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Critique of Ayn Rand’s Ethics

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13 hours ago, EC said:

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

What are you talking about? You can provide the context in the premises. Indeed, many arguments for a particular conclusion contain sub-arguments for each premise. This literally has nothing whatsoever to do with rationalism.

 

13 hours ago, EC said:

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.

Tell me, what is rationalism? I ask because you're not using the term as any philosopher I've read has used it.

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58 minutes ago, Eric D said:

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.

 

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)?

This is an interesting question but there are so many different people with so many different ways of living that it becomes complicated.  Some people DO live life as a sort of unconscious non rational choice, in fact some people who tend to follow feeling absent thought are choosing irrationally all the time.  The whole point of a rational morality is to shift the what is guiding those choices from whim wish and feeling towards focused rational awareness and deliberation.

So I have to say that in reality a great many people choose life, choose to seek flourishing, but it is not really a conscious choice.  Others choose self destructive behaviours, self sabotage, and quite fundamentally they have chosen oblivion even if only a slow and sad journey lasting the rest of their natural lives...

Others are fully aware of their own well being, and that they themselves are the primary actor causally responsible for it, and consciously choose life.

Now for these people what could be the reasons to choose life?  Is the choice rational?

What constitutes a reason to do anything? A goal.  Although there may be reasons for choosing certain actions to achieve particular goal, namely, that the facts of reality are such that only certain actions lead to the goal, that goal does not serve as its own reason... the goals is only the reason for those particular actions. But soon one gets into what seems like an infinite regress... chasing goals which further other goals related to other goals etc. all across the face of the universe... but they all lead back to a fundamental undeniable truth of the first person experience ... existence or nonexistence.

Bereft of humanity in a frenzy of academic torpor, a rationalist might try to view this question from the point of view of a blind universe or a platonic nirvana, which is not any kind of a point of view at all... and say there is no possible reason to choose life because there is no intrinsic goal in the universe...It must be an arbitrary choice.

To a frenzied academic attempting to see with no vision, perhaps it would appear so.  But to a living creature faced with the alternative of existence and non existence, every reason, every thing, every experience, indeed the whole universe, all of it, constitutes the reason(s) to live, and the alternative is nothing which cannot be a reason for anything.

 

In a sense the choice is an arbitrary non-rational choice for which there are no intrinsic reasons but in another sense it is the least arbitrary and most rational choice for which there is literally every possible personal reason to make.

 

 

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Strictly Logical, maybe putting the question this way would help: Can I go wrong in choosing to live/not to live? That is, can I go wrong either (a) with respect to the choice itself (i.e. make the wrong choice), or (b) with respect to any reasons I might adduce for a particular choice (or is the notion that we adduce reasons to support the choice to live or not itself wrong, in the sense that this is fundamentally a non-rational choice)? And if I can go wrong with respect to either (a) or (b), is that a moral mistake, or a more broadly rational mistake? Finally, if I cannot go wrong in either the (a) or (b) sense, then the choice is in some sense pre-rational, but is it grounded in something else, e.g. a feeling or a desire or instinct?

There seems to be a dilemma here for Rand: if the initial choice - to live or not to live - is not itself reason-based, then her ethics has whim at its very basis (since this is the fundamental choice), but if it is reason-based, and we can go wrong either in the choice itself or in the reasons we adduce for it, then this choice is not fundamental (since one must make a host of choices before making it, viz. about whether and how to evaluate the various reasons at issue).

Edited by Eric D

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There is a sense in which a particular organism is fit or unfit for the environment in which it finds itself. This fitness or unfitness might be identified objectively by a rational human being. In which case choosing death might be the moral option, as a means of avoiding unnecessary suffering. However, a rational person also recognizes that he's not infallible. His knowledge is contextually limited. Though his situation seems irreversibly doomed, there might be an unknown factor that will save his life, and he might therefore choose to endure the pain, hoping for a savior or some kind of epiphany. At some point, though, you can't expect a man to bear unbearable pain when he is truly unfit for this world.

