Welcome to Objectivism Online Forum

Welcome to Objectivism Online, a forum for discussing the philosophy of Ayn Rand. For full access, register via Facebook or email.

Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
epistemologue

You should choose to live

Rate this topic

12 posts in this topic

Man's life is the standard of moral value, and his own life is his moral purpose. So morally speaking, choosing to live is the most basic moral choice, that is the most basic thing that you should do. Anyone who chooses not to is abdicating their moral values, and contradicting their moral purpose.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Man is by nature faced with a fundamental alternative: identity or non-identity, existence or non-existence – life or death. The concept of value, of "good or evil", is not an arbitrary human invention, but rather is based on a metaphysical fact, on an unalterable condition of man's existence: his life. The ultimate value, the final goal or end to which all lesser goals are means, is man's life. His life is his standard of value: that which furthers his life is the good, and that which threatens it is the evil.1 The choice to live is therefore the most basic moral choice that one faces.2

 

(1)

See "The Objectivist Ethics", in "The Virtue of Selfishness" by Ayn Rand

 

(2)

Quote

"This, in every hour and every issue, is your basic moral choice: thinking or non-thinking, existence or non-existence, A or non-A, entity or zero."
- John Galt,
Atlas Shrugged 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Quote

...reality is the starting point, and one cannot engage in debates about why one should prefer it—to nothing. Nor can one ask for some more basic value the pursuit of which validates the decision to remain in reality. The commitment to remain in the realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment. About every concrete within the universe and about every human evaluation of these, one can in some context ask questions or demand proofs. In regard to the sum of reality as such, however, there is nothing to do but grasp: it is—and then, if the fundamental alternative confronts one, bow one's head in a silent "amen," amounting to the words: "This is where I shall fight to stay."

- Leonard Peikoff, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand"

Edited by epistemologue

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not only is the choice to live the most basic moral choice that one should make, but the choice to die (suicide), is the most immoral choice that one can make.

And further, everyone should strive to live forever, through the pursuit of the scientific advancement of life extension. This should be one's central purpose in life.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Why not compile that into one post so it's easier to read?

Anyway, a few things first:

1) When Rand speaks of choosing to live as the most basic moral choice, I don't know if she means it is the most basic choice in the realm of morality (e.g. murder is a choice with moral implications), or if she means it is the most basic morally good choice. Do you think these are different?

2) I agree with all the implications of commiting onself to life, to existence.

Moving on...

 "one cannot engage in debates about why one should prefer it—to nothing."
How can "should" apply to something that cannot be proven as right? Peikoff says there is nothing to do but grasp, there is no discussion to be had. He seems to be saying there is no "should" because any reason to pursue life and existence presumes a commitment to remain in reality. Where would you say the commitment originates?

The two questions above aren't rhetorical.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Louie, since life is the ultimate value, to which all others are means, the choice to commit one's self to that ultimate value is the most basic decision, from which all other moral decisions should follow. Choosing to live is the most fundamental good choice that you can make, choosing not to live is the most fundamental bad choice that you can make.

Peikoff's argument *is* a proof. It's a proof by contradiction. Any moral argument you make carries certain presuppositions, that existence exists, that you are alive, that you are capable of making a choice, etc. So you are already pre-committed to reality in the very act of debating the issue, and any conclusion which goes against that is self-contradictory.

Where did this commitment originate? Well you were born as a living thing. So for us, it's just metaphysically given, that's what we are.

Edited by epistemologue

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Premise: ". . . life is the ultimate value, to which all others are means, the choice to commit one's self to that ultimate value is the most basic decision, from which all other moral decisions should follow." Conclusion: "Choosing to live is the most fundamental good choice that you can make, choosing not to live is the most fundamental bad choice that you can make."

That conclusion you've drawn is a nonsequitar from the premise. There's a difference between a choice related to the issue of that which is good and a choice which is itself good. 

As for a commitment to being in reality, we had no choice in getting here and just getting here in the first place doesn't prove one should stay here. The most that can be proven by somebody asking why they should remain in existence is that they do in fact have at least some degree of care about existing already (since reasons only matter within existence). That they do already care, however, is still not proof that they *should* care.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

bluecherry, I just showed how Peikoff's argument *is* a proof. Since you are already pre-committed to reality in the very act of debating the issue, any conclusion which goes against that is self-contradictory, and therefore cannot be morally or rationally justified. So choosing not to live is immoral, and choosing to live, and all of the moral commitments that come with that choice, is moral.

