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amosknows
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The bottom line is this: in the context of your whole life (which is the only context in which values apply), your child is obviously a lesser value than your whole life, unless your child is your whole life (then he is an equal value). However, nothing is a bigger value than your life, because values exist only in the context of one individual's life. They don't exist in the context of a group(like your family), in which individual lives are assigned values depending on the importance of that individual to the group. In such a context you could discuss which life is more important (you or your child), but that's not what "values" mean, in Ayn Rand's view.

That (your second paragraph) then sounds like a rational argument against risking your life to save your child. I don't agree with it. Some have argued that life and survival aren't the same thing; others -I too- have said that survival is a primary choice you make, which is always required in order to achieve any purpose, and choosing death is the -sometimes rational- end of all values.

One rule that we should all agree to is to not apply the concept of values, except in the context of one individual's life, with that context's existence (the survival of that individual) being automatically the primary condition of the existence of the values. In other words, a child is a value to you only if you exist. Once you die, your world of values is over.

A statement such as "my child is a higher value to me than me" is a logical contradiction.

A statement such as "there are higher values than ourselves" is worse than that, since it leaves room for anything to be declared as the object of the value (the standard by which we judge values). While Ayn Rand defined my standard of values as "their importance to me", a statement which doesn't specify the object of the values as the individual himself allows for that object to be anything and anyone. (God, the President, etc.) If you were to build an ethical system on that, you'd end up with all sorts of unwanted consequences and conflicts of interest between individuals.

Jake - I am so confused by your post. So please excuse me if these questions sound dumb:

How could death be the rational end of all values if value is only relevant in the context of being alive?

Also, are you saying that a belief that one's child is actually a higher value is irrational or just contradictory given what the definition of "value" actually is?

As I really don't understand, can you succinctly tell me what "value" means in Ayn Rand's view?

Thanks.

Amos

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One rule that we should all agree to is to not apply the concept of values, except in the context of one individual's life, with that context's existence (the survival of that individual) being automatically the primary condition of the existence of the values. In other words, a child is a value to you only if you exist. Once you die, your world of values is over.

Thanks, Jake, that helps. What I am unclear about might be the linkage of the ideas of value and sacrifice. The notion that I might surrender my life that a stranger might live on would be a sacrifice, but that I would do so for my daughter would not. The sacrifice, in my mind, would be to allow my daughter to perish that I might live on. That would be a sacrifice. It is from there that I derived the notion that I must value the life of my daughter over my own. As bluey noted, Rand did say that her husband was her highest value. Did she mean higher than herself, or something else?

Zip,

The context for the marine that Amosknows mentioned is probably Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jason Dunham. Story here:

http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/citations_...nham_jason.html

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Zip,

The context for the marine that Amosknows mentioned is probably Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jason Dunham. Story here:

http://www.homeofheroes.com/moh/citations_...nham_jason.html

Anyone else notice something about this? It reads...

Corporal Dunham immediately alerted his fellow Marines to the threat. Aware of the imminent danger and without hesitation, Corporal Dunham covered the grenade with his helmet and body, bearing the brunt of the explosion and shielding his Marines from the blast.

So this Marine covered the grenade with his helmet... and then his body.

He took a calculated risk that his Kevlar helmet would sufficiently protect his vital organs and still save the other guys in his squad (which as any soldier will tell you can be as close if not closer than family).

The kill radius of a grenade is 5 meters. The fact that he was able to put his helmet on the grenade and then put his body on it suggests that he was very close to it and would in all likelihood not have been able to get away regardless.

It's a shame his plan didn't work out for him, but this wasn't a selfless sacrifice of his life but a calculated risk taken to save not only his friends but presumably himself. If you are close enough to jump on a grenade, chances are even if you don't you are dead meat anyway.

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She goes home and she feels terribly guilty. Is her guilt therefore also a by-product of her false beliefs?

That is because there is such a thing as unearned guilt. She is probably operating under the mistaken premise that she is obligated in some way to save the stranger at her expense. This is not too hard to understand since many people probably tell her that her life is not worth as much as the next guy's and that the ultimate "good" is to give your life for another. What a horrible and shameful premise to have to live with.

However, not knowing more context, which you don't seem to think matters, it's difficult to tell. One has to fill in way too many blanks in your question to make any answer meaningful. You see, no one ever faces a dilemma like that in the vacuum you create with your scenario. You will never understand many of the answers you are being given until you realize that.

