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The Definition of Morality

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I know my topic has been somewhat touched on before, but here it is anyway.

Morality, as defined by Ayn Rand (I don't have my VOS with me, but I think this is verbatim), is "A code of values used to guide man's choices and actions."

Why is morality defined as such? Some people might say, "Morality is whatever God has willed," or "Morality is right and wrong."

I don't understand why morality is defined as she defines it. Obviously, to the non-Objectivist definitions of morality, one is apt to ask, "By what standard?" If we ask that same question of the Objectivist Ethics, I know the answer is, "Life." So Ayn Rand goes on to show that life is the only proper standard of morality. Yet for some reason I have a hard time grasping why this is so. . .

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Please check my logic on the following:

If morality is a code of values used to guide man's choices and actions, the first question that must be asked is, "Do humans need values at all?" The reason this is the first question to ask is because if humans don't need values, then they don't need morality--morