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DonAthos

Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die

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7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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.

Yes, I understand, and your exclusion was unobjectionable. I was only noting the fact because it is the very question of the morality of suicide (and more specifically, forum members arguing that "suicide is always immoral") that sent us down this multi-thread-spanning rabbit-hole of an argument to begin with. So whatever else we decide, I am interested/invested in its implication for the question of suicide, and I mean to retain that initial context.

As for the rest, given my initial read-through, I must report that I suspect we're coming perilously close to fundamental agreement. Hopefully I can trigger some fresh controversy anon and perhaps inspire you to a proper condemnation.

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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 exluded from the field of ethics (not sure why we're bringing them up).

LOL, well... erm, this is awkward, but I'd thought you yourself raised the topic of babies in your first post in this thread (hard upon Eiuol, who also brought that very topic up). It seemed fashionable to discuss babies, at the time, and I suppose that I am a slave to fashion.

But never mind that now (so long as we can). We can agree that adult humans have volition and choice in a way that neither animals nor babies (and especially newborns, and especially especially the prenatal) do -- yes?

So saying that "babies make a choice," whether it be a choice to live, or to die, or to eat Big Macs, is a mistake.

And I know that you have sometimes argued for a "choice" which does not take place in time or space, and which is "made for you," and which you cannot choose not to make, and so forth -- and maybe you think babies capable of that kind of "choice" -- but I hope you'll understand that, to me, it's a bit like the dragon in Carl Sagan's garage. I don't think that "choice" is a choice at all.

If it's reduced to a "desire to live," I still can't agree that babies have such a "desire" in any sensible fashion. (Again: they do not know that they are alive; they do not know what "living" is, or what the alternative is, or anything, really.) But that's okay. A "desire to live" is still closer to what I believe to be true about babies than a "choice to live," which is utterly insensible, and we should always strive to get as close as we can to truth, and to reality.

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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).

If we're talking about adult humans, I agree that adult humans can choose to live -- or die. Biddle in the video in my OP speaks to this, specifically, and he says that people who have a context (as, in my experience, people often do) can both ask and answer the question of "why should I choose to live"? I agreed with him.

He also argued that it would be better for some people in some circumstances to commit suicide. I agreed with him there, too.

If you think that's "not morality," I don't even really care at this point, lol. :) It still stands rather starkly against those who would claim that suicide in such cases is immoral, and it stands against those who would argue that suicide in such cases is either "subjective" or "arbitrary" (because I think that Biddle is right in his identification, and that desiring that which is better for the self is neither "subjective" nor "arbitrary"). I think it's probably easier to call it "moral" rather than trying to create some ad hoc realm for the "justified-but-not-moral," and moreover correct to call it moral, and still-moreover meaningful with respect to other ethical "controversies" to call it moral, but it otherwise seems almost like a semantic pursuit at this point.

If you would tell such a person, in the sorts of circumstances Biddle imagines, "your proposed suicide isn't moral, per se... but it's 'justified'," well, that's at least a damn sight better than telling them that their suicide is immoral -- that they should instead strive to live as long as possible, regardless of circumstances, because "happiness is always possible" (and there are people on this board who would say just this thing).

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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.

Agreed to all of this. (Minor caveat: not sure what I believe with respect to sleepwalkers or LSD; never really considered them.)

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

I'd be wary of conflating 'choosing to live' with 'choosing to survive'. Ethics is geared toward a flourishing life, not (just) keeping the agent alive. Ayn Rand, as her novels prove abundantly, equated living with the broader meaning, i.e. functioning properly, being a happy individual.

You well know that I argue against ethics as "survival" alone, and much more for "flourishing" (though I am critical of many of the arguments made under the "flourishing" banner; I have a somewhat specific notion of what it means to "flourish," though my thoughts on that matter are not yet settled or fully developed).

It is because I do not conflate "life" with "survival" that I believe that suicide may be moral in some cases. I believe that when the proper ends of ethics are understood, "keeping the agent alive" may not only lose its value but may become a disvalue.

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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 give a damn 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.

I agree that we do not have "automatic knowledge of good or bad." This is why we need ethics.

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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.

Doubleplus agreed.

More than "life and milk," it is a life full of milk that we truly want. Milk is the stuff (of its nature) such that life is worth living. But yes, we must choose our pleasures properly to achieve this "life full of milk."

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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?

If you want to die for no reason then you are a mythological creature, and as such I recommend immediate travel to Asgard to capture mighty Thor's hammer, Mjölnir. For if you're going to live the life (howsoever temporarily) of a mythological creature that cannot exist in reality, it might be fun to wield lightning for a while.

(And when you're done, yes, you can hang Mjölnir on the wall, which I think would be quite attractive.)

