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There has been some great discussion about values lately, and so I'd like to present a brief case for my notion of a complex standard of value. Any feedback or criticism would be appreciated. This is only the beginning of a work in progress.

I start with the idea that humans have three basic aspects: the physical, the mental, and the biological.  Also, for each aspect we can hold a separate standard of value. For the physical it's pleasure over pain; for the mental, it's knowledge over ignorance; and for the biological, it's health over sickness.

Next, many people seem to believe that man is primarily one of these aspects, while the others are secondary. They argue for what I call a simple standard of value. If man is primarily physical, then his standard of value is pleasure. If he's primarily mental, then his standard is knowledge. And if man is primarily biological, then the standard is health. I call such positions the Simple Man Fallacy. It means taking the standard of value for one aspect of man and applying it to the whole person. I suppose it's an example of the fallacy of composition.

I believe it is critical that we form a complex standard of value which integrates the three standards of man's existence: pleasure, knowledge, and health. Rand of course argued for the standard of value being man's life. But there is much confusion over what that means precisely. She said it means: "that which is required for man's survival qua man." And what does that mean? She explained:

Quote

"Man's survival qua man" means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan--in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice.

This is a complex answer that is difficult to digest. For example, how do we figure out which terms, methods, conditions and goals are required for our survival as a rational being? Well, to answer that question, I suggest we consider in equal measure the three basic aspects of our existence: the physical, the mental, and the biological. We should formulate a complex standard of value which integrates our critical needs for pleasure, knowledge, and health.

Edited by MisterSwig

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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I suggest we consider in equal measure the three basic aspects of our existence: the physical, the mental, and the biological. We should formulate a complex standard of value which integrates our critical needs for pleasure, knowledge, and health.

If you want to work with 3 aspects, then so be it. But what if someone else comes along and says I want to work with 5 aspects. How would you limit it? 

Also, why limit your self to 3? You could also have Psychological, Evolutionary, Longevity etc. added. 

I think of standard as The single (only) comparator (entity/aspect to compare with). I personally think that there should be one standard that incorporates all the aspects and I think that is what Rand attempted.

I assume that some of the 3 aspects in a sense are being ignored compared to the others and that concerns you. Which one is not getting enough attention?
The other question I have is, "knowledge as a value", isn't it derived from biological? Pleasure may also a be an aspect of biological.
 

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You want to get complex, eh? Well, you've asked the right accountant.

The standard of value is life, but how do you measure your life and its three (or more) aspects? If it can't be measured, it can't be controlled. You have to have a readily-identifiable metric to track what you want to measure. Otherwise you're just comparing apples to oranges.

One metric that you could use is money measured in dollars. I would suggest that you track the money that you spend and budget it based on what you value in life. I've done this for myself and it's helped me to see the bigger picture. In doing so, I've separated mandatory spending vs. discretionary spending. Watching a movie is discretionary spending, it fulfills a want. Buying groceries is mandatory spending; you must eat to stay alive, it fulfills a need. Hopefully you enjoy your food, nonetheless it's still mandatory spending.

I use an accounting app to track the amount of money that I spend, and then break this down into categories by expense. Here is how much I spent in 2017 on ten various categories, plus other. I've bolded items which are discretionary.

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As you can see, the vast majority of my money goes to rent, healthcare, and groceries. This is money that I have to spend... while I can control it a little bit, I am not comfortable with spending any less than what I do. I would have to live in a bad neighborhood, or go to a quack doctor, or eat ramen noodles to reduce any of these. 

It's only when you get to entertainment that you come to discretionary spending. "Pleasure" as you would categorize it. I could spend less on entertainment, but I enjoy entertainment and I'm not willing to reduce my expenditures in that area. I'm not spending so much on entertainment that it eclipses any of my necessary expenses, I.E. rent, healthcare, and groceries. Thus I'm fulfilling my values in this area in a balanced way. As for knowledge, a good portion of my interest expense is for student loans.

A second metric that you could use is time, measured in hours. Unlike money, time is a non-renewable resource. You can keep a journal of how much time you spend each week on each thing that you value. Work, exercise, fun, etc. Then you can see what areas you need to spend more time in, and what areas you spend too much time in. I'm not an expert in time management, so I'll leave that to somebody else to address.

