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Why Is Life The Standard Of Value?

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The Wrath
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I don't post in the more philosophical forums very much, but I was wondering this earlier today.

It seems to me that the standard of value should be happiness, rather than life. Life is valuable only insofar as we are able to live it in happiness. If I am completely miserable and know that I am unlikely to ever be happy again, then my life is either devoid of value or has a negative value. Happiness, however, always has a positive value. You cannot be happy and miserable at the same time. You can, however, be alive and miserable.

Edited by Moose
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Value is something that applies to all life, not just man's life, whereas happiness is something unique to man's life. This means that metaphysically, value can exist without happiness, but not without life.

Also, life as the standard of value is implicit in any volitional action, and knowledge of happiness isn't even necessary. There is a related discussion in progress here.

Value and happiness are very closely related (for man), so you might be ok looking at happiness as the standard, if it helps you to think about it, but it's a little more accurate to say that happiness is the purpose of man's life, and is attained by pursuing life-affirming values.

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To answer you directly...

You are correct. Mere survival is not of much value in comparison to a happy life. You mistake Rand's focus on 'life' with a focus on 'mere survival'. But what she intended to say with 'life' was happy life.

"Why? How come she sneaks that in?", you might ask (I did). Because happiness is a sign of successful survival. Happiness is your just reward for living a good life.

Ayn Rand didn't say that the goal is mere survival, but man's life qua man.

Man has, by nature, certain needs that have to be met. If they are not, he becomes unhappy first, weak later and dead in the end. So your happiness is an indicator of your success in meeting these needs.

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  • 1 month later...

I think life is really your conciousness of being alive or consciousness of another object being "alive". The period of live is part of the fourth dimension=time. I don't think that correlates with life though. Life is technickly is the fact that you are not inorganic species. That is not true for human consiousness therefore that means human life is different. The other desucission that life is an arbitrary decision is not true because it is arbitrary to life to have complete proof that we should have life! You can logicly prove anything... Like the Q robots in Irobot that said the only thing that was alive was the planet they were on and humans cannot couldn't prove that the earth existed because you can always say it is an illusion. In conclusion everything is uncertain and is run on one of the laws of quantum mechanics which states that everything is probable: The probablity of me blowing up right now is close to infinity but it can happen! Everthing is probable. When we are dead we are only dead relative to humans alive. We are dead relative to the humans alive. Those are my thoughts

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In conclusion everything is uncertain...

The only thing that's uncertain is what you are talking about.

The question raised in this thread is one of very high interest to me, and I'd be glad to answer any questions relating to it, but only if you care to untangle the indecipherable mess you just posted.

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The only thing that's uncertain is what you are talking about

/me bursts out laughing

Yes, I happen to agree. In any case, I appreciate Dondigitalia's comments in post #3 and Felix's not long after. I would just like to add that while Human Life is the standard of value, your own life is its purpose, meaning your own happiness. Rand often states those two ideas together, so I thought it appropriate to add it here.

Oh and Happy St. Pattricks day!

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It seems to me that the standard of value should be happiness, rather than life. Life is valuable only insofar as we are able to live it in happiness. If I am completely miserable and know that I am unlikely to ever be happy again, then my life is either devoid of value or has a negative value. Happiness, however, always has a positive value. You cannot be happy and miserable at the same time. You can, however, be alive and miserable.

Remember that when we talk about a standard of value, we're talking about a standard of moral value — a standard by which to judge right or wrong, good and bad.

To hold your happiness as your moral standard leaves open the question: What specifically makes you happy? Since happiness is the emotional result of achieving your values, in effect all this is saying is that you should value that which you value.

Man's life is the only valid and objective standard of morality. But don't take the concept of "life" too narrowly: Man has to live, not only in the biological sense, but he has to live as man; if he is to achieve long-range happiness, he has to live a life appropriate to a rational being. His happiness is properly the purpose of his life, but in order to attain that, man needs life-serving moral values.