If something tragic happens that makes living unbearable to you in some actual context, in reality, you might yet need ethics to manage your exit as best as possible, for even then some exits will be preferable to others, in reason. Some of these scenarios have been discussed at length in other recent threads about suicide, here and here. (If they need to be revisited, it might make more sense to pick up the conversation there. If absolute need be, we can pick them up here, or even start fresh.)

7 minutes ago, KyaryPamyu said:

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.

I agree.

Also immoral: those who would suffer and suffer and suffer (through a life of inescapable torture) because they believe that there is some value in "survival" for its own sake, or counsel others to do likewise, or condemn those who commit suicide to escape such torture.

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11 hours ago, DonAthos said:

LOL, well... erm, this is awkward, but I'd thought you yourself raised the topic of babies in your first post in this thread.

It doesn't matter if babies have some degree of volition or if they're truly deterministic robots. Even if we get conclusive proof that babies aren't entirely automatons, they still can't use ethics. It's not enough to have a desire to live, in whatever form a baby might have such a thing, you must also be capable of implementing and understanding a thing like ethics. I didn't expect my baby reference to blow into a detailed discussion.

Healthy, happy teens and adults aren't more likely to choose against life than a baby is. Since virtually everybody wants the good life, ethics has a good target demographic.

11 hours ago, DonAthos said:

If something tragic happens that makes living unbearable to you in some actual context, in reality, you might yet need ethics to manage your exit as best as possible, for even then some exits will be preferable to others, in reason.

You might certainly need reason, but not ethics. I'm glad that we agree on many points, but we may never reach consensus on this one. Using reason to figure something out does not automatically make it a moral action. What about the other supreme and ruling values, purpose and self-esteem? Justice, integrity, pride, all of those things are for a certain context, namely long range well-being via principled, repeated action. Wanting to figure out the best way to go is completely understandable, but it's a practical issue of a wholly different nature.

The same thing would apply to a terminally ill man who decides to remain alive till the end of it. What he needs is not ethics, but some form of pain relief. Nowadays they provide Cannabis to such patients in order to help them cope with their fate. I suspect more people would choose that instead of painless suicide.

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8 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

It doesn't matter if babies have some degree of volition or if they're truly deterministic robots.

What I know is that adult humans are volitional. And that babies are not volitional in that same way -- that, rather, many of their actions/responses are automated functions of their biology. (Just as with an animal.)

The roots of adult human volition must trace back to developments in infancy, as a child develops the ability to focus in whatever manner that takes place; as a child develops conceptual thought; as a child can hold actual ends in mind -- values; as a child ultimately is able to choose, consciously and deliberately, from among options, in order to achieve those values.

A human infant is born with the capacity to do these things (or at least acquires this capacity over time; the human brain continues to develop after birth), but an individual's ability to use them to any meaningful degree (I would describe early examples as "burgeoning," or similar, but still not extant in the full adult sense) will develop over time and with much effort (or "focus," which is in itself the root of volition).

But it's beyond my knowledge and ability to discuss this in much further detail.

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Even if we get conclusive proof that babies aren't entirely automatons, they still can't use ethics. It's not enough to have a desire to live, in whatever form a baby might have such a thing, you must also be capable of implementing and understanding a thing like ethics.

But now we're saying the same thing -- or close to it -- or so it appears to me.

It has been a long and intricate conversation, so maybe I said something I now must retract (perhaps in a sleepless fit, as sometimes strikes me)? But I don't believe I'd claimed that babies can use ethics. Just as the roots of volition can be traced to infancy, so can the roots of ethics -- the source of value (which is pleasure) and disvalue (which is pain).

But no, ethics is fundamentally a form of reasoning, and it requires conceptual thought. It requires choice. It requires volition. And babies do not have those things. So if a baby cries and wakes a lion, a (good) parent does not blame the baby morally for it, should they survive; the baby has no idea what it's doing, or what the consequences of its actions are.

That was my point. That babies do not "choose." And here I would further say that babies do not "desire to live" in any meaningful way. So if we're looking for a "choice to live," we ought not look to babies for it.

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I didn't expect my baby reference to blow into a detailed discussion.

I had not necessarily expected to discuss babies at all. I initially thought we would discuss the Craig Biddle video I took pains to transcribe (in part) and comment on. :)

But then Eiuol responded to my remarks about Biddle's video saying that my remarks did not cover "newborns," where (it was implied) such newborns make a "choice to live." And then you also said that the choice to live "is expressed the moment a baby cries in order to signal to his mother that he's hungry or in distress." And so in my search for this "choice to live" that you and Eiuol (apparently) argue for, I thought it would be fruitful to delve into the concrete topic you and Eiuol had both raised to explicate your meaning -- that of newborns/babies.

