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aarondodds

Standard of Value - Life, Posterity, Legacy

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It is my understanding that one's own life is presented as the objective standard of value by Ayn Rand.

Would it be Objective to also consider one's posterity and legacy as Objective Values? Perhaps, one would be willing to give up their own life in exchange for their genetic code passing on, or an immortalization of their work to live on for years beyond what their own life would have been? 

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Hi Aaron, welcome to the forum.

In your hypothetical, is this person on his death bed, or could he reasonably expect some healthy years to come?

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Thank you.

I would see little difference between the two.

If the monument will live beyond me, it seems worthwhile. But perhaps I'm in danger of practicing 'row boat philosophy' 

If my work would outlive me through my sacrifice, it seems like a fair trade of value. Maybe that's as much as it can be; a trade, the basis of value must still be one's own life... 

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An Objectivist would argue that no value can be had after an individual's death, because there is no value recipient. Other individuals may gain value through your work, but it would no longer be possible for you to gain any value yourself. Some value may have been gained while you were still alive by the thought of people for whom you care about continuing to benefit from your work after your death, so you still may wish to take lengths trying to ensure that your work is preserved after your death. But this lesser value only applies to your living self.

Why had you created your work to begin with? Presumably because you enjoyed the act of creation and seeing the fruits of your labor, seeing others enjoy it or become influenced by it, etc. The catalyst for creation was the benefit you received while you were alive. If you could somehow trade your healthy living years in exchange for greater dissemination of your work after you're gone, the necessary premise for value creation is flipped in theory, and no longer makes sense in practice.

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Hello,

What an interesting ethical question.  Since it is an abstract statement and no emergencies are given to justify an extreme either-or situation, my response is why is this an either-or situation? Live life to the fullest, create many values as you can, then when your life is coming to an end do the act that perpetuates it into the future. Building win-win situations starts with the self.  

But this an abstract answer.  JASKN gave the better concrete answer.  I'm just adding food for thought. 

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Interesting feedback, thank you.

Appreciate the forum to really act as teacher and sounding board.

One's life truly is the only objective value. Living on in memory or posterity essentially requires an afterlife for value. Only value in your work continuing beyond your life is to benefit those you love (who aren't moochers).

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In the introduction to "The Romantic Manifesto" Rand does say: “Anyone who fights for the future, lives in it today.”

On 8/22/2017 at 3:47 PM, aarondodds said:

One's life truly is the only objective value. Living on in memory or posterity essentially requires an afterlife for value.

But what if you can live Posterity now?

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It's crucial to keep in mind that Rand's conception of life as the ultimate end is not a "thin" conception of life as just bare bones survival. It is her formulation ("man qua man") of the Greek conception of living a truly flourishing and self-perfected life. To make the most of your life, in short.

To have such a full or "thick" conception of flourishing life may well include concern for posterity and leaving a legacy. Maybe even at the expense of, say, less important values to you, such as certain aspects of physical health.

For example, in the movie The Wrestler, the main character pursued his happiness through his chosen career field and even though he had numerous health concerns such as a blown out knee or bad back, he thought it all worth it at the end and wouldn't have taken any of it back (except, tragically, to focus more on his family, etc.)

For others, such a career field would be nonsense. The thing about living a fully expressed life of value pursuit is that it can't include a laundry list of values. It's not "X, Y, Z are henceforce decalre Official Objective Values!" Values are agent-relative and specific to your life and context. Of course there are generalized values such as reason, purpose, self-esteem, and food, shelter, relationships, etc. abstracted from general aspects of human nature, but there is no definitive list of ALL "official objective values."

Rand's egoism is an individualist egoism. So things like posterity and so for certainly can be values to you, but must be integrated into the totality of living a self-perfected life. It wouldn't make sense to sacrifice your life, or your other needs and interests for one value. (For example, when Mickey Rourkes character pursued his career to the detriment of personal relationships and later regretted it.) 

The Greeks had a conception of the "unity of virtue" that you couldn't fully have all the virtues of you were deficient in one virtue. Life will of course involve making trade-offs, but the point is to develop an all around well being within the context of your life. 

Edited by 2046

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On 8/22/2017 at 5:34 AM, aarondodds said:

It is my understanding that one's own life is presented as the objective standard of value by Ayn Rand.

 

 

I must dispute this, as I think there's an important distinction. "Man's life is the standard of value" - not one's own.

You can't be your own "standard", in short. Yours is your ultimate value. "Man's life" is an abstraction; one's own, the concrete.

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28 minutes ago, whYNOT said:

"Man's life is the standard of value" - not one's own.

You don't mean this. I would expect someone who believes in altruism to say that.

It sounds like "everyone's life is important, don't think yours is".

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

You don't mean this. I would expect someone who believes in altruism to say that.

It sounds like "everyone's life is important, don't think yours is".

Uh, no. Please re-read "Yours is the ultimate value", and rethink your claim of altruism.

