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How does reproduction benefit one's life?

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RationalEgoistSG
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the functions of all living organisms...are actions generated by the organism itself and directed to a single goal: the maintenance of the organism's life."

This is a quote from Ayn Rand.

My question is, how is the function of the body parts of reproduction directed to the maintenance of an organism's life? How does reproduction directly benefit an organism's own life?

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I don't know that reproduction directly benefits an organism's life, but if a species lacked the means of reproduction, it would be a moot issue for most individual organisms of that species because they never would have existed. Plus, for many species propagation of their own kind is perhaps an advantage for themselves, because it makes more of their own species with which to compete with other species in their environment. Of course, they then have to compete to some extent with members of their own species too, but I imagine that it's better for an animal to have to compete with others of its own kind for food than to be food for the members of some other species.

Of course, for humans it's a completely different matter. For one thing, we're not really in competition with each other so much as or in quite the same way as other species (insofar as we've banned the initiation of physical force in our societies). Also, many of our reproductive body parts have other functions which are more essential for us. But the main point is, a species has to have the means of reproduction in order to exist in the first place. Since for most species, such means would necessarily include a biological urge to do so (since they would have no rational grounds for doing so). For humans, since we have free will, it's entirely a matter of individual choice, and reproduction as such is not a moral issue.

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Guest theDude

Read Binswanger's The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts. He describes reproduction and other things that don't "directly" benefit an organism's life (such as a mother bird risking her life for the sake of her young) as a kind of backwards payment.

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I find it interesting that perhaps half of the people who believe in an objective morality not based on religion arbitrarily decide that it must be based on the "instinct" to reproduce. The other half (excluding Objectivists, of course) arbitrarly decide that it has to be based on some sort of altruism.

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  • 4 years later...

Don't most species have instincts regarding reproduction or at least hold it as one of their most important priorities? It can be seen in humans too, with our natural mechanisms influencing us to have sex. If nature creates these things then why shouldn't reproduction be regarded as a priority for all humans?

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Don't most species have instincts regarding reproduction or at least hold it as one of their most important priorities? It can be seen in humans too, with our natural mechanisms influencing us to have sex. If nature creates these things then why shouldn't reproduction be regarded as a priority for all humans?
Unlike pigs, humans have free will. Unlike snakes, humans have a conceptual consciousness. Unlike cod, humans have to discover their proper mean of survival -- it isn't hard-wired.
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Unlike pigs, humans have free will. Unlike snakes, humans have a conceptual consciousness. Unlike cod, humans have to discover their proper mean of survival -- it isn't hard-wired.

I know that. But why does nature make such a big deal out of sex/reproduction? By nature I mean the creation of instincts, physical mechanisms encouraging sex, and such universal importance throughout all species. There must be some importance with reproduction of a species if nature creates these things in all species.

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I know that. But why does nature make such a big deal out of sex/reproduction? By nature I mean the creation of instincts, physical mechanisms encouraging sex, and such universal importance throughout all species. There must be some importance with reproduction of a species if nature creates these things in all species.

For humans, rational children are certainly a value to your life. Think of the value a friend adds to your life and you'll realize how much more value a kid could add. If nothing else at a certain point you are going to be too old to take care of yourself so they would be neccessary then.

In nature, I think sexual reproduction evolved primarily to protect organisms from disease. "The Red Queen" by Matt Ridley has a good overview of all the different theories concerning sex, and convinced me pretty thoughouly that the virus-fighting theory is the best. It does go way too far in attributing animal instincts to humans so watch out for that.

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Unlike pigs, humans have free will. Unlike snakes, humans have a conceptual consciousness. Unlike cod, humans have to discover their proper mean of survival -- it isn't hard-wired.

Yes. But also unlike most animals, human lack a breeding season and an instinctive response to sexual clues. The females of most animals emit sexual clues when in their fertile cycles, like pheromones, which cause the males of the species to have sex with them. While human females are fertile only during a certain period per month, they emit no clues and males don't respond to them. Any such clues, like alluring dress, are voluntary and so are the responses; not to mention that men can initiate them and women can respond, again all according to their own volition.