I expected it to be a dead end (with respect to finding a "choice to live"; not as a topic worthy of discussion) and so I believe it has proved to be. Thus I consider myself confirmed in the idea that, as babies do not "choose" in a meaningful way, neither do they "choose to live." And so I feel confident in dismissing Eiuol's initial critique of my OP on that basis, and also your remarks about "the choice to live" having to do with a baby's cries. If "the choice to live" exists elsewhere as a sentiment with actual meaning (preferably in time and space, as most real things tend to be), then we can continue to search for it in further discussion; but knowing where it is not, and what it is not, is at least one step forward.

As an (almost) aside...

When trying to figure out the nature of reality (which is mostly what we ought to be doing, when "doing philosophy," and the necessary source of our further ethical or political claims) detailed discussions can be very useful. Finding that "babies are a dead end" isn't valueless with respect to our investigation, but of great value, and we shouldn't regret mistakes made along the way. (The only real error is clinging to mistakes past the point of reason; but "evasion" is a difficult topic to discuss sensibly.)

This ("the choice to live") is a difficult/complex topic of discussion, too (most are, when you really dig into them). If Peikoff is to be taken at his word -- and I don't see why not -- it took him ten years, off and on, of discussion with Ayn Rand herself to reach the conclusions and confidence he did. I have no such luxury. Thus I must depend upon conversations with folks like KyaryPamyu, Eiuol, StrictlyLogical and so forth, and it is in this context that we may further evaluate his response to my questioning this matter in the first place; I think it a regrettable choice for several reasons.

In my opinion, there is often too much ego involved in argument -- and too much "moral implication" -- such that people are afraid of being wrong, afraid both consciously and subconsciously, for fear of what it might say of their own soul or ability or intelligence to have been mistaken. I think that as a result, the Objectivist community is (perhaps ironically) suffuse with evasion. But there is nothing about Objectivism which demands this, and actually, I believe, everything about Objectivism that demands that we reject it and seek to root it out.

Perhaps in the nearish future, I will be inspired to start a thread about evasion I have long imagined creating. But for now, let's cheer ourselves with the achievement of a reasonable and civil discussion -- though no less directly argued, and no less forcefully argued, for that.

It is an accomplishment.

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You might certainly need reason, but not ethics. I'm glad that we agree on many points, but we may never reach consensus on this one.

It's possible we will not reach consensus. Or if you were to give me ten years, maybe one of us would eventually convince the other of something. :) But for now, I'll make such argument as I can (and as suits my life) until we reach the point at which we consider ourselves better off "agreeing to disagree," even if temporarily.

What we argue matters. How we argue matters, too.

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Using reason to figure something out does not automatically make it a moral action. What about the other supreme and ruling values, purpose and self-esteem? Justice, integrity, pride, all of those things are for a certain context, namely long range well-being via principled, repeated action. Wanting to figure out the best way to go is completely understandable, but it's a practical issue of a wholly different nature.

I don't agree that this is "a practical issue of a wholly different nature" we're discussing here. I believe that the underlying nature remains the same, and that specifically we're discussing ethical reasoning when we talk about "the best way to go." (Outside of some implied ethical framework, "best" is meaningless. "Best" for what?)

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The same thing would apply to a terminally ill man who decides to remain alive till the end of it. What he needs is not ethics, but some form of pain relief.

But don't you see? Claiming that what he "needs" is pain relief is itself an ethical claim. ("Needs" why? For what end? What's the source of this apparent value he should act to gain or keep?) If a man is to make choices -- meaningful choices for himself -- then he needs to do so against some standard, for some reason or end. But this is the stuff of ethics.

Were it the case that ethics did not apply to someone nearing the end of his life, then any choice would be just as "good" as any other, which is to say that they would neither be good or bad at all. Such a man may as well act wholly on whim, or randomly. But I think that all actual experience (or: "reality") argues against this (and if we need to discuss those at the end of their lives in the same sort of detailed manner as we discussed babies, then we shall; but this time, don't be surprised by it ;)).

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One idea that might help...

On 1/30/2017 at 3:18 PM, KyaryPamyu said:

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?"

But this doesn't really answer totally what volition is. As I recall, volition, to Rand, implies possession of a conceptual faculty, because volition is really only choosing to focus on your options then acting with regard to an option. An impulse isn't the sort of thing you can focus on. I mean, what is an impulse if not just one type of option? Aristotle refers to a weak or inability to control behavior as incontinence - it's not portrayed as a desire or a whim per se. It's more like a weakness of not focusing on the right kind of actions. That would be the Objectivist take. There's more focus, and less focus, with low focus being tantamount to what people usually mean by "acting on impulse".

Animals certainly choose, albeit with less focus and without conceptual awareness. Choosing to live, as I understand it, means recognizing life with the right degree of focus, just enough for there to be a vague but noticeable alternative.

 

Edited by Eiuol

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11 hours ago, Eiuol said:

Choosing to live, as I understand it, means recognizing life with the right degree of focus, just enough for there to be a vague but noticeable alternative.