8 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

But what if someone else comes along and says I want to work with 5 aspects. How would you limit it? 

Your goal should be to limit it to categories that are useful to you. I can't tell you how many aspects you need... five, or fifty. I've used ten above, plus one for "other," because these are all useful for me to know. These 10 categories might not be useful to you. Part of the discipline of accounting is presenting relevant information to the client that they need to know.

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26 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

If you want to work with 3 aspects, then so be it. But what if someone else comes along and says I want to work with 5 aspects. How would you limit it? 

The limit would be those fundamental aspects which are absolutely necessary for the existence of a human being. There is no example of a non-physical human. There is no non-mental human. And there is no non-biological human.

It is true that the mental depends upon the biological, and the biological depends upon the physical. But I submit they are unique states of existence which are all necessary in order to have a human being.

35 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

Also, why limit your self to 3? You could also have Psychological, Evolutionary, Longevity etc. added. 

I considered adding emotional and volitional, but decided that they are not unique states of existence. They are types of mental, and they almost certainly exist in lower animals too. Psychological is a type of mental. Evolutionary and longevity are types of biological.

42 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

I personally think that there should be one standard that incorporates all the aspects and I think that is what Rand attempted.

I agree. But how do you accomplish that in a way that you can mentally retain and use to properly guide your actions? It seems like Rand's formulation is too confusing for many Objectivists.

46 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

I assume that some of the 3 aspects in a sense are being ignored compared to the others and that concerns you. Which one is not getting enough attention?

The mental, which I think makes sense because it's the least understood aspect. Objectivists tend to agree on the physical and the biological. But when it comes to the mental we often disagree on whether the mind is a type of matter. And we haven't really solved the problem of free will. So it's hard to integrate an aspect you don't actually understand. Hence, your last question...

1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

The other question I have is, "knowledge as a value", isn't it derived from biological? Pleasure may also a be an aspect of biological.

I can agree that the mental depends on the biological. Without a living organism, there would be no mental organism. But I can't agree that knowledge is derived from the biological. It's derived, or obtained, from the mental's awareness of existence in general, which includes the physical, the biological, and the mental.

As for pleasure, it does seem to be both a physical and biological value. The same could be said for health. I'll have to think about that some more and get back to you.

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9 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Psychological is a type of mental. Evolutionary and longevity are types of biological.

Isn't biological quite close to physical, too. I've always thought of values as mind+body rather than three. Do you think further distinction is needed?

From my experience, a degree of physical value pursuit is needed to "top up" one's happiness. I say this even though I'm generally very sedentary. I find that there comes a point where I know I have to do something, even if it is painting a door, washing the car. 

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1 minute ago, softwareNerd said:

Isn't biological quite close to physical, too. I've always thought of values as mind+body rather than three. Do you think further distinction is needed?

Yes, further distinction is needed because the human body requires values for two primary systems: sensation and motion. We need pleasure for our sensory system. And we need health for our motor system. I believe each primary bodily system requires certain values in order to function properly. And therefore a standard of value is needed for each one. I don't think the mind has a similar division because it doesn't directly sense the outside world. It relies on the body for that. 

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2 hours ago, CartsBeforeHorses said:

The standard of value is life, but how do you measure your life and its three (or more) aspects? If it can't be measured, it can't be controlled. You have to have a readily-identifiable metric to track what you want to measure. Otherwise you're just comparing apples to oranges.

Fascinating. It never even occurred to me that I could possibly measure these aspects.

2 hours ago, CartsBeforeHorses said:

It's only when you get to entertainment that you come to discretionary spending. "Pleasure" as you would categorize it.

Actually I would categorize entertainment (movies and music) with knowledge. Pleasure is physical pleasure, not the mental kind. I'll think about this and see if I can categorize more items.

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Hmm, of the three categories you've named you said there are three standards of value and then listed pleasure vs pain, knowledge vs ignorance, health vs sickness.

But these aren't standards of value, these are alternatives. Now alternatives are a part of what makes value and choosing possible, but you still need a standard of value in order to act. If you just had an alternative and no means by which to measure it, then you could choose whichever, it wouldn't make a difference.

The fact that what we choose makes a difference according to some ultimate end, is what enables a standard of value, which then enables a basis on which to measure, examine, and to choose between the alternatives.

So you haven't actually solved your own problem (providing a multifaceted standard of value) you've just listed some basic alternatives that we face as humans on those levels of our nature.

But the question is valid, you might say okay we do have reason to believe we have an ultimate end, but why suppose that our actions aim at some single, overarching end, rather than an aggregate of particular ends? I do think that Aristotle is correct insofar as we can't have an infinite regresss, so our choosing has to aim at and end that stops the means-end chain at some point, and I also think that there is reason to believe this is one unitary end that subsumes all others. I think the reasons for this are a part of the nature of choosing. Here's me best attempt to distill it:

Suppose there are two things I value, A and B, and as we've already determined that we face alternatives, and so I can't have them both, and there can't be an infinite regress. So I deliberate, but what is deliberation? I think about which to pick. And so deliberation is itself an action, it is a purposive activity aiming at an end, and it's not an end in itself. But what is the end of my deliberation? Suppose I ended up choosing A, so you say A was the end of deliberating. Kinda makes sense. But this can't be because I might've rejected A in favor of B, in which case we couldn't say that my deliberation failed in its end. So it can't be A or B itself for the same reason, nor could it be A+B because we have already determined that these are alternatives. It also couldn't be something like "having either A or B" because I could then simply pick one at random and there'd be no point of deliberating. Deliberating then must involve some end distinct from the alternatives and has to subsume the alternatives in question, in order to allow deliberation. As we have seen, having a standard of value allows deliberation, a bar against which to measure or compare. 

Edited by 2046

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2 hours ago, 2046 said:

Hmm, of the three categories you've named you said there are three standards of value and then listed pleasure vs pain, knowledge vs ignorance, health vs sickness.

But these aren't standards of value, these are alternatives.

I actually said "pleasure over pain." You're right that an alternative is not a standard. Which is why I said that pleasure is the standard. Not pain. Think of it this way: what is the alternative to life? It's death. So you could say that the standard is life over death. That doesn't mean death is part of the standard. It means it's the absence of the standard.

2 hours ago, 2046 said:

As we have seen, having a standard of value allows deliberation, a bar against which to measure or compare. 

Yes, I basically agree with your thoughts on deliberation. Hopefully I cleared up the confusion about alternatives.

Edited by MisterSwig

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Ah okay, I see. So there's kind of a triumvirate of pleasure, knowledge, and health as the ultimate trinity of value. 

Well I certainly agree that these things are valuable as implied by human nature. But are they really ultimate values? What makes something an ultimate value is that it can't be a means to a further end. But is that really the case here? I'd have a hard time believing that these three aren't also means to life and well-being.

Furthermore, to be an ultimate value, one has to be such that it can serve as a standard. Can pleasure be a standard? As critics of hedonism point out, if pleasure is an automatic response to value judgment, it is circular to use as a standard. I'd imagine that knowledge and health are subject to similar kinds criticisms.

Isn't this classification really not so much of a three-pronged ultimate value, but three constitutive aspects of a singular ultimate value. All of these things like health, wealth, pleasure, happiness, knowledge, friendship, virtue, career, these are categories or more narrowed-down content of our ultimate end, but like I argued before, if deliberate about these things, that is reason to believe it doesn't really make conceptual sense to think of 12 different ultimate ends and standards of value, rather as one overarching end.

Edited by 2046

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This is an interesting thread.

I think the problem here is that the triple standard asserted in the OP is subjective. No justification is given for why these are the ultimate standards, they are just sort of grabbed out of the air. It would not be possible to apply such a standard objectively, since it's asserted in a void, without context. When do you pursue pleasure over health and vice versa, for example? In principle, there can be no answer if both pleasure and health are ultimate standards.

I don't think any reasonable person would deny that pleasure, knowledge, and health are valuable, but you have to start doing ethics from a demonstrable standard, which is the purpose of Rand's derivation of life as the root of value.

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3 hours ago, 2046 said:

Well I certainly agree that these things are valuable as implied by human nature. But are they really ultimate values? What makes something an ultimate value is that it can't be a means to a further end.

Here's the thing about life: you are born with it. You did not gain it. Your parents did that for you. However, you do have to sustain and improve it, or you'll lose it.

Life is not a final end in a chain of values that you did not possess beforehand. It's that ultimate thing that you already have and must work to keep by gaining other values which sustain it.

What are the primary values that sustain human life? I say they are pleasure, health, and knowledge.

3 hours ago, 2046 said:

Can pleasure be a standard?

There is some confusion regarding what I mean by pleasure, so let me be clear. I don't mean mental or emotional pleasure, i.e. happiness. I mean physical, sensory pleasure. A positive feeling or sensation. I mean everything from simple comfort in the womb to orgasmic ecstasy with a lover. Such pleasure is the ultimate physical value, and thus the standard for this aspect of human life.

4 hours ago, 2046 said:

Isn't this classification really not so much of a three-pronged ultimate value, but three constitutive aspects of a singular ultimate value.

I think that's a fair description, keeping in mind my response about life as the ultimate sustained (not gained) value.

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Okay yes I can generally agree with this. Couple of things I would add:

On life, well yes of course we initially start out with life as a given or starting point. Life is after all what makes valuing possible. Values are a biocentric concept. But values are a constant process of sustaining and keeping, like you say. Keeping and sustaining are just part of what valuing is. Take any of the virtues, I don't just tell the truth once and I have honesty, it's a constant process of maintaining a character disposition. That's going to be the case with any value. And of course when I deliberate about any choice, say A or B, is the meta-choice to make choices at all. This is the biological basis of ethics as a hypothetical system. In this sense, it's meaningless to say that an ultimate value isn't gained but sustained. You still choose it in every act of deliberation.

What I think creates difficultly is the thick conception of life that Randians support, this is not reducible to being born or morgue avoidance. Objectivists often say "life is the standard of value" but packed into that is many equivocations on many levels. It is a certain qualitative life that is the ultimate value, not just being born. The Greek conception of "eudaimonia" or "flourishing" is much more expressive of what the ultimate end actually is.

It seems like you're making your triumvirate more as your three cardinal values, much like Rand's "reason, purpose, self-esteem." Cardinal values are basically narrowing the content of an ultimate end. Cicero, a classical eudaimonist drew 4 categories: universal human nature, inborn talents, social context, personal choices.

On pleasure, even moreso on literally sensory pleasure: can this be a standard by which to evaluation and measure choices? The porn or sex addict, then drug abuser, the approval seeker, the glutton, they would all be flourishing if so, but I think we pause at this. There are many things that give us sensory pleasure but are bad for our survival and wellbeing. I think the Greek theory of the "unity of virtue here" is pertinent. The idea being that the content of one virtue can't be settled wholly apart from the content of the other virtues. Certainly pleasure is good, but it can't be settled apart from considerations of prudence, temperance, rationality, health, etc. I think it way more reasonable to consider it merely one constitutive aspect of a flourishing life.

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5 hours ago, William O said:

When do you pursue pleasure over health and vice versa, for example?

Such a determination depends on the context of one's life. Normally all of the standards should be integrated so that you're acting knowledgeably, pleasurably, and healthily. However, if an indulgence in one aspect detrimentally  affects another, then consider reducing the indulgence to achieve a desired balance. For example, don't drink so much alcohol that you black out and hurt yourself (pleasure over health). Maybe limit consumption to two glasses of wine instead of a whole bottle.

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1 hour ago, 2046 said:

And of course when I deliberate about any choice, say A or B, is the meta-choice to make choices at all. This is the biological basis of ethics as a hypothetical system. In this sense, it's meaningless to say that an ultimate value isn't gained but sustained. You still choose it in every act of deliberation.

This is puzzling me. Are you saying that since we create thoughts which are part of our life, we therefore gain life when we deliberate and make decisions? To compare this to the material realm, it might be like growing new skin cells. The cells are alive, and therefore we have gained new life.

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When you deliberate, there are the things you are deliberating about. But there's also a "meta-choice" involved, in that you choose to make choices in the first place. For if you did not, then you would be in the words of Aristotle, no better than a vegetable. The particular thoughts in your head are omitted here, what is of note is that choosing presupposes the choice to remain a part of existence.

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2 hours ago, 2046 said:

It seems like you're making your triumvirate more as your three cardinal values, much like Rand's "reason, purpose, self-esteem."

I think of her cardinal values as types of critical knowledge. They pertain to the mental aspect. And I agree that they are cardinal values, because you really aren't a man without a rational mind. My three values are more like cardinal standards.

