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Paralyzed by "why."

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A is not B
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I find myself reflecting on my values and motives and I am discovering that many of my actions and interests don't have any explaination beyond "because I enjoy it."

My interest in strength training for example. I'm not doing it for health, or vanity, or money. I train simply because I enjoy seeing myself grow stronger week by week.

I have entertained the idea of changing careers to health and fitness, but the idea isn't solid in my mind. At this point the only explanation for training is "because I like it."

Is "because I like it" a valid reason to act if I can't explain clearly WHY I like it?

I said I was thinking about training as a career move (personal trainer.) I have no reason for wanting to do that beyond "it interests me." Is that a valid reason without further elaboration?

What would it mean to integrate the idea of training and being a trainer within the wider context of a goal directed life?

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I wouldn't stress too much over this if I was you. It's great that you are aiming to apply logic consistently in your life, but I think you're stressing yourself out over a train of thought that could apply to many things because you've neglected one factor of your life: time. You have a finite life span and a ton of things that you could spend that time on. Some things about a particular person may be extremely difficult and time consuming to figure out beyond "because that's who and what I am" while the practical benefits to your life of figuring them out are little to nothing. As long as you can be confidant that your preference is something which can be good for a human being, generally that's good enough, go for it. The opportunity cost here of attempting to determine why you like to pursue exercise rather than thwarting viruses, for example, for how you earn a living while they both promote the legitimate value of human health is just too steep compared to what this one answer could do to benefit you.

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I really like your question, A is not B, and I think that you are looking for a sanction.

 

As a rational human, if you enjoy an activity, that is reason enough to justify your action.  If you are not harming anyone, and if you are not substituting another individual's thought for your own, then your enjoyment is the very purpose of your life.

 

In the context of a life-goal, being a trainer is no different from any other occupation you could take up.  If being a trainer has the benefit of supporting your life along with the bonus of your actual enjoyment, then be the best trainer you can be and charge as much as you can for it!

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The reason that I ask these questions is because many times I will start progressing towards what I think is a worthy goal, only to find that I lose interest and fizzle out. I'd rather have a clear idea of what makes my goal "worth it"at the outset, than optimistically plod along.

I want to be able to say, "I value THIS goal. This is WHY I value it. And this is how it fits together with the rest of the other values I have. And THIS is how it connects to the overall vision I have for my finite life.

There are many things I cannot control, but getting clear IS something I can control. Being clear about my motives is what insures against "wishy washy" behavior.

Does this make sense?

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Hello A is not B (what is your name, if you don't mind?)

 

You stated before "At this point the only explanation for training is "because I like it.""

 

The issue you are having is whether this is a valid reason for weight training (or anything else you do simply because it gives you pleasure).

 

The philosophy of hedonism states that anything that you like, that gives you pleasure, is good. Rand warned us against defining what is right in this way:

 

"I am profoundly opposed to the philosophy of hedonism. Hedonism is the doctrine which holds that the good is whatever gives you pleasure and, therefore, pleasure is the standard of morality. Objectivism holds that the good must be defined by a rational standard of value, that pleasure is not a first cause, but only a consequence, that only the pleasure which proceeds from a rational value judgment can be regarded as moral, that pleasure, as such, is not a guide to action nor a standard of morality. To say that pleasure should be the standard of morality simply means that whichever values you happen to have chosen, consciously or subconsciously, rationally or irrationally, are right and moral. This means that you are to be guided by chance feelings, emotions and whims, not by your mind. My philosophy is the opposite of hedonism. I hold that one cannot achieve happiness by random, arbitrary or subjective means. One can achieve happiness only on the basis of rational values. By rational values, I do not mean anything that a man may arbitrarily or blindly declare to be rational. It is the province of morality, of the science of ethics, to define for men what is a rational standard and what are the rational values to pursue.

 

Playboy Interview: Ayn Rand
Playboy, March 1964"

 

I would summarise as follows:

 

If what you value (that which you seek to gain and keep) is rational, then you will deserve any happiness that comes from holding those values.

