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Value of Life

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Ferg
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I’ve been trying to understand something about Objectivism for a long time, but I have had a hard time finding answers. I was hoping people here might be able to help. I’m not here to attack the philosophy, just learn. The way Objectivist ethics has been described to me includes the notion that it is morally wrong to sacrifice a lower value for a higher value or to demand that anyone else do the same. I have also been told that one’s own life is, objectively speaking, of the highest value. It would seem to follow that, according to Objectivism, it is morally wrong to sacrifice one’s life for anything. Is that correct?

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No. There could be circumstances under which your "life" i.e. the living, breathing, day to day existence is of no value.

To exist as a chained animal is not what I would call a "life" and such an existence would have no value to me. Were it impossible for me to escape such an existence the choice to cease to live is neither irrational nor is it counter to my greatest value, to live as a man.

Edited by Zip
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Okay, so maybe one's life as a human being is, objectively, the highest value. I can see that as being more crucial than simple breathing. What I'm basically getting at is this: is it morally permissible in Objectivism to put one's life in danger in order to protect the rights and lives of others?

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Okay, so maybe one's life as a human being is, objectively, the highest value. I can see that as being more crucial than simple breathing. What I'm basically getting at is this: is it morally permissible in Objectivism to put one's life in danger in order to protect the rights and lives of others?

Sure.

First of all, danger is not the same thing as actually sacrificing your life.

Second, if you value your life with said person in it, much more than your life without them, then it is not a sacrifice per se. Obviously this would become less true as the value of that person is less, and as the risk to you is higher.

That balance allows for all sorts of senarios. Certainly putting yourself in danger to save someone like a spouse is actually an expression of how much you value them and could be warranted. By the same token, putting yourself at significant risk to save a complete stranger is a questionable decision.

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Okay, so maybe one's life as a human being is, objectively, the highest value. I can see that as being more crucial than simple breathing. What I'm basically getting at is this: is it morally permissible in Objectivism to put one's life in danger in order to protect the rights and lives of others?

My answer for this is yes.

In as much as I value my life I know that living my life as a man is only possible in a free society (or reasonable facsimile ;) ). Living under a dictatorship or any other rights denying system would bring me right back to the life not worth living.

This is the rational choice soldiers and cops make. Of course that is my opinion of it. :(

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So Objectivism doesn't say that one's own life is the highest value? That's where I'm getting confused, because that is what I have always been told.

Yes, a man's life is his highest value. Let me ask you this however, what do you think Objectivists refer to when they say "man's life"? Simply continued existence or something more?

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One's own life is the highest value, but life must be defined. Life as an Objectivist includes freedom, rights, and a few luxuries. What these examples are showing is:

In the case of risking your life to save a loved one: You value that person, enough that you're willing to risk your life, in order to retain him or her in your life, because not having them in your life, you feel your life would cease to be a life.

In the case of putting your life in danger as a career: You find value in living in a world where criminals, or enemies of the state, are caught and punished, you have the skills to do so, and you put your life at risk to catch criminals or fight wars because you find your life were the criminals not caught or the country invaded, would not be a true life.

In the case of terminal illness: Perhaps your life for whatever time you have left would be painful, would cause your loved ones to watch you wither slowly, and you would prefer to save yourself that pain, your life at that point has ceased to be a life.

Not only do you have to value your life, you have to hold the phrase "My life" at higher value than 'living, breathing, watching TV'.

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So Objectivism doesn't say that one's own life is the highest value? That's where I'm getting confused, because that is what I have always been told.

It is.

I think what you are assuming is meant by "life" is the act of existing, to breathe, eat, procreate... natural functions of an animal. To me that is not life.

Life is the series of directed purposeful actions by which I use my consciousness, do productive work, love wholly and exist as a man, not as some purposeless chained animal.

This value, real life is the ultimate value and as such I can uphold it by my death if need be, without altruistic sacrifice playing a part in that decision.

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So Objectivism doesn't say that one's own life is the highest value?
Maybe the problem lies in the fact that this value, indeed the concept "value" itself, depends on something else, namely the fundamental choice to exist. For example, money would be a value because

it makes something else possible, namely you can buy food and shelter with it. Food would be a value because it makes possible "your continued existence". Ultimately, all values reduce to a central goal, namely "living, qua man": they can be justified because objectively speaking, money does make it possible to buy food and food does make it possible to survive. You cannot justify your ultimate value by reference to some other value -- that's what it means to be an ultimate value.

The logically first and most fundamental step is, when you realize that you are a volitional being that by nature must choose actions, that you must make the fundamental choice. Shall I exist, or not? When you have made the choice to exist, that establishes a standard for evaluating other choices -- are they consistent with that fundamental choice? But the fundamental choice is not a given, and it is possible for a man to realize that it is simply not possible for him to exist qua man. If a man decides to not continue existing, the notion of "value" becomes meaningless.

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I understand about your life as a man being more important than your simple existence. I agree with that myself. And I can see that it is okay to risk your life in order to prevent something that would pose a risk to your life if it wasn’t stopped. But would it be permissible to risk your life for any other cause?

What if a friend was in a burning building? Would it be okay to risk my life to save him? Sure, I’d be sad if he died, but my life as a man would go on. I understand that Objectivism says I have no obligation to risk my life to save him, but it also seems to say it would be wrong for me to try to save him. I’d be risking something of higher value for something of lower value. That’s altruism, right?

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I’d be risking something of higher value for something of lower value. That’s altruism, right?

See my previous post. Risking is not the act of sacrificing. It is exposing yourself to the possibility of loss. The question comes down to how big is the risk vs. how big is the value. Risking your life is not the same thing as throwing away your life.

