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Heinrich Dorfmann

Is it moral not to have a productive purpose?

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Hello everyone. I appreciate if anyone could help me understand the following issue. The question is not so simple as the tittle states.

I understand that productive work is the process by which man’s mind sustains his life. I understand that either you work to support yourself or you act as a parasite on others. Ayn Rand states that:

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Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values.

She also states that:

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In order to be in control of your life, you have to have a purpose—a productive purpose. The man who has no purpose, but has to act, acts to destroy others. That is not the same thing as a productive or creative purpose.

Ok, lets explore the following case.

What about a man who works for X years untill he saves enough so that the interest payments on his earned money (or proceeds from investments on his earned money) is enough to provide for his life, values and enjoyment of it. Suppose that when he reaches this X amount, he will stop working (in other words, producing), and pursue other values, such as travelling, raising his kids, exploring the world, learning things he didn’t have the time before or taking cooking classes. Such a man would not produce anything, the use of his mind would be focused only on non-productive endeavors (but nonetheless endeavors that add value to his life and are rational). 

The man I described has no “productive purpose” anymore. He has a purpose, which is to do things he enjoys (rational things, as opposed to irrational whims). 

Is he moral? My answer is yes. He is pursuing rational values, learning, expanding his mind. I don’t see how he can be immoral, but, according to Rand, he becomes immoral at the moment he lacks a “productive purpose”. 

One could argue that it would take many years for him to reach X amount of money, and therefore he is moral because he produced most of his life (as in the case of a retired man). This is invalid because the amount of money he needs is a very personal matter: he may be happy living off very small interest payments or dividends, and therefore may have stopped working at a very young age. Or suppose a man who sells his business also at a very young age.

I guess the final question is: is it moral for a man not to produce, but instead live his life pursuing other rational values, given he has the money to live by the proceeds of its investments (his own money). 

What do you think? What about a lottery winner or a wealthy heir in the same situation? 

Edited by Heinrich Dorfmann

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Are you equating trade with productivity?  Do you think activity has to be related to other members of society to be productive?

What of self directed action?  What makes some self-directed action productive while others not?

 

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Are you equating trade with productivity?  Do you think activity has to be related to other members of society to be productive?

No. One can produce his own food and consume it. The activity does not have to be related to other people in order to be productive.

However, to be productive a man has to produce something (goods or services) that has value for himself and/or for others, don't you agree?

The activities the man in the example engages in after he leaves his job are not productive, by the own definition of the word.

Rand says that "productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life".

She also defines specifically what she means by productive work: "Productive work does not mean the blind performance of the motions of some job. It means the conscious, rational pursuit of a productive career." [bold added] 

Back to the example: the man in question does not have or pursue a productive career, therefore he does not have the "central purpose" Rand defines, therefore he is NOT moral.

I don't see how he can be immoral. Is this a flaw in Objectivism? Any thoughts? 

Edited by Heinrich Dorfmann

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16 hours ago, Heinrich Dorfmann said:

Suppose that when he reaches this X amount, he will stop working (in other words, producing), and pursue other values, such as travelling, raising his kids, exploring the world, learning things he didn’t have the time before or taking cooking classes. Such a man would not produce anything, the use of his mind would be focused only on non-productive endeavors (but nonetheless endeavors that add value to his life and are rational). 

Let's look at this closer. You seem to be saying that you need to earn a paycheck in order to be working. Is that true? Raising kids is generally productive. For taking cooking classes, it probably serves some goal of using your mind to make something. Traveling could be a way to learn about cultures to figure out ideas to serve your life. If traveling were just to drink and party all day, well, you wouldn't be using your mind to create.

Being productive isn't a commandment. It's more the idea that if you aren't seeking to create with your mind - whether it's raising kids or writing a book or memoir - you aren't going to feel happy in the long-run. Your examples don't look like unproductive careers so to speak, it depends on what those goals are good for.