To me, the choice to live is the choice to pursue pleasure and well-being, i.e. to act on your desire for happiness (which is the psychological concomitant of proper self-preservation). This in turn necessitates instructions on how to do it well, hence ethics becomes necessary. So the choice precedes ethics the same way that the choice to build a skyscraper (which you desire) precedes the need to design its blueprint. Acting on that blueprint is an analogy for ethical action. But you can, at any point, change your mind about the skyscraper, rendering the blueprint unusable.

The point Rand wanted to make is that a desire, for a volitional being, does not deterministically entail that a man needs to act on that desire, i.e. he can choose to eat when he feels hunger pangs, or to starve himself and die. But preceding this choice is metaphysical fact: the nature of the organism, which can merely be accepted in the same way that you embrace any other metaphysicaly given fact (as opposed to man-made facts). This is why denying your desire to live would mean denying the realm of reality, not the realm of ethics.

Only an intrinsicist or duty-based moral philosophy would say that because life exists, you must live (and excellently too), whether you want it or not. It means turning the metaphysicaly given into a god, the way Spinoza did, then giving moral significance to your obedience to the metaphysicaly given. "You exist, therefore: if you want to live, you're moral. If you don't, you're rotten."

Even if somebody lives in a state of chronic low-focus, his bodily sensations, such as hunger, will still jolt him into at least a peripherial or implicit recognition of the alternative (pleasure/pain, life/death). Every choice to eat rests on an implicit choice to feel good and live, instead of to suffer and die.

12 hours ago, DonAthos said:

But don't you see? Claiming that what he "needs" is pain relief is itself an ethical claim. ("Needs" why? For what end? What's the source of this apparent value he should act to gain or keep?) If a man is to make choices -- meaningful choices for himself -- then he needs to do so against some standard, for some reason or end. But this is the stuff of ethics.

The standard of ethics is 'the good life', in the context of a healthy existence being possible. Suicide is calculated by the standard of 'painless death'. If the standard was life, then life would be the result of the moral action.

Cannabis is calculated by the standard of 'a painless existence'. The result would be life, but not the life proper to man. Such a patient wouldn't be conscious (any degree of being sober would mean suffering and tragedy) and he wouldn't be able to pursue his passion, or romantic love, or any values for that matter. He would live not as a man, but like a brain in a vat being fed pleasure and a simulated reality, a reality where life is possible.

Wanting to live is not a sufficient precondition of ethics, you also must be able to live. Is the standard of ethics 'survival of man qua man', or 'survival of man qua survival at any cost'? Or 'painless death qua painless death'?

All three of those standards are life-related, but that doesn't make all of them ethical. A dying patient would not need some third party, or code of ethics, to tell him that he should seek a painless death, or a painless last month of life. Suppose you tell him: "it's very ethical what you're doing, to kill yourself painlessly. And it's good that you're using reason to discover the best suicide method." That would be unimaginable.

Contrast this to the virtue of pride, explained to a healthy individual. "Never put your well-being in danger (unbreached rationality) and never settle for anything less than the best. This will shape your moral character, which will result in a sense of self-respect, which will further result in more passion for values and even the possibility of approaching romantic love in a healthy way. Your moral character will turn you into a machine of efficiency and ability, and this will make you confident in yourself, instead of living in perpetual anxiety for the future. Never create unearned guilt by expecting omniscience from yourself, and never accept guilt from people who preach an irrational morality based on self-sacrifice."

Ethics is for the long run. Even if it was immoral for a man to kill himself painfully, he will neither go to hell for it, nor be around after the suicide to say "Drats, now I feel guilty. I know it was my very last moment of life, but did I have to experience that pain?".

Edited by KyaryPamyu

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2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

To me, the choice to live is the choice to pursue pleasure and well-being, i.e. to act on your desire for happiness (which is the psychological concomitant of proper self-preservation).

This may represent my last contribution to this thread -- for a while, at least. No promises to stay away entirely (which is always difficult for me), but I feel I'm about at my limit to explain myself fully, and usually when I feel this way it's best to take a step back and recharge. So let me try to explain what I believe is actually going on with the "choice to live," at this point in the conversation, as clearly as I can. (And I think it might be close to some of your own beliefs, at this point, though perhaps that's not correct.)

I think that this is the general situation man finds himself in: man has choices to make, of his nature. (And this is as an adult, volitional, etc.) Some of these choices produce outcomes we'd roundly describe as preferable, and some that we would not want at all. We'd earlier considered "life" and "milk" and decided (or I decided, at least, though I suspect you concur) that what we want is "life and milk" or even more accurately "a life full of milk."

So the question becomes: how does one achieve this in reality? And ethics is the attempt to answer that question. It is the blueprint to achieve "a life full of milk," in reality, given the fact that we have choices to make where some choices will help us to achieve that "life full of milk," and some will not.

Okay. So. Given this perspective, a person could ask of himself of any given proposed action/choice -- "will this lead me closer to a life full of milk? Or farther away?" But this "takes for granted" that a man wants "a life full of milk."

