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the question of why should I choose life

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LoBagola
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Choosing to flourish leaves the ball in the same court, so to speak. What is it to flourish - to live in the manner that is most benificial to a conceptual consciousness, i.e. puting life at the base as the standard.

My attempt is to try to distinguish survive-well from survive-all.  I think I'm caught somewhere between Leonid's and Eiuol's last posts:

 

"No choice is possible without standard of value." ~ Leonid

"My overall point is that choosing to live or not is itself not a choice that is immoral or moral;" ~ Eiuol

 

It's a given that volitional creatures make choices, and a choice implies a preference among alternatives.  Therefore to say, I choose to live per se only means, I choose not to die.  One can argue that to live is good and to die is bad based on a standard of value, as Leonid suggests*, or that life is simply a requisite (or starting point?) for making ethical choices, as Eiuol suggests*.  From there both arguments seem to require clarified (modified?) definitions for the terms live and free will, e.g., to choose to think so that one may behave in a manner that is most beneficial to oneself; which implies flourishing to me, and can be expressed by common definitions for the terms live and free will.

 

That's why I think choosing to flourish is clearer in terms of expressing the preference for a quality of life, i.e., a good life, or a better life, rather than simply continuing to exist.

--

* My bad if I've misrepresented either Leonid's or Eiuol's argument; it wasn't intentional.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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Certain rudiments of living are undeniable. Millions of muslims can attest to the fact that drinking water and eating are essential to staying alive. 2000+ years of history attest that prior to Miss Rand articulating the rational case for morality, that humankind did not perish for the lack of its identification. The connections between growing food, building shelter and fabricating clothing were made though it was not necessarily attributed to the sphere of morality. The prevalence of altruism that permeates the world contain contradictions to a rational based morality that have impeded progress to this day.

 

Knowing what is essential to life in the sense of food, water, shelter and clothing is not the same as choosing to apply "life as the standard of value" and seeking to eliminate contradiction throughout the expanding realm of pursuits available to man within that sphere. Flourishing, like happiness, becomes a consequent of choosing the latter.

 

An individual who acquires a luxury automobile, a nice home in an affluent neighborhood, and dons the most stylish clothing available while advocating that public schools are essential; bemoaning that the businessmen, who made his lifestyle possible, are superlative to productive enterprise;  and donating money or time to promote the implementation of universal health care - may not be aware of the contradictions involved. Ethical choices to such an individual may be little more than don't steal physical stuff, don't hit others, oh . . . and help the elderly next door neighbor by taking their trash to the curb.

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My assessment: I believe Leonid is correct in his answer to this question, and Grames (and others?) have slightly misunderstood what he is saying. And Leonid is not contradicting what Rand wrote about "the choice to live." 

 

I believe (and correct me if I'm wrong), that what Leonid is getting at is that while man can choose to go from a state of life to a state of death, man cannot choose to go from a state of death (or non-existence) to a state of life. 

 

Sure, you could say that if man chooses not to die, then he necessarily has chosen to live and it's just a matter of how you phrase the issue. After all, it's an issue of choosing one out of two mutually exclusive options. Similar to if someone asks you, do you want me to place this coin on the table head's up or tail's up? If you choose head's up, then haven't you also chosen "tail's down"?

 

You have. But the idea of a choice between two mutually exclusive options is not really what we have with the issue of choosing a state of life or a state of death. Yes, if you choose not to enter into a state of death, you have consequentially chosen to continue to live (to do the things that maintain life). So you have chosen life in that sense, and in the sense Rand meant it. But you have not chosen a state of life, because you already had it.

 

A state of life is the default state, and it is the required state necessary to make any kind of decision in the first place. So, when choosing a state of life or a state of death, you can only choose to enter into a state of death from a state of life. You cannot, however, choose to enter into a state of life from a state of death. 

 

Life, then, is necessary for any decision. 

 

Now with that in mind, here's the reason (in my view) why the choice to die is not morally neutral. It's a choice. You cannot make a choice without using your mind. You cannot morally use your mind without the use of reason to guide your choices. So the options left to the person who thinks he wants to kill himself are, arrive at that decision purely arbitrarily and subjectively, or arrive at that decision using reason. So then, I would ask him, "what is your reason for wanting to die?" And this would reveal the logical bind he's put himself in. He could either accept that he needs to make decisions using reason; thus the choice to die is a choice that must be arrived at using reason, and it would fall within the moral realm. Or, he could say "I make my choice to die arbitrarily and subjectively," but that would mean that he must make every choice arbitrarily and subjectively, and thus he isn't really making any choices at all. 