EDIT: Related

 

Edited by Eiuol

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20 hours ago, Heinrich Dorfmann said:

...  ... he may be happy living off very small interest payments or dividends,...

Consider just this snippet, and let us assume it is true. What makes this person happy? It is not the dividend payments as such. Those are the enablers that allow him to do XYZ, and that XYZ -- in turn -- makes him happy. Can raising kids be a happy pursuit? Ask yourself that before making the leap to "is it moral"? 

Suppose you answer "yes", it can make on happy to spend one's time raising kids, or plants, or chickens. The next question would be: why? What aspect of it makes you happy? We're not speaking of some occasional laugh you get along the way. Rather: what is it about that pursuit that gives the person that deeper sense of happiness? Very often you'll find yourself answering something very close to: purpose. "Seeing a young person develop", or "helping a young person discover the world". 

The implication of Rand's ethics is that seeking purpose is an important -- indeed primary -- source of enduring and deep happiness. 

DonAthos likes this

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It is also relevant that the focus on purpose is not unique to Objectivism. Evangelist Rick Warren speaks of purpose as a primary we should drive toward. In his concretes, and in his justification, he might be totally opposite of what an Objectivist might say. Yet, these popular evangelists are worth learning from -- as arepop-writer advising people how to be happy. Most are hitting at a certain core need that we have as humans. 

Here.s a quote: "The three grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for. — Alexander Chalmers

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On ‎2‎/‎7‎/‎2017 at 7:52 PM, Heinrich Dorfmann said:

but, according to Rand, he becomes immoral at the moment he lacks a “productive purpose”.

 

Where does she state that he becomes immoral at the moment he lacks a "productive purpose"? It sounds like your projecting. She said "Productive work is the CENTRAL purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values". Central is not defined as the end all and be all. But a man's purpose to himself, (not society) is his productive work, the amount of productive work is completely subjective to the life of the individual, the idea that your only purpose would be to "work productively" your whole existence then afterwards life has no point is anti-reason and sounds like something a collectivist would impose on individuals. Being productive gives you the ability to do and experience other things in life you deem as important or fruitful, being productive as Rand stated is a "central value" but not the ONLY value in man's life. I don't mean to come off as demeaning but it seems as if you are over thinking this

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How do you quantify productivity in purpose?

There are countless examples of hard working people who go downhill very quickly in a couple years following retirement, and I would argue that they died from boredom.

I listened to an audio book about people who lived to be over a hundred, the book claimed the number one trait they shared was a sense of purpose.

I believe it is productive to laugh, to play, to learn. What will you do with your learning?

How long can a man who has been productive enough to sustain his life stop himself from doing something, anything... Will you build no bench, will you pull no weed, will you paint no wall, will you pass no jewel of knowledge to a random stranger in a coffee shop?

Keep in mind everything Rand said was very personal to her own happiness. I think Rand is giving words to a sense in herself and perhaps yourself that may at times become unsatisfied, speaking to the part of you that is living below his potential.

I think living with a chronic sense of dissatisfaction with one's self is painfully wrong. That focus becomes a habit that sometimes blocks a man from seeking solutions.

I was recently talking with my grandmother in her eighties. The moments when she feels like her purpose is gone is very painful. She still works her garden and visits the senior center weekly. I remind her she is keeping her friends alive with her quick wit and banter. She does the best she can, to her fullest ability.

I think Rand once compared a brain surgeon to a janitor in the same building. The characters she described were equal morally because each was doing his best at the job he was capable of.

 

Eiuol likes this

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I think being productive has to do with the mind being efficacious more fundamentally than producing material values, though generally I get more of a sense of achievement when there is physical involvement.  The latter I think has to do with the body and stagnation.  For example when Rand would get stuck with writing or have writer's block, she would take a walk.  This would more often clear her up and she could continue writing.  This isn't to say that one can't gain a sense of enormous achievement from purely mental productivity, but there is a connection.  Professional video gamers often intermix exercising with their video game training and cite they have more mental focus in doing so.