Edited by Kevin Delaney
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Yes, life is most definitely the standard of value. For, if you are to hold life as the standard of value consitently, happiness is sure to follow. Happiness is what Man achieves through his life, but it cannot exist independently from life. A man's life is his end, not a means to it, in happiness. Without holding to your life and love of it (cheap Galt paraphrase), you can never be truly happy. Ugh, I think I sidestepped the question a tad but I think that's an answer.

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For if you are to hold life as the standard of value consitently, happiness is sure to follow.

That's not true. A person could be imprisoned in a slave labor camp, or dying of an excruciatingly painful disease, or experiencing any number of other terribly tragic situations, under which it would be naive and foolish to say that such a person is, or could be, in any meaningful sense, "happy."

Happiness is the result, not merely of holding the right values, but of actually attaining them. Certainly a rational moral code forms the essential foundation for a happy life — and under normal circumstances, if a person adopts such values and works hard to attain them, given enough time he almost always will succeed, and happiness will be his emotional reward. But don't fall into the trap of thinking that anything is ever automatic or guaranteed in life, even to the most rational and conscientious among us.

Life entails a process of struggle, effort — and always, the possibility of failure. Anyone who thinks otherwise, or who opts to ignore this fact, is bound to become very frustrated, and very unhappy indeed.

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For if you are to hold life as the standard of value consitently, happiness is sure to follow.
Of course it is not guaranteed. That would be why the word "consistenly" was added.

So what if you lived under a collectivist government but still held life as the standard of value. Arn't you virtually guarenteed to not be happy? I think that the original comment I quoted is a non-sequiter and a big one at that.

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I do not think I entirely understand the question, but I will give it a shot. You can live under a collective government and still be happy, as long as you love your life and judge your morality by it. You have to know that those who subjugate you have neither the power nor the authority to do so. When Equality 7-2521 in Anthem made his "lightbulb", he lived under a collective society. Yet, he was happy, even more so than happy, in fact, with his discovery. For the first time (I suppose), he had used his mind to create something, and it made him happy. In doing so, he made the first step towards discovering his true self. Before he could ever say the word "I," that self would have to develop, and it did. When he first pronounced the "God word," I most certainly felt a shift in the mood of the book. It was happy, and not that idea we get in this society from donating to charity, but true happiness. Also remember that, even in a collective society, you have to give up your life before you can be a part of it. If you do hold true to your life as the standard of value, perhaps you will be put to death. But you did not deserve it, and don't dare to call it martyrdom. By willingly holding yourself to life, you may also wonder if that would be contradictory in said society because you would accept death in its place. However, one must also remember that love of life is not the fear of death. Was that an answer?

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I do not think I entirely understand the question, but I will give it a shot. You can live under a collective government and still be happy, as long as you love your life and judge your morality by it. You have to know that those who subjugate you have neither the power nor the authority to do so. When Equality 7-2521 in Anthem made his "lightbulb", he lived under a collective society. Yet, he was happy, even more so than happy, in fact, with his discovery. For the first time (I suppose), he had used his mind to create something, and it made him happy. In doing so, he made the first step towards discovering his true self. Before he could ever say the word "I," that self would have to develop, and it did. When he first pronounced the "God word," I most certainly felt a shift in the mood of the book. It was happy, and not that idea we get in this society from donating to charity, but true happiness. Also remember that, even in a collective society, you have to give up your life before you can be a part of it. If you do hold true to your life as the standard of value, perhaps you will be put to death. But you did not deserve it, and don't dare to call it martyrdom. By willingly holding yourself to life, you may also wonder if that would be contradictory in said society because you would accept death in its place. However, one must also remember that love of life is not the fear of death. Was that an answer?