And so philosophers, being who and what they are, have challenged this ethical perspective by asking, "Well, what if a man doesn't want a life full of milk? What then? Does the whole thing collapse?"

I believe that "the choice to live" is an attempt to respond to this question, in asserting that men have an initial ("primary") choice to pursue a life full of milk (which is "the choice to live," where "live" is understood in the more robust "flourishing" sense, rather than mere survival), which is itself amoral. Absent this choice, sure, a man does not need this ethics; but then such a man would need no ethics at all, because what is possibly worth pursuing except for a life full of milk?

Here's the (central) problem with this "choice to live": a "choice" is an actual concept, an actual thing, in reality. We talk of "choice," we know "choice," because we (volitional adults) make choices. And I do not believe that actual people, in reality, make this "choice to live" which is, again, an attempt to answer the question of "what if a man doesn't want a life full of milk?" I believe that no such "choice" exists in reality.

There are problems which then radiate outward from this central error, which Peikoff in various writings and lectures has attempted to address; but because there is no "choice to live," he can never manage to do so with complete consistency. Some of these problems include the supposedly arbitrary nature of a "choice to live," and the applicability (or lack thereof) of this doctrine to actual, human suicide. Defending this "choice to live" doctrine sews great confusion, to the extent that a person attempts to apply it consistently or even understand it. Some of that confusion results in the Craig Biddle video I'd responded to in the OP, where he attempts to say that it cannot be answered on the one hand, but that everyone "who has a context" can answer it on the other, or others attempting to assert that newborn babies somehow manage to "choose to live," despite a lack of understanding of what "life" even is. "The choice to live" is, in many respects, an ethical "god of the gaps."

Yet just as the "god of the gaps," none of it is necessary.

"What if a man doesn't want a life full of milk?" I don't know to what extent I'm able to defend this position, at present, but here's what I've come to believe the actual answer is: not that men make an amoral choice, outside of space and time, but that no such man exists or is able to exist. (Men may believe themselves to not want a life full of milk -- and hold an "explicit philosophy" stating as much -- but they are unable to make this true about themselves, or their nature, just as they cannot will themselves to fly to Mars by flapping their arms, even if they believe that they can.)

Insofar as we have accurately identified the "good" in life (e.g. "a life full of milk"), it is what men want, according to the nature of man. Those things that comprise the good -- that comprise "a life full of milk" -- being survival, pleasure and happiness -- we do not "choose" to desire, or value. We value them because that is part of our identity, part of our design, just as an actual baby does not "choose" to value the pleasure of his mother's actual milk, but simply does. There is no answer as to "why men value happiness," for instance, except that this is what happiness is. And pleasure (which I believe stands at the root of happiness, though this is also a position I am working on fleshing out--especially in this thread) is good, of its nature; it is, indeed, the root and source of our very conception of the good.

(I know you're bound to have objections related to "intrinsicism"; perhaps in the future we can examine those objections.)

2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

The standard of ethics is 'the good life', in the context of a healthy existence being possible.

"A life full of milk," yes?

Yes.

But this is all within the context of "what's possible." And indeed, there is no particular or necessary measure of "how much life" or "how much milk" is possible to any given man, at any given time. We wish as much milk over as much life as possible, in any given context. Or as Rand 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 think this is the most succinct explication of ethics possible. (Possible to me, at least).

If one's proper moral obligation is to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to himself, given his context, then it doesn't matter if it's someone sixteen years old and at the beginning of his life, or one hundred and sixteen and at the very end. It is still his proper moral obligation to pursue the highest form of happiness possible to himself, given his particular circumstances.

2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Suicide is calculated by the standard of 'painless death'. If the standard was life, then life would be the result of the moral action.

When considering suicide, I think it is necessary to acknowledge the existence of vinegar. Just as we should like "a life full of milk," we wish to avoid "a life full of vinegar."

The idea of "justified suicide" is enough to establish that the standard you suggest (where "life would be the result of moral action") is flawed, and in need of improvement (here, that "life" is misunderstood in context). For even in "tragic circumstances," man still encounters the same basic situation which gives rise to ethics in the first place: man has choices to make, of his nature. Some of these choices produce outcomes we'd roundly describe as preferable, and some that we would not want at all.

When a man finds himself in a position such that milk is unavailable (or in exceedingly short supply), and all there is to drink is vinegar, there are still certain outcomes which are preferable to others, due to the nature of both milk and vinegar (and man).

Ethics remains our tool to assess among these various outcomes, to select the best possible option. Sometimes suicide is the best possible option, given a dire context, which is the sense in which it is both "justified" and moral.

2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

A dying patient would not need some third party, or code of ethics, to tell him that he should seek a painless death, or a painless last month of life. Suppose you tell him: "it's very ethical what you're doing, to kill yourself painlessly. And it's good that you're using reason to discover the best suicide method." That would be unimaginable.