Edited by MisterSwig

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2 hours ago, Eric D said:

There seems to be a dilemma here for Rand: if the initial choice - to live or not to live - is not itself reason-based, then her ethics has whim at its very basis

The important thing to recognize is that Rand didn't address this question. Maybe she would have a good response to you, maybe she wouldn't. I'm not aware of anyone besides Tara Smith trying to address it. I'm sure some people have tried to from Rand's perspective, I'm just pointing out that it's not front and center.

So the way SL answers your question would probably be different from me (even though I'm sure we would agree with what the moral implications are when we do choose to live). So don't think of this answer as replacing his, and I hope he doesn't see my response as trying to drown his out.

You're right that her ethics have whim at their basis (choosing to live can be made for any reason at all without undermining her ethics), although I imagine someone here would disagree with me. I don't think this is problematic because this doesn't undermine or ignore that there is a such thing as a fact. In that way, reason is relevant, even if there is no ethical purpose for reasoning prior to the choice to live. After all, Rand considers epistemology hierarchically prior to ethics. You would have some sensation about the world around you from the moment you were born, or sensation within you, which is at least some dim awareness that there is such thing as reality. 

On some level, I don't know if Rand would accept such implications. She starts a sound a lot like Nietzsche. It says if the choice to live is equivalent to will to power. Will to power doesn't mean willing to show power over others. It means a will to show some kind of power over your individual life. There is no rational basis to such a will. If anything, we could call it will to reason, to point out that Rand still sees reasoned thinking as always relevant (distinct from rational thinking that assumes an end goal has been selected). Rand herself thought of her philosophy as a philosophy of reason first, not a philosophy of rational selfishness first.

By the way, EC was referring to rationalism (lowercase 'r') with the definition that Peikoff uses in his lecture "Understanding Objectivism". It usually refers to talking about abstractions with absolutely no effort to concretize them or ground them.

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37 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

At some point, though, you can't expect a man to bear unbearable pain when he is truly unfit for this world.

 

Doesn't that depend on your moral code? If you are a catholic, I believe that it would be a sin to throw away your life, no matter how hard life is.

But ultimately, the universe does not care if you do or don't. That is the truth, corresponds to the reality. No matter how we feel about it, no matter how our third person evaluation of it is.

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2 hours ago, Eric D said:

Strictly Logical, maybe putting the question this way would help: Can I go wrong in choosing to live/not to live? That is, can I go wrong either (a) with respect to the choice itself (i.e. make the wrong choice), or (b) with respect to any reasons I might adduce for a particular choice (or is the notion that we adduce reasons to support the choice to live or not itself wrong, in the sense that this is fundamentally a non-rational choice)? And if I can go wrong with respect to either (a) or (b), is that a moral mistake, or a more broadly rational mistake? Finally, if I cannot go wrong in either the (a) or (b) sense, then the choice is in some sense pre-rational, but is it grounded in something else, e.g. a feeling or a desire or instinct?

There seems to be a dilemma here for Rand: if the initial choice - to live or not to live - is not itself reason-based, then her ethics has whim at its very basis (since this is the fundamental choice), but if it is reason-based, and we can go wrong either in the choice itself or in the reasons we adduce for it, then this choice is not fundamental (since one must make a host of choices before making it, viz. about whether and how to evaluate the various reasons at issue).

Reason does not validate ethics nor the choice to live.  The choice to live is super rational or pre-rational, it justifies and necessitates the use of reason. 

Reason is not an intrinsic good or an end in itself.  It serves life, not the other way around.

 

Incidentally choosing to have an ethics might be super rational or pre rational but the content of ethics must be rational and reality based to achieve the goal of life.  

 

Rand’s ethics is rational but it is not “based” in not originates from some mystical or intrinsic reason. 

There is no dilemma.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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Suppose I choose to live because I find that I desire to dominate and oppress others. Ex hypothesi, this cannot be a bad reason to choose to live, since this choice is essentially pre-rational. However, why isn't my reason then in the service of the whim on which that choice was based? That is, the choice to live isn't itself robust enough to ground what Rand goes on to do with it, and if her conception of practical reason makes it fundamentally dependent on that initial choice for its standards and aims, and if that initial choice is admittedly whim-based, then why wouldn't practical reason also be dependent on any (whim-based and pre-rational) conditions that accompany or determine that initial choice? This seems unavoidable if practical reason is composed of strictly hypothetical imperatives all the way down.