I haven't read Anthem so I can't comment on that specific situation, someone else surely could I'm sure. I got this quote from "The Ayn Rand Lexicon" on pg. 199 under Happiness. She writes: "Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values". If a man values productive work yet is coerced into being much more unproductive than he could be will he not therefore be very unhappy? What if his value was more fundamental? What if what he really valued was the abilitiy to be free, to speak his mind without fear of punishment, the ability to true think? He would meet a constant frustration of his values wouldn't he?

The situation that you speak of from Anthem makes sense. He was able to create something and he felt happy, however how many things may a person do under those conditions that will make him happy? Very few espeically if the things he values the most are blocked to him, he would nessasarily be quite unhappy.

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In OPAR Dr. Peikoff discusses this in some detail, in the chapter about virtues. Each of them has an existential as well as an intellectual component, and both need to be practiced in order to reach values. If you live in a brutal dictatorial regime where you are prevented from exercising every major virtue; where you can't act on your best judgment, your productivity is used to slowly strangle you, the virtue of justice is severely undermined (because you can't speak out in defense or approval of others for fear of repercussions), then the ultimate result will be that you cannot sustain this.

In the long run it is impossible to be happy if you can't practice what you preach, so to speak, because it introduces a very dangerous dichotomy between the realm of thought and the realm of action. I think most statists know this, they know that you don't have to control someone's mind, as long as you control their actions, because the mind is unable to function by itself. Such a situation would be pure torture, I think, for a rational person, and there's a good chance that he will eventually seek escape into some other avenue, as seen in We the living.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Based on the posts, I seem to have misunderstood the concept of life being a standard of value, perhaps by being to literal. I thought that life was the standard in the sense that in judging good and bad, that which promotes your life was the good and that which damages your life the bad. Happiness, since it promotes your life, is the good when using life as the standard of judgement in this way. Am I misunderstanding something?

Thanks in advance.

Best regards,

Gordon

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Well, I think the main point is that happiness is a feeling, and you should not use your feelings as a guide to action. It is something that follows when you lead a succesful, moral life, but you cannot simply say that you will do whatever makes you happy and then claim it is good because of that. This leads to the subjectivist viewpoint that something is good because you think it's good.

Because you can't know why you feel a certain way immediately, without some serious introspection, it is not a good idea to follow any feelings, because you do not know if what makes you happy is also pro-life (like it should be, properly). If you accepted some ideas at a younger age that interfere with your rational judgment you could get feelings of "happiness" when doing things that are actually downright bad for you, and others. (I put happiness in quotes because it's not really happiness in this context, but more something which substitutes for happiness in a person who holds contradictory ideas)

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Because you can't know why you feel a certain way immediately, without some serious introspection, it is not a good idea to follow any feelings, because you do not know if what makes you happy is also pro-life.

That doesn't sound right to me. I can think of many situations in which it's perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to be guided by one's feelings, with much less than full knowledge of why one feels a certain way.

Should I order the broccoli soup for lunch, or the minestrone? As long as I don't have some terrible food allergy, or the restaurant is burning down around me, I'm on quite safe ground selecting either, aware of nothing more than that I happen to prefer one variety of soup over the other at this moment in time.

If I see an attractive lady across the room, assuming that I'm single and looking for love, why shouldn't I go over and talk to her, motivated solely by my positive emotional reaction? Do I really need to know, in clear and conceptual terms, exactly why I like her, in order to ask her out on a date? Can't the introspection wait until later? Can't I just say, "She seems like a lovely person," and move myself in her direction before she gets away?

How could one operate at all in the field of romantic love without a high degree of spontaneity — without a great deal of trust in one's emotions, and the sense of freedom to act on them — i.e., without the inner security that one's feeling responses do in fact represent pro-life values and value-judgments, and are unlikely to lead one to destruction?

Far too many Objectivists seem think that emotions are to be treated as guilty, or at least suspect, until proven appropriate. To a certain extent, of course, this is true: in principle, emotions are not tools of cognition, and are not reliable guides to action. But it's a gross non-sequitur to conclude therefore that every emotion one experiences must be analyzed and understood before one can act on it — or worse, that emotions never play any role at all in a rational person's decision-making process, especially in his most important decisions, such as what city to live in, which career to pursue, or whom he should marry.