A code of ethics is not fundamentally a "third party" affair. And absolutely a man needs a rational code of ethics to avoid pain (whether by "painless death" or "painless last month of life," which might represent the very same decision) -- because man's choices (including seeking relief from pain in various circumstances) are instrumental in determining whether he will or will not experience that pain.

For instance, I can direct you to arguments made on this very forum that it is good to experience pain, as such (because all experience is accounted good). That is an ethical argument, but it is deeply, woefully mistaken. Someone taught that by his parents should hope to discover some code of ethics (even via third party) which will allow him to cast it off, lest he suffer more pain than necessary or warranted.

And by the way, you should aspire to be in the position to tell someone that what they're doing in committing suicide (in select circumstances) is ethical. Presumably you wouldn't be so wooden in your communication, in context, but if someone asked you (valuing your rationality) whether you thought it was "right" of them to take their own life, given their exceedingly tragic circumstances (perhaps against some moral doctrine they were raised to believe, such as many religions present, where all suicide is considered evil), the proper answer is: yes.

2 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Ethics is for the long run. Even if it was immoral for a man to kill himself painfully, he will neither go to hell for it, nor be around after the suicide to say "Drats, now I feel guilty. I know it was my very last moment of life, but did I have to experience that pain?".

There is a central misunderstanding reflected here, one which has the potential to corrupt all ethical understanding. Though I do not expect to participate in further conversation for a while, when I return (rested, rejuvenated), this might be a good place to resume.

Ethics can be thought of as being "for the long run" in certain valid senses, but it cannot rightly be thought of as "for the future." Life is nothing but a series of "nows," and each now is an end in itself. What that means is, we do not validate our decisions wholly from the perspective of some future self who looks back and says, "Yes, I picked right" or "No, I did not." If that were the case, then all of this would be moot, because in the long long long run, we will all be dead, and unable to evaluate our earlier choices.

Just as someone will not survive his suicide to judge whether he was right or wrong to have experienced some particular measure of pain, none of us will survive our deaths to pass judgement over our earlier choices, even those that may have led to our deaths. What matters is what we experience in the moment that we experience it. The suffering of needless pain is evil, and that evil is not obviated by the fact that -- at some point in the future (near or long-term) -- the agent suffering that needless pain will no longer have the capacity to regret the fact. It is wrong in the moment it is experienced.

The happiness that a man feels while alive is not rendered valueless or meaningless accounting to the cessation of death either, not even if his happiness was in his very last moment of life (as the monk who eats the strawberry). His happiness, in each moment it is experienced (including the last), stands eternally as its own justification, an end in itself.

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8 hours ago, KyaryPamyu said:

Even if somebody lives in a state of chronic low-focus, his bodily sensations, such as hunger, will still jolt him into at least a peripherial or implicit recognition of the alternative (pleasure/pain, life/death). Every choice to eat rests on an implicit choice to feel good and live, instead of to suffer and die.

I have no major issue with the rest of your post. I think, though, that an inborn desire or instinct to seek life does not exist. Not even for an animal like a dog. In the first place, a desire implies wanting, a feeling. To want something would require awareness of wanting. I don't see how any of this can happen - is this desire appearing out of nowhere? For sure, pain and pleasure themselves, as raw sensations, are not chosen. These are metaphysically given. But if desires are like that too, no desire can be helped, it's unrelated to thought. If a desire can be helped, even erased, it is related to thought, and arises from those thoughts. I'm saying "thought" as a way to point out all those complex things besides mere reactions.

A choice to eat does rest on an implicit choice to live - in conceptual creatures. A dog, for example, I'd argue is in a state of low focus with regard to recognizing alternatives AS alternatives. It has no conceptual aparatus because it lacks a capacity to focus on non-perceptual differences past simple labels. A dog, then, can't choose to live, its choices are simplistic. There is no way for it to choose to live, so there is no implicit choice. Babies have such a capacity though. So, the choice to live makes sense for all people, but never other animals.

2 hours ago, DonAthos said:

Defending this "choice to live" doctrine sews great confusion, to the extent that a person attempts to apply it consistently or even understand it. Some of that confusion results in the Craig Biddle video I'd responded to in the OP, where he attempts to say that it cannot be answered on the one hand, but that everyone "who has a context" can answer it on the other, or others attempting to assert that newborn babies somehow manage to "choose to live," despite a lack of understanding of what "life" even is. "The choice to live" is, in many respects, an ethical "god of the gaps."

I am sure it relates to whatever your views are on the details of what volition is and entails. For one, it looks like a choice to you demands understanding of something in reality, so prior to choice, there are only innate drives to live that no one could act against. But then I'm left wondering how anyone comes to understand anything if understanding precedes choice. We've disagreed in the past about volition, so it makes sense we'd disagree on this topic, too.