 

If you want to keep fit because it builds your confidence and self-esteem for example, which in turn makes you more assertive then keeping fit would (at least by my standards) constitute a rational value. If it brings you feelings of happiness or pleasure too, then you would deserve it.

 

If you wanted to keep fit only because of the pleasure of doing it, without thought to anything else, then it may not be rational. It may come at the expense of working for instance so you can't pay your bills, or you may put off your responsibilities and commitments in favour of spending lots of time in the gym enjoying yourself, which then upsets loved ones whose happiness you also care about. The risk I'm alluding to here is that if you do something just for the pleasure of it, it could eventually turn out to be self-defeating. For example, wasting time on projects that initially entertain you, but that you give up when it is less enjoyable so you get no lasting positive outcome from it. Instead it might damage your self-esteem if you think you have given up on a lot of things etc.

 

That's why having a rational basis to our values is so important. It means we will act in ways which are literally not self-defeating.

 

You wrote:

 

"I want to be able to say, "I value THIS goal. This is WHY I value it. And this is how it fits together with the rest of the other values I have. And THIS is how it connects to the overall vision I have for my finite life."

 

It will be of immense value to you if you can.

 

Does this make any sense or help?

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If you want to keep fit because it builds your confidence and self-esteem for example, which in turn makes you more assertive then keeping fit would (at least by my standards) constitute a rational value. If it brings you feelings of happiness or pleasure too, then you would deserve it.

Does this strike you as backwards? Imagine it from the other side: is the primary goal of life to build self esteem? If that were the case, toward what purpose would you apply the acquired self-esteem? Or even, how would you build self esteem without first having things that you like, which can be achieved and earned?
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Hi JASKN,

 

I don't think it is backwards. Objectivists value self-esteem very highly.

 

The Objectivist mantra is an assertive one. I swear by my life and my love of it, that I will not live for your sake, nor ask you to live for mine. Someone with very low self-esteem, who wants to live by this mantra, will find that they are impaired.

 

Assertiveness means having the confidence not to let others walk all over you (i.e. not living for their sake), but also the restraint not to behave in an aggressive way to overpower others (i.e. not making others live for your sake). And why swear to not act aggressively or passively? Because you love your life. Life is the standard of value here - which I think is the point you were making?

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A is not B

 

Perhaps a direct comparison of all the consequences of living as you do now, versus a life you could have being a personal trainer.

 

You will likely have different work hours, different pay, different levels of autonomy and independence, different levels of stress, happiness, pleasure, during and subsequent to each working day.  Life is complicated thing.  Using "life" as the standard means looking long range at what your life would be life, what your state of flourishing, would be like, financially, mentally, socially, physically, and how that would /could evolve over time and into retirement etc.  everything.

 

Whether or not you can figure out what exactly is a value, what exactly is rational, or WHY you like something... beforehand you CAN think about what your life would be like, how it would benefit or not.  With those consequences in mind you can start understanding why something is a good choice or not, and thus why you should or should not like pursuing it. 

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Jon, that is an excellent post and those were the thoughts behind my quest for clarity.

I DO have "reasons, beliefs, etc" for why I like training. In the end they all seem like really complicated ways of saying, "because I like it."

Short version: Strength training seems to be the one activity I am drawn to that explicitly requires my favorite virtues. Honesty, integrity, goal directedness and integration.

Another very short explanation is that of "Strength training as a Kinesthetic concretization of philosophy" I.e. Art. We often think of art as a visual or auditory concretization of concepts so those concepts can be accessed perceptually. But training as a way of perceiving elaborate concepts like "what man could be and ought to be" doesn't happen for me "out there" on a wall or in a radio, it happens "in here," concretely and in my own body and I experience such concepts as "man the hero" on the perceptual level through the Kinesthetic sense. In a way, it is an artwork that has to be recreated each time it is to be experienced and it can ONLY be experienced by the one who creates it. Its art that is profoundly, uniquely, and selfishly MINE. And I couldn't give it away, even if I wanted to because sense perceptions can't be shared.

...or something like that.

