Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum
Abhijeet Melkani

Life is the necessary value - but why is it sufficient?

Rate this topic

Recommended Posts

For some time I have been having qualms about how Objectivist ethics was formulated by Ayn Rand.

Her argument starts with the idea that the fundamental choice, without which no other choice is even possible, is the choice of life over death. (Since only a living being can make any further choices). But I do not see how that makes life the ultimate value - in the sense of the exclusive standard of morality. Life is, granted, necessary for the pursuit of any other values, but is life (and all other values based on the standard of life) sufficient? In other words, after having achieved that which sustains life, because that is a precondition, what dictates that there are no other values - like, say, knowledge for the sake of it - to be sought?

Her answer for that seems to be based along the line that happiness is the moral purpose of life and that biologically it's function is as a pointer/guide to life-achieving fulfillments. So that, life-achieving actions capture the entirety of happiness which makes life a sufficient standard. In other words, the two additional premises that happiness is the purpose of life and that biologically "it is the successful state of existence" (A.R.) closes the argument that life is a sufficient value to be sought.

[Is what I have stated correct so far?]


A problem arises when you realize that an organism is biologically built not just to sustain itself but also to propagate its own species further. In fact, many biologists argue that the primary function (biological motivation) of any organism is to sustain itself till puberty only to mate and reproduce its own kind. In that case, happiness is not just a successful state of (the individual's own) life maintenance. It follows also, one may argue, from sex and taking care of your young ones.

Now, does it really go against Objectivist ethics? One may say that the desire for sex is not just a desire for any kind of indiscriminate sex/reproduction but the search for the fittest mating partner (fit according to your standard) - a quest for the same set of values based on the standard of life. The desire to raise young ones may also be a desire to nurture the same kind of values. But I think the question remains - a desired sexual partner, although embodies the life-achieving values, is not necessary for the achievement of life at all. Not any more than any trader, of whichever sex, which embodies the same values. So, is the quest for a sexual partner/healthy and happy children consistent with happiness being the pointer to only the individual's life and well-being? Are we not biologically tailored to be happy in not just achieving our individual life but also the life of our species? Human life in general?

In short, does Objectivism depend on the biological argument that happiness is a pointer to life-achieving fulfillments? And if it does, does it not fall prey to the arguments that the biological motivations(happiness essentially) of individuals is not just their individual survival but the propagation of their species?

 

[Thank you for reading this far. I have tried to be clear but I am not very happy with my wording. Please bear with me.]

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seems like a number of questions here:

1a. Life is, granted, necessary for the pursuit of any other values, but is life (and all other values based on the standard of life) sufficient?

1b. In other words, after having achieved that which sustains life, because that is a precondition, what dictates that there are no other values - like, say, knowledge for the sake of it - to be sought?

2. Do life-achieving actions capture the entirety of happiness which makes life a sufficient standard?

3. Is the quest for a sexual partner/healthy and happy children consistent with happiness being the pointer to only  the individual's life and well-being?

4. Are we not  biologically tailored to be happy in not just achieving our individual life but also the life of our species? Human life in general? 

5. Does Objectivism depend on the biological argument that happiness  is a pointer to life-achieving fulfillments?

In answer to (1a), the argument isn't life is necessary and therefore sufficient, or something like that. That would be a non sequitur. The argument from Rand is is that life makes value possible and thus necessary (see Smith, Viable Values, p. 85-91 ff.) On Rand's epistemology, what makes a concept intelligible is what gives rise to it, and thus determines how it should be employed.

On (1b), there's multiple dimensions you could go with this. One is that it's not like you achieve "life" and then there's a bunch of optional values on top of that. Saying something, X, is a proper value (this is, to say X is choice worthy) is to say that X is either a means to or constitutive property of the set of activities that are continuations and furthering of human life. "Life" here is not merely survival or having a pulse, but flourishing in a qualitative fashion in all aspects.

There is an "intellectualized" conception of human flourishing that comes from some philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, who all have passages about theoretical contemplation as an end in itself. So possibly, Rand's conception should be confined to practical concerns, but even in her conception, she wants to say that in order for X to be a good that is achieved, it must he integrated into all the other activities that constitute an individual's flourishing life. And in that sense both practical and theoretical wisdom, as long as their pursuit is integrated with the full context of life, are choice worthy pursuits.

We all can imagine the man that has a marriage or life falling apart in some way, and retreats into intellectual pursuits as escapism of some kind. At the same time, we are all beneficiaries of theoretical scientific research and men like Newton, Bohr, and Einstein are no less important than Edisons, Bells, and Fords.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On (2) it depends on what you mean by "happiness." If we differentiate between happiness¹ in the classical sense as eudaemonia, then happiness just is the activity of flourishing as a human. Happiness² in the modern sense is the emotional or felt sense of satisfaction or pleasure. Rand sometimes uses happiness¹ to mean the purpose of, or ultimate end, of morality (which sets what the standard of value is), and happiness² to mean the result or feeling component of happiness¹. So, to answer your question, yes on happiness¹, no on happiness².

Edited by 2046

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

(4) It seems to be true to say that the biological tailoring observed in science is with regards to what increases the passing one the individual genotype, but it does not follow the "survival of the species as a whole" is something wired into every organism. You also can't judge what is a component of human flourishing by other animals because the human form of flourishing is sui generis.

On the other hand, it does appear empirically true that sociality and connectedness in terms of relationships are something that is a component of human wellbeing. I don't think any account of ethics that doesn't include social relationships is plausible, but I also think there's limits to that, that you aren't locked into any particular type of connection with the "species as a whole."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 8/24/2018 at 10:14 PM, Abhijeet Melkani said:

what dictates that there are no other values

The fact that you haven't offered a convincing argument that there are. By all means, go ahead and do that: what values, independent of the pursuit of life, are there, and why.

Edited by Nicky

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

.

Welcome to OBJECTIVISM ONLINE, Abhijeet.

I have some answer beyond the ones given above, but they must remain secret until I finish my book. The ones above are helpful and good to assimilate. On the reproductive basic nature of life, I suggest that we think about it in connection with the productive and creative nature of human beings. More and more, I imagine that reproduction of our species will come under our control as production. That said, I cannot but notice that however the new humans will be gotten, my experience of seeing and knowing a baby now grown to a young man finishing high school is something very profoundly important in the psychological makeup of his folks and grandparents. Here are some thoughts about the issue from a journal I created and edited years ago. Ron's word is to my mind not a completion of the topic, but worth attention.

Objectivist Ethics: A Biological Critique - Ronald Merrill (1997)

Some Responses

 

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

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×