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That is because there is such a thing as unearned guilt. She is probably operating under the mistaken premise that she is obligated in some way to save the stranger at her expense. This is not too hard to understand since many people probably tell her that her life is not worth as much as the next guy's and that the ultimate "good" is to give your life for another. What a horrible and shameful premise to have to live with.

However, not knowing more context, which you don't seem to think matters, it's difficult to tell. One has to fill in way too many blanks in your question to make any answer meaningful. You see, no one ever faces a dilemma like that in the vacuum you create with your scenario. You will never understand many of the answers you are being given until you realize that.

Gotcha - Adding contect:

She's an Objectivist who thinks her life is more valuable than any other and her secondary value is her unborn baby - at the second she hears his screams she fells compelled to run in and save him. Impossible? If not than (as an objectivist) why does she do this? what's the source of her motivation?

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Gotcha - Adding contect:

She's an Objectivist who thinks her life is more valuable than any other and her secondary value is her unborn baby - at the second she hears his screams she fells compelled to run in and save him. Impossible? If not than (as an objectivist) why does she do this? what's the source of her motivation?

Well, the source of her motivation might be the CONTEXT that is still lacking from your scenario. I can see that how someone feels is very important to you when totally detached from any sort of reasoning or analysis of those feelings. Having a feeling, and having a rationally-based feeling are two different things. People can have all sorts of initial emotional reactions to things, each which can be justifiable or not. It appears you think that once you have that feeling, that that is the primary thing you should act on, not the underlying reasoning.

Okay, I can see this isn't sinking in.... time for me to move along.

Edited by RationalBiker
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She's an Objectivist who thinks her life is more valuable than any other and her secondary value is her unborn baby - at the second she hears his screams she fells compelled to run in and save him. Impossible? If not than (as an objectivist) why does she do this? what's the source of her motivation?
Emotion. People often act based on adrenalin-stoked emotion. Actually acting rationally in your own long-term self-interest requires a lot more effort than just dealing with the problem at hand.
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Emotion. People often act based on adrenalin-stoked emotion. Actually acting rationally in your own long-term self-interest requires a lot more effort than just dealing with the problem at hand.

And this is why, amos, someone accused you of operating with an altruistic mindset. The altruist believes that man either lives by sacrificing himself to others, or by preying on others (or abstaining from the decision altogether and just dying). He believes this because he thinks this is the sum of man's existence: desperate, split-second decisions, involving the most impossibly horrific circumstances. He thinks this is the natural state of human affairs.

The fact that you keep bringing up examples of people who just suddenly have a feeling, an unreasoned impulse to act, in a moment where there is no time to think, or who are placed in situations where their life is immediately threatened, only further proves that you think this is how men live day to day. If you do not, then you would not be seeking to discover the meaning of value, in situations where values have been made impossible, situations which are not the the norm of man's life.

Edited by Tenure
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  • 3 weeks later...

Questions of why some non present person would do something are worthless distractions, unless of course one can climb inside their now dead brain and analyze the thought process that occurred, which cannot be done. I have found that even asking questions of what oneself would do in a specific circumstance is suspect. I cannot count the number of times that my actions turned out to be unlike the responses I THOUGHT I would have. It is not really a useful way to explore a philosophy either.

Speaking from personal experience I will give you some examples why.

I am an combat veteran. I have lived through several life-threatening ordeals in combat. I have also, in one situation entered into a pact with three other soldiers to the effect that we would not allow the others to be taken prisoner alive even if, as a last resort, we had to take their lives ourselves. I have studied martial arts and then later been mugged on the streets of Chicago. In each of these situations there were many highly nuanced aspects of circumstance which contributed to my decision process. (THIS IS WHY CONTEXT, VERY SPECIFIC CONTEXT MATTERS)

Also, it is one thing to have (in ones head) a philosophy, and quite another to put it into practice. Even if one has carefully worked out their ideas as to the proper response to a situation, this does not mean they will necessarily execute those ideas in a real world environment. I could expound on personal examples if they would be useful but it is not necessary to make this point.

Suffice it to say that citing examples of Marines jumping on grenades, or pregnant women running into burning buildings are not really that useful.

If you see me running into a burning building to save a stranger, you can safely assume that I fully intend to save him and LIVE!!! The number of times that life presents one with a situation where ones death is the ONLY way to save another's life are so rare that it is foolish to try to use them as a standard by which one evaluates or discusses a philosophy.