By your logic, a fireman could not do his job, since he is risking his life for a paycheck, and for total strangers. In certain contexts a fireman does not enter burning buildings to try to save others because the risks are too great. A fireman would prevent civilians from doing so, even if in the same situation he might. Because of a fireman's training, he is actually taking less risk in the same situation than a civilian.

There may be certain circumstance unders which it would be reasonable to risk your life for your friend. There are others where it would not. The most extreme example of this is to enter a situation where the risk that you would not survive is extremely high, but the object of the rescue is a complete stranger to you. For something like that, no, it would be immoral to demand someone attempt it.

Edited by KendallJ
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See my previous post. Risking is not the act of sacrificing. It is exposing yourself to the possibility of loss. The question comes down to how big is the risk vs. how big is the value. Risking your life is not the same thing as throwing away your life.
Okay, so it wouldn't be wrong for me to risk my life for a friend or family member, but it would be wrong to give up my life for a friend or family member?

By your logic, a fireman could not do his job, since he is risking his life for a paycheck, and for total strangers.
Just to be clear, this is not my logic. This is the way Objectivism has been described to me. The people who talked about it probably weren't the best representatives, so I thought I'd come to a board like this and ask for more info. I'm trying to reconcile things like firefighting with Objectivism. Edited by Ferg
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There may be certain circumstance unders which it would be reasonable to risk your life for your friend. There are others where it would not. The most extreme example of this is to enter a situation where the risk that you would not survive is extremely high, but the object of the rescue is a complete stranger to you. For something like that, no, it would be immoral to demand someone attempt it.
That's not what I'm asking. Like I said, I know Objectivism says that it would be wrong to have someone else make such a sacrifice, but the way it has been explained to me is that it would also be wrong to make such a sacrifice yourself.

What you just described is something firefighters do: they put themselves at great risk for strangers. Is it morally wrong for them to do that?

Edited by Ferg
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It is fine to risk or trade value for something that has value to you. To go into a burning building to save somebody you care about is risking your life for something which is valuable to you, or someone, in this case. If you're not a fireman, you don't know or care about the person inside, and you most definitely would die in the process, Altruism says you should sacrifice your life, automatically, without consideration in this case, because in Altruism you must sacrifice yourself completely for no value in return. Firemen perform a needed civic service, but that is not the value they gain, they get lots of money, they are heralded as heroic by their friends and peers, and they are given the tools and training necessary to reduce the risk of harm to them. All of this is trading a value (fighting fires) for a value (Money, respect, or whatever motive he may choose) A fireman might save a complete stranger because he might hold value in the ability to live in a world where fires don't consume lives, he also lives in the community, and the damaged home or business may suffer by the loss of the person inside, or of the property if he does not stop the fire, and that damage may be felt throughout the community, economically.

Also, a fair or good trade does not necessarily mean both things must be of -Equal- value, they just morally should not be of -Little or no- value. Numerically, you might pay $3 for a soda that cost the vendor fifty cents. You are not being altruistic or evil in doing so. Similarly, you may not hold the life of the person in the building of equal value to yours, but you might still risk your life on the same principle.

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This must be where my friends had gotten it wrong then: they said Objectivism says that we should not give up a higher value for a lower value, and that one's life is the highest value. From what I'm getting from you guys, Objectivism says it is okay to give up your life for something else that you value, as long as you do so voluntarily. So voluntary altruism is okay in Objectivism?

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This must be where my friends had gotten it wrong then: they said Objectivism says that we should not give up a higher value for a lower value, and that one's life is the highest value. From what I'm getting from you guys, Objectivism says it is okay to give up your life for something else that you value, as long as you do so voluntarily. So voluntary altruism is okay in Objectivism?

:pimp::dough::dough::dough::dough:

Sorry I lost it for a moment.

Its late over here I'm going to bed now.

Edited by FrolicsomeQuipster
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What you just described is something firefighters do: they put themselves at great risk for strangers. Is it morally wrong for them to do that?

No they do not. What's the death rate amongst fire fighters? It's not that high. If you were doing a firefighter's job, then it would be a great risk, but they have training, specifically in both skills and decision making process that reduce their risk, such that it is not a sacrifice to do the work, given the modest paycheck they receive. The risk they incur is different from the one you would incur doing their job as a civilian. In short, it is NOT morally wrong to do a firefighters job, but the context is very important.

Okay, let me just ask it as straight as I possibly can: in Objectivism, is it morally permissible to voluntarily sacrifice a higher value (one's life being the highest of these values) for a lower value?

NO

But remember, risking is not sacrificing.

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I'm putting aside risk for the moment and concentrating specifically on sacrifice. So, not only is it not moral to ask someone else to make that sacrifice, but it is immoral to make that sacrifice yourself? I'm just trying to get this straight. It is evil to give up your life for someone else's.

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Maybe part of where the confusion is is the evaluation of context. As an abstract statement, "higher value for lower value" seems simple, but when you unpack those concepts it does not yield such easy commandment as "never enter a burning building to save anyone."

You also have to answer the questions what does it mean to value someone else? What does it mean to hold your own life as the highest purpose? What is meant by your life? (i.e. what makes up the components of your life?)

The unpacking of those principles and the evaluation of any given sacrifice yields different answers depending on the context.

Is it morally right to risk your life to save someone? sometimes.

Can it be morally wrong to do so? yes it can.

Is it possible that someone could be of such a value to you that you do not want to live without them, in which case you'd be willing to die saving them? absolutely.

All of these can be properly evaluated within the context of holding your life as your highest value.

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Is it possible that someone could be of such a value to you that you do not want to live without them, in which case you'd be willing to die saving them? absolutely.
I think I get what you are saying. So, in such a case, it would still be morally wrong to sacrifice myself to save this person. Right? Not just risk, but actually give up my life so that they might live.
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