Here's my answer to the "is-ought" problem more generally: moral claims of "you ought to do X" must be claims that you ought to act according to your nature. A claim that you ought to act in contradiction to your nature is self-contradictory: the action contradicts the identity of the subject. For this reason, moral necessity derives not from the alternative of *physical* life or death, as Objectivists try to argue, but from the alternative of *identity or non-identity*. Any action you take has to be consistent with what you are.

A human being is a living organism. Life is one of the most fundamental characteristics of human identity, and so the choice to live is one of the most fundamental moral choices.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
25 minutes ago, epistemologue said:

Peikoff's argument *is* a proof.

Peikoff explains how it isn't in the part you didn't bold... If there is a proof, it's yours, and ultimately that means it doesn't make sense. In a way, choosing life is axiomatic: it's just there and it happens absent any formal reasons or justification. This is what Peikoff means.

Commitment to life is a volitional attitude, perhaps a doxastic attitude (an attitude of holding a belief). That attitude is not innate, as it requires a will. You seem to suggest a commitment to life is innate, that by nature we all are committed to life regardless of will.

A nihilist, for example, has NO commitments.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"bluecherry, I just showed how Peikoff's argument *is* a proof. Since you are already pre-committed to reality in the very act of debating the issue, any conclusion which goes against that is self-contradictory, and therefore cannot be morally or rationally justified. So choosing not to live is immoral, and choosing to live, and all of the moral commitments that come with that choice, is moral."

It's true that you can't prove you shouldn't seek to remain in existence. However, it's not for the reasons you say. All that having an argument about the subject proves is that somebody DOES care about reason and therefore DOES care about staying in existence (since reason is moot if you don't exist.) That doesn't prove anything about what one morally ought to do, unless you want to try to go down a very different moral path and start arguing there's inherent merits of hedonism, that you are morally obligated to do whatever the hell you want just because you want it.

"Here's my answer to the 'is-ought' problem more generally: moral claims of 'you ought to do X' must be claims that you ought to act according to your nature."

That's your position. You've given no reason for why. Objectivism's answer is "IF you want to live, THEN you out to because that's how you survive and thrive." If somebody isn't seeking to live, then those considerations of survival and thriving are irrelevant to them. What do you have to offer somebody as cause to give a damn about acting according to their nature, their nature including being a reasoning being, when they already don't care to stay alive?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Given this ethical foundation, there are a couple of important issues to derive: not only is the choice to live the most basic moral choice that one should make, but the choice to die (suicide), is the most immoral choice that one can make. And further, everyone should strive to live forever, through the pursuit of the scientific advancement of life extension, this should be one's central purpose in life.

On suicide:

Suicide is immoral

Leonard Peikoff, "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand":

"...reality is the starting point, and one cannot engage in debates about why one should prefer it—to nothing. Nor can one ask for some more basic value the pursuit of which validates the decision to remain in reality. The commitment to remain in the realm of that which *is*, is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment. About every concrete within the universe and about every human evaluation of these, one can in some context ask questions or demand proofs. In regard to the sum of reality as such, however, there is nothing to do but grasp: it is—and then, if the fundamental alternative confronts one, bow one's head in a silent "amen," amounting to the words: "This is where I shall fight to stay.""

Peikoff's argument is a proof by contradiction: since you are already pre-committed to remaining in reality in the very act of debating the issue, any conclusion which denies that premise is self-contradictory. Since choosing to die implies a contradiction, it cannot be rationally justified, and therefore cannot be morally justified. No one can exit the realm of morality guiltlessly.

Suicide cannot be an "affirmation of life"

You cannot affirm your life by destroying it. Choosing to die is not a "pro-life choice", that is absurd.

To act on the assumption that happiness is impossible, to act purely for the sake of escaping pain - so far from being an affirmation of what life ought to be, it would be a declaration that suffering *is* important and that it *does* matter. You are *rejecting* the belief that suffering is unimportant, and is only to be fought and thrown aside, and not accepted as a meaningful part of one's view of existence. It would not be an affirmation of a happy life - that would be in fact be the most damning *denial* that you could make.

