regardless of momentary emotions or inner protests to the contrary. 

I don't know. In the case of such a commitment, I'd counsel at least giving a touch of heed to one's "inner protests," which sound as though they may be onto something. ;)

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I believe that most people have no choice in this matter - as I wrote previously, saying 'I choose to live' is, in most cases, a rationalization of a desire you have no control over. But for the purpose of defining what I see as a 'choice to live', I would say it falls into the first category: an ongoing type of choice that need not necessarily be conscious or explicit.

All right. If we're talking about a "choice" which (most) people "have no choice" about, then it isn't a choice. And whatever is left over to talk about -- whatever it is that you have in mind when you use the word "choice" -- is such a thing "amoral"?

Sure! Why not!? :)

Morality applies exclusively to the domain of choice (which is why, for instance, we exclude "the metaphysically given" from moral consideration; hurricanes may be bad for us, in a given context, but they are not "evil" -- hurricanes have no choice but to blow).

Yet given choice (actual choice: not those "choices" where we have no choice), morality applies, and someone who is aware of his ability to take some action to further his life, or another action (or inaction) to end it, has an actual, honest-to-God choice to make; and the choice he makes will either be moral or immoral accordingly, depending upon his specific context.

Edited by DonAthos

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26 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

You may have to explain what you mean further if you'd like me to understand the distinction you're attempting to draw, but at present those look like the very same concepts from where I sit.

It's an important distinction, because exceptions to a moral code do exist. I'm trying to draw a distinction between the moral code, per se, and justifiable deviations from it. This is not just about toning down the virtues of integrity and intellectual honesty if you live under a communist dictatorship, it's also about emergency situations where you have to throw morality out the window entirely.

In regard to suicide: O-ist ethics can't claim that it's moral for a terminally ill man to kill himself and immoral for him to remain alive till the very end. Apart from the fact that such a man wouldn't care if his suicide is moraly justified or not, he would be looking for an entirely different type of guidance, not for a set of instructions on how to achieve eudaimonia. According to Peikoff, such a man is not subject to ethics anymore (link to a Peikoff podcast where he covers this)

47 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

All right. If we're talking about a "choice" which (most) people "have no choice" about, then it isn't a choice.

Yes (reminder: Rand did not believe in a self-preservation drive). This theory would mean that, since such a desire is amoral, an amoral fact of nature gives rise to the phenomenon of morality. Wanting to live can't be called a subjective desire, or a moral desire. It's merely the act of embracing reality, just like any other living being. The guy who sent Biddle the question was looking for a list of reasons to live, outside any context whatsoever. This question implies that people have a choice in the first place.

Whether Biddle believes that a choice is possible or not, his answer was accurate. You can't give people reasons to live sans context. Morality itself is given birth by that choice, or fact of nature, or whatever you believe it is.

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19 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

It's an important distinction, because exceptions to a moral code do exist. I'm trying to draw a distinction between the moral code, per se, and justifiable deviations from it.

We may have reached an impasse in a couple of areas. I cannot agree, for instance, that "justifiable deviations" from a rational moral code exist; if such deviations are justified/justifiable, it can only be by appeal to a "larger" or more comprehensive (or more rational) moral code.

I still cannot agree that there is any difference between "moral" and "morally justified."

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In regard to suicide: O-ist ethics can't claim that it's moral for a terminally ill man to kill himself and immoral for him to remain alive till the very end.

If the Objectivist Ethics cannot do so (though I'm not convinced that they can't), then perhaps they need amendment -- whether the resultant ethics are deemed Objectivist or anything else. (Or, and this might be more likely, some Objectivists need to amend their understanding of "morality.") When Biddle observes that some people in some situations would be better off "leaving life," he is implicitly appealing to a standard. Is that standard "survival"? Obviously not. But is Biddle's standard consonant with other possible understandings of "life"? That's a much more involved question, and it relates (in part) to the arguments I've made in the "Pleasure and Value" thread (and arguments that many other commentators have made in criticism of a survivalist ethos, despite agreeing that "life" is "the standard of value").

Consistency with the Objectivist Ethics aside, when we claim that certain choices can be termed "better" or "worse" by appealing to some standard, it is an ethical claim. We don't have the power to define morality out of existence.

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Yes (reminder: Rand did not believe in a self-preservation drive). This theory would mean that, since such a desire is amoral, an amoral fact of nature gives rise to the phenomenon of morality. Wanting to live can't be called a subjective desire, or a moral desire. It's merely the act of embracing reality, just like any other living being. The guy who sent Biddle the question was looking for a list of reasons to live, outside any context whatsoever. This question implies that people have a choice in the first place.

Whether Biddle believes that a choice is possible or not, his answer was accurate. You can't give people reasons to live sans context. Morality itself is given birth by that choice, or fact of nature, or whatever you believe it is.

I'm not prepared, in this thread at least, to discuss your idea of a "self-preservation drive." I have described my current understanding of how and why a baby cries -- in an automated response to the pain of hunger, and without any conscious understanding of how its crying relates to its own survival, or anything at all. (At least at first; the baby will quickly make burgeoning connections between its cries and the response it receives, and thus move towards goal-directed activity, though the details of how this operates are beyond my expertise.)

If that kind of description accords with your "self-preservation drive," then we can call ourselves agreed to that extent. But nowhere would I find it accurate to describe it as a matter of "choice." And when the baby does acquire the ability to take action specifically in order to get milk (whenever we could meaningfully say that it is "choosing"), it is for the sake of the milk and the pleasure that it provides (along with associated physical comforts/pleasures, such as the warmth of skin-to-skin contact, the sounds of the mother's voice, etc.) -- not for the sake of "survival," which is a conceptual understanding far beyond a baby's ability and experience.