Edited by Eric D

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Peikoff's addressing the choice to live as pre-moral earlier referenced (51) See Atlas Shrugged, page 941.

Atlas Shrugged (New York: Random House, 1957) New York: Signet, 1959 is the edition cited as the reference in OPAR.

I have a 2005 centennial edition, and what appears to be a 1985 edition from the Research CD. The CD puts the reference into John Galt's speech, near the use of force as retaliation. What can be found on page 942 appears to be more in alignment with what raises a question in my mind regarding this choice as being pre-moral.

If you desire ever again to live in an industrial society, it will be on our moral terms. Our terms and our motive power are the antithesis of yours. You have been using fear as your weapon and have been bringing death to man as his punishment for rejecting your morality. We offer him life as his reward for accepting ours.

Objectivism is based on the Morality of Life. It is contrasted to the Morality of Death in Atlas Shrugged, becoming explicitly so in Galt's Speech. So if the choice to live is the prerequisite to morality, to whom does the Morality of Death apply? Only those who choose not to live? Is there a middle ground between those who reject the morality of death yet not having discovered the morality of life reside in a no-man's land?

"You, who have lost the concept of the difference, you who claim that fear and joy are incentives of equal power—and secretly add that fear is the more 'practical'—you do not wish to live, and only fear of death still holds you to the existence you have damned. You dart in panic through the trap of your days, looking for the exit you have closed, running from a pursuer you dare not name to a terror you dare not acknowledge, and the greater your terror the greater your dread of the only act that could save you: thinking. The purpose of your struggle is not to know, not to grasp or name or hear the thing I shall now state to your hearing: that yours is the Morality of Death.

Or does it extend to those who have chosen reason, or it's cousin 'common sense' and used it to live without expressly knowing that is what they have chosen?

By the time she gets to page 973, this is the tone

"Whoever you are—you who are alone with my words in this moment, with nothing but your honesty to help you understand—the choice is still open to be a human being, but the price is to start from scratch, to stand naked in the face of reality and, reversing a costly historical error, to declare: 'I am, therefore I'll think.'

"Accept the irrevocable fact that your life depends upon your mind. Admit that the whole of your struggle, your doubts, your fakes, your evasions, was a desperate quest for escape from the responsibility of a volitional consciousness—a quest for automatic knowledge, for instinctive action, for intuitive certainty—and while you called it a longing for the state of an angel, what you were seeking was the state of an animal. Accept, as your moral ideal, the task of becoming a man.

To those with which her words resonate, is this an exoneration for those who at this point choose the morality of life?

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Eric D

Your example is similar to wishing to live for the experience of the pains of bleeding from slit wrists.

Rands ethics is built on the simple choice to live... not a whim ridden bastardization of that choice coupled to conditions which are antithetical to life.

Certainly one could debate the validation of such flawed versions of whim ridden ethics, but that is not a discussion of Rand’s conception.

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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4 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Eric D

Your example is similar to wishing to live for the experience of the pains of bleeding from slit wrists.

I don't think so. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have considered whether the life of pleasure and power could be the good life. It has undeniable attractions, after all, and human history is in no small part a tale of those who have sought power and pleasure. The ancient philosophers answered that it could not be the good life, but they gave reasons for those answers. No one, as far as I can tell, has taken the life of pains of bleeding from slit wrists to be a contender for the good life, so there's a relevant disanalogy at work here.

 

8 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Rands ethics is built on the simple choice to live... not a whim ridden bastardization of that choice coupled to conditions which are antithetical to life.