I also like watching other people strive for "man the hero." I was training the other day and I sat in a leg press machine my gaze fixed on a tiny old woman-- had to be 90 years old-- who was doing very laborous body squats while holding onto a set of blast straps to take some of the weight off her legs. That little old woman was trying so HARD and as I walked out of the gym I overheard her tell her daughter that she was bound and determined to be able to walk again before she dies.

That's hardcore! That gives me hope for the human race. That insolent, defiance of her condition is the living example of what Dagny said to Galt, "We never had to take it seriously..."

So... Those are a few reasons. Is that rational or emotion driven? I'm not sure, but I like it. Lol.

By the way, my name is Bryan.

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Strictly logical,

Oh yes, my life will be instantly improved as a trainer. Being a truck driver kinda blows. No social life, hard to find a gf, crazy schedule, I earn lots of money but there's nothing to spend it on (maybe thats good lol). Mentally... WAY better. I'm climbing the walls in this goddamn truck :-). That being said, I drive 10 hours a day and its wicked boring, unless I reread (listen) to the Fountainhead for the fifth time (always enjoyable) so if anybody wants to chat about Objectivism, PM me. Seriously, I have a headset, so its legal and safe.

Shameless self promotion over.

Strictly logical, you bring up another good point, "What is a rational, concrete value?" I get Rand's ethical abstractions as values, but her Ethics aren't exactly making concrete statements like, "You ought to workout, make lots of money, and get a college degree."

Its up to the individual to determine how to apply her Ethics, using a solid grounding in her Epistemology, to their own very complicated lives. And since our lives are finite... we better get after it.

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I also like watching other people strive for "man the hero." I was training the other day and I sat in a leg press machine my gaze fixed on a tiny old woman-- had to be 90 years old-- who was doing very laborous body squats while holding onto a set of blast straps to take some of the weight off her legs. That little old woman was trying so HARD and as I walked out of the gym I overheard her tell her daughter that she was bound and determined to be able to walk again before she dies.

That's hardcore! That gives me hope for the human race. That insolent, defiance of her condition is the living example of what Dagny said to Galt, "We never had to take it seriously..."

 

Awesome!!

 

Quoting Ayn Rand on "purpose":

 

 

Productive work is the central purpose of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result.

 

So I would say, be as productive as possible! Create and add as much value as you can to the world. Your productive work will enrich and inspire others, and their trade for that value will enrich your life as well. And ultimately, the sum of those efforts of man, is the fight for life itself, like you said, as a defiance of our condition, and a defiance of death itself.

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Bryan, you have inspired me to go to the gym!

Awesome! My work here is done. There's a special feeling a man gets when he thrusts The Sword of Reason up the to the hilt into the Heart of Evil... Bonus points for twisting the blade. :-D

Enjoy your workouts. Don't overtrain.

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Awesome!!

 

Quoting Ayn Rand on "purpose":

 

 

So I would say, be as productive as possible! Create and add as much value as you can to the world. Your productive work will enrich and inspire others, and their trade for that value will enrich your life as well. And ultimately, the sum of those efforts of man, is the fight for life itself, like you said, as a defiance of our condition, and a defiance of death itself.

This might be tangential, but the purpose of life, at least from a biological point of view, is to combat entropy. This is a achieved only by the CONSTANT input of energy and a constant expenditure of energy. In a fundamental way, to stop moving is to start dying.

If a man must keep his mind in constant action I.e. use reason, does this principle not extend to his body? To keep his body in constant action as well as his mind, ON PRINCIPLE.

Ya know what? Im doing it. The battle is on!

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Please keep us updated!  

 

Perhaps your life as an independent personal trainer may, if you work hard and once you get a reputation and some high paying clients, earn you the same "lots of money" you currently earn, and then you might have something to spend it on (and some left over time as well)

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  • 2 weeks later...

 

 

I said I was thinking about training as a career move (personal trainer.) I have no reason for wanting to do that beyond "it interests me." Is that a valid reason without further elaboration?

 

I am going to very, very strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Peikoff's book Understanding Objectivism and read chapter 10, "Emotions and Moral Judgment."