Then take another look in VoS, from:

"The Objectivist ethics holds man's life as the ~standard~ of value -- and ~his own life~ as the ethical ~purpose~ of every individual man".

Do you see the distinction?

Don't you think that this most precise writer in the English language, would have instead phrased that:  "... holds *a* man's life as..." if she meant that each and every man, the individual, is his own standard of value? But she did not.

You will notice she goes on to painstakingly define "standard" - i.e. "an abstract principle", "a gauge" - as well as "purpose" - leading up to:

"Man must choose his actions, values and goals, by the standard of that which is proper to man--in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value...which is his own life". 

Thus, the abstraction "man's life qua man" is the standard of value for each individual. "By the standard of that which is proper to man" - yes?

That then is an *objective* standard, the alternate rendition is self-referencing, circular and subjective. edit: at best, non-objective.

Edited by whYNOT

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1 hour ago, whYNOT said:

Uh, no. Please re-read "Yours is the ultimate value", and rethink your claim of altruism.

Then take another look in VoS, from:

"The Objectivist ethics holds man's life as the ~standard~ of value -- and ~his own life~ as the ethical ~purpose~ of every individual man".

Do you see the distinction?

Don't you think that this most precise writer in the English language, would have instead phrased that:  "... holds *a* man's life as..." if she meant that each and every man, the individual, is his own standard of value? But she did not.

You will notice she goes on to painstakingly define "standard" - i.e. "an abstract principle", "a gauge" - as well as "purpose" - leading up to:

"Man must choose his actions, values and goals, by the standard of that which is proper to man--in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value...which is his own life". 

Thus, the abstraction "man's life qua man" is the standard of value for each individual. "By the standard of that which is proper to man" - yes?

That then is an *objective* standard, the alternate rendition is self-referencing, circular and subjective. edit: at best, non-objective.

I'm sorry but this seems nonsensical and prone to context dropping.  Surely a man's moral standard cannot be Man's life, as in Mankind's life, that isn't practicable or even possible even if one could make sense of it. Certainly understanding general principles of human exercise and diet etc are useful in determining right and wrong from the standpoint of activity and eating but only as a rough first approximation.  One must act in the context of ones own particular life but one's own person, taking his joint condition or seafood allergies into account to determine what is beneficial to his life and what is inimical to it.

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Apply the law of identity. It is man's life, that is being identified. The identity for a class is the same across the board.

"There is a morality of reason, a morality proper to man, and Man's Life is its standard of value."1

Morality is about what is proper to man to live. Any man in particular, all men in general, either of his own identification of the moral tenants, or via those who make life possible, even to those who may default on their responsibility.

"All that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; all that which destroys it is the evil."1

Again, the good and evil are assessed as being proper to the life of any particular rational being, or all rational beings in general.

"Man's life, as required by his nature, is not the life of a mindless brute, of a looting thug or a mooching mystic, but the life of a thinking being—not life by means of force or fraud, but life by means of achievement—not survival at any price, since there's only one price that pays for man's survival: reason."1

Reason is the one price that pays for man's survival, whether paid for by the particular man, or by some other man at large.

"Man's life is the standard of morality, but your own life is its purpose."1

The standard of morality is identified by the nature or identity of the general type or class, while the purposes are chosen by the individual particulars.

So if any particular individual has an allergy to seafood, just as any general individual may have such an allergy, in general, those individuals should avoid seafood as part of their particular diets.

1. Atlas Shrugged, pg. 932; For The New Intellectual, pg. 122; Philosophy" Who Needs It?, pg. 74.

Edited by dream_weaver

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9 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

I'm sorry but this seems nonsensical and prone to context dropping.  Surely a man's moral standard cannot be Man's life, as in Mankind's life,...

I don't think WhyNOT is talking about Mankind's life though. Perhaps he'll clarify.

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Thank you, SoftwareNerd. And to dream-weaver for raising this issue to an abstractive and metaphysical level.

My meaning is that one HAS one's own standards and values his life - but one cannot BE one's own "standard of value". This is an epistemological impossibility, I believe. It effectively states: whatever I choose must be of value because I am my measure of value. As I say, I find that non-objective.

For what really counts though, what did Rand mean?

""That which is required for the survival of man qua man" is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man".

And: "...by the standard of that which is proper to man..."

These and other passages, I think indisputably, explain Rand's application of "the standard of value" to "man's life" -- in the abstract. While one's own life is one's supreme value, the gauge by which to evaluate one's choices and actions is what "is proper to man's life". Not in the concrete 'other men's lives' - for those suspecting altruism! And this is not simple physical "survival", Objectivists know. The context of one's individual life has to be conceptually connected to that high principle, man's life. The abstraction needs plenty of unpacking.

Going back to her core statement on O'ist ethics, if it's read carefully, Rand specified "man's life", as the standard of value --  and then she directly and distinctly goes on to address the individual "and *his own life*" in the latter part of the statement.  I don't know how she could be clearer. "Man's life", I think acknowledges implicitly the identity of man's consciousness: reasoning, volitional and autonomous - and explicitly, the objective value of existence - from which one can derive "the end in himself", who is every man, and 'the end in itself", which his is life.