 

Because the choice to die is a choice, it requires the mind and reason. Because it requires the mind and reason, it falls within the objective moral realm. There is no escaping it, because life is always the necessary state for any choice; for any action. You can only choose to be in a state of death, and choices are either rational (moral), or they are not rational (immoral).

Edited by secondhander
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Not sure why you think that I'm not acknowledging Rand's approach to ethics. By the way, Rand doesn't really solve the is-ought problem, it's just that the is-ought problem isn't a problem for ethics like Rand's. Any functionalist ethics like Rand's gets around Hume's "problem". Basically you can't get an ought just by saying an is.

No one ever implied that "just by saying" something that anything is graspable. Conceptual thought is required. By identifying that values are associated with the facts required for man's life as a rational being, she solves the is-ought problem. Values are facts: facts viewed from the perspective of a living being, facts that require action to act and or keep them, facts that support man's rational life. If you study how Rand identifies the Objectivist virtues, they begin with x "is the recognition of the fact that ...". Thus, she concludes

Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.

Saying you are alive doesn't mean you should choose life and anything else is immoral. My overall point is that choosing to live or not is itself not a choice that is immoral or moral; the choice is premoral and can't be evaluated in moral terms, although there are moral implications (i.e. if you choose to live, then morality is how to accomplish that).

This last point is what I have been saying all along. Glad we can agree on that point.

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@ secondhander,

 

I believe you are correct in asserting that rational choices are moral, and that irrational choices are immoral, to the degree that one is either working towards a goal, or against it.  For example, self-preservation is moral, and self-destruction is immoral, if one chooses to exist.  However if one chooses not to exist, doesn't self-preservation become immoral, and self-destruction moral?  I'm asking because of wondering if this demonstrates that there aren't any moral absolutes other than being at liberty to choose; that the morality of specific choices, e.g., the choice to live, is relative to ones goal...

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Knowing what is essential to life in the sense of food, water, shelter and clothing is not the same as choosing to apply "life as the standard of value" and seeking to eliminate contradiction throughout the expanding realm of pursuits available to man within that sphere. Flourishing, like happiness, becomes a consequent of choosing the latter.

 

I believe we are copacetic on the issue of flourishing as a consequent (or goal) of rational choices, however I think it's a stretch to believe that life is only of value to the rational; the irrational seem to cling to it as well.  Again, it appears to me that flourishing (or enhancing ones existence) is the relevant choice, given the default state of existence one finds oneself in.

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@ secondhander,

 

I believe you are correct in asserting that rational choices are moral, and that irrational choices are immoral, to the degree that one is either working towards a goal, or against it.  For example, self-preservation is moral, and self-destruction is immoral, if one chooses to exist.  However if one chooses not to exist, doesn't self-preservation become immoral, and self-destruction moral?  I'm asking because of wondering if this demonstrates that there aren't any moral absolutes other than being at liberty to choose; that the morality of specific choices, e.g., the choice to live, is relative to ones goal...

The immoral choice is the one which directly and  negatively affects or hinders the course of man's life, Not every irrational choice is a such. For example a person who from time to time attends church services, but otherwise lives productive and rational life maybe guilty of holding mixed premises, but he's hardly immoral.

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The immoral choice is the one which directly and  negatively affects or hinders the course of man's life, Not every irrational choice is a such. For example a person who from time to time attends church services, but otherwise lives productive and rational life maybe guilty of holding mixed premises, but he's hardly immoral.

Those would be fairly substantial mixed premises, but I tend to agree.  Attending church is a form of social networking, and were I to conduct business in a community of Baptists it's likely I'd find some advantage in attending baptisms occasionally.

I also agree with your earlier statement that, "No choice is possible without standard of value."  Does this suggest to you (as it does to me) that ethics is inherent to volition?

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Choosing life in the context of already being alive, is somewhat redundant and uncertain in terms of mortality...  Isn't it more effectual to choose to flourish?

 

Choosing life in the context of already being alive is not redundant or uncertain because the nature of life is that it requires action to remain alive.  It is not as if one can choose to remain alive and then, having taken care of that chore, move on to the next thing.  

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I believe we are copacetic on the issue of flourishing as a consequent (or goal) of rational choices, however I think it's a stretch to believe that life is only of value to the rational; the irrational seem to cling to it as well.  Again, it appears to me that flourishing (or enhancing ones existence) is the relevant choice, given the default state of existence one finds oneself in.

The irrational cling to life, but the standard of value according to which they make their choices are not neccessarily firmly identified. I think this is one thing that gives those who have a better understanding of the relationship between choice and value are able to choose with a greater sense of clarity. For instance making a choice on the whim of "I want it so I will buy it", weighing only that the finanancial means to do so is present, ignoring how it may impact other long term goals such as retirement.