Edited by Eiuol

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Alright, I'll just 'fess up to being an impatient ass here and say up front I haven't read the whole thread yet. If what I say here has already been said or had objections raised to it, just go ahead and whack me over the head and tell me to go read the rest of the thread.

 

Here's my thoughts on the issue of choosing to live. In theory, yes, choosing to live is a pre-rational choice. Reason, motivation, they're totally irrelevant before determining one intends to stick around in existence where such things are applicable. However, the notion that one then goes ahead and acts to live or not based on their choice to live or not assumes that one has the ability to act or not act in any given way on this choice. Humans don't come into existence as fully formed people capable of doing or not doing whatever they see fit. First, we're formed gradually in a life support system where we can't make much of any voluntary action except maybe to wiggle around a little bit once in a while. Then upon birth, we still can't move much. We can't even lift our heads by ourselves for quite awhile. At this point, one or more other parties takes action to see to the needs of our lives being met. So, before we are capable of acting on a choice to live or not for ourselves, other people and things are keeping us in the realm of existence for a substantial amount of time. In this time period, though we aren't capable of a lot of actions, we still have quite a bit of experiences. Pain and pleasure are automatic, physical sensations. During this time where we can't really help but live, I think people generally get pleasant sensations and then will want more of those. The pleasant sensations especially tend to outweigh the painful ones they get. So, by the time they become more capable of acting on a choice to live or not, they have found things in existence to entice them to keep trying to stick around because there is likely more where that came from. I believe this period of time where humans can't help but live, where they are having their needs met whether they want it or not or haven't made up their minds if they want it or not, is responsible for why most people do end up choosing to seek life. If we just immediately upon coming into existence had the ability and the obligation to seek to stay in existence or not all on our own, I think the choice would be made very randomly and we'd end up with a near 50/50 split on people deciding to give life a shot and those who don't. So, yeah, you can't say why life "should" be chosen before the choice is made, but you can keep people from being able to do anything about the choice long enough for inherently pleasant biological sensations to start enticing them to give living a shot.

 

This does of course only work though for people starting off with a blank slate. You can't take a grown adult, have them in some state of confinement and expect that if you just make their situation comfortable this will convince them to live if they've already chosen otherwise. At this point, they already know what pleasurable physical sensations are like, but they've apparently found enough painful things to outweigh the pleasurable ones. Convincing somebody to live who once chose to live as a little kid, but then later decided they didn't want to live anymore isn't about there being some kind of moral obligation to live still though, there still can't be any such thing applied to the choice to live or not. What it is about though instead is getting back to the basics of the state that made them choose to live originally, getting to where the pleasure out weighs the pain or at least it looks like there's enough hope that such a state will be reached again and in whatever time frame they're willing to accept.

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3 hours ago, DonAthos said:

The happiness that a man feels while alive is not rendered valueless or meaningless accounting to the cessation of death either, not even if his happiness was in his very last moment of life (as the monk who eats the strawberry). His happiness, in each moment it is experienced (including the last), stands eternally as its own justification, an end in itself.

Your post was an enjoyable read, nicely argued. A small clarification on my part: I do believe that a man should enjoy himself in his last moments on earth. What I'm arguing for is that the Objectivist ethics is useless for that particular context.

The desire for wellness does not start and end with ethics. It's the reason why people are interested in learning and applying ethics. A man whose days are numbered can benefit from the metaethical philosophy - which gives happiness a noble status, rather than demonizing it like other systems do - but he won't get much from the actual code of values and virtues. Some of it could be useful, but most of it is not suited for that context. 

Well-being is a fact of reality, a state of consciousness, a biological process. In itself, it's neither good, nor bad. It is. It exists. What makes it good, rather than just a collection of chemicals to be studied under the microsocope, is our experience of it as good and desirable, which is also inseparable from reality, biology.

It may well be true that there's nobody who doesn't want to live. I also think it's true. But it's important to show why the good is conditional and dependent on various factors, in contrast to the intrinsic theory of values.

For as long as you want to live, life is good. Metaethical philosophy can merely point out the obvious. A code of values is a 'scientific' guide for implementing your desire, but it may or not be suited for more than one context.

If by 'ethical' we mean any action that results in wellbeing, then dying people can be said to be ethical even if they do certain things that can be justified only in their context. But I know that you said that if a code of ethics is not always true, it needs to be changed to reflect reality more closely. The practical part of the Objectivist ethics is not at all universal, and most people don't even need the metaethical theory to know that life is good.

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On 2/1/2017 at 2:07 PM, KyaryPamyu said:

Your post was an enjoyable read, nicely argued.

Thank you for saying so.

Having taken a week or more to intensively explore the nature of the relationship between pain and value (primarily by pursuing an emergency operation for gallbladder inflammation; I still, on the whole, do not recommend pain), I've come back with... not exactly fresh insight, I don't think, but a slightly different way of phrasing what I'd been trying to communicate earlier with my most recent post.

