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Integrating everything to a central life purpose

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On 9/1/2016 at 2:10 AM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

In her open letter to the Russian Chess Champion (I believe his name was Boris-something) Ayn Rand referred to the mastery of Chess as something like 'the ugly spectacle of the human mind devoted to no purpose at all'. And, in a certain sense, that's true. Chess doesn't feed, clothe or house anybody; you can't use it as fuel and it doesn't contribute anything to our understanding of the universe; at first glance, it may seem purposeless.

However, neither do novels (either in writing or reading them) do any of those things. They're not for eating, wearing or even studying; their purpose is simply to be enjoyed. And if someone enjoys Chess more than reading then it's not purposeless at all, for them; the purpose is simply to have fun.*

And if that person can make the money to feed and clothe themselves, either by writing novels or by playing Chess, then it's also "productive" for them to do so - specifically because it allows them to achieve so many of their goals, simultaneously.


I would love to have more context for Rand's remarks on chess -- and ideally to know her specific reasoning/justification -- but here, now (at five in the morning), it doesn't seem supportable to me at all. Devoting one's mind to mastery of chess is an "ugly spectacle," but... fashion design is an appropriate use of one's mind? Or dentistry? Or, as you say, novel writing?

While I personally find chess to be an occasionally pleasant pastime (and Go much, much more so, thanks for name-dropping it :)), and could not envision devoting my mind to it to the degree necessary to be a world champion, neither could I see myself pursuing any number of careers or avocations to the highest level... including architecture, which would seem as much as a waste of my time (because I feel no passion for it, personally).

[Time elapses.]

Okay, having written my immediate reaction to what you'd written, I went ahead and tracked down Rand's full letter to Boris Spassky (you can find it reproduced here). An interesting read.

My cursory opinion is that much of her point is directed to the juxtaposition of Spassky as a "genius" while he lives under a Soviet system which is so fundamentally anti-mind. She reads (almost certainly correctly) his passion for chess as a personal escape from an unbearable reality: chess is one of the very few avenues where he can be allowed to use his intellect, and so he pursues it with abandon, in the narrow fashion in which he is allowed to think. And that is, truly, an "ugly spectacle," and pitiable, even if we can also appreciate Spassky's skill.

Yet some of Rand's remarks may still be understood as to exclude chess as a profession from "productivity," as such, without respect to considerations of "escape" or overarching political context, such as, "games are an important part of man's life, they provide a necessary rest, and chess may do so for men who live under the constant pressure of purposeful work," which seems to imply that a "game," as such, cannot in itself be (or provide the foundations for) "purposeful work." Insofar as that's what Rand means or intends (or insofar as that's how she is interpreted), I continue to find it unsupportable.

On 9/1/2016 at 2:10 AM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

And yet, just because somebody finds a way to pay their bills by doing something they love, doesn't necessarily mean that they must devote the rest of their lives to it. I don't know of anything that should prevent anyone from mastering Chess today, Go tomorrow and Halo the next day.

In fact, given that "flourishing" specifically means achieving one goal after another, each one bigger and more difficult than the last, in an "ever-increasing range of achievement" - if anything, I think Egoism encourages that.


On 9/1/2016 at 2:10 AM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

I can't imagine Howard Roark, say, spending the rest of his life on the couch watching Netflix, regardless of his monetary concerns.

Nor can I.

Nor would that be my choice, if I were suddenly independently wealthy.

On 9/1/2016 at 2:10 AM, Harrison Danneskjold said:

Would there be an ever-increasing range of achievement in that? There could be achievements to be had (such as watching every single episode of Voyager or eating every kind of potato chip), but I'm not sure such a "life of leisure" would meet the requirements of the perpetual sort of self-improvement which I take "flourishing" to mean.

What I could see (and what I kind of envy Thomas Jefferson for) would be using his surplus of spare time to go out and remake the world in whatever ways he saw fit; to study science and philosophy, or perhaps to devise even better ways of doing architecture.

It's an interesting question. Some of the activities you mention probably would find their way onto my "to do" list. Watching all of Voyager, technically, is already on there... a project my wife and I began years ago to watch "all of Star Trek" (I'm afraid we're not moving very quickly on it, but we continue on in our fashion: we have just recently begun the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, and I have been assured that it gets quite good).

Rather, when I think of my "life of leisure," which would not truly be all that leisurely, I envision a lot of travel and a lot of time spent reading. Since I was very young, it has always made me a touch sad to walk into a library or a bookstore and be confronted with how very much I will never know. Given more resource, I should like to put a greater dent into the repository of Earthly knowledge... not towards any specific purpose, but just for my own pleasure.

There are other things I would do which would be more conventionally "productive": businesses I would like to found or invest in, and etc. And doubtless some unanticipated goods might come of my increased studies. But I suspect that we typically think of "productive work" in terms of producing that which can be traded with others -- because so much of us depend on such trade in order to survive or flourish in all of the ways that money/commerce allows us. The question of independent wealth frees us from that consideration, and I suspect that what I mean by a "life of leisure" is not that I would not be "productive," as such, but that I would refocus my efforts away from that which I can produce and trade, and towards that which produces pleasure for myself (both short- and long-term) as its primary consequence. Some of which, yes, would involve Netflix, potato chips, and Voyager.

