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Critique of Ayn Rand’s Ethics

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On 11/17/2019 at 2:26 PM, Eric D said:

I'm not likely to have much time to participate in this discussion for some weeks going forward, so I'd like to thank all of you for the enjoyable conversation. I hope to get clearer about how Rand thought about ethics from you in future discussions, or as we continue this discussion (since I will come back to check the thread when I have the time, and hope to respond to any additional comments that I find helpful).

I forgot to quote you in my recent post above.

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

It could be for any reason at all.

Then all this emphasis on the "choice to live" seems unnecessary. At the beginning, no choice is involved.

I wonder if "choice" has to be refined further. Human choices consist of the automatic and the volitional.

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12 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

At the beginning, no choice is involved.

I don't know what you mean. I explained to you that there is a choice involved at the beginning, even if it is a very basic and simplistic decision.

 

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I don't know what you mean. I explained to you that there is a choice involved at the beginning, even if it is a very basic and simplistic decision.

At some point respiration or heartbeat begins.
Isn't that the beginning?
Is a human capable of making a decision at that moment?

From what I am seeing the answer can be yes.
Which means the nature of choice, the definition of choice is not "conscious choice". That a plant in fact is choosing to live.

When there is an alternative or possibility for an entity, there is either choices or results.
Meaning the entity can either choose or have a result (not an actual choice but a metaphor ... something imposed on it).

It seems like the start of life is a result of the system operating rather than a choice.

Sorry for asking one last time to confirm, given this, are you saying it is a choice? (trying to make sure we are on the same page)
 

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After thinking about it, I see that choice to live is integral, the only thing is that it (choice to live) is not specifically "the initial choice to live" (which is metaphorical) and is automatic.

The fact is that the choice to live has been made for us at the beginning (for those who are alive).
The the beginning of life is not material to ethical behavior.
It is the beginning of the capability to choose that is what matters ethically and that is NOT the (starting of) beginning of life.

It some point a human thinks "these are all the alternatives before me, one of them is killing myself".
From that moment on, one can say a conscious choices to (at a minimum) allow "my life" to continue exist, both by automatic means and supplementing with conscious choices.
 

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17 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

It some point a human thinks "these are all the alternatives before me, one of them is killing myself".

My Google-fu turned up suicides as young as six years old. That sounds about right for the beginning of a serious ethical system. I was about that age when I started thinking about what I wanted to be as a grown-up. I suppose that was my way of choosing life.

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

At some point respiration or heartbeat begins.
Isn't that the beginning?

Not at that moment, no, I didn't know that's what you meant. That's not what I'm talking about. The choice to live implies a selection among behaviors (a selection can be implicit such that as long as the organism is responding to the world, a selection is occurring). When I said even if the choice to live is simplistic, I was referring to a choice like picking a state of pleasure over a state of pain. No concepts or even high end awareness of the world required for that. Choosing to live means seeking out the behaviors or ends which will extend the organism's life. You already agree that a beating heart is not a choice, so I don't understand why you are interpreting what I wrote as if heartbeats are a result of choices.

Besides, I don't see what this has to do with the fact that it literally doesn't matter why you choose to live (even if it is only implicit). The initial choice to live is not metaphorical. Hopefully though, as I was suggesting in the beginning of the thread, you will reaffirm your choice to live over time with full conscious and conceptual awareness.

1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

It seems like the start of life is a result of the system operating rather than a choice.

"The moment when life begins" is a different issue than "the moment baby chooses to live". Your life may begin, but if you don't choose it and seek it out, then you're just slowly dying. 

 

1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

It is the beginning of the capability to choose that is what matters ethically

Not at all. You are still hitting the same issue: there is no underlying *ethical* reason for you to choose to live. As you said before, the choice is amoral (or you could call it pre-moral). I could see arguments as to how the choice to live can be one grounded in ethics, but I don't think it's something that would be consistent with Rand.

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4 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

You are still hitting the same issue: there is no underlying *ethical* reason for you to choose to live. As you said before, the choice is amoral (or you could call it pre-moral). I could see arguments as to how the choice to live can be one grounded in ethics, but I don't think it's something that would be consistent with Rand.

Agreed, when I say it matters ethically, I don't mean that the choice to live itself is right or wrong but that ONLY when you can make that choice, ethics is relevant. Before that moment, it is irrelevant, amoral, premoral etc.