One's life and actions must be guided, overall, by reason. But living rationally absolutely entails an awareness of the meaning of one's emotional responses in general, and the ability to act on one's feelings to the extent that such is appropriate, given the context. If I know in reason, for instance, that I cannot make a wrong choice — if I know that either the broccoli or the minestrone soup would make a fine selection for lunch — then I'm free to let my feelings be my guide. If I have no reason to believe that dire consequences will befall me by talking to a particular girl that I see, I don't particularly need to know why I'm attracted to her in order to say hello and find out more about her. And it would be the height of absurdity — of irrationality — to attempt to progress in a romantic relationship without any reference to or respect for my emotional responses, and to try to base my every romantic decision on sheer intellectual appraisal and calculation.

As bizarre as this last may sound, you can read posts on these very boards advocating almost exactly this policy. Of course, nobody could actually practice such lunacy, at least not consistently (or successfully). But to the extent that a person accepts a dichotomy of this kind, you can be sure that he'll experience a lot of guilt, bitterness and frustration — and he'll most likely wind up blaming Ayn Rand and that damned repressive Objectivism for it all.

Edited by Kevin Delaney
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I didn't word my last post very accurately, I see. I was trying to say something against emotionalism there; that you cannot say that something is good for you simply because you feel that it is.

I think what I said is true in the proper context, but I didn't correctly specify the context.

One thing is not clear to me, though. Could someone point out where I make a mistake in my reasoning?

A code of morality is a code of values designed to guide human action. This has to be based on a process of reason, if it is going to be a good (in the sense that it furthers your life if you practice it) one.

If all volitional action is open to the realm of morality, then would this not necessitate you to use reason as your guide to action in every instance?

I agree that when you have proper knowledge of your feelings and know where they come from it can be safe to follow them, but I think the decision in such cases is ultimately based on the use of a process of reason.

To take your example of seeing an attractive woman; you probably know in such a case what you value in your romantic partner, and that is ultimately where the feeling comes from.

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Well, I think the main point is that happiness is a feeling, and you should not use your feelings as a guide to action.

I apologize for being unclear. I shouldn't have said that happiness was the good, but rather a good assuming it was based on a proper sense of life and proper philosophy.I didn't mean that one should make decisions based on emotions that were not considered. I was thinking of them in their proper places. Happiness being an indication of the gaining of proper values and unhappiness being and indication of failing to gain or losing those values.

To reexplain what I meant, happiness is(properly) an indicator of having gained values which benefit your life. It's relationship to your life is what would make it an example of a good when using life as the standard by which you judge things. Meaning that happiness itself is not the standard, life is. I hope that's more clear.

Regarding the issue of emotionalism, I think the two main(if not only) reasons to make a decision based on emotion are lack of time for thought and pre-considered values. In the first case, things such as being attacked or car accidents come to mind. If you are attacked by a bear and you experience fear and run away, I don't think you are neccessarily breaching any morality.

For the second circumstance a personal example comes to mind. I saw a small crowd gathering on a college campus so I went closer to inquire. As I got past the throngs, I saw a guy on a small raised platform. I saw that he had a bible in hand. I felt a momentary disgust and left the area before he got to his second "jesus". I didn't stay to determine if it would be a waste of time. I didn't think back to the other religious nutballs I've encountered. I simply felt disgust and dissinterest and left. After I was gone, a moment of thought cleared up any doubts as to wether or not it was the right thing to do, but my emotions, meaning my automatized reaction to earlier conceptualized ideas,and reactions to them, were automatic. I don't believe this to be improper. It saves a lot of time.

I think the mistake comes more often when you make bigger, more complex decisions on whim. Who to marry or what job to take. That sort of thing. Usually a lot more to take into account, so making those decisions based on feelings is probably a form of mental laziness.

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