Whatever Biddle thought himself to be saying on the topic of "choosing to live," and whether or not we call it accurate, babies do not "choose" to live. Insofar as things happen without choice (whether we're discussing hurricanes blowing or babies crying), those things are amoral. Insofar as men make choices, there is morality.

An amoral choice is a contradiction in terms.

Edited by DonAthos

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1 hour ago, DonAthos said:

When we claim that certain choices can be termed "better" or "worse" by appealing to some standard, it is an ethical claim. We don't have the power to define morality out of existence.

OK. I personally agree with Peikoff that ethics is not for the dying.

According to Rand, man requires ethics because he needs to survive and flourish, but doesn't have an innate, automatic knowledge of how to do it. What does that imply? That those who need ethics have a life ahead of them, and that they're free individuals.

A dying man decides whether to kill himself or not, in the context of not having a life in front of him. His purpose and context are completely removed from what ethics is.

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On 1/17/2017 at 7:32 PM, DonAthos said:

Any person who has the ability to ask of himself the question "why should I choose to live?" (in the "first sense," contra suicide) in a meaningful fashion will also have the context to answer it.

I'm saying that there isn't a rational reason to make such a choice initially. There is no answer to why, because all answers will be just as good. Choosing to live isn't going to be in verbal terms, or rationally explained, as it is made on subjective grounds. Moral facts aren't based on subjective "truth"; whether or not morality makes any sense for you depends on at least seeking life. Once the choice is made, one's teleology is "activated".

On 1/17/2017 at 7:32 PM, DonAthos said:

Do you believe that a newborn "chooses" life?

If you do, can you explain the specific process by which a newborn does that?

Yes, and I like how others answered this before in other threads over the years.

I think the choice is made in a way that's non-verbal and non-conceptual. I am not sure if Rand would call this a volitional choice because it's only implicit, but it should be because it isn't automatic, the child is aware, and the child participates in the choice. Virtually all babies will choose to live, and perhaps no baby will ever choose not to live. Pleasure and pain are big motivators, as well as curiosity. Being nice to feel pleasure and satisfying curiosity is plenty basis to choose life. Specifically, a newborn acts to seek more of those "nice" things and implicitly life on a whole.

23 hours ago, DonAthos said:

A baby is hurt (e.g. from hunger, which the baby will not identify as such, or understand) and cries. The baby does not "choose" to cry; the baby cannot "choose" not to cry. If a lion is roaming nearby, and the baby's cries will alert the lion to the baby's presence, the baby will not therefore not cry.

I'll answer your counterexample. A baby may not know what the discomfort is, or why, but the baby knows something is happening. Crying isn't chosen like "I want to cry now", but it does take participation: noticing discomfort, and desiring a more comfortable state. Although it is immediate, this does not mean noticing discomfort is automatic and works like programming. Radical behaviorism would say a baby cries as a response to uncomfortable stimuli, with no participation or mental state involved. Mental states are part of it actually, although not all mental states involve choices. Perhaps crying is sort-of a choice at best. In any case, it's not an innate thing. As far as evolution, that brought about a capacity to cry through mental states. It's not just a trigger that makes a baby cry.

So I'm going further to say that choosing life is when one seeks it out, on whatever basis. Perhaps a newborn gets a sense of participation by means of focusing on sensations, and that leads to seeking more.

KP is saying what I mean by a "given". I think it boils down to confusing a universal choice with an innate drive. Innate would mean that it's there from the start, nothing else is needed to get the innate desire going. A universal choice would mean that it's not there from the start, that more is required than a capacity to enjoy life. Pleasure, or something, is needed. Any kind of mental content. A newborn has to participate as well with the choice to focus.

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47 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

OK. I personally agree with Peikoff that ethics is not for the dying.

According to Rand, man requires ethics because he needs to survive and flourish, but doesn't have an innate, automatic knowledge of how to do it. What does that imply? That those who need ethics have a life ahead of them, and that they're free individuals.

A dying man decides whether to kill himself or not, in the context of not having a life in front of him. His purpose and context are completely removed from what ethics is.

In "Pleasure and Value," Nerian linked a short recording of Rand's on the "purpose of life." I attempted to transcribe what I found most significant:

On 1/18/2017 at 7:59 AM, DonAthos said:

"Life is the purpose of life. You should enjoy your life. You should be happy in it. Your proper moral obligation is to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to you -- and can explain/prove your choice to yourself, in rational, logical terms."

I agree with this. One should enjoy his life. He should be happy in it. His proper moral obligation is to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to himself, such that he can explain or prove to himself in rational, logical terms.

And this is as true if a man expects to live for thirty more years, or three years, or three days, or three minutes -- even in those situations where we might describe someone as "dying" (though yet alive).

The means by which man strives for happiness is the basis for moral reasoning. A man who will only live for three more months is not (contra the Peikoff recording you'd linked, which I consider incorrect in many respects) now somehow exempt from morality or moral reasoning; he needs it -- for the next three months -- so that those three months can be lived as well as possible (i.e. as happily as possible; as characterized by enjoyment and pleasure as possible), as an end in itself.

At risk of further confusing a discussion already characterized by complexity, regard the famous Buddhist parable, "The Monk, the Tiger and the Strawberry":

Quote

One afternoon a devoted monk walked along a bubbling brook deep in the forest. He gathered water there every day. When he knelt to dip his bucket in the water, he heard the bushes rustle behind him. He turned and saw a huge tiger staring at him and licking his hungry lips.