Paul

bootlegger of life

Edited by wilicyote
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And this is why, amos, someone accused you of operating with an altruistic mindset. The altruist believes that man either lives by sacrificing himself to others, or by preying on others (or abstaining from the decision altogether and just dying). He believes this because he thinks this is the sum of man's existence: desperate, split-second decisions, involving the most impossibly horrific circumstances. He thinks this is the natural state of human affairs.

The fact that you keep bringing up examples of people who just suddenly have a feeling, an unreasoned impulse to act, in a moment where there is no time to think, or who are placed in situations where their life is immediately threatened, only further proves that you think this is how men live day to day. If you do not, then you would not be seeking to discover the meaning of value, in situations where values have been made impossible, situations which are not the the norm of man's life.

First, I don't know who the altruist is? Are you suggesting that I am an "altruist" - because if you are I'd suggest you'd have to know a hell of a lot more about me than what I post on line.

Second, I believe that you should question your beliefs in all circumstances - including in the context of those impossibly horrific hypothetical examples. Just my opinion.

Edited by amosknows
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I'm not being "tricky". A core belief (I believe) of Objectivism is that "one's life is one's highest value" ... I was under the impression that in Objectivism the value of your life was more important than any other life. If my foundation is wrong than so be it.

This understanding of Objectivism is incorrect, though it is a common mistake I've found among those just learning about Objectivism. Have you read Atlas Shrugged yet? In it, the culmination and embodiment of Rand's Philosophy, the main character, threatens seriously to kill himself if the woman he loved was going to be tortured (someone else mentioned that you should read that section, I concur) This is the most obvious and glaring counter to the notion that one's 'life' is one's highest value. However, the motto of that character is "I swear by my life and my love of it, that I shall never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine" which is what usually leads people to the understanding you seem to have here. The apparent contradiction is only from the superficial understanding of the philosophy.

The "Life" that is your 'highest value' is not merely your mechanical existence. Consider for a moment what kind of life you would have if everything you did was focused SOLELY on perpetuating your mere mechanical existence. You would spend every waking moment building barriers to the world and the various random threats it poses, you would not talk to people, lest you get sick and die, you would not visit people, lest they betray you and kill you, you would do nothing but wall yourself and try to find the biochemical fountain of youth. In short, you invalidate the possibility of valuing anything but your mechanical existence when your mechanical existence is supposed to be your highest value. You would readily and willingly sell or exchange anything else you value in order to secure your mechanical existence, be it your wife and child, or your career and principles. So when you see "Life is my highest value" you should not read that as 'existence is my highest value' the 'life' that Rand talks about, and is proper, is a particular KIND of life, and particular KIND of existence, one that is proper to sentient rational beings that exist in a real world, and one that is proper to YOU based on your values and interests. That is why in Objectivism the standard for morality is not "life" but "life qua man" (which should more precisely be - Life qua man qua YOU)

Two popular concretizations of this recently in film. In V for Vendetta, when Evey was being tortured by V, she learned that she did value something higher than her own existence, and this made her realize that her whole life had been spent cowering in fear. When threatened with execution to expose to whereabouts of V, she refused, thinking full well she would die, because the life (her existence) she would have lived if she did turn V would have been miserable, as she betrayed one of her highest values. In 300, Leonides 'condemns' Ephialtes, the deformed Spartan who betrayed his beloved land to it's greatest enemy for sex and out of spite of the King, to a 'very long life' because he knows he has betrayed that which he most loved, and his continued existence will be torture to himself.

Life as in mechanical existence is normally a pre-requisite for values, so it is a very high value, but it is not an end of it's own in the context of an individuals self value, it is not the goal of all actions. It is what is needed in order to achieve the things you value, it is a particular kind of existence that is our goal. An Aristotlean Eudaemonic life.

How could death be the rational end of all values if value is only relevant in the context of being alive?

As sentient rational entities that live in an objectively real universe, we understand that things perpetuate beyond our own existence. We are not solipsists who think existence is a convenient figment of our own imagination, but it continues on regardless of our inclusion. As such, we know that things we value can perpetuate beyond our own existence as well, so no, values are not things relevant only in the context of YOUR existence.

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My interpretation of objectivism is that humans should never sacrifice anything in lieu of their own individual survival. This would seem to suggest that the value of your life should not (perhaps) trump everything else, but certainly should trump the life of a stranger...
Check your premise. According to Objectivism, is risking your life necessarily the same as sacrificing your life?

I would tell you no, but don't take my word for it :P

If it's evil to sacrifice your life (your highest value) for another, is it therefore moral for the pregnant woman to watch the stranger burn to death if there is so much as a 1% chance that she will die?
It's not immoral for the woman to choose to risk her life by saving the stranger. It's not immoral for the woman to choose to not risk her life by saving the stranger.