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There must be some importance with reproduction of a species if nature creates these things in all species.
Living beings die. For whatever reason, the process of evolution still ended up creating living beings that die. Therefore, biologically, reproduction is an essential part of the nature of every species. While some species produce beings like "worker bees" that do not routinely reproduce, it is not so with humans. Reproduction is clearly part of the essential biological nature of normal human beings.
Hypothetically, if man should act according to reality and reproduction is the main goal that nature sets for each species, then morality should be based around this idea. That's what I'm trying to get at.
Why does being a main goal matter here? What if it is merely a vital aspect of man's biological nature, which it is?

Why would this make it the moral choice? For instance, it might be in the biological nature of human beings not to live beyond 130 years. Suppose scientists figure out some change that can extend this to 150, would there be a moral imperative not to extend life that way?

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Hypothetically, if man should act according to reality and reproduction is the main goal that nature sets for each species, then morality should be based around this idea. That's what I'm trying to get at.

Even in nature reproduction is not an end in itself. Clearly, if a species is not interested in perpetuating itself it is an evolutionary dead end. However, I don't see a morality based around "do whatever it takes to produce the maximum number of children" as following from this. Modeling your behavior off of animals is a bad idea.

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But why does nature make such a big deal out of sex/reproduction? By nature I mean the creation of instincts, physical mechanisms encouraging sex, and such universal importance throughout all species. There must be some importance with reproduction of a species if nature creates these things in all species.
I don't think that nature has an opinion about sex and reproduction. If you're really asking why some lifeforms reproduce sexually and others reproduce asexually, that's a somewhat advanced biological question that we don't have an answer to (it starts with "genetic variation", which doesn't really explain it). If you're asking why lifeforms reproduce at all, well, the ones that don't died out eons ago.

To clarify, "nature" does not set goals because nature is not an organism capable of establishing goals. Living things have a goal -- to live -- and for most forms of life, it is automatic. Man is quite different, and because we are conceptual, volitional being without automatic instincts, it is false to say that reproduction is in our nature. It's something that you may choose, but it isn't automatic. If man had no choice but to breed like rabbits, then there would be no discussion of morality at all, since we would have no choice but to breed.

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Living things have a goal -- to live -- and for most forms of life, it is automatic. Man is quite different, and because we are conceptual, volitional being without automatic instincts, it is false to say that reproduction is in our nature. It's something that you may choose, but it isn't automatic.

Why should humans choose to live? How do you know life should be the standard of morality and not death?

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Why should humans choose to live? How do you know life should be the standard of morality and not death?

Humans can choose to die. Examples of people working towards their own self-destruction are too numerous to need to list here. To choose life is the primary choice, and everything else in Objectivist ethics follows from that.

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Why should humans choose to live? How do you know life should be the standard of morality and not death?

Morality concerns itself with the definition of good and evil.

Good and evil are concepts which only apply to living things. For a concept to be "good" or "evil" it must have importance to the thing affected by the concept. Inanimate objects are not affected by questions of morality. A rock is a rock, a cloud is a cloud. If a cloud freezes you have snow, if a rock is split you have two rocks.

If you cut down a tree, you have a dead tree. If you chop a puppy in half, you don't have two puppies, you have one dead puppy.

So for living beings, death is the cessation of existence. If all things died, morality would cease to be relevant - there would be nothing for which something could be good or evil anymore.

All living beings strive to live. A being that acts in a manner contrary to its existence does not survive. Therefore, for a living being, to live is good. To die is evil. Consider also how we classify those living things which make us ill such as viruses (arguably quasi-living), bacteria and parasites. They make us sick - they are diseases and infestations - and if they're fatal, then they bring about their own destruction in the process - anti-life - evil.