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7 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

"The moment when life begins" is a different issue than "the moment baby chooses to live". Your life may begin, but if you don't choose it and seek it out, then you're just slowly dying. 

Not sure about this. On some level we can say that we are all slowly dying.

A baby fundamentally has at its disposal the action of "cute-ing". In english to be cute is an adjective. In some other languages it is an act (a verb). But this act is really generating a response in its caretakers to take care of it. From a first person perspective, the baby is attracting the care. But I don't think there is any awareness of the act. I don't think the child choose to "cute", it just is responding to pain and pleasure.

That is why I argue that at that stage of life, the choice to survive is hedonistic.

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

But I don't think there is any awareness of the act.

There is no good reason to say that babies aren't aware of what they are doing. If you mean they don't recognize it in an abstract way (oh, I'm going to make this face more often because I know my mom likes it), that's fine. We should remember though that babies always have some kind of awareness.

1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:

I don't think the child choose to "cute", it just is responding to pain and pleasure.

You'd be wrong, they are actually responding to a lot more than that. Besides, even if this were the case, responding to pain and pleasure still requires awareness, and still require some kind of choice. This is what I meant by even if the choices are simplistic ones. It's arguable to say that the choice to live must be hedonistic, that's really a scientific hypothesis. There's a lot more to responding to pleasure and pain besides hedonism, but some psychologists probably think that the only thing relevant in pain and pleasure response is that for whatever reason all animals opt to maximize pleasure. I can't think of any names offhand. I think overall we agree though.

By the way, you couldn't say that we are all slowly dying, unless you completely change your foundation for your thinking here. You could say that, but only if you rejected that life requires a choice and is self-sustaining. We are all slowly dying if we can't do anything about it. Since you can do something about it, since you are either moving towards death or away from it, since choices are required for you to sustain your life, slowly dying is a very distinct thing. If all you have is heartbeats - which requires no awareness of any kind at all - you will inevitably die as a direct consequence of not responding to hunger, thirst, and everything else like that. You can differentiate between life as in your heart is still beating (a very narrow definition that is only concerned with the short-term), or life as in the behaviors you engage with so that your heart can keep beating (a more broad definition which is concerned with the long-term). 

Edited by Eiuol

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5 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

I started thinking about what I wanted to be as a grown-up

 

3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

We are all slowly dying if we can't do anything about it.

Then my formulation has to be revised.

A choice to live is the choice to exist in the future, for any amount of time.

Which also means that it does not require an explicit choice NOT to die, when one has the choice.

Then the "choice to live" is to live in the future as in planning or having the expectation.
That can mean 2 minutes, a generation/20 years, or typical 80 years, or immortal for that matter.
And, there is the case where a person says I will commit suicide in 3 days.

Those are all instances of a choice to live, which all have in common, the choice to live for a period of time.
Based on that "any amount of time" one gives one self, still qualifies as a choice to live.

Accepting the inevitability of death is also a choice to live because it is existing "for some amount of time".

Some will say the moment one says I will die in three days, that person has chosen to die.
That there is no choice to live, and therefore, an amoral state after that moment (that choice).
With this new formulation, if acceptance of any amount of time to live is still a choice to live, then the amoral state does not exist.

In that sense, slowly dying, no matter how long, is till a choice to live.
It is only that split second before one dies that is the choice to die.

So the moment one chooses/plans/expects to exist for any amount of time, a moral code is applicable.
It is only that split second before one dies that it does not matter (amoral).
 

Edited by Easy Truth
choice to live instead of valuing of life

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37 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

A choice to live is the choice to exist in the future, for any amount of time.

I don't think the choice to live consists of anything except the choices for long-term indefinite survival. Imagine explicitly choosing to live for exactly one more year and killing yourself after that. If that counts is choosing life, then your standards only need to include actions within that year. Short-term action. Then, since that counts as a moral code to you, you are advocating moral relativism. There will be a different moral code depending on the way you choose your arbitrary cutoff date for your life. Or you abandon moral codes altogether since there is no basis to choose just one standard, on top of no ethical reason at all to make any of those choices.

50 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

So the moment one chooses/plans/expects to exist for any amount of time, a moral code is applicable.

You could say that there are some heuristics to help guide decisions if you only choose to live for one more week. I don't see how that's a moral code though. You would be stepping straight into death. They have opted out. You don't need to engage in life-sustaining activity. If you only choose to exist "long enough", it has nothing to do with the nature of life. Life isn't a series of starts and stops, it necessarily includes an organism's lifespan and not shortening it. 