It would be immoral for this woman to risk her life (or not risk her life?) because she felt she was obligated to. If this pregnant woman was acting from a sense of what Jesus would want or even from what Peikoff would want her to do, then she is acting from improper moral standards. The sacrifice would begin at the point that she supercedes her values for the values of other people, not merely because she risks her life in helping someone else.

While Objectivist beliefs are not a religion, survival is a inherent fact of being alive. To act contrary to survival (whether you believe your life is the highest value or not) must have some explanation. I'm just looking for the explanation of an honest Objectivist. There are many possibilities. One being irrational thought.
Another possibility is that the pregnant woman is not necessarily making a wrong decision according Objectivism, therefore it's not a matter of us fabricating an impropriety for her to be subject to.
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Check your premise. According to Objectivism, is risking your life necessarily the same as sacrificing your life?

I would tell you no, but don't take my word for it :D

It's not immoral for the woman to choose to risk her life by saving the stranger. It's not immoral for the woman to choose to not risk her life by saving the stranger.

It would be immoral for this woman to risk her life (or not risk her life?) because she felt she was obligated to. If this pregnant woman was acting from a sense of what Jesus would want or even from what Peikoff would want her to do, then she is acting from improper moral standards. The sacrifice would begin at the point that she supercedes her values for the values of other people, not merely because she risks her life in helping someone else.

Another possibility is that the pregnant woman is not necessarily making a wrong decision according Objectivism, therefore it's not a matter of us fabricating an impropriety for her to be subject to.

Thanks for this. Questions:

If it's not immoral for the woman to either NOT risk her life for the stranger or risk her life for the stranger, than what exactly is the moral thing to do under this hypothetical? Help? Run? Nothing? In other words, you've stated this as a negative (not to risk as an acceptable moral choice) and as a nullity (risk as an irrelevant moral component). Can you give me an answer in the positive? Or is this simply not an example where choice and morality are even factors?

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This understanding of Objectivism is incorrect, though it is a common mistake I've found among those just learning about Objectivism. Have you read Atlas Shrugged yet? In it, the culmination and embodiment of Rand's Philosophy, the main character, threatens seriously to kill himself if the woman he loved was going to be tortured (someone else mentioned that you should read that section, I concur) This is the most obvious and glaring counter to the notion that one's 'life' is one's highest value. However, the motto of that character is "I swear by my life and my love of it, that I shall never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine" which is what usually leads people to the understanding you seem to have here. The apparent contradiction is only from the superficial understanding of the philosophy.

The "Life" that is your 'highest value' is not merely your mechanical existence. Consider for a moment what kind of life you would have if everything you did was focused SOLELY on perpetuating your mere mechanical existence. You would spend every waking moment building barriers to the world and the various random threats it poses, you would not talk to people, lest you get sick and die, you would not visit people, lest they betray you and kill you, you would do nothing but wall yourself and try to find the biochemical fountain of youth. In short, you invalidate the possibility of valuing anything but your mechanical existence when your mechanical existence is supposed to be your highest value. You would readily and willingly sell or exchange anything else you value in order to secure your mechanical existence, be it your wife and child, or your career and principles. So when you see "Life is my highest value" you should not read that as 'existence is my highest value' the 'life' that Rand talks about, and is proper, is a particular KIND of life, and particular KIND of existence, one that is proper to sentient rational beings that exist in a real world, and one that is proper to YOU based on your values and interests. That is why in Objectivism the standard for morality is not "life" but "life qua man" (which should more precisely be - Life qua man qua YOU)

Two popular concretizations of this recently in film. In V for Vendetta, when Evey was being tortured by V, she learned that she did value something higher than her own existence, and this made her realize that her whole life had been spent cowering in fear. When threatened with execution to expose to whereabouts of V, she refused, thinking full well she would die, because the life (her existence) she would have lived if she did turn V would have been miserable, as she betrayed one of her highest values. In 300, Leonides 'condemns' Ephialtes, the deformed Spartan who betrayed his beloved land to it's greatest enemy for sex and out of spite of the King, to a 'very long life' because he knows he has betrayed that which he most loved, and his continued existence will be torture to himself.

Life as in mechanical existence is normally a pre-requisite for values, so it is a very high value, but it is not an end of it's own in the context of an individuals self value, it is not the goal of all actions. It is what is needed in order to achieve the things you value, it is a particular kind of existence that is our goal. An Aristotlean Eudaemonic life.