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I wrote in an earlier post here that "Knowledge needs to be justified.  The choice to live is not knowledge, and justification does not apply to it."  I think I was onto something with this and wish to pursue it a bit further.

 

The reason knowledge needs to be justified is the "correspondence principle" of truth.   This is itself derivative of the "primacy of existence" principle.  Consciousness must conform to existence in that certain relation which is awareness at the perceptual level and knowledge at the conceptual level.

 

The choice to live has no relation to any existent outside of the consciousness which chooses to live, and with nothing to compare it to there is no way to judge true/false or correct/incorrect or accurate/inaccurate or right/wrong.  The correspondence principle can not apply.

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@ A is A,

 

Isn't it more accurate to say, the fact that a living entity is, determines what is necessary to exist?  And that oughts are options for enhancing existence?

 

What does "necessary to exist" mean?  If you mean necessary to continue to remain alive, that is true but needs clarifications.  Outside of that, a living entity will continue to exist, even when it dies.  So I don't think you're referring to that.  But I don't think that wording is clear and could be quite ambiguous.  To exist is to be something.  A living entity exists in a different way than let's say a rock.  To remain in existence as a living entity, values must be acquired.  There are no options about that.  "Ought" means taking the actions necessary for the entity to remain alive, in existence.  I don't understand why you'd want to apply it to options for enhancing existence.  Do you mean like "I enjoy ice cream" is something I ought to pursue?

 

I am also not sure if the term "necessary" applies in this context.  Necessary implies a consequence of some event due to the nature of the entity taking some action.  While it may apply to the biological aspects of living organisms (I'd have to think more about that), it doesn't apply to the volitional aspects of human values.  The concept "ought" applies to both and it contains value implications where 'necessary' does not imply a value system.  "Ought" serves as a bridge from facts to values.  I'm not sure how necessity applies to the action that is generated by the entity itself rather than to inanimate objects that respond to external forces only.  For example, if I jump out of an airplane, I will fall of necessity.  If I don't eat breakfast tomorrow, I will not die of necessity.  I may get hungry of necessity, but there is no necessity that I eat Cheerios rather than eggs to fulfill the hunger.

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I wrote in an earlier post here that "Knowledge needs to be justified.  The choice to live is not knowledge, and justification does not apply to it."  I think I was onto something with this and wish to pursue it a bit further.

 

The reason knowledge needs to be justified is the "correspondence principle" of truth.   This is itself derivative of the "primacy of existence" principle.  Consciousness must conform to existence in that certain relation which is awareness at the perceptual level and knowledge at the conceptual level.

 

The choice to live has no relation to any existent outside of the consciousness which chooses to live, and with nothing to compare it to there is no way to judge true/false or correct/incorrect or accurate/inaccurate or right/wrong.  The correspondence principle can not apply.

 

I think you're on to something, but I wouldn't put it in those words.  One does not consciously face the "choice to live" in one's daily life and one does not arrive it from perceptual experience.  It's different than the choice to become a doctor or a machinist, or eat an apple or a pear.  I think it is an abstract, conceptual identification that is needed to be grasped to justify an ethical system that formulates the volitional nature of the values and virtues that are specific to Objectivism.  The choice is real, since making such a decision must be made to act to achieve volitional values.  

 

Knowledge needs to be justified because of volition and the possibility of error.  The correspondence principle is how knowledge gets justified.

 

I don't understand your last paragraph.  If something is "in" consciousness, then there has to be some relation to an existent outside of it, even if it's indirect.  In my opinion, the existent would the the self-awareness that one is alive.

Edited by A is A
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Those would be fairly substantial mixed premises, but I tend to agree.  Attending church is a form of social networking, and were I to conduct business in a community of Baptists it's likely I'd find some advantage in attending baptisms occasionally.

I also agree with your earlier statement that, "No choice is possible without standard of value."  Does this suggest to you (as it does to me) that ethics is inherent to volition?

Yes, without volition no choice is possible. Since ethics is a code of values accepted by choice, it is inherent to volition. 

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I also don't think that choice to die is always immoral. For example if man accepts life as his standard of values and his life becomes its opposite, that is-an agony, then his choice to die would be a moral choice, a suicide will become an act of  affirmation of life as a moral standard. Such a man knows what life is and refuses to accept an agony as its substitute. 

Edited by Leonid
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Yes, without volition no choice is possible. Since ethics is a code of values accepted by choice, it is inherent to volition. 