It seems to me that "the choice to live" is fundamentally a response to the "is/ought dichotomy."

Things are. And things are as they are. But why should we act any one way in response (as a given ethics might hold)? That something "is" does not imply an "ought," or so the dichotomy states.

But Rand suggests a larger construction: If/Is/Ought. If you want to live, and if things are such as they are, then this is what you ought to do about it.

I think that's reasonable.

If you want the good life, and given the general nature of reality (and given the specifics of your individual context), it should be possible to you to reason towards some conclusion of what actions you ought to perform (which is ethics).

But doesn't this "beg the question"? Why "want the good life" in the first place?

And so the "choice to live" is introduced, being an amoral question that one "answers" before any ethical questions are themselves consciously considered. For if you cannot say that you want the good life (or equivalent) in the first place, then what good would an "ought" do you at all?

I think I've already explored in some depth why this response fails -- primarily in that it is an ad hoc invention, an "ethical god of the gaps," which winds up doing more harm than good when a person attempts to understand it on its own terms or render it consistent with a larger body of ethical theory (as in the attempt to relate it to the question of suicide). The "choice to live" (which is not really a choice, and does not really exist) only serves its intended purpose if it is hermetically sealed from one's wider philosophy and held largely as an article of faith.

Yet it is true that there's a problem in asking "why want the good life?" There's a problem in asking "why want the good?" at all.

I think it's in exploring that question that most of the problems that seem to split Objectivists (e.g. "survival" vs. "flourishing") are apt to be resolved. My own answer is that the "good" (insofar as we have actually identified it) entails that we want it. Something cannot be good without being desirable; something cannot be evil without being repulsive. These are the very natures of these qualities. (Though we may desire the evil or be repulsed by the good insofar as we misunderstand the nature of what we are considering.)

The root of our understanding the "good" and the "evil" is our experience of pleasure and pain. And so our relationship with good and evil is set biologically, in a fashion beyond (and before) our conscious control. (Though "good" and "evil" do not remain simple pleasure and pain; even in infancy, I expect, a person will develop a burgeoning emotional dimension to good and evil which leads towards happiness and suffering -- and these, for most people, become the central pillars of good and evil in our lives. We may eventually endure great physical pain for the sake of happiness, and rightly so.)

It is our conscious role, qua ethics, to come to understand ourselves and the world such that we can engineer lives as characterized by that which is good (pleasure, happiness, life) and as free from evil (pain, suffering, death) as possible. We do not create the standards for good or evil any more than we create the standards for life or death; it is only ours to apprehend what exists and reason what to do about it from there. (The motivation to do so being supplied by the nature of good and evil; I hesitate to use the word, but there seems something "axiomatic" if not alone "intrinsic" in what I'm suggesting.)

On 2/1/2017 at 2:07 PM, KyaryPamyu said:

A small clarification on my part: I do believe that a man should enjoy himself in his last moments on earth. What I'm arguing for is that the Objectivist ethics is useless for that particular context.

I may live to regret typing this (depending on whether I recover from my surgery), but it depends on how one regards "the Objectivist Ethics." There is a body of writing that we can describe as "The Objectivist Ethics," and perhaps, as Rand never wrote about the specific situation of being stuck on a cliff face, pursued by a tiger, confronted with a strawberry -- perhaps we can say that her writings will not help one decide what to do in that moment. (Perhaps.)

But then how should one decide what to do in that moment?

I look at ethics as being a question of infinite breadth: as long as men are alive, we must ask, "what ought I do?" If there exists any way to answer that question (as surely there must), even in an extreme scenario, then we shall find some form or fashion of ethics lurking there.

Insofar as the Objectivist Ethics is a codified body of doctrine which answers certain questions and not others, then we could say that those ethics are useless in certain contexts/situations, because they will not give any insight into the question "what ought I do" in those scenarios.

But there's a universe of difference between that and asserting that there are some situations which are outside of ethics, as such.

In the end, I don't give a hoot whether it can be found in The Objectivist Ethics or not, taking the time to eat that strawberry as in that tale, and giving oneself over to the sensation of it, the pleasure, with the last of his consciousness, is a highly ethical, highly moral thing to do, in that situation. (Just as suicide, in some cases, can be highly ethical and highly moral.)

On 2/1/2017 at 2:07 PM, KyaryPamyu said:

But I know that you said that if a code of ethics is not always true, it needs to be changed to reflect reality more closely. The practical part of the Objectivist ethics is not at all universal...

The "code of ethics" that matters is the one that a man holds within him; it doesn't matter if he can relate each of his actions to some sentence in a book of scripture, but that, when actual life presents him with real scenarios, can he reason himself to the best possible ends -- for himself, for his own sake, as an end in himself.

This is why, when we discuss such things (as with the reasoning that this discussion reflects), we must always strive to hew as close to reality as we can, and closer and closer still.

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