As sentient rational entities that live in an objectively real universe, we understand that things perpetuate beyond our own existence. We are not solipsists who think existence is a convenient figment of our own imagination, but it continues on regardless of our inclusion. As such, we know that things we value can perpetuate beyond our own existence as well, so no, values are not things relevant only in the context of YOUR existence.

Matus - one of the most thoughtful and insightful posts yet. I see the difference between doing for yourself and doing something at the subjugation of the will of another. And in this I concur. I also understand the concept of one's personal values and living a life that's in accordance with those values. But what I still can't get is the connection to what is moral in the context of Objectivism. - For example, if the woman saves the stranger because her conscious is such that she feels compelled to save him, can she still be an Objectivist because at that moment her value is to save the burning stranger? Or put another way, is acting with altruism, empathy, compassion and caring simply an acceptable component of Objectivism provided it's not the result of subjugation?

Finally, there seems to be some contradictions between being selfish (an acceptable Objectivist code) and some of the examples you gave above. In 300 Ephialtes values the people of his land more than sex and money and power. He chooses the non-selfish value. How does someone like Ephialtes form a value like that? I'm also not sure I would agree that V's motivations are selfish. She is willing to die to avoid pain. But then, what would be the source of that pain?

Edited by amosknows
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Matus - one of the most thoughtful and insightful posts yet. I see the difference between doing for yourself and doing something at the subjugation of the will of another. And in this I concur. I also understand the concept of one's personal values and living a life that's in accordance with those values. But what I still can't get is the connection to what is moral in the context of Objectivism. -

Objectivism is not about a list of commandments or dictates about what ought to be moral. Objectivism is an objective morality because if you desire to live and exist in the real world, there is, objectively, only one standard of morality that is conducive to such a thing, and that standard is loosely life, but is more accurately life qua man. People looking from a religious perspective tend to use the word 'objective' in the sense of absolute dictates that are unavoidable and unquestionable, like 'objective morality' and I see this even in the scientific secular skepticism people, like Michael Shermer. It's wrong to look at objectivism as a standard of morality in this sense. Objective, in the scientific context (and not omniscient religious context) means it is logical, rational, real, and available to anyone using tools of cognition. It does not mean it is absolute, unyielding, and perfect.

All scientific knowledge approaches, asymptotically, the 'ultimate' truth, but we'll never know when we reach it, because we would need to be omniscient and step outside the quest for knowledge in order to know when that quest is complete. But we know we are getting better because we are able to do more things and more of our scientific models work better and better as they are developed. While there is an 'objective' truth we strive toward, it's a never ending quest. Objective in science then is the ever more accurate understanding of something when tested against reality derived through appropriate tools of cognition. When we say the mass of the proton is 1.27 x 10^-27 that is, indeed, it's 'objective' mass, even though it will change, it is a value testable and derivable by anyone.

Objectivisms morality is not a list of Rules that say Rand said you must do this or this, it's the identification that the only proper standard of morality is life, if your goal is to live, because as entities that exist in the real world, an objective reality, all of our actions have consequences that are unavoidable. Anything else is only suicide slowed to the extent with which you deviate from that standard. Rand's character flaws, whatever you believe or don't believe them to be, are as irrelevant to her identification of the standard of morality for sentient beings that wish to live as Newton's cantankerous nature and obsession with religion was to his laws of motion, calculus, and optics.

What is moral in objectivism is that which is proper to the life of sentient rational beings who are not omniscient that live in an real universe. But not just proper to 'life' as in the mere mechanical existence, but a particular kind of life, an Aristotlean Eudaemonic life, or Life Qua Man, as mentioned.

For example, if the woman saves the stranger because her conscious is such that she feels compelled to save him, can she still be an Objectivist because at that moment her value is to save the burning stranger?

It's important to be clear about what you mean by self-ish. It's most common to associate selfishness with 1 of 3 definitions 1) acting on the immediacy of the moment in accordance with some desire you have or 2) acting in some loose sense to benefit yourself but at the expense of someone else 3) not doing what I think you ought to do (you're being sooo selfish!) But what you are trying to achieve, and why you are doing it are dropped contextually. Mugging someone is 'selfish' in this manner just as going to school instead of hanging out with your friends and playing video games is 'selfish'

This is where that notion that 'everything you do is selfish' comes from, and why it is of no value to discuss, in the sense that you are a volitional being and you choose to move your muscles and speak words, all your actions are the result of something you desire to do. But this is a concrete bound context dropping. Though you choose to initiate movements, the actions are not necessarily in your self interest, let alone your long term rational self interest.