You seemed to concede that the initial choice to live is both (a) pre-rational and (b) a choice. As a choice, it must be based on something, since a choice is something we do or make, not something that happens to us. That is, choices can be explained. Why did you choose that and not this? The answer isn't always reason-based - it's often based in tastes or desires. So our pre-rational choice to live, if it's something we do and not something that happens to us, must be based on something. Above, Eiuol posited that it be based on whim, and indeed, if it's a choice that's not reason-based, it's difficult to see what else could ground it. But then the choice doesn't come along without any baggage in any particular case - that is, it's always contextualized to the whims that led one to make it. That is, the choice is conditional on those whims. But then why aren't the whims included in the content of the choice? Why can the whims that grounded the choice be discarded after the choice is made?

 

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1 hour ago, Easy Truth said:
2 hours ago, MisterSwig said:

At some point, though, you can't expect a man to bear unbearable pain when he is truly unfit for this world.

 

Doesn't that depend on your moral code? If you are a catholic, I believe that it would be a sin to throw away your life, no matter how hard life is.

Yes, whether you expect him to endure the pain does depend on your moral code. But I'm not really talking to the Catholics, Stoics, masochists, or general pain-worshippers.

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16 minutes ago, MisterSwig said:

Yes, whether you expect him to endure the pain does depend on your moral code. But I'm not really talking to the Catholics, Stoics, masochists, or general pain-worshippers.

Yes, and everyone of us here in this discussion seems to already have chosen life. So when we say x or y is bad, we come from that foundation (due to the fact that I have chosen life, it is bad).

The question is why did we come from that foundation? Why did you choose life? And why should you?

And my observation is: "because it hurt when I didn't and it felt good when I did" and that I should because it hurts otherwise. Unfortunately this is subjective.

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37 minutes ago, Easy Truth said:

The question is why did we come from that foundation? Why did you choose life? And why should you?

I recommend just asking yourself now, "Should I kill myself?" and see what you come up with. It's not like choosing life is a one-time thing. It's a question that you can raise whenever you want and answer based on your current situation. I choose life because my physical pain is manageable, mentally I'm sound, and I have a lot of things I want to do, which I can't do if I'm dead. If I were in constant physical or mental pain or had no purpose in my life, maybe I'd choose death, just to end my miserable, pointless existence.

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2 hours ago, Eric D said:

I don't think so. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have considered whether the life of pleasure and power could be the good life. It has undeniable attractions, after all, and human history is in no small part a tale of those who have sought power and pleasure. The ancient philosophers answered that it could not be the good life, but they gave reasons for those answers. No one, as far as I can tell, has taken the life of pains of bleeding from slit wrists to be a contender for the good life, so there's a relevant disanalogy at work here.

 

You seemed to concede that the initial choice to live is both (a) pre-rational and (b) a choice. As a choice, it must be based on something, since a choice is something we do or make, not something that happens to us. That is, choices can be explained. Why did you choose that and not this? The answer isn't always reason-based - it's often based in tastes or desires. So our pre-rational choice to live, if it's something we do and not something that happens to us, must be based on something. Above, Eiuol posited that it be based on whim, and indeed, if it's a choice that's not reason-based, it's difficult to see what else could ground it. But then the choice doesn't come along without any baggage in any particular case - that is, it's always contextualized to the whims that led one to make it. That is, the choice is conditional on those whims. But then why aren't the whims included in the content of the choice? Why can the whims that grounded the choice be discarded after the choice is made?

 

At this point I find myself wondering if you have truly considered my precious answers.  If you equate the choice of everything as against nothing as a whim, we really have nothing more to discuss. 

And incidentally, in the most private moments of your own thought you conceive that you personally have reason to live, that reason automatically is entailed in everything... to reject as arbitrary the choice to live is to reject every possible reason you personally have to live.   

Edited by StrictlyLogical

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35 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

At this point I find myself wondering if you have truly considered my precious answers.  If you equate the choice of everything as against nothing as a whim, we really have nothing more to discuss. 

I thought I did consider your precious answers. For instance, you said:

4 hours ago, StrictlyLogical said:

Reason does not validate ethics nor the choice to live.  The choice to live is super rational or pre-rational, it justifies and necessitates the use of reason. 

You also said:

 

41 minutes ago, StrictlyLogical said:

And incidentally, in the most private moments of your own thought you conceive that you personally have reason to live, that reason automatically is entailed in everything... to reject as arbitrary the choice to live is to reject every possible reason you personally have to live.   