My thinking is that grounding rational egoism in the objective nature of "man" and that which is "proper" to man, and in the supreme value an individual (owning the ~capacity~ to value, and being the ~source~ of value) places in his life, is precisely what makes this ethics a radical departure from all other forms of "ethical egoism" (as it's generally called). For this morality has objective standards and an objective justification, based in reality, as Rand shows.

Conversely, in the several dismissive accounts we see leveled against egoism, critics often avoid metaphysics and "identity",  demean "value", and consider the ethics to be an arbitrary selection by the 'immorally selfish' and predatory.

Edited by whYNOT

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10 hours ago, whYNOT said:

These and other passages, I think indisputably, explain Rand's application of "the standard of value" to "man's life" -- in the abstract. While one's own life is one's supreme value, the gauge by which to evaluate one's choices and actions is what "is proper to man's life". 

Now that the meaning is sorted out, I have a question: what are the implications of the distinction?

Is it possible that what is good -- in principle and always -- for each and every individual, is actually not good for me? 

If yes, could you provide an example.

If not, are there additional things that are good for me, but not always good for each and every individual? I doubt this is possible as long as one expresses the latter abstractly enough, like "take the specific medicine related to your specific disease" , or even something more abstract like "take appropriate medicine when appropriate"

For additional clarity, it might help to focus on some sub-set of human endeavor: say car maintenance. Is it possible that "good car maintenance" is at odds with "the maintenance that my particular car -- with all its idiosyncrasies -- needs"?

Edited by softwareNerd

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On 9/20/2017 at 4:26 AM, softwareNerd said:

Now that the meaning is sorted out, I have a question: what are the implications of the distinction?

Is it possible that what is good -- in principle and always -- for each and every individual, is actually not good for me? 

If yes, could you provide an example.

If not, are there additional things that are good for me, but not always good for each and every individual? I doubt this is possible as long as one expresses the latter abstractly enough, like "take the specific medicine related to your specific disease" , or even something more abstract like "take appropriate medicine when appropriate"

For additional clarity, it might help to focus on some sub-set of human endeavor: say car maintenance. Is it possible that "good car maintenance" is at odds with "the maintenance that my particular car -- with all its idiosyncrasies -- needs"?

The implications of this distinction make for a fine line of enquiry. I think we recognize the same abstraction in slightly differing forms - your "each and every individual" - and mine, "of all men for all time".

Certainly, when it comes to chosen values, my choices of career, friends, leisure, art and so on, that I found for my good, according to my experience, interests and wants - are not (necessarily, or at all) the identical 'objective good' for the large majority of others. Here is when some will say these are 'subjective values', anyhow, misinterpreting the meaning of objectivity. You must have had several of those debates disputing "objective" value.  

As I see it, one should apply abstractions to abstractions first. To begin with: the concept, "man's life". For example, do the following abstractions promote and advance, or undermine and destroy 'man and his existence' (at random): capitalism, productive work, romantic love, freedom of speech, slavery, socialism, property rights, health ...etc.? We perceive and identify each concept, then evaluate from among them their value or disvalue, what is good and which is bad. On what basis? What one feels in the moment, what we are told by authorities, what everybody else accepts, or what -somehow- has value (intrinsically and mystically) in itself?

Definitely, by the standard of man and his life. (Good? - for whom, and for what end?) By "thinking in principles"  and having established his conclusions, each rational individual can and should implement the abstract values -- in his own life -- and in concrete form. Employing his virtues to find, create and sustain his own specific and chosen values in actions - work, love etc, etc. - for his specific "purpose", which is the total value of a happy and thriving life . 

So of course, specific and concrete values for any particular person differ enormously from all others, as you point out. (As I sometimes put it: you love Esmeralda, I love Jacqueline ;). But the value category is shared by us both). I believe every rational goal, activity or 'thing' can be traced back to the abstraction "man's life, the standard of value". Even if in a sub-sub-set of the principle, it holds up in the final analysis.

We have in Objectivism the axiomatic principle that existence (reality) is ~the standard~ of man's knowledge/truth. (If I may inject "standard" this way). As I see it, since fact and value, and life and value are inseparable - correspondingly in the sphere of morality, evaluation and assessing the good for each individual and for man, Rand posed also the objective principle - Man's life is the standard of value.

The implications you ask for I'm sure I haven't exhausted.

 

 

 

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13 hours ago, whYNOT said:

Here is when some will say these are 'subjective values', anyhow, misinterpreting the meaning of objectivity. You must have had several of those debates disputing "objective" value.

This is an excellent observation regarding confusions of some Objectivists.  [Are you familiar with Tara Smith's work on the subject of Objectivist values and ethics?]

Going the other way, however, how would you describe the distinction between the claim that the standard of morality is objective and the claim that the standard of morality is universal?

Do you see any error in equating objectivity with universality?

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