The monk jumped up, dropped his bucket and fled. The tiger leapt after him. The monk ran deeper into the forest than he had ever gone before. He kept running. The tiger kept chasing.

The thick foliage ended at a steep cliff. The monk stopped short and looked over the edge. He saw sharp rocks hundreds of feet below. If he jumped, he would die.

The tiger began to pounce. The monk thought dying on the rocks below was better than being eaten alive. He jumped. He grabbed desperately at vines and roots on the cliff wall to slow his fall. He caught hold of a thick vine, gripped hard and stopped his fall. He looked up at the growling tiger above. He looked down at the rocks below.

At that moment, the monk saw a plump red strawberry hanging on the vine. He forgot the tiger and the rocks. He plucked the strawberry and popped it into his mouth. He bit down slowly and savored the delicious sweetness.

“This is the most delicious strawberry I have ever eaten,” the monk thought.

I don't know about you, but I consider this to be a moral tale.

Edited by DonAthos

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1 hour ago, DonAthos said:

At risk of further confusing a discussion already characterized by complexity, regard the famous Buddhist parable, "The Monk, the Tiger and the Strawberry"

I love this parable, it's one of my favorite stories to tell.

I would not (Galt forbid) compare somebody sentenced to death to somebody of old age, or to somebody who does not expect his own death. Unless the first man has incredible strenght, or is a practicing Buddhist, such a blow can render him immune to any kind of happiness whatsoever, no matter what methods or 'ethics' he tries. Ethics depends on certain conditions, such as the possibility of happiness and a body/mind that does not rapidly crumble with each passing day.

1 hour ago, KorbenDallas said:

Realizing there are other connecting threads to this one, I'm not sure if this has been posted:

This one was also posted (I think by Nerian). I think it's an exhaustive look at the issue discussed in this thread.

 

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1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

This one was also posted (I think by Nerian). I think it's an exhaustive look at the issue discussed in this thread.

Thanks, that is contextual.  Upthread you mentioned something I agree with, "I personally agree with Peikoff that ethics is not for the dying."  My thoughts are that ethics are normative and are a tool for living, so figuring if it is moral to commit suicide seems contradictory.  But I think there certain contexts where man could maintain his life as his ultimate value and still end it, for example having a terminal illness that is causing him tremendous pain.  The concept of man's life as the standard of value or happiness as the ultimate purpose isn't possible anymore.  He would value his life enough, ie. living it, enough to know that it isn't possible and choose to end it.   (Checking OPAR, I'm seeing some of this on p247-248.)

Edited by KorbenDallas

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9 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

I'm saying that there isn't a rational reason to make such a choice initially.

I'm saying that there is no such choice to make initially. (Nor the means to make one.)

9 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

There is no answer to why, because all answers will be just as good. Choosing to live isn't going to be in verbal terms, or rationally explained, as it is made on subjective grounds. Moral facts aren't based on subjective "truth"; whether or not morality makes any sense for you depends on at least seeking life. Once the choice is made, one's teleology is "activated".

Later on, you (accurately) identify the unique role pleasure and pain have as motivators (note for the sake of our other conversation how this is different from red and purple, and meaningfully so). A baby does not "choose" to be motivated into some response by pain and pleasure; that pleasure and pain serve this function -- just as they do for many "lower" lifeforms -- isn't a matter of "choice," but a matter of nature. "One's teleology is activated" when sperm fertilizes egg, when cells divide, when physical and mental faculties are created, and when stimulus is introduced. Initially there is some automatic reaction to that stimulus, just as one kicks when the doctor strikes the patellar tendon with a rubber hammer.

At such a level, such choice is neither necessary nor possible.

9 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

I think the choice is made in a way that's non-verbal and non-conceptual. I am not sure if Rand would call this a volitional choice because it's only implicit, but it should be because it isn't automatic, the child is aware, and the child participates in the choice. Virtually all babies will choose to live, and perhaps no baby will ever choose not to live.

All right. So you're positing a "choice," but one that is "non-conceptual," and a baby "participates" in its choosing (choosing what? to experience pleasure as pleasure; pain as pain? does the baby "choose" to have its heart beat?), but... "perhaps no baby will ever choose not to live"? That's like a dictator getting 100% of the vote! :) It rather calls into question the legitimacy of the vote itself.

But, in fairness, the baby -- even before birth -- is certainly doing something of its own accord. Can we relate that something to "choice"? Perhaps in a sense -- in the sense that Rand intends by talking about the root of volition being "the choice to focus," which is another sense in which I would not say that it is "choice" in the way we otherwise mean. If we were talking about early experiments in cognition (coming into focus, focusing on various sensations), or flexing muscles, receiving feedback, then I could agree that the baby is participatory -- though I would still disagree that the baby is "choosing" anything in particular.

And this is still far from any sensible way in which we could say "the baby is choosing to live." Or at least, it makes zero sense to me.

9 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Pleasure and pain are big motivators, as well as curiosity. Being nice to feel pleasure and satisfying curiosity is plenty basis to choose life. Specifically, a newborn acts to seek more of those "nice" things and implicitly life on a whole.

I agree that "pleasure is nice" (or has a positive charge, of man's nature) and a newborn accordingly acts for the sake of more of that pleasure (when it achieves awareness such to link its own actions to the pleasures it receives) -- but that's exactly what's happening. There's no need for an additional layer of "choosing to live" on top of it, and thou shalt not multiply entities beyond necessity.

We could in some sense say that the baby is "choosing" pleasure and "choosing" to avoid pain, if you'd like, but even there I'm not satisfied that this represents any actual choice. A baby is designed (via natural selection) to want pleasure and to react towards it in that exact way. This is why, when we have conceptual thought and can make actual choices, we can also evaluate things to be good (i.e. in the manner of pleasure) or evil (in the manner of pain).