In such a tragic situation where happiness seems impossible, the way to affirm your life is to continue to seek your happiness *despite* the tragedy and hopelessness of the situation. To affirm life, even amidst the worst possible torture, is to bow one's head in a silent "amen" to life, amounting to the words: "This is where I shall stay to fight. Suffering does not matter. I exist for the sake of achieving values, and suicide is not going to serve that quest."

Reducing suffering is a means to an end

There is always room for rational risk-taking as a means to pursue one's values, even significant risks. Risking one's life in a military context, for example, is the *defense* of one's life, it is the *pursuit* of life and the *pursuit* of happiness. It's exactly the opposite of making a deliberate choice to die. An *irrational* risk is a tradeoff in which the reward, in terms of one's life and happiness, is less than what one is risking. In the case of suicide, one is *sacrificing* one's life and happiness entirely - there is no tradeoff at all there! A soldier is risking his life for the sake of his quest to pursue life and happiness. Suicide does not serve such a quest.

And this is not to say that pain is a good thing, either; pain is a miserable evil that ought to be fought. Pain and suffering are a terrible affliction, and if someone you loved were suffering, you would want to do everything you can to help them find relief. People should be given as much pain medication as they want; it's not the government's job to prescribe how much pain medication a person gets to have. Even if they want to risk their life with a dangerously high dosage, it can be worth it to them. Pain interferes with our thinking, our values, and our actions. A person in tremendous pain can and sometimes should take a dangerous risk with pain medications in order to bring themselves to a more functional level, and it would be right to help them. There is always room for rational risk-taking, even significant risks like in military contexts, or in this case taking high doses of pain medication. There's a risk there, but it's for the sake of a reward, it's ultimately for the sake of life and happiness.

The only issue with eliminating suffering is when it goes past the point of absurdity: where you're sacrificing your ultimate value - your life - for a lesser value, the relief of suffering. This is not a moral choice. Reducing suffering is only a means to a higher end: your life and your happiness.

The ultimate standard: pursuing happiness vs. escaping pain

The *ultimate* value and the *ultimate* purpose in ethics - the ultimate one, to which all others are means - is one's life and happiness. Reducing suffering is a means to life and happiness, reducing suffering is not an end in itself.

It's a matter of choice whether we want to give more importance to the positives that are available to us at any time, or to the negatives that we are suffering. When a person commits suicide, they are choosing to value the importance of avoiding the negatives as higher than the pursuit of the positives. To reify pain, to make pain your ultimate standard, and to choose to die to avoid pain, rather than to choose to live and to pursue happiness, directly contradicts the ultimate standard of moral values. 

We ought to live for the sake of pursuing the positives, not for the sake of avoiding the negatives. Suffering ought not matter, down to a certain point yes, but not ultimately. You should never sacrifice your life and your pursuit of happiness for any reason, any suffering is worth enduring compared to that. Suicide is a bad trade. It's a sacrifice of your highest value, your life, for nothing in return but the mere relief of suffering. It's not worth it. It's not moral, and it's not rational. 

Suicide is not an expression of "love of life", it's an expression of a hatred of suffering. It's okay to hate suffering, but that is not the ultimate value. Hatred of suffering is trumped by something even more basic: a love of living.

Positive values are possible despite suffering

The purpose of enduring pain is for the sake of *joy* - it's not for "no end whatever", it's not the "mere continuation in hopeless agony". In psychology there is a concept known as "resilience". Resilience is the ability to adjust your expectations and your goals according to your circumstances - even in the face of a dramatic change of your circumstances, as in the case of devastating loss or extreme suffering. It's the ability to stay optimistic and look on the positive side - to seek and to find good things that are within your range.

Consider the findings of a recent study: "Locked-in patients trapped inside their paralysed bodies have told doctors they are ‘happy’ using an astonishing new brain computer interface which deciphers their thoughts... On seven out of 10 occasions the patients said they were happy despite their utterly debilitating condition". 

Or consider the case of Christopher Reeves as Louie describes: "If you give up life because you were once a famous actor and are now a quadripalegic is plainly cowardly and foolish. Christopher Reeves still led a worthwhile life. To give up as soon as life is a bit tough or needing to alter what -usually- makes you happiest. Changing course isn't the end."