 

The book is a written version of a recording of a lecture course that Peikoff gave. The purpose of the book as a whole is to help you get out of the initial stage of swallowing Objectivism whole, hating Beethoven, never watching horror movies, and refusing to even consider voting for a female president. The way Peikoff does this is to illustrate the proper technique for chewing Objectivist ideas and synthesizing them with observation, using about half a dozen Objectivist principles as examples.

 

One of the principles Peikoff chews over in the book is the Objectivist position on emotions, which he thinks has led to a lot of harmful repression on the part of unseasoned Objectivists. Part of his approach is to go over an incomplete list of functions of emotions that he thinks are legitimate. These are (what follows are brutal summaries by me, not Peikoff's words):

 

1. Emotions are essential to action, e.g., if someone is pointing a gun at you, you don't have to sit down and calculate what to do rationally, you just feel fear and act appropriately.

 

2. Emotions perform a crucial psycho-epistemological function, i.e., they help us understand and remember ideas better if we associate the ideas with concretes we have some emotional connection to.

 

(Digression: Peikoff says he came up with 2 on his own by working out why his wife was so good at concretizing abstractions, but at any rate, there is actually a lot of experimental research in psychology that supports this. For example, psychologists have consistently found that if you ask someone to evaluate a word as good or bad, they will be able to remember that word better later than if you ask them to assess the word by criteria that aren't related to their values. Peikoff does not say if he is aware of this research in the book.)

 

3. Emotions are crucial in creative work, because they determine what you are interested in, e.g., what topics you consider important to cover in writing an essay (although editing an essay should be a cold, unemotional process).

 

4. Evaluating the things and people you see around you efficiently would be impossible without emotions.

 

5. Emotions are crucial for choosing among optional cases.

 

I think Peikoff's discussion of 5 is very relevant to your situation, so I am going to quote extensively from the book on this point:

 

Here is the last function of emotions I'm going to cover this evening: Emotions are essential to choosing among optional cases. Let me begin with an example in regard to choice of a career. Ethics tells us that there is a certain principle involved in regard to choice of a career, and that is the virtue of productiveness - you have to earn your sustenance, as opposed to living a life of crime or a life on welfare as a moocher; you have to earn it by your thought and action in the achievement of pro-life values. And even further, you can make a moral principle out of the fact that you should not survive by a mindless job if you're capable of more, but by the active use of your mind and intelligence - as against stagnating in some kind of rut. This much you can prove as a matter of moral principle. But now we come to the question: In what realm, what concrete application, should you make of this general injunction? And here, there is no moral principle to guide you.

 

[...]

 

If there are countless equally legitimate ways to apply the moral principle, how are you going to decide what to do with your life? There is no way but consulting your feelings, your desires; there is no other way. There is no argument, for instance, against me being an architect, except that I don't like it. It is not me, and by that I mean it doesn't interest me; it's not what I like to do with my mind and time; it is not what I want. There is no way to choose among legitimate options, except by reference to feelings

 

I think the application of these remarks to your situation should be abundantly clear. Peikoff says a lot more in this passage, but I don't want to quote more out of fear of quoting too much copyrighted material. He also says a lot more in the chapter as a whole that is relevant to 1-4.

Edited by William O
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  • 4 weeks later...

I find myself reflecting on my values and motives and I am discovering that many of my actions and interests don't have any explaination beyond "because I enjoy it."

My interest in strength training for example. I'm not doing it for health, or vanity, or money. I train simply because I enjoy seeing myself grow stronger week by week.

I have entertained the idea of changing careers to health and fitness, but the idea isn't solid in my mind. At this point the only explanation for training is "because I like it."

Is "because I like it" a valid reason to act if I can't explain clearly WHY I like it?

I said I was thinking about training as a career move (personal trainer.) I have no reason for wanting to do that beyond "it interests me." Is that a valid reason without further elaboration?

What would it mean to integrate the idea of training and being a trainer within the wider context of a goal directed life?

I have the exact same problem at the moment. I can't identify rational reasons for why I like things and it makes me feel guilty and paralyses me.

 

If you discover a solution, I'd love to know it.

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