So even though she feels compelled to save the stranger, merely because she is acting on a desire does not mean she is acting in rational self interest, but in she sense that she is in control of her actions, she is acting under a 'self-ish' desire. But to use 'self-ish' in that sense is really rather pointless, because other people can not directly make your muscles move.

Altruism, in Objectivism, is not merely 'helping others' there is nothing wrong with that, in fact it can be good and conducive to your own fulfilling life if you identify shared values you and the person you are helping hold and help them achieve that value. When you help others at your own expense, that's different. When your helping others results in your own immolation, that usually always bad. However, we are not omniscient, so we don't always know when our help will result in our own demise, most of the time people do such things they operate on the assumption that they themselves will survive, sometimes there assessment is irrationally derived, but the motivation is not self destruction to save another. If she is a fire-fighter, for instance, rushing into a fire to save a stranger is not an unreasonable thing, her skill set will make it much more likely for her to survive and save the person.

Firefighters, politice, and Soldiers are not acting 'altruistically' any more than you are when you choose to go to school instead of play video games, instead they are acting in accordance with their highest values, fighting to maintain and promulgate the things they desire and the world they desire to see come about. They are acting in their own long term rational self interest, ensuring the world they desire for themselves and for their loved ones.

Selfish-ness in objectivism is rational-self interest, which is long term, logical, non-pejorative, and based on proper values. It is not merely satisfying whatever whim you as a self happen to have. You should always critically examine your values against that standard of a fulfilling life to you.

It's dangerous to confuse the 'altruism' of sacrificing short term comfort and conveinences for long term goals with the sacrificing of your own well being for the well being of - not people that you care about - but in fact people that you dislike. Words are what we use to represent ideas, and without words to identify clearly what we mean, the ideas are muddled. The former form of 'sacrifice' is really a proper 'prioritization' of values, while the latter is a reversal in the prioritization of values! Often the struggle and effort is the same between the two, it is that struggle which we usually come to associate as indicative of 'sacrifice' but just as it is wrong to call both getting your next heroin fix and not helping a parasitic 'friend' in 'need' selfish, it's wrong to call the struggle to cut one's own throat the same as the struggle to ensure the people who love and care about have the basic necessities of life.

Or put another way, is acting with altruism, empathy, compassion and caring simply an acceptable component of Objectivism provided it's not the result of subjugation?

I think that's an important component of it. But what is more important is the clear identification what your values are and why they are your values, of upholding ones values, proper to a good life and existence in the real world, and working to promulgate those values either by helping other similar spirited individuals or one's self. They should all, ultimately, contribute to your long term rational self interest, even if in the short term they might be difficult. But if they are difficult in the short term, AND work AGAINST your long term rational self interest, with or without subjugation - empathy, altruism, or compassion - are not acceptable to a morality based on life.

Finally, there seems to be some contradictions between being selfish (an acceptable Objectivist code) and some of the examples you gave above. In 300 Ephialtes values the people of his land more than sex and money and power. He chooses the non-selfish value. How does someone like Ephialtes form a value like that?

I'm not sure how you figured he chose the non-selfish value. Ephialtes seemed to embrace a short term irrational angry reaction (that he could not serve with the Spartans) and bound it to a concrete permanence in betraying the Spartans to the Persians. He values the short term hedonistic pleasures offered to him more than the long term well being of the land he loved. While you could say his physical actions were 'selfish' in the sense that he chose to act, they were not focused on the promulgation of his highest values, but only on his short term emotional reaction and temptations. I think (my interpretation anyway) that when Leonidas condemns him to a very long life, his doing so makes Ephialtes realize that he has in fact betrayed that which he values the most and his existence will be a torture.

I'm also not sure I would agree that V's motivations are selfish. She is willing to die to avoid pain. But then, what would be the source of that pain?

Evey was willing to die in order to prevent V's location from being discovered, because her mere mechanical existence was not what she valued most, but it was a particular kind of life and world she wished to see promulgated. She was tortured over and over again, at any moment she could have betrayed V and been let go, so it was not to avoid pain. That was the lesson that V taught her, that there is something she values more than just existing, and doing so has a profound impact on one's life.