As I argued above, it's a conceptual truth that a choice isn't something that happens to us; rather, it's the notion of something we do. And as you said, the choice to live is not rational (it's super- or pre-rational). But for a choice to be a choice, it must be grounded in something, if only a methodology of choosing, or it's not a choice. Now you seem opposed to the notion that Eiuol posited, and that I defended, above, viz. that the initial choice must therefore be based on whim. You're also opposed to the notion that it's merely arbitrary. So let me put it to you, if the initial choice is a choice, and if it's neither grounded in reason nor in whim, and if it's not arbitrary, then what explains the initial choice?

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5 hours ago, Eric D said:

 

 

You seemed to concede that the initial choice to live is both (a) pre-rational and (b) a choice. As a choice, it must be based on something, since a choice is something we do or make, not something that happens to us. That is, choices can be explained. Why did you choose that and not this? The answer isn't always reason-based - it's often based in tastes or desires. So our pre-rational choice to live, if it's something we do and not something that happens to us, must be based on something. Above, Eiuol posited that it be based on whim, and indeed, if it's a choice that's not reason-based, it's difficult to see what else could ground it. But then the choice doesn't come along without any baggage in any particular case - that is, it's always contextualized to the whims that led one to make it. That is, the choice is conditional on those whims. But then why aren't the whims included in the content of the choice? Why can the whims that grounded the choice be discarded after the choice is made?

 

What's all this about "whims"? If you're talking about the early, pre-conceptual period of growth, a youngster is taking in a vast store of sensory experiences turning them into percepts. Such is the mind's capacity to want more, as it discovers more. Learning of things through his senses gives him a sense of efficacy, even before his concepts begin forming. He finds the variability of existence amazing and he himself equal to perceive it and enjoy it and, implicitly, his choice is made - for life. You want to call that a whim? Show me a puppy that hasn't the capacity to explore and enjoy its life.

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The choice to live is quite literally the choice of remaining in existence, including all of which said choice entails. It is the choice of the somethingness of existence over the nothingness of non-existence. It is the choice of something over nothing.

A choice made pre-conceptually would quite naturally defy many attempts to articulate it in a cognitive manner.

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11 hours ago, Eric D said:

if the initial choice - to live or not to live - is not itself reason-based, then her ethics has whim at its very basis (since this is the fundamental choice)

If it were rational act, yes you could be correct.

8 hours ago, Eric D said:

However, why isn't my reason then in the service of the whim on which that choice was based?

Because it is pre-rational. Reason is irrelevant. Yet you insist that it is relevant.

There is no metaphysical necessity for it (the choice) to be rational or moral.

The cosmos does not care if you choose yes or no for any reason. Right and wrong, good or bad is not relevant until you have chosen life.

You can only ask "is it bad or good" only after you have chosen life. If you ask it, you have already chosen life.

You ask "can I go wrong", which implies you are thinking of the consequence of the choice after you have made it, but acting as if it is before you have made it.

If there is a metaphysical necessity for choosing life a certain way, please make the case for it.

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10 hours ago, Eric D said:

However, why isn't my reason then in the service of the whim on which that choice was based?

First, consider that the choice is for a specific end - to exist, or not to exist. All choices that you make all go back to this question. The way you framed the question, it's as though you assume that the whim (whatever spurred you to prefer existing over not existing) is the goal. You are getting ahead of yourself.

If what spurred you on to make the choice explicitly was that you enjoyed dominating others, and that's what made life seem so good to you, you would have to ask if such actions are consistent with living. That is, can you both choose to live and dominate people? You would answer that question by considering what your nature is. What your nature is is not an ethical evaluation, it's a conceptual identification. You might discover that you made a mistake, and saw that if you really wanted to live, dominating others would deny you that goal. Then we get into arguments that life is for its own sake, and that life isn't supposed to serve any other end. This is why I was saying that reason is relevant even though choosing to live is a pre-rational choice.