Do you know what kind of baby would not "choose" to seek pleasure, or to avoid pain? The kind of baby that is physically damaged such that it cannot experience pleasure and/or pain. But I would suppose that perhaps these are the children that you would say "do not choose life"? What a choice!

Eiuol, I think we are closest when you describe a baby as "participatory" in its actions -- which I agree with. And I further agree that there are mental states involved (though as to the exact nature of such mental states in early development, I cannot speculate; the brain is yet developing, and I would not necessarily expect the mental capacity of a newborn, or prenatal infant, to allow for mental states such as we experience, identify, and remember). But choices, lest we use the concept where it doesn't actually apply, are for people with conceptual thought and conscious volition.

1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

I would not (Galt forbid) compare somebody sentenced to death to somebody of old age, or to somebody who does not expect his own death.

Compare them without retaining the particulars which make them dissimilar, in context? No. But abstract similarities from otherwise dissimilar cases for the purpose of conceptualization and analysis? Yes -- I would do that, whatever John Galt might think of it. (And if he is as smart as reputed, I expect he would approve.)

A person who doesn't expect to live much longer, in reason, is a person who doesn't expect to live much longer, in reason; if that has implication for ethics, then it does. But I continue to believe that ethics remains about pursuing happiness to the extent possible, given one's context, whether one has a clean bill of health, at twenty or ninety, or is dying of cancer, at twenty or ninety, or is trapped on a cliff face by a tiger.

1 hour ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Ethics depends on certain conditions, such as the possibility of happiness and a body/mind that does not rapidly crumble with each passing day.

Rather than "ethics" depending upon certain conditions, I would say that the possibility of happiness depends upon certain conditions (and the state of one's body and mind certainly play a large factor here). This is precisely why, in the event that such conditions do not permit for happiness (and rather promise that which is ethical to avoid -- pain and suffering), I would say that it is moral to commit suicide.

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2 hours ago, DonAthos said:

A baby is designed (via natural selection) to want pleasure and to react towards it in that exact way. This is why, when we have conceptual thought and can make actual choices, we can also evaluate things to be good (i.e. in the manner of pleasure) or evil (in the manner of pain).

Explain more, please.

What would it mean to be designed to want pleasure? How is it different to say I am designed to reduce discomfort, therefore I am going to react to any displeasure in that exact way? I'd be just a victim of circumstance, as all choice would reduce to pleasure-seeking, or there is a pre-set choice for all action. It gets confusing - I don't see when choice enters in here in your view. For me, the choice to focus is simultaneous with the choice to live, so this is where choice starts - and where cognition starts.

Edited by Eiuol

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3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Explain more, please.

What would it mean to be designed to want pleasure?

I honestly wish I could explain more, Eiuol, but the extent of this conversation already pushes at my (admittedly narrow) boundaries. If we were discussing bacteria, which I would stipulate are vastly simpler creatures than man, even there I could only say so much as to how they operate. I don't know where, as we regard creatures great and small, "pleasure" and "pain" can be said to begin. But there are some stimuli which draw and some which repel, of their nature -- or perhaps somewhat more precisely, according to their relationship with our nature.

Such is the world as I find it. I know what it is to experience both pleasure and pain, and I can talk about their being "charged" positive and negative (which is a rough, yet apt, analogy), and I can trace their relationship to value, as I am attempting to do in another thread, but I don't know how thoroughly I can describe pleasure and pain in themselves, or how they operate. (In a somewhat similar fashion, I can discuss various things about gravity, in terms of my experience of it, and memorize equations to work out its force, and so forth, but I could not give you a full accounting of how gravity operates).

In "The Objectivist Ethics," Rand wrote:

Quote

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.

Here Rand makes no claim as to how pleasure or pain work, so far as I can tell (either in infancy or adulthood), but she goes on to describe what she takes as their purpose:

Quote

The pleasure-pain mechanism in the body of man—and in the bodies of all the living organisms that possess the faculty of consciousness—serves as an automatic guardian of the organism’s life. The physical sensation of pleasure is a signal indicating that the organism is pursuing the right course of action. The physical sensation of pain is a warning signal of danger, indicating that the organism is pursuing the wrong course of action, that something is impairing the proper function of its body, which requires action to correct it.

Well, how does this function in an infant? The infant has no conscious understanding that pleasure indicates that he is pursuing the right course of action; nor that pain means that he is pursuing the wrong course of action. All that the infant is privy to is pleasure and pain itself (in that he experiences them; not even that one is "pleasure" and the other "pain"). So if these physical mechanisms are to do their job as "automatic guardian," then the responses that pleasure and pain generate must be automatic as well: pleasure draws the infant on, pain repels, according to the biological mechanisms that the infant's nature supplies (e.g. crying).

Quote

How is it different to say I am designed to reduce discomfort, therefore I am going to react to any displeasure in that exact way? I'd be just a victim of circumstance, as all choice would reduce to pleasure-seeking, or there is a pre-set choice for all action. It gets confusing - I don't see when choice enters in here in your view.

Infants do not remain infants. Men can make choices. You can have conscious awareness of alternatives and select from among them. But this is an ability that an infant does not possess.

Consider that dogs, as infants, experience pleasure and pain -- and that pleasure and pain work as "automatic guardians" of the dog's life, just as with the infant. Yet an adult dog does not have the kind of volition that an adult human does, and therein lies the difference. But even so, as we trace back to earlier stages of man's development, to adolescence, to childhood, to infancy, to fetal stages and embryonic, we find states of Homo sapiens that do not have the same ability as an adult human.

