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Choosing to live

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Is there a reason to choose to live?

I agree that this choice is not an ethical choice, as the choice to live is prior to ethics. Ethics tells one, given that a man wants to live, how he must live. But is there no reason to choose to live?

Yes, the choice is pre-ethical. But nevertheless, there is guidance in choosing to live. The choice to live is not arbitrary. Why? Because the valuing of pleasure over pain is hard-wired -- and the nature of the world is such that happiness, rather than suffering, is the rule. So although it is not an ethical choice, it is a rational choice. And it is unique in this way. This choice is the anteroom of ethics.

Consider a man for whom this is not the case -- for whom life is suffering, with no prospect of change. In this case, the rational choice might be to not continue in life -- and he could not be faulted for not wanting to continue in a life that is pain.

Your thoughts welcome; be well.

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John, I think you are correct. (Your signature is also true.)

I would add that a choice to think is a choice to live, though the person choosing may not realize that. I have recounted a crucial pre-moral choice to live, by choosing to follow reason, in my own life here.

Here are two other notes, including a list of essays by a number of scholars on the issue. The second note includes an essay-excerpt on reason for the choice to value: A, B.

Stephen

Edited by Boydstun
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In regards to choosing to live, I would recommened reading Tara Smith, as she goes into it in part of Chapter 4 of her excellent book that is a study on life being both the root and reward of Rand's morality, titled Viable Values, specifically the sections in Chapter 4 titled "Does a Person Choose to Live?", "Is the Choice of Life Justified?" .

Consider a man for whom this is not the case -- for whom life is suffering, with no prospect of change. In this case, the rational choice might be to not continue in life -- and he could not be faulted for not wanting to continue in a life that is pain.

Suicide can be in ones rational self-interest, a rationally justifiable action to take. It's, highly context dependent, though, on whether it is or not.

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I agree that this choice is not an ethical choice, as the choice to live is prior to ethics. Ethics tells one, given that a man wants to live, how he must live. But is there no reason to choose to live?

I'm not too sure I'm convinced of this, but this is the best I can come up with:

The only appropriate answer to this question is "Because I want to".

"But why?"

"Because I want to" (ad infinitum)

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Sadomasochists gain pleasure from pain, but they still value pleasure. Self-defeating personality disorders are just that, disorders. They are anomalies which don't represent ordinary human psyches.

I don't think you understand the meaning of "hard-wired".

Or of a contradiction ("gain pleasure from pain").

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I don't think you understand the meaning of "hard-wired".

Or of a contradiction ("gain pleasure from pain").

It seems you don't understand the meaning of a contradiction as there is nothing contradictory about gaining pleasure from pain. If he said something like "sadomasochists realize that pain is pleasure", then that would be a contradiction but gaining one thing from something which seems opposite is not a contradiction. There is nothing in the definition of pain that says that it can not cause pleasure or vice versa. Edited by oso
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It seems you don't understand the meaning of a contradiction as there is nothing contradictory about gaining pleasure from pain. If he said something like "sadomasochists realize that pain is pleasure", then that would be a contradiction but gaining one thing from something which seems opposite is not a contradiction. There is nothing in the definition of pain that says that it can not cause pleasure or vice versa.

Now this is pure rationalism -- "compare definitions, then make your own deduction"

there is nothing contradictory about gaining pleasure from pain

So, a person who experiences pain, which is a signal of danger, or of a disease, or of many other things anti-life, as an emotion which tells him, essentially, that 'this is good' (pleasure), has no psycho-epistemological issues? I might concede that it may not (or that he may not let it) interfere with his life or rational goals, but that there is nothing contradictory about this experience?

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  • 1 month later...

A view of the choice to live as it figures in Rand’s ethical theory—a view along the line of John’s post #1—is set out by Darryl Wright in his essay “Reasoning about Ends: Life as a Value in Ayn Rand’s Ethics” (in Gotthelf/Lennox 2011).

If it is not particularly hard to experience one’s life as a value, then there are easily accessible nondeliberate grounds for making the choice to value one’s life.* The choice goes beyond the experience that involves forming certain kinds of intentions, which set an agenda for moral reflection and action in support of one’s life. The existence of nondeliberative grounds for the choice also supplies justification for a negative verdict on those who (again, in some fundamental way, rather than due to evil circumstances) do not value their lives. . . . There may be nothing that someone who does not value his life has a moral reason to do. Nevertheless, such a person can be morally evil . . . in the sense that the description corresponds to a real defect or corruption in that person traceable to a groundless rejection of life. From this perspective, the lack of moral reasons would figure as [a] deficiency instead of as an exculpation.

*By “nondeliberative grounds” for this choice, I mean a cognitive input that occasions the choice, and to which the choice is an intelligible and rational response, but which does not have propositional content.

In the second sentence of the quotation, I think Prof. Wright is saying that the choice, not the experience (of one’s life as a value) that provides nondeliberative grounds for the choice, “involves forming certain kinds of intentions, which set an agenda . . . .” In further development of the Wright view, :smartass: I would expect a natural join with the following picture from Rand:

Now in what manner does a human being discover the concept of ‘value’? By what means does he first become aware of the issue of ‘good or evil’ in its simplest form? By means of the physical sensations of pleasure or pain. Just as sensations are the first step of the development of a human consciousness in the realm of cognition, so they are its first step in the realm of evaluation. (“The Objectivist Ethics” 17)
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Now this is pure rationalism -- "compare definitions, then make your own deduction"

So, a person who experiences pain, which is a signal of danger, or of a disease, or of many other things anti-life, as an emotion which tells him, essentially, that 'this is good' (pleasure), has no psycho-epistemological issues? I might concede that it may not (or that he may not let it) interfere with his life or rational goals, but that there is nothing contradictory about this experience?

Psycho-epistemological issues do not entail metaphysical impossibility. You're mentally sick if you gain psychological pleasure from physical pain but that doesn't mean having such an illness is impossible.

You even seem to be conceeding this now, but you weren't in your earlier posts. The poster you replied to had stated that gaining pleasure from pain is a disorder. You responded to him by implying that gaining pleasure from pain is entirely impossible, that it would entail a metaphysical contradiction. You obviously weren't talking about contradictions held within one's consciousness, which can exist, because then you wouldn't have been making any sense by accusing him of not knowing what contradictions are since he had never mentioned contradictions and you were the one to bring them up. You were implying that, as a poster on an Objectivist site, he knew that contradictions couldn't exist but doesn't "understand the meaning of... a contradiction" because his interpretation of maschoism was contradictory.

Edited by oso
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Psycho-epistemological issues do not entail metaphysical impossibility. You're mentally sick if you gain psychological pleasure from physical pain but that doesn't mean having such an illness is impossible.

This is not psycho-epistemology, it's just psychology.

But, in any case, you are correct, there's no contradiction implied by someone deriving psychological pleasure from physical or emotional pain. Heck, it doesn't even have to be a disorder. How many times have you heard someone say something like "woo, great workout! I'm sore all over!" or "that confrontation was awful, but it's such a relief to get our issues out in the open". What makes it a disorder is that the masochist pursues self-destructive acts, whereas the psychologically healthy person accepts a certain amount of pain as a necessary precondition of accomplishing the goals which make them happy.

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