 

I believe that's the fundamental premise to begin with, and to apply consistently to everything that follows.  I appreciate your perspective on this issue, and agree with your following comments regarding what might be considered a rational choice to self-destruct:

 

"... a suicide will become an act of affirmation of life as a moral standard. Such a man knows what life is and refuses to accept an agony as its substitute."

 

Worth repeating, and well put.  Hereafter I will consider Man, the Moral Animal, as being ethically equivalent to Ayn Rand's Man, the Contractual Animal.

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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I wrote in an earlier post here that "Knowledge needs to be justified.  The choice to live is not knowledge, and justification does not apply to it."  I think I was onto something with this and wish to pursue it a bit further.

 

I find this an insightful point. Knowledge needs justification, similar to how moral claims need justification. Descriptions alone about ideas or supposed facts can't provide any normative standard to epistemology. Sure, one might say a contradiction is present, but why does that matter? Something normative must come into play to establish whether a claim should be accepted as knowledge. I could say "well, these contradictions comfort me so I'll accept them as knowledge". Even if I say noncontradiction is not valid, I'd still have to say what standard establishes the law of noncontradiction as knowledge! At some point, there needs to be an implicit standard not dependent on being knowledge, a basis for the concept proof anyway. So, that's where an axiomatic principle comes in.

Then again, that won't establish whether or how a person will care about a standard. I think that's where choice to live comes in. So in some sense, a choice to live is axiomatic for ethics, although it has a dependency on primacy of existence that alternatives exist. You can't judge a choice to live as knowledge because it exists as the whole basis of knowledge as normative, and ethics by implication. The choice is entirely in terms of a consciousness itself.

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Choosing life in the context of already being alive is not redundant or uncertain because the nature of life is that it requires action to remain alive.  It is not as if one can choose to remain alive and then, having taken care of that chore, move on to the next thing.  

 

What I'm getting at is, there is an objective standard of proper actions required to remain alive.  It's generally summed up as being self-sufficient, or a rational adult; being competent, if you will.  I believe at this point one is ethically self-aware (even if in denial), but that ones ethical premise begins at birth; expressed initially as the struggle to survive.  That's where I'd place the ethical benchmark for every action that follows.  Life, as a value, is objectively observable in a newborn's cry, for food, shelter and warmth... to pursue happiness??

 

That being the case, one might say any functioning adult values life so long as their actions are consistent with the preservation of life.  That choice becomes as redundant as a heart beat, being subject to the same mortal consequences of inaction.  But one can choose not to flourish and survive, usually complaining about the flourishing of others.  For me, that's where the presumption of life as a value gets really interesting...

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I wrote in an earlier post here that "Knowledge needs to be justified.  The choice to live is not knowledge, and justification does not apply to it."  I think I was onto something with this and wish to pursue it a bit further.

 

The reason knowledge needs to be justified is the "correspondence principle" of truth.   This is itself derivative of the "primacy of existence" principle.  Consciousness must conform to existence in that certain relation which is awareness at the perceptual level and knowledge at the conceptual level.

 

The choice to live has no relation to any existent outside of the consciousness which chooses to live, and with nothing to compare it to there is no way to judge true/false or correct/incorrect or accurate/inaccurate or right/wrong.  The correspondence principle can not apply.

 

This is correct in terms of absolutes primarily because of the variables of intent and outcome.  Mortal beings cannot aspire to an absolute value of life; absolute life doesn't exist.  However their continued existence validates the preservation of life as an objective goal, i.e., the maintenance of a visible good.  Morality is clarified when the variables of intent and outcome are evaluated as constants, e.g., I chose to live and here I am, and silence from the opposition...

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...

Then again, that won't establish whether or how a person will care about a standard. I think that's where choice to live comes in. So in some sense, a choice to live is axiomatic for ethics, although it has a dependency on primacy of existence that alternatives exist. You can't judge a choice to live as knowledge because it exists as the whole basis of knowledge as normative, and ethics by implication. The choice is entirely in terms of a consciousness itself.

 

I think ethics is inherent to choice, and choice is dependent on free-will.  Essentially, the ability to choose is good and coercion bad.  But the more difficult issue is that the variables of intent and outcome are used to evaluate consciousness preceding reality, i.e., mentally willing something real to happen.  The initial contradiction appears to suggest ethics can only occur in a creationist universe, and perhaps attempts to prove a negative...

Edited by Devil's Advocate
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I think ethics is inherent to choice, and choice is dependent on free-will.  Essentially, the ability to choose is good and coercion bad.  But the more difficult issue is that the variables of intent and outcome are used to evaluate consciousness preceding reality, i.e., mentally willing something real to happen.  The initial contradiction appears to suggest ethics can only occur in a creationist universe, and perhaps attempts to prove a negative...

Not creationist but man-made universe. 

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