So - if the goal of all living things is life, and that makes living good, and humans are living things: <Insert conclusion here>

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A code of values to guide mans' choices and actions.
The way this conversation could progress is that I ask you what choices and actions you mean and you say all of them and I ask whether there is anything that unifies those actions that are considered good, like to the action begin with a vowel in English and you say "no, they are good because they aid him in living". And then you'd realize that the concept of "morality" implies a purpose, specifically existing (living). If instead of living you have decided to not exist, then by the time I type this you will be dead and it's game over for you.

This is the "fundamental choice" part of Galt's speech; you can't justify the choice to exist in terms of some higher goal, because there is no higher goal (that's what it means to be "fundamental"). All I can do is tell you what follows if you have decided to live, because that then gives us a starting point, something that you have choses and will work towards.

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This is the "fundamental choice" part of Galt's speech; you can't justify the choice to exist in terms of some higher goal, because there is no higher goal (that's what it means to be "fundamental"). All I can do is tell you what follows if you have decided to live, because that then gives us a starting point, something that you have choses and will work towards.

If you can't justify that a human should live (based on objective facts), then how can you proceed past that question? You're assuming it's true based on your desires.

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I don't think that nature has an opinion about sex and reproduction. If you're really asking why some lifeforms reproduce sexually and others reproduce asexually, that's a somewhat advanced biological question that we don't have an answer to (it starts with "genetic variation", which doesn't really explain it).

Natural processes are highly random in nature. Evolutionarily, when something works well enough for a species, it stays. So most questions regarding reproduction in living beings, except people, can be answered with "because it works."

I'll try to illustrate it with an example. Sea turtles make for the sea when they hatch. Most of the hatchlings at any given nesting ground will perish before they reach the water. Of those that do make it to the ocean, most will perish before they grow old enough to reproduce. Sea turtles exist at all because they lay a lot of eggs, which beget a lot of hatchlings, which means enough survive to keep the species alive.

That works. But it's not the only thing that would work. For example, were turtles to evolve live birth they might have only two pups, but larger and with stronger shells, better able to survive. Further, they might not even need to go on land at all, making them less vulnerable to sea birds. That would also work. Or sea turtles might evolve social patterns and child rearing instincts. They might hand around the nesting ground, like penguins, say, protect their eggs, support each other, even carry their young off to sea inside their own shells. That would also work.

But what happened is turtles evolved an ability to lay a lot of eggs, to hatch a lot of near-helpless hatchlings many of which die soon after being born. Why? because that has worked to keep the species in existence. If a predator evolved that would more efficiently eat sea turtle hatchlings, the species might go extinct in short order.

To clarify, "nature" does not set goals because nature is not an organism capable of establishing goals.

Hear, hear! "Nature" is a concept encompassing living things and their relationship with non-living things (such as land, water, etc) and with each other (predator, pray, parasite, etc).

Likewise evoltion is not an entity that can set goals, much less guide developments. It is a scientific theory that explains how organisms change over time. It subsumes several fields of study, and it is a useful tool in biology and medicine. But not an entity.

To say "nature ordains it," or "evolution is through with you," is a form of the Pathetic Fallacy. It can be useful to illustrate a point, but it is fasle.

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If you can't justify that a human should live (based on objective facts), then how can you proceed past that question? You're assuming it's true based on your desires.

You can choose not to live. If you want to live, you need morality. If you don't want to live, you can make your choices in any arbitrary way you feel like and you will die.

The choice to live is not within the realm of ethics, but ethics is the science that will help you achieve that goal. Just like how you can't use math to decide whether to do a math problem but math will help you solve the problem. If you don't want to play the game then no one forces you to. Clearly you consider life worth living or you would have killed yourself by now.

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If you can't justify that a human should live (based on objective facts), then how can you proceed past that question? You're assuming it's true based on your desires.
It is self-evidently true that I've made the fundamental decision, to exist. Do you seriously doubt that I have chosen to exist? If so, we have a problem. If not, then you know how I "get beyond". So where is your first doubt?
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