Quote

For me, the choice to focus is simultaneous with the choice to live, so this is where choice starts - and where cognition starts.

I agree that focus is where "choice" starts, and cognition, and volition, yet even so an infant is limited. (I couldn't tell you what all is involved in "the choice to focus," which remains to me one of the most occult of Objectivist ideas; yet I fully anticipate that it's not some light switch that is thrown on some day of prenatal development, or at birth. I expect that learning how to focus is an ability that the infant develops over time.)

But again, there's no "choice to live" hidden here, waiting to be unearthed. I may as well say that there's also a "choice to eat Big Macs" entailed in the "choice to focus." If you were to object that an infant doesn't even have a conception of what a "Big Mac" is, so how is he meant to "choose" it, I would be forced to agree... but then, neither does an infant have any conception of what "life" is.

You cannot choose that which you cannot conceive.

Edited by DonAthos

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2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

 

Since this was left without any comment (not my favorite thing in the world), I don't know how it's meant specifically to relate to the ongoing conversation. I guess I'll just listen through and see what resonates?

Is the "choice" Peikoff discusses here any more an actual choice than it was before? Is this still something that babies do? "The choice to accept the realm of reality." (Is this meaningfully different from "the choice to focus"?)

At around 0:35, Peikoff relates this to the "subjective" and "arbitrary" and "suicide," and it's not 100% clear to me except that I think that he intends the rest of this discussion to debunk the notion that "the choice to live (or the choice to commit suicide) is arbitrary/subjective/etc." If someone else has another interpretation, I'm open to it, but that's what I hear him saying.

At around 1:48, he seems to come down strongly against "the choice to live" being "arbitrary." But I thought that was a claim made elsewhere? (And by Peikoff no less?)

At around 2:25, Peikoff (in good humor, which is nice) talks about his own questioning of this concept, over years, and given direct access to Ayn Rand. Perhaps that gives a touch more context for those who would lament amateur philosophers today questioning these concepts in fora such as Objectivism Online.

Going back to 1:20, Peikoff relates the "grounds" for "choosing to live" (which, were it an actual choice, we might refer to as "reasons") as everything. Yet I do not believe that's the case, in reality. I think that in fact, when a person reaches the point where he would make actual choices (and insofar as there are the rudiments of "choice" in early action, even prenatal action), and insofar as a person takes action to gain or keep values, I believe that we can relate this (initially, at least) to the physical (and objective) phenomenon of pleasure.

Mostly, I believe that what Peikoff says here is sensible, except that I'm unconvinced that we are yet talking about a "choice." Whatever this "choice" is meant to be, it does not appear to be subjective or arbitrary, and it does not seem to serve to drag suicide into the realm of the amoral, which was the original context of this conversation/digression.

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7 minutes ago, DonAthos said:

Since this was left without any comment (not my favorite thing in the world), I don't know how it's meant specifically to relate to the ongoing conversation.

Not sure what you mean. It's related simply by tackling the topic of this thread. I'm sharing it in case somebody finds it of interest.

Peikoff tackles the apparent paradox of a choice being justified, but not moraly justified. If a choice is both primary (preceding morality) and justified, on what grounds do you justify it?

His answer is that the ground is reality itself, i.e. a fact of reality, the existence of life.

How will that convince anybody to live? It won't. It merely points out that there is no other imaginable justification for a living being to exist, other than the fact that it exists, that it has a certain identity. All living beings are pre-programmed to want to live, and (excluding Homo Sapiens) they have the automatic knowledge to make it happen.

When, in time and space, do people make the choice to live? They don't. Everybody wants to live, unless something turns out terribly wrong. If morality only pertains to the realm of volitional, conscious and deliberate choice, then the desire to live is not moral, but inherent in the nature of life.

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5 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Not sure what you mean. It's related simply by tackling the topic of this thread. I'm sharing it in case somebody finds it of interest.

What I mean is that it is usually useful to comment on the third-person material that one provides to a thread, rather than just dumping a quote or a YouTube clip or such and letting people try to figure for themselves what you mean by it.

5 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Peikoff tackles the apparent paradox of a choice being justified, but not moraly justified.

This is an example of why it can be useful to offer such commentary. There have been a host of claims made, in this thread and elsewhere, and without your commentary I don't know specifically how you think this audio segment reflects on them. In this case, I didn't realize that's what you believed Peikoff was doing: tackling this "apparent paradox." I don't think he was. (Did Peikoff even use the term "moral" in that clip?)

Instead, he seems to me to be addressing the idea that the "choice to live" is either "arbitrary" or "subjective," and it seems like he's saying that it's not. He's saying that the "choice to live" has "grounds" (which "arbitrary/subjective" choices would not).

You think Peikoff was claiming here that "the choice to live" is amoral? Fair enough. But I don't hear that in his words (maybe accounting for some bias on my part?), so maybe you can quote the relevant section?

5 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

If a choice is both primary (preceding morality) and justified, on what grounds do you justify it?

I heard "primary" and "grounds," but neither "morality" nor "justified." I don't know why "primary" should mean "preceding morality," except that claiming such is begging the question. Insofar as there's a "choice" here (which I continue to reject; more later), and even if it is "primary," I yet hold that it is moral. Choices that we make based on reasons (or "grounds") such that they are "justified" are moral. (Could someone "choose to live" in such a way as it was not justified? If not, then the very notion of "justification" is meaningless.)

And anyways, all of this is of interest in terms of discerning what Peikoff believes (here, at least; I'm beginning to suspect that there's not one consistent point of view between his various writings and speeches over time), but it's not necessarily any great assistance in determining what is, or why.