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Just a brief note:

Along with reading up on conspiracy theories (for another thread), I've been inspired to investigate "happiness" more, and ultimately this book, Happier, which I am greatly enjoying. It may not be "Objectivist," strictly speaking, but I find it compatible in many respects, and it is doubtless informed by Objectivism (referencing Branden multiple times, for instance, and reflecting certain Objectivist beliefs overall).

Thus far (I'm about 80% through) a worthwhile read, and recommended.

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Update: I think that the whole "CPL" thing is a misunderstanding of Ayn Rand's ethics. I believe that what she really meant was this:

Living beings can only stay alive through the consumption of survival values. The maintainance and enjoyment of man's life depends on values such as food, shelter, clothing, art and so on. Since man must first produce survival values before he consumes or uses them, saying that "productive work is a man's central purpose" is the same as saying "the sustainance of his life is man's central purpose". People cannot exclusively consume - some of them (idealy everybody) must produce. The alternative to production (and trade) as your central purpose/activity is looting as your central purpose.

You can choose to be completely self-sufficient by producing everything you consume (amish-style); or, you can choose the division-of-labor route by picking something you love to produce (such as music), specializing in producing it, then trading it for the rest of the values that your life and enjoyment depends on: pies, appartments, books, movies, raising your kids, vacations and so on.

As far as integration goes, Rand means it in two ways, depending on whether she refers to production of value per-se, or to a specific line of work.

1. If it's about production itself, then it's the central value within the Objectivist value-triad - Reason, Purpose, and Self-Esteem - the one that integrates the rest. Reason is the precondition of production (but useless without it), and pride is the result.

2. If she's talking specificaly about a productive purpose (a job, or a career - which can be a progression of jobs), then 'integration' is meant in a different way. A career establishes the relative importance, meaning and hierarchy of your other values, and makes it very easy for you to make decisions in life.

  • A career takes most of your time (university studies, building your skill, working, planning, holding conferences, competition in the market). When doing time management, everything else is of lower relative importance (not intrinsicaly, just planning-wise). For example, you might have to drop a value from your hierarchy if it competes, time-wise, with your career.
  • The money you earn gives you earned acces the rest of your needs: appartment, books, food, drink, vacations, trips. So in a way, your career is the integrator of all your material needs.
  • You might inevitably find yourself spending your time and money on movies, books, friends, clothes, courses and trips that complement your career, e.g. a conductor might spend his pocket money on rare musical scores.
  • Some values can detract from your career, so you might have to remove them altogheter (World of Warcraft, dangerous sports if pianist)
  • Some values can be ends in themselves: you can enjoy painting or stamp-collecting for the pleasure they give you, but they will be secondary to your main purpose.
  • Celebrations and parties usually imply that you're celebrating something. If it's not a birth, marriage or succesful harvest, people usualy celebrate work achievements. To engage in recreation, you must also rest from something.
  • Art and sex are entirely different animals. Though art is an end in itself, it can be a nice source of fuel. Sex, on the other hand, is an expression of your self-esteem and of your admiration for somebody else's virtues; it's not tied to work, but to your character.

A note about self-esteem: productive work alone will not give you self esteem. It's entirely possible to use work as "an escape" from reality - you might be a rationality-machine in your career, but simply irrational in your choices of lovers, dealings with people, choice of diet and so on. Self esteem is the certainty that you are capable of living (thinking) in general - that you're worthy of living. The only way to gain self-esteem is by a commitment to unbreached rationality (the virtue of pride), which leads to the formation of a moral (efficaceous) character, which leads to its emotional expression: self esteem.  


  • productive purpose can be broad. For example, a musician can perform, compose, teach and write books about his art, all of it as part of his "umbrella of expertise". A writer (such as Rand) can write novels, plays, movie/TV scenarios, non-fiction, can lecture on writing etc.
  • Your passion doesn't need to be your "top-most value, ever". For a musician, sex, chocolate, travel and hobbies can obviously be just as valuable and indispensable.
  • A career is a unique kind of pleasure, because every achievement/day spent on it adds up to a sum.
  • A career that fills your life with joy is infinitely preferable to one you hate. Most industrialists don't "love" copper, metal, shower faucets or medicine, what they find exhilarating is running the business itself - like a real life Minecraft game.
  • I've never encountered any writings where Rand referrs to a "central purpose in life" - only to productive work as a rational man's central purpose - i.e. his most crucial activity (without which consumption and survival are not possible), or to a productive purpose (career). She never implied that a productive purpose is some sort of abstract ideal, such as "I want to portray the ideal man". What she realy said (in an article called "The Goal Of My Writing") was that the projection of an ideal man was her ultimate literary goal. This is entirely different from a productive purpose, which, for Rand, was writing.


Read more on career and purpose here:




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