If Reeves committed suicide he would have achieved less than he was capable of - it would have been self-sacrificial. And yet if Reeves held himself to the same standard of being an able-bodied Superman actor, something more than what he was capable of, he would have achieved nothing but failure - and still would not have achieved the things he could, which would be equally self-destructive and self-sacrificial. So the fault you would find with a former athlete or actor, for example, who decides to commit suicide because they can no longer pursue their previous career, is that they lack *resilience* (incidentally, watch the movie Me Before You for a dramatization of exactly this issue).

Even in pain and suffering you can love life, and realize that it is priceless opportunity that you should get the most out of that you can before it's gone.

A quote from Marie Bashkirtseff:

"In this depression and dreadful uninterrupted suffering, I don't condemn life. On the contrary, I like it and find it good. Can you believe it? I find everything good and pleasant, even my tears, my grief. I enjoy weeping, I enjoy my despair. I enjoy being exasperated and sad. I feel as if these were so many diversions, and I love life in spite of them all. I want to live on. It would be cruel to have me die when I am so accommodating. I cry, I grieve, and at the same time I am pleased - no, not exactly that - I know not how to express it. But everything in life pleases me. I find everything agreeable, and in the very midst of my prayers for happiness, I find myself happy at being miserable. It is not I who undergo all this - my body weeps and cries; but something inside of me which is above me is glad of it all."

Note that she said "I love life in spite of them all" - she loves the *positives* in life *in spite* of the suffering.

To quote from Louie:

"Other experiences are present despite that pain, and those are valuable to some degree. Better yet, with a proper mindset, that pain diminishes to entirely bearable. As a minor example, my knee hurts a bit if I focus on pain from a minor injury, but it goes to the back of my mind as other experiences matter more and are present as a degree of pleasure. The proper attitude would reduce it to manageable levels; only a real nihilist may say existing at all is an excruciating horror.

I'm not saying pain is unreal, or only the fault of bad thinking. The point is that with a good attitude, the pain will be there, but it isn't going to be so bad that life is impossible. Difficult, yes, but people can cope. Attaining and reaching for value is always possible. This may appear awful, terrible, a "clawing for life" perhaps. Here is where I agree with the word "reification", that is, making pain into something more than it is. In fact, the pursuit of life is there, the values are there - life didn't stop. Nothing about her nature as a person ceased."

What these people are reporting, and others can personally corroborate, is that pain and pleasure are not mutually exclusive values on a single continuum. One can be in pain, and yet feel pleasure. One can be suffering, but happy. They are independent variables. 

*Every* positive thing you can experience, from the simplest joy of opening your eyes and enjoying the view, *is* still a positive, despite any level of suffering that's happening at the time. The pain cannot take that positive away. Joy is not "the absence of pain".

Such positives do exist for anyone who is conscious at all. As I quoted from Louie, "only a real nihilist may say existing at all is an excruciating horror." You exist for the sake of enjoying those values, and every action you take should be for the sake of that end.

There should be no law against it

No law should prohibit someone from choosing to commit suicide. Nobody should be "forced to live" against their will. Everyone's individual rights, to be free from compulsion, should be respected by law to the fullest extent in a proper government.

On moral condemnation

Choosing to commit suicide could be based on an error of knowledge or reasoning, rather than a purely moral failing per se. Someone who committed suicide should not necessarily be condemned as an immoral person.But suicide is a morally wrong choice in principle. There is a fault in the choice to commit suicide, it is a sacrifice of your values. There is a better choice, one that we are free to make, though it may be difficult. We can choose to live. Even if that choice is so much harder, that is the one we ought to take.

Edited by epistemologue

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/15/2017 at 1:19 PM, epistemologue said:

Man's life is the standard of moral value, and his own life is his moral purpose. So morally speaking, choosing to live is the most basic moral choice, that is the most basic thing that you should do. Anyone who chooses not to is abdicating their moral values, and contradicting their moral purpose.

Except that it isn't.

If life is what you want, you must pay for it, by accepting and practicing a code of rational behavior. Morality, too, is a must—if; it is the price of the choice to live. That choice itself, therefore, is not a moral choice; it precedes morality; it is the decision of consciousness that underlies the need of morality. OPAR Pg. 245

Miss Rand addresses this with the exchange between Dagny Taggart and Hugh Akston in the valley:

So long as men desire to live, I cannot lose my battle."
"Do they?" said Hugh Akston softly. "Do they desire it?

 

StrictlyLogical likes this

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.