** I found it funny that her very first response upon realizing it was V was "...... You cut my hair!!!.... you TORTURED ME!" apparently she valued her hair more than not being tortured =P

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If it's not immoral for the woman to either NOT risk her life for the stranger or risk her life for the stranger, than what exactly is the moral thing to do under this hypothetical? ...In other words, you've stated this as a negative (not to risk as an acceptable moral choice) and as a nullity (risk as an irrelevant moral component). Can you give me an answer in the positive? Or is this simply not an example where choice and morality are even factors?
IMO the moral thing is to do what she wants to in this situation.

Acting from a sense of obligation would create an immorality. Barring that, I can't immediately think of a context where Objectivism would say "saving this stranger is the moral thing to do" or "refusing to save this stranger is the moral thing to do."

You phrased that in an interesting way. In terms of charity ethics (and maybe emergency ethics) it might be correct to say that Objectivism says what you should not do, as opposed to what you should do. I wouldn't say that this means that choice or morality is not a factor though.

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  • 2 weeks later...
IMO the moral thing is to do what she wants to in this situation.

Acting from a sense of obligation would create an immorality. Barring that, I can't immediately think of a context where Objectivism would say "saving this stranger is the moral thing to do" or "refusing to save this stranger is the moral thing to do."

You phrased that in an interesting way. In terms of charity ethics (and maybe emergency ethics) it might be correct to say that Objectivism says what you should not do, as opposed to what you should do. I wouldn't say that this means that choice or morality is not a factor though.

Seems to be a contradiciton in your answer. You seem to be saying that there is no moral component to this hypothetical. It's perfectly moral (right) to ignore the cries for help and it's perfectly moral (right although not an obligation) to risk your own life and run in and save the person. If this is your answer, than aside from the absolute elimination of obligation as a guide for one's behavior, objectivism seems to fail as a behavioral guide in situations like these. Decisions of what is right and wrong falling on either side of the equation - and without effect. In essence reducing decisions of what is right and wrong to whims - the only relevant consideration being this lack of an obligation to act.

This bring us back to value - as Rand has sated:

"An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means – and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil"

If the woman can value the life of the man more than her life than she is (by definition) NOT an objectivist. By Rand's standard saving the burning man is "evil". Although (by your acknowledgment) her actions are not outside the realm of acceptable objectivist decision making. Hm.

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This bring us back to value - as Rand has sated:

"An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means – and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil"

If the woman can value the life of the man more than her life than she is (by definition) NOT an objectivist. By Rand's standard saving the burning man is "evil". Although (by your acknowledgment) her actions are not outside the realm of acceptable objectivist decision making. Hm.

Unless, of course, she valued the man's life high enough that her life would not have enough meaning to her without it, then it would be completely moral. Of course, if she also had reason to believe that she would still be alive after the whole incident, then she was also attacking morally, but simply mistaken.

However, if she knew that she would die saving the man's life, but she still acted out of some notion of virtuous self-sacrifice (or any other reason that she would have an obligation to save him), then yes, she would be acting immorally. Perhaps not necessarily down-right evil, but immoral.

Another thing that I don't believe has been brought up in this thread yet is that Objectivism doesn't claim (as the old Christian adage goes) that "everyone is [Objectivist], they just don't know it yet." It's true that the axioms (A is A, reason is our means of survival, etc.) rule the world, but that doesn't make reason automatic. People must choose to be rational, and knee-jerk reactions in response to split second instances can not necessarily judged under the same ethical standard as standard life issues, which are the more numerous in our lives anyway (or course, this my understanding and reasoning, and I haven't yet read the writing on the Ethics of Emergencies).

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Aside from the absolute elimination of obligation as a guide for one's behavior, Objectivism seems to fail as a behavioral guide in situations like these.
If failure constitutes not prescribing a wrong choice for a particular situation, I suppose it does fail. But why must there be a wrong choice in this burning building case?

If the woman can value the life of the man more than her life...
I don't think going into the burning building proves that she values the life of a strange man more than her own physical survival.

Supposing this woman knew with 100% certainty that she would die as a result of saving this stranger, then that might be a different story. But otherwise, risking your life in and of itself doesn't mean that you value something more than your physical survival.

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  • 1 month later...

It's not a matter of life not being the highest value. If you love something so much that your life would be meaningless without it, then it makes sense to give your life to defend it. Maybe you love your wife so much that your life without her would be a burden instead of a pleasure. It only makes sense to give your life for something if you are sure that you would not want to live without it.

Still, even if you are willing to give your life for something, the concept of value is still derived from your own life. It doesn't mean that you love it more than your life because since anything's value depends on you being alive, it is not a valid comparison.