You and Peikoff could be agreed on every last thing and both wrong, with respect to reality.

5 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

When, in time and space, do people make the choice to live? They don't.

I think your viewpoint on this subject is terribly confused. Maybe this is true of Peikoff as well, or even of Rand, but they're not here to defend their points-of-view.

So let's clarify the matter between us, then: a "choice" that people do not make in time or space is not a choice; by claiming that people "make a choice" but one not in time or space, you are claiming A to be not-A.

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5 hours ago, DonAthos said:

In this case, I didn't realize that's what you believed Peikoff was doing: tackling this "apparent paradox." I don't think he was.

0:55: "Now, on the face of it that's paradoxical, because if it's primary it's the beginning, and yet if it's not groundless there must be grounds for it."

5 hours ago, DonAthos said:

You think Peikoff was claiming here that "the choice to live" is amoral? Fair enough. But I don't hear that in his words (maybe accounting for some bias on my part?)

It's from an advanced seminar on OPAR. He goes through the entire book and explains what he wrote in more detail. The members of the audience each have their own copy of the book with them, so they can follow Peikoff and ask specific questions. 

At 0:21 he announces that he'll comment on a topic from the bottom of page 324. He then dicusses it for the rest of the video. In the final version of OPAR, which went for publication, the page is 247 (according to the booklet). I am reproducing the portion here:

"When they hear about the Objectivist ethics, philosophy professors from both groups [intrinsicists and subjectivists] ask, as though by reflex, the same question. "If the choice to live precedes morality,", they say, "what is the status of someone who chooses not to live? Isn't the choice of suicide as legitimate as any other, so long as one acts on it? And if so, doesn't it mean that for Rand, too, as for Hume and Nietzsche, ethics, being the consequence of an arbitrary decision, is itself arbitrary?

[...]

The professors I just quoted [...] seek to prove that values are arbitrary by citing a person who would commit suicide, not because of any tragic cause, but as a primary and end-in-itself. The answer to this one is: no.

A primary choice [primary = preceding morality] does not mean and "arbitrary,", "whimsical,", or "groundless" choice. There are grounds for a (certain) primary choice, and those grounds are reality - all of it. The choice to live, as we have seen, is the choice to accept the realm of reality. The choice is not arbitrary, it is the precondition of criticizing the arbitrary; it is the base of reason.

A man who would throw away his life without a cause, who would reject the universe on principle and embrace a zero for its own sake [...] would be disqualified as an object of intellectual debate. One cannot argue with or about a walking corpse, who has just consigned himself to the void. The void of the nonconscious, the nonethical, the non-anything. 

Ethics is conditional, i.e., values are not intrinsic."

(square brackets and bolded text mine)

5 hours ago, DonAthos said:

So let's clarify the matter between us, then: a "choice" that people do not make in time or space is not a choice; by claiming that people "make a choice" but one not in time or space, you are claiming A to be not-A.

A choice implies that you desire the end goal, either for its own sake, or as a means to another goal. The moment you act on a desire, you choose to act on that desire. Simple as that. Even people who act mindlessly, on random impulse, choose to follow that impulse instead of an alternative, e.g. thinking about the situation. If you restrict 'choice' to the conceptual level and forget that every action is a choice, whether it was triggered by whim or by logic, then I cannot convince you that every single action you do presupposes a choice. 

You can't conflate commitment with choice. Every choice made toward self-preservation implies a choice to live. Any protest against being harmed is an expression of that choice. At the root of your interest in learning and applying ethics, there is the implicit choice to follow your own desire for life. If that's not a choice, I don't know what a choice is.

Morality is conditional. It's source is an if.

5 hours ago, DonAthos said:

What I mean is that it is usually useful to comment on the third-person material that one provides to a thread, rather than just dumping a quote or a YouTube clip or such and letting people try to figure for themselves what you mean by it.

I believed that no further explanation was required (the video text, as well as the video title are self-explanatory), but fair, I'll take heed of this advice next time and provide a summary of the contents. Leaving this point aside, I disagree that Peikoff is in any way unclear in the video.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

0:55: "Now, on the face of it that's paradoxical, because if it's primary it's the beginning, and yet if it's not groundless there must be grounds for it."

This was very useful.

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

I believed that no further explanation was required (the video text, as well as the video title are self-explanatory), but fair, I'll take heed of this advice next time and provide a summary of the contents.

It's not a "summary" that's necessarily required -- though sometimes a bit of summary or quotation is important, so that one can directly relate claims made to the source material -- but commentary. People can read or hear the same material and come to (sometimes wildly) different conclusions. When you're providing such material, especially in the context of making an argument, it's important to comment on that material in order to specify how you believe it relates.

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Leaving this point aside, I disagree that Peikoff is in any way unclear in the video.

"Unclear"? I didn't say that he was "unclear." I said that I didn't know what meaning you hoped I would get from the video, because you had provided no commentary on it. On your further clarification, it became apparent that the meaning I got was different from what you did -- it seemed clear to me that he was saying something other than what you claimed. (And still the focus of his remarks in that video are that this "choice" is not arbitrary; not that this "choice" is amoral, which is not directly discussed.)

The context you've provided in this latest post has helped me to understand your point (and also Peikoff's) -- and now I agree with your larger interpretation of his remarks -- but that's why providing such context is important, not an argument that such context isn't (or ought not be) needed for understanding.