2 hours ago, 2046 said:

On pleasure, even moreso on literally sensory pleasure: can this be a standard by which to evaluation and measure choices?

Yes, but it has to be applied within the proper context of man's other aspects. Let's take the drug abuser as an example. He's probably indulging in pleasure to the detriment of both his knowledge and health. If he's experiencing ignorance (memory loss, stupidity, confusion) and sickness (withdrawls, blackouts, malnutrition), he should immediately reduce or end the drug use. Or seek professional help if he's physically addicted to a hard substance.

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1 hour ago, 2046 said:

When you deliberate, there are the things you are deliberating about. But there's also a "meta-choice" involved, in that you choose to make choices in the first place. For if you did not, then you would be in the words of Aristotle, no better than a vegetable. The particular thoughts in your head are omitted here, what is of note is that choosing presupposes the choice to remain a part of existence.

Is this the choice to live? Is this the choice that makes morality applicable?

But if we think of it that way, wouldn't there be a choice to make the choice to make the pre-choice choice? Infinite regress?

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4 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Such a determination depends on the context of one's life. Normally all of the standards should be integrated so that you're acting knowledgeably, pleasurably, and healthily. However, if an indulgence in one aspect detrimentally  affects another, then consider reducing the indulgence to achieve a desired balance. For example, don't drink so much alcohol that you black out and hurt yourself (pleasure over health). Maybe limit consumption to two glasses of wine instead of a whole bottle.

This sounds like how a life coach would work with you, dividing your life into a circle that has slices that correspond to a different aspect of your life and you score them, both in current achievement and then what you want to improve. Each coaching school has their own  "proprietary" slices. So in the system, you are proposing, let us say one would score knowledge 6 but want it to be 9, pleasure 4 but I want it to be 8 within two months etc. and then designing the steps to achieve them.

But it is based on psychological needs and positive psychology determinations usually based on how Aristotle determined his definition of flourishing, basically by taking a poll of people how are doing well. My understanding is that Aristotle does not hold all goals together with one ultimate goal, it is a combination of states that in aggregate is flourishing.

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2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

Yes, but it has to be applied within the proper context of man's other aspects. Let's take the drug abuser as an example. He's probably indulging in pleasure to the detriment of both his knowledge and health. If he's experiencing ignorance (memory loss, stupidity, confusion) and sickness (withdrawls, blackouts, malnutrition), he should immediately reduce or end the drug use. Or seek professional help if he's physically addicted to a hard substance.

Based on this, the ultimate goal is Balance. My only concern is that I know people who hold "Balance" as the ultimate goal and they are far from Balanced. Balance is not a clear and unambiguous direction. I suspect because they don't have an ultimate goal that arbitrates between the subgoals. Pain or pleasure or emotions are not a tool of cognition because they are not reliable. Sometimes they correspond what is "good" and sometimes they don't.

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3 hours ago, 2046 said:

But there's also a "meta-choice" involved, in that you choose to make choices in the first place.

Kind of like a First Cause for volition?

I don't think that's quite how it works though. I have a theory on free will and how it develops during childhood. In a nutshell, we learn to act volitionally by experiencing ourselves act reflexively. Essentially choice is a learned skill that we perform by an act of will.

The "meta-choice" you describe might be the will focusing consciousness inward. It's basically introspection of your mental content. This is indeed a real choice. It is the choice to introspect rather than extrospect. It is the necessary first choice before you can deliberate upon various thoughts.

If that doesn't seem right to you, let me know, because I'm most curious about this subject and how others experience their mental aspect.

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

This sounds like how a life coach would work with you, dividing your life into a circle that has slices that correspond to a different aspect of your life and you score them, both in current achievement and then what you want to improve.

Yeah, that sounds like something. I'll look into it. Too bad I'm not a very visual thinker or else I might invent some charts of my own.

1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

Based on this, the ultimate goal is Balance. My only concern is that I know people who hold "Balance" as the ultimate goal and they are far from Balanced. Balance is not a clear and unambiguous direction. I suspect because they don't have an ultimate goal that arbitrates between the subgoals.

Maybe balance is the virtue that integrates three simple standards into one complex one. The balancing act would be similar but not the same for everyone, because people have different lives with different values.

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