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This is not a paradox. If my significant other were in harm's way, I would do everything I could to help him because he is of great value to me. If this means that I would lose my life in the process, that would be alright because my life is not worth living without him.

A parent (usually) feels a similar sentiment for his child. Life is not worth living without certain individuals.

Based on what you have written ("Life is not worth living without certain individuals."), I think it follows that you would commit suicide if any of those certain individuals were to die. But I suspect that you would not commit suicide in such a situation, so either my reasoning is incorrect or your statement "Life is not worth living without certain individuals." is not true.

John Link

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Based on what you have written ("Life is not worth living without certain individuals."), I think it follows that you would commit suicide if any of those certain individuals were to die.

That's not necessarily true, but you do feel like you have died if you lose someone you love, even a close friend. The pain of such a lose is very insurmountable, and it can take years to overcome it. It can even lead to psychological ills if not handled correctly. In other words, it is devastating. I think you'd have to be very calloused to think that someone wouldn't suffer greatly with such a loss. However, I don't think it is the projection of the loss that motivates one to take that risk; more one is motivated by the value that loved one represents as you experience the friendship or the love. When a loved one is in danger, it is not as if one has no values invested in that loved one, but rather they are extremely important to you; so important that one will do most anything in order to keep them in one's life. And it is not as if one's own life becomes less valuable to oneself when engaging in the risk taking, but rather the value of one's own life is increased by their existence.

There is no self-sacrifice involved in these types of actions, provided one knows the loved one and considers them to be an irreplaceable value.

It's been nearly 15 years since my adult best friend died suddenly, and I still miss him. In my context of knowledge at the time, I didn't think it was an emergency, but it was, and one of the problems is wondering if I could have done anything else to have saved his life -- only I didn't know his life was in emergency danger at the time. It definitely wasn't my fault that he died in the least bit, and we don't have omniscience so I couldn't have known any better at the time, and he should have gone to the hospital, and so on and so on -- but he's still gone. I'm not a homosexual, but I can say of him that he was a beautiful man -- and I've never met anyone else like him. And he was only a best friend, not a wife who would mean even more to me.

Some values are so irreplaceable that one ought to deal with them as if they mean your whole life. That's what it takes to become a passionate valuer that is required by being an Objectivist.

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That's not necessarily true, but you do feel like you have died if you lose someone you love, even a close friend.

Thomas, I agree with everything you wrote except that I do not know what you mean by the sentence I have quoted above. What is it that you consider to be not necessarily true? I see two possible answers to my question:

1) Life is not worth living without certain individuals.

2) From "Life is not worth living without certain individuals." it follows that one would commit suicide if any of those certain individuals were to die.

I think that you were questioning the truth of #1 rather than #2, but I'm not certain of that. The point of my previous post was to doubt the truth of #1, a statement that was made by Mimpy to explain why it would be ok to lose his life attempting to save the life of someone else ("If this means that I would lose my life in the process, that would be alright because my life is not worth living without him.").

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I think that you were questioning the truth of #1 rather than #2, but I'm not certain of that.

I think you are being rationalistic instead of being a valuer.

Certainly the experience of losing a loved one is the experience that life isn't worth going on -- possibly for a long time afterwards. Now, should one actually commit suicide? I don't think so, if for nothing else the idea that those people were not in your life forever (aside from your parents or close siblings) and you were able to live and to enjoy life with them not being there. However, one doesn't chose one's parents or siblings, whereas a friend or a spouse is chosen. In other words, it would not be an act of suicide to protect a loved one with one's own life, if necessary. Hopefully, one can find another solution, but certainly acting as if one will not lose anything by their death is not understanding the value relationship at all.

When my best friend died, it felt like my soul had been ripped out -- I actually went into shock and nothing seemed real to me and I had no emotional reaction whatsoever -- for weeks. So, in that sense, I basically experienced what it would be like to lose everything, because psychologically I did. It is not something I would ever hope someone else I knew would experience just to understand what I went through. Some loses are so great that one simply doesn't know how to deal with them.

I don't know that I actually would have stepped in front of a bullet for him, but certainly what I went through has taught me that there are irreplaceable values. If I could do it over again, with the knowledge I currently have (which I didn't have at the time), I would have dragged his ass to a hospital, even if he would have hated me for it afterwards. Of course, some people might ask me why I didn't do that to begin with, but that is second guessing oneself in a non-emergency situation that unknowingly became an emergency.

Edited by Thomas M. Miovas Jr.
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