Edited by KorbenDallas

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On 12.02.2017 at 10:05 AM, Grizwald said:

Where does she state that he becomes immoral at the moment he lacks a "productive purpose"? It sounds like your projecting.

In the Playboy interview. The question quoted below sparks a lenghty discussion about purpose:

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Playboy: In Atlas Shrugged, one of your leading characters is asked, “What’s the most depraved type of human being?” His reply is surprising: He doesn’t say a sadist or a murderer or a sex maniac or a dictator; he says, “The man without a purpose.” Yet most people seem to go through their lives without a clearly defined purpose. Do you regard them as depraved?

I agree with the rest of your post.

------------------

On 11.02.2017 at 2:39 PM, softwareNerd said:

It is also relevant that the focus on purpose is not unique to Objectivism.

Absolutely. This is one of the biggest selling points of religion. Many religions give people a much-needed purpose, as well as coherence to their activities by tying them to that central purpose.

In an article from VoS, the following areas of human values are named: work, sex, art, human relationships and recreation. What's unique about Objectivism is the way it stresses that only productive work can serve as a long-range purpose. 

A demanding career helps you keep your mind in top shape, it develops your character, it's extremely fulfilling and it acts as an important enabler of your other values. A major theme in Rand's novels is how love, art and recreation are not only stand-alone values, but also intricately connected to your purpose - art serving as emotional fuel, recreation as a celebration of your work, sex as an expression of the pride you take in the character - which you mostly formed through a demanding purpose.

A being with limited time, energy and resources can't be purposeful unless he follows a specific method, and Ayn Rand stressed the need of hierarchy and integration. Hierarchy means arranging your values in the order of their importance, in order to help you apportion your time wisely (the #1 spot is always allocated to your productive purpose). Integration means that your values cannot clash. For example, if you really want to be a painter, but your girlfriend is pressing you to go into med school; that's disintegration. A productive purpose is not the only value, but every value in your hierarchy must cooperate like the organs in your body, forming the seamless whole which is your life. 

Galt in his speech paints the following picture: your body is a machine, your mind is the driver. The destination is your productive purpose. Your other values are travellers you choose to share your journey with, and you can only share it with travelers that go in the same direction by their own power (integration).

In closing, here's a great quote from ITOE that sheds more light on Rand's idea of purposefulness.

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A moral code is a set of abstract principles; to practice it, an individual must translate it into the appropriate concretes —he must choose the particular goals and values which he is to pursue. This requires that he define his particular hierarchy of values, in the order of their importance, and that he act accordingly. Thus all his actions have to be guided by a process of teleological measurement. (The degree of uncertainty and contradictions in a man’s hierarchy of values is the degree to which he will be unable to perform such measurements and will fail in his attempts at value calculations or at purposeful action.)

Teleological measurement has to be performed in and against an enormous context: it consists of establishing the relationship of a given choice to all the other possible choices and to one’s hierarchy of values.

The simplest example of this process, which all men practice (with various degrees of precision and success), may be seen in the realm of material values—in the (implicit) principles that guide a man’s spending of money. On any level of income, a man’s money is a limited quantity; in spending it, he weighs the value of his purchase against the value of every other purchase open to him for the same amount of money, he weighs it against the hierarchy of all his other goals, desires and needs, then makes the purchase or not accordingly.

The same kind of measurement guides man’s actions in the wider realm of moral or spiritual values. (By “spiritual” I mean “pertaining to consciousness.” I say “wider” because it is man’s hierarchy of values in this realm that determines his hierarchy of values in the material or economic realm.) But the currency or medium of exchange is different. In the spiritual realm, the currency—which exists in limited quantity and must be teleologically measured in the pursuit of any value—is time, i.e., one’s life.

Since a value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep, and the amount of possible action is limited by the duration of one’s lifespan, it is a part of one’s life that one invests in everything one values. The years, months, days or hours of thought, of interest, of action devoted to a value are the currency with which one pays for the enjoyment one receives from it.

 

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