On the other hand, we could call that an immoral choice because the person intends to choose life, but contradicts that intention deliberately. In that way, a moral code is applicable to all people who choose life for some amount of time. Anyone who doesn't choose an indefinite span of time is making an immoral choice. So you do have a point.

If a person literally doesn't care, with complete apathy, and truly wants to be dead, this would be amoral. 

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2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

On the other hand, we could call that an immoral choice because the person intends to choose life, but contradicts that intention deliberately. In that way, a moral code is applicable to all people who choose life for some amount of time. Anyone who doesn't choose an indefinite span of time is making an immoral choice. So you do have a point.

Yes, that is at the core of my struggle to iron out.

2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

If that counts is choosing life, then your standards only need to include actions within that year. Short-term action. Then, since that counts as a moral code to you, you are advocating moral relativism. There will be a different moral code depending on the way you choose your arbitrary cutoff date for your life.

If you want to live for 80 years, or if you want to live for one month, cutting your arm off tomorrow is wrong.
Life is life, the binary alternative of life vs death is not relative based on length of time.
The need to avoid death is the same every day, every moment, while you are committed to living, it does not change with time.
A person who wants to live to eighty does not have a higher need to avoid death than one who wants to live for a year.
If we were a life insurance company we might not agree, but this is philosophy.

2 hours ago, Eiuol said:

If a person literally doesn't care, with complete apathy, and truly wants to be dead, this would be amoral. 

But if this person is alive, there is a commitment to live and a desire to die. One could say he is killing himself with drugs, alcohol, unsafe sex, etc. But he is alive and he is deciding to allow his heart to beat. He has not killed himself. So the choice to live exists.

My callous but direct question to him would be "If you are committed to dying, why are you still alive???"

Edited by Easy Truth

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14 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

A choice to live is the choice to exist in the future, for any amount of time.

Which also means that it does not require an explicit choice NOT to die, when one has the choice.

It means rejecting dying at whatever stage of that process you find yourself in. It could mean choosing to stop your hunger pain by eating some food. Or it could mean ending your long-term purposelessness by planning future goals. It's an alternative we regularly face, but only when we're aware of it in various ways. If you're not aware of the alternative, then there literally is no choice to be made. And it isn't until we become self-aware, a few years into our lives, that such awareness is even possible. You must be aware of your life in order to choose it.

Edited by MisterSwig

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10 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

A person who wants to live to eighty does not have a higher need to avoid death than one who wants to live for a year.

Sure that person does, and a person who does not pick an arbitrary cutoff date as an even higher need. Anything less than pursuing your life at all times means pursuing less than life as a whole. A person who only wants to live until 80 requires less planning than someone who wants to live as long as possible and would never give up. If someone only wants to live for a year, they only need to plan enough to get food for that year, and long-term consequences would be irrelevant. The nature of such a short-term life is pretty different from long-term. Do you see the difference? It sounds like you're saying there is no moral difference between these people (that the same moral code applies to them and that they are both equally pursuing life). 

11 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

He has not killed himself. So the choice to live exists.

On some level probably. The majority of actions they take might not show a choice to live, but the fact that they are alive suggests that they want to live at least a little bit. But remember that even suicide takes directed action and requires active pursuit of death, it's not the only way you can opt out of life. Complete apathy in a person with severe depression alongside suicidal thoughts is effectively choosing death. It's a complete lack of caring about anything at all. The only reason they are alive is because it takes time to reach that endpoint naturally (it would probably take about a month). Periodically though, they might change their mind, and try to find a reason to choose to live. I don't think this would be an example of living in a contradiction.

Still, I think that choosing a span of time to live - and then suicide after that - is living with a contradiction. 

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1 hour ago, MisterSwig said:

If you're not aware of the alternative, then there literally is no choice to be made. And it isn't until we become self-aware, a few years into our lives, that such awareness is even possible. You must be aware of your life in order to choose it.

I agree. I am trying to grasp and make sense of the types or environments of choice. Some are:

non-self aware based choice

self-aware based choice

automatic choice

conscious choice

imposed choice

immature choice

informed/uninformed choice

etc.

The each have their ethical implications.

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

The only reason they are alive is because it takes time to reach that endpoint naturally (it would probably take about a month).

How quickly you die a natural death depends on the situation. On a hundred-degree day in the desert without water, exposed to the sun, people die within hours from making stupid choices. This happens every summer here in Southern California. And even in ideal weather situations, you can only last several days without water.

Edited by MisterSwig

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

Sure that person does, and a person who does not pick an arbitrary cutoff date as an even higher need. Anything less than pursuing your life at all times means pursuing less than life as a whole. A person who only wants to live until 80 requires less planning than someone who wants to live as long as possible and would never give up. If someone only wants to live for a year, they only need to plan enough to get food for that year, and long-term consequences would be irrelevant. The nature of such a short-term life is pretty different from long-term. Do you see the difference? It sounds like you're saying there is no moral difference between these people (that the same moral code applies to them and that they are both equally pursuing life). 

Granted, amount of planning is different, but I was disputing the moral relativism in regards to the fundamental alternative to live or die. That does not change. The alternative is identical to one who wants to be immortal to one who wants to die in a year. (keep in mind these people exist, people who have been given a terminal diagnosis for instance). I am not talking about the amount of risk of death but rather the possibility.

Perhaps the quality of awareness of the situation has some ethical or value judgement significance, like a person who does not care if they are dying vs. one who does. But you can't get around the fact that if they are alive, at that instant the did not actively choose to die. They did not shoot themself.

Bottom line, when it comes to discerning what is happening, it is a combination at this point. A choice to die and a choice to live. The arbiter is ultimately the metaphysical truth. Is the person alive or not rather than the consciousness based truth "they chose life or death". In other words, if they are alive, they chose to be alive. The proof is in the pudding.

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1 hour ago, Eiuol said:

Still, I think that choosing a span of time to live - and then suicide after that - is living with a contradiction.

Are we all living with a contradiction?

If one accepts the inevitability of death, is the specific choice to accept, in the province of ethics?
Meaning is that the right thing to do?
On one hand, it is the result of using reason that provides the fact that death is inevitable.
Reason is not intrinsically good, it is good if you want to live.

As determined in this thread, the specific choice to live or not live is immaterial in regards to right or wrong.,it is not guided by ethics. (amoral). The choice is not legitimated by ethics.

But accepting the inevitability of death can mean "choosing death", meaning NOT choosing life. (life meaning immortality)

Edited by Easy Truth

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2 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

The alternative is identical to one who wants to be immortal to one who wants to die in a year.

You are granting multiple kinds of life, and therefore multiple standards that are all valid under this thinking. This is moral relativism. I'm saying that choosing life requires also doing all the things at all times that will maintain your life all the way through. If we shorten at selected lifespan to something like five years, under that framework, murder or fraud might be in your self-interest. In either case, if you stop short at some point, you are declaring you don't want to go on and take the actions to live. So as I said, if you both want to live and to die, you are living in a contradiction. 

Yeah, there will probably always be a possibility that you will die in some span of time. But living is taking the course of action so that doesn't happen, to the best of your ability. If someone wants to die in a year because of their terminal illness, but then also wants to live now, I still think they are living in a contradiction. Either give up now, or accept life and go on as long as you physically can.

Is there really a difference between shooting yourself, and taking no actions at all so you eventually die? I honestly don't see any difference that matters as far as choosing death. Taking no action at all is like saying that every action is pain, that there is no point in doing anything, no point in even ending it on one's own. It's even more like choosing death and suicide I would suggest. It's a preference for absolutely nothing - and that's exactly what death is.

2 hours ago, Easy Truth said:

if they are alive, they chose to be alive. The proof is in the pudding.

Let's consider someone who explicitly chooses to die and actively.

Imagine someone said they're going to kill themselves tomorrow because their roommate is leaving the house for the day tomorrow. That way, no one will interfere with them trying to chug a bottle of pills. Would you say that they chose to live in this case because they are alive at this moment? I don't think that makes sense. People often plan their suicide, and the only reason they wait is because there are people who might be in the way.

 

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On 11/10/2019 at 9:59 AM, Eric D said:

That's no problem, I'll take clarity over concision, as long as (1) the premises are clearly stated, and (2) the logical connections between the premises, and between the premises and the conclusion, are clearly stated. We already know what the conclusion is, viz. (C) Hence, life is the standard of value. What I'm asking is for someone to fill in the rest, as clearly as possible.

He wanted premises without context. He want's to engage in pure rationalism.