So with that context in hand, let's look at it:

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

When they hear about the Objectivist ethics, philosophy professors from both groups [intrinsicists and subjectivists] ask, as though by reflex, the same question. "If the choice to live precedes morality,", they say, "what is the status of someone who chooses not to live? Isn't the choice of suicide as legitimate as any other, so long as one acts on it? And if so, doesn't it mean that for Rand, too, as for Hume and Nietzsche, ethics, being the consequence of an arbitrary decision, is itself arbitrary?

This does seem to be the conclusion that many people come to:

On 1/10/2017 at 9:12 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

The choice to live is purely subjective.

[...]

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

But it wasn't the conclusion I had come to. Rather than argue that "[the Objectivist] Ethics, being the consequence of an arbitrary decision, is itself arbitrary," I argued that the Objectivist Ethics is not the consequence of an arbitrary decision. I don't believe that any of it is "arbitrary" (let alone "subjective").

The nature of this "decision" or "choice" remains to be discussed, but let's note that insofar as there is a "choice" here, I agree with Peikoff that it is not "arbitrary" or "subjective" or "groundless."

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

The professors I just quoted [...] seek to prove that values are arbitrary by citing a person who would commit suicide, not because of any tragic cause, but as a primary and end-in-itself. The answer to this one is: no.

I believe that this is an important point, not only for contextualizing our discussion, but imo for contextualizing Peikoff's initial stance.

If he is responding to the idea of a person who would commit suicide "as a primary and end-in-itself," then I would call such a creature into question just as much as a baby who makes choices.

But let us also note the (lack of) applicability here to "a person who would commit suicide" because of a tragic cause, or in other words, on the basis of some "grounds" or reason.

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

A man who would throw away his life without a cause, who would reject the universe on principle and embrace a zero for its own sake [...] would be disqualified as an object of intellectual debate. One cannot argue with or about a walking corpse, who has just consigned himself to the void. The void of the nonconscious, the nonethical, the non-anything.

I don't know that a man throwing away his life "without a cause" or embracing a zero "for its own sake" is necessarily disqualified as an object of intellectual debate, as such (for if he is, what are we doing right now?) -- but I would move to disqualify such a man from rational ethical consideration just as much as if we were basing our ethics on what unicorns do or the nature of the Tooth Fairy.

When we are discussing real world suicides, I think we're talking about people who have causes and motivations (as people do, when they make choices and act). Those causes and motivations can be argued -- and in certain cases found wanting or unjustified or immoral (as I argue) -- but it is not the same as discussing some chimerical "walking corpse."

Insofar as Peikoff is responding to the wholly mental creation of unsympathetic professors who wish to pick at the base of the Objectivist Ethics by creating some hypothetical creature that simply "chooses not to live," not for any reason whatever, but "for its own sake," then I can understand why Peikoff would dismiss such a thing out of hand. It is an arbitrary supposition at least, and I would argue that it doesn't exist in reality.

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

A primary choice [primary = preceding morality] does not mean and "arbitrary,", "whimsical,", or "groundless" choice. There are grounds for a (certain) primary choice, and those grounds are reality - all of it. The choice to live, as we have seen, is the choice to accept the realm of reality. The choice is not arbitrary, it is the precondition of criticizing the arbitrary; it is the base of reason.

So we're right back to this: I don't believe that any such "choice" exists. "The choice to accept the realm of reality"? Please demonstrate the two year old (and please note that I'm being generous here; I'm giving you two years plus of worldly experience and learning) who does not "choose" to "accept the realm of reality," but rather "embraces a zero for its own sake."

Let's establish that we're talking about real world phenomena. Where are the real-world baby suicides? (Or do we think that maybe we have solved the "mystery" of SIDS? Perhaps those kids are simply death-worshipers -- what do you think? In fact... do you suppose that perhaps miscarriages are self-motivated actions? This could open up a whole new area of prenatal psychology! ;))

I don't know how much I can trust a source called "Bizarrepedia," but according to a very brief search, I find them reporting on what they claim is the "youngest person ever to have committed suicide":

Quote

The mother of a first-grader, Samantha Kuberski, sent her daughter to her room after having a disagreement. The child tied a belt onto a bar of an unused crib and hanged herself.

Well, that looks like "grounds" to me. Stupid, awful, tragic "grounds," but "grounds" nonetheless. Even Bizarrepedia's editors wonder, in reason, whether "a six-year-old [can] commit suicide" in that "a child that young [might not] even understand the concept of death."

Quite right.

But even this (which is light years away from a suicide like Kurt Cobain's, which is itself light years away from a suicide like Brittany Maynard's) is fundamentally different from the supposition of a creature "who would reject the universe on principle."

Don't we, at some point in our examination of ethics, want to discuss reality? Meaning: things that actually exist in the world? Because the point I'm at currently is that neither "the choice to live" nor those creatures which would not make this "choice," exist at all. And if nothing exists which does not "choose life" (in this sense), then what meaning is left for "choosing life" in the first place?

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

A choice implies that you desire the end goal, either for its own sake, or as a means to another goal. The moment you act on a desire, you choose to act on that desire. Simple as that.

I know you say "simple as that" (which is usually a rhetorical red flag, and the first place someone should probe), but I'm earnestly unconvinced that what we're talking about is all that "simple."

Earlier you'd said, "If morality only pertains to the realm of volitional, conscious and deliberate choice, then the desire to live is not moral, but inherent in the nature of life."

But here you say:

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Even people who act mindlessly, on random impulse, choose to follow that impulse instead of an alternative, e.g. thinking about the situation. If you restrict 'choice' to the conceptual level and forget that every action is a choice, whether it was triggered by whim or by logic, then I cannot convince you that every single action you do presupposes a choice.

And I'm having a hard time putting these together, to understand your position.