At first, when we are babies, it might be done out of hedonism. Something that makes life feel good, seem worthwhile, and as a desirable thing. But as we mature and think more, we can evaluate with reason whether we are taking actions consistent with life. Life, as in flourishing. Whatever motivating factor we find, or whatever will within ourselves that we find motivating, we still can evaluate if different actions result in living and flourishing.

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15 hours ago, Eric D said:

I thought I did consider your precious answers. For instance, you said:

You also said:

 

As I argued above, it's a conceptual truth that a choice isn't something that happens to us; rather, it's the notion of something we do. And as you said, the choice to live is not rational (it's super- or pre-rational). But for a choice to be a choice, it must be grounded in something, if only a methodology of choosing, or it's not a choice. Now you seem opposed to the notion that Eiuol posited, and that I defended, above, viz. that the initial choice must therefore be based on whim. You're also opposed to the notion that it's merely arbitrary. So let me put it to you, if the initial choice is a choice, and if it's neither grounded in reason nor in whim, and if it's not arbitrary, then what explains the initial choice?

Every choice at its most basic level involves holding the alternatives in ones mind, assessing them, experiencing and apprehending them, even if only in the most basic fashion, and then making the choice (whose mechanism lies at the nexus of free will... which is another subject).

 

I understand you are taking philosophy, and I, as having been an academic during my university years, know that a certain "disinterested-third-party-point-of-view" kicks in when "thinking" about things in the abstract.  This is encouraged to fight things like bias...but what were are talking about here is decidedly NOT a "disinterested-third-party-point-of-view" type of consideration.  Such a view and attitude toward the issue at hand is inappropriate and inapplicable... the human perspective of the alternative between life and death as a human is not a biased perspective, it's the only perspective faced with the choice to live or die as a human.

 

To get at what explains the initial choice, you must drop your academic hat for a moment, you must step back home into yourself, as a human, and yes, "get real", and in the moment.  Take a second and sit.. experience what you are, that you are... experience what it is to be.  While reflecting thus, I have have a little "methodology of choosing" (to use your words) for you:

 

think of all you have seen, the beautiful and the ugly and everything in between

then try to think of the nothing 

 

think of all you've heard and smelled, tasted and felt

then try to think of the nothing

 

think of all the joys and sorrows, laughter and anger, all the excitement and all the naps

then try to think of the nothing

 

think of all the people you have known, know, and will know, those you love and hate and everything in between, your father, your mother, your wife, sons or daughters, your neighbors and friends and the grumpy people you avoid too

then try to think of the nothing

 

think of all of the things you pursue in life, the music, the art, the food, the activities, everything that that you value, everything that you have loved, love, or will love, think of all the things you've done, are doing or will do, and think of all the feeling and experiences and all the thoughts you have ever had, have or will have

then contemplate nothing

 

think of all you have been, are, and could be

then ... nothing

 

Once you have thought as outlined above long enough, you will know that you can choose, know you have decided to choose, and in fact have already chosen (by the mechanism of your own voluntary free will)... sitting with this realization  you can contemplate that already made choice between: Living and non-existence.

 

After (ONLY after) having experienced your own choice thus, FEEL FREE to put your disinterested third party hat back on, step away from your humanity, and in a rationalistic scowl confuse yourself into accepting that "everything versus nothing" cannot be the basis for any rational choice ...  that everything cannot be reason for anything...

but I STRONGLY suggest against it...

instead I suggest letting this experience steep for a long time and then revisiting it with an open mind.

 

 

Good Premises!

 

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On 12/2/2019 at 3:52 AM, dream_weaver said:

The runt of the litter abandoned by its mother before acquiring that capacity?

Yes, reminds me of such a runt I saw in the road once. He resisted attempts to be picked up, so independent was he (in his "choice" for life). Grew up to a fine dog, my favorite. 

Edited by whYNOT

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7 hours ago, whYNOT said:

Yes, reminds me of such a runt I saw in the road once. He resisted attempts to be picked up, so independent was he (in his "choice" for life). Grew up to a fine dog, my favorite. 

Sounds like he adopted, or is that adapted, well. I think you know what I meant,  :)

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