 

On 11/10/2019 at 10:49 AM, Eric D said:

 Again, this is the sort of thing that we do in philosophy all the time, so it's not at all an unreasonable request. Once we have an argument in something like this form, we can discuss it profitably, without wasting time over misinterpretations and different interpretations and the like.

 

No. This is what rationalists who don't understand how to do proper philosophy do. It's why the vast majority of philosophy is pure bullshit.

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3 hours ago, Eiuol said:

If we shorten at selected lifespan to something like five years, under that framework, murder or fraud might be in your self-interest.

Let me distill what I am saying.

Morality applies when one has chosen to live.

In all cases, life has some approximate amount of time.

Within that time, if one goes against that desire, lessening the probability of continuation, he is doing something immoral.

At some point, it is amoral. (not immoral, amoral)

As in morality does not apply, is immaterial, does not matter anymore.

But what is that point?

We say, it is when the person has chosen to die.

When is that? Is it the moment he has chosen to start the events that cause death?
Or is it specifically when he dies.

Why is this distinction important?

Because if it is the moment that the decision is made, and he is alive for some period of time and this person is rational, this person can conclude that he is absolved of all right and wrong in that period. 

In other words it is still wrong to for the person, to initiate force even if they expect to die in a year. It would also be wrong, immoral for him to shorten it from a year, when he is committed to a year.

I am arguing, the amoral state, starts when the person is dead.

Which means, "as long as you are alive, what you do can be moral or immoral, not amoral".

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35 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

I am arguing, the amoral state, starts when the person is dead.

Okay, then you don't think actually that the choice to live even matters. If you even want to exclude taking the actions up until the person successfully kills themselves, then it is impossible to choose death. We were before talking about how if you don't choose to live, then any moral action is amoral, now you are simply saying that when you are dead, you are in an amoral state. I don't see what that's supposed to mean. Of course not, a dead body is inanimate.

The key factor to all of this is how I don't see any good reason to say that deliberately choosing when you want to die is anything like living. You either live as long as you can, moving towards life, or you don't, moving away from life. In absolute terms, sure, we can be perpetually moving towards death (that's why living is a constant project, it never stops). But in terms of human action and choices, we are going against decay when we choose to live. Maybe you will have a reasonable idea of when you will die, but it's different than choosing the day you want to die.

It sounds to me like you are eliminating the perspective of human action and trying to place choosing to live as the same as being alive. To do that, you have to completely get rid of awareness and consciousness.

35 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

It would also be wrong, immoral for him to shorten it from a year, when he is committed to a year.

Why would it be wrong? If he chooses his life to be exactly one more year, why shouldn't his moral code revolve around a one year lifespan? Note that I didn't say expected to live one more year. I said chose to live only one more year. Five years actually, but it's the same idea either way.

1 hour ago, EC said:

He wanted premises without context. He want's to engage in pure rationalism.

Where did you get that idea from him? If premises include context, include them. He didn't make any argument against that.

 

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On 11/28/2019 at 10:19 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

There is nothing in the fabric of the universe willing or obligating you to do anything or even to exist (not long range anyway).  There are no dogmatic "thou shalts" written in the stars or in the vibrations of the ghostly neutrinos. 

I'd agree in the sense that there's also 'nothing in the fabric of the universe willing or obligating' me to e.g. abide by modus tollens. That is, I tend to think that the normativity of (legitimate) moral precepts is no more spooky or bizarre than the normativity of (legitimate) logical precepts. When I violate a logical precept, I go wrong in thinking in an objective way, and when I violate a moral precept, I go wrong in acting in an objective way.

 

On 11/28/2019 at 10:19 AM, StrictlyLogical said:

I know of a former self proclaimed Objectivist who was very disturbed by morality originating with the choice to live... "its just a choice, a choice. a choice" he would say mockingly imitating some dogmatic Objectivist straw Man, the implication being that this answer was somehow an evasion of something more profound...  he seemed to be pleading with his knowledge (or his ignorance) or pleading with his father, or his former priest, his childhood or the planet or the universe.  The circular grasping cry "Tell me, I must live.. that there is a reason outside of myself, for why I should live"...  revealed the gaping false hole left by the exit of religion and mysticism... it was vast and sorrowful...  but his pleas and his search are in vain, and always will be. 

 

Reality IS, you ARE, YOU choose... and that's it.

Would you then say that the choice to live (or the choice not to live) is not rational (perhaps not in the sense of being irrational, but minimally in the sense of being non-rational)?

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