You're saying that the "desire to live" (is that equivalent to the "choice to live"?) is not moral, because "morality only pertains to the realm of volitional, conscious and deliberate choice"; but every action is a product of choice (in that it "presupposes a choice") -- albeit not one that is "volitional, conscious and deliberate."

Does this mean that someone acting on whim (or "mindlessly") is, er, acting amorally -- because "morality only pertains to" conscious choice?

But my head is starting to swim in this abstract soup. Let's get back to discussing reality, and maybe we can then relate it to the abstract with greater clarity:

When a baby reaches the point where it has some rudimentary understanding that crying will result in its getting some sort of physical comfort (perhaps in the form of a diaper change; perhaps mother's milk; etc.), insofar as we are to say that it "chooses" to cry (which will not be the case initially, but arguably this is true over time -- again in rudimentary fashion), what is the "end goal" it desires?

Life? Or milk?

I'd say milk (and more specifically, the pleasure that the milk provides; or the relief from the pains of hunger; or both).

3 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Every choice made toward self-preservation implies a choice to live.

Again: a baby has no understanding that it is "alive" or what that means, or what it requires, or what milk has to do with it. If milk were poisoning the baby (though yet providing pleasure and no pain), the baby wouldn't understand, and wouldn't care, and wouldn't do anything other than what it already does: cry for milk.

There is no "choice to live" implied here. There's no such "choice" at all. What exists are hunger pains, and a biological mechanism which is initially geared to respond to such pain: crying. This crying hopefully triggers (conscious, volitional) adults to respond by providing milk -- which is pleasurable. The baby responds favorably to this pleasure; again, this is an automatic response. It "likes" the pleasure of the milk, and desires to experience it again (a "desire" which is itself rudimentary). This involves no "choice" on the baby's part. The pleasure of milk is good. It is "good" such that the baby will act to get more of it, insofar as it is able. The baby cannot but do this; this is true of the baby's nature. This, and not some "choice to live" is the source of the baby's (initial) survival.

Over time, the baby manages to associate its own actions (i.e. crying) to receiving the pleasure of the milk (and quieting the pains of hunger), and acquires the ability to focus/choose its actions to some degree, more over time, until (as a toddler, perhaps) there can be an actual choice to cry (or feign crying) in order to achieve some consciously held end; an actual desire, an actual choice.

This can all be accomplished before a child has any notion of what "life" or "death" are, and the "implication" of a "choice to live" beforehand is an ad hoc fiction, which doesn't seem to add anything at all to our understanding of what actually happens. Rather, it seems to obscure what actually happens.

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4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

If he is responding to the idea of a person who would commit suicide "as a primary and end-in-itself," then I would call such a creature into question just as much as a baby who makes choices.

But let us also note the (lack of) applicability here to "a person who would commit suicide" because of a tragic cause, or in other words, on the basis of some "grounds" or reason.

My quotation excludes a paragraph in which he says that under certain tragic circumstances, suicide is justified. I was only concerned with the status of the primary choice, so I excluded that side note.

4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

...the "desire to live" (is that equivalent to the "choice to live"?)...

No. The choice is to follow the desire, instead of denying it. Adult humans have volition in this regard, animals and babies do not. This is why babies are entirely excluded from the field of ethics (not sure why we're bringing them up).

4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

You're saying that the "desire to live" is not moral, because "morality only pertains to the realm of volitional, conscious and deliberate choice"; but every action is a product of choice (in that it "presupposes a choice") -- albeit not one that is "volitional, conscious and deliberate."

The desire to live is metaphysicaly given, assuming a healthy organism. You can't judge an organism for being built in such a way as to cause the acting agent to desire life. This is the sense in which it is not moral. I did not say that every action presupposes an automatic, non-volitional choice

The point is that desire is intricately linked to choice, but not in a deterministic or behaviouristic fashion (and this can be said only about adult humans). 

4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Does this mean that someone acting on whim (or "mindlessly") is, er, acting amorally -- because "morality only pertains to" conscious choice?

There is no such thing as an 'unconscious choice', excluding sleepwalkers or people on LSD. The source of the whim may well be automatic - the emotional mechanism merely reacts to your stored conscious or subconscious premises - but people have the faculty of volition, i.e. of choosing whether to follow their whims or not. "Should I think about it, or should I just act on my impulse?" This is why we can hold criminals accountable for their actions.

4 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Life? Or milk?

Don't conflate 'choosing to live' with 'choosing to survive'. Ethics is geared towards a flourishing life, not (just) keeping the agent alive.

Every time you pursue a value, it's implied that you want the end goal of that value (more about this in a second). No matter how intricately connected a desire might be to the resulting choice, they are not to be seen as the same thing.

All choices presupose that you want the object for some end, i.e. enjoyment, well-being, pleasure, happiness, safety. Metaphysicaly, enjoyment is an indicator of proper self-preservation, but psychologicaly you don't really care about that. Your concern is the enjoyment, the pleasure. Pursuing well-being is pursuing life, and this is how it works for all higher animals. The major difference is that we don't have automatic knowledge of good or bad. If we don't choose our pleasures properly we end up obese, or addicted to heroin, or struggling with an STD. So it's both, life and milk.

You don't need values if you don't want the end-goal of those values. The end goal is life, and it's psychological concomitant is pleasure.

If you want to die for no reason (like the creature in the example of the philosophy professors), or if something tragic happens that makes living unbearable to you, what do you need ethics for? To hang it on the wall?

What about people who choose live, but only so that they can continue whipping themselves, drinking laundry water and starving themselves on purpose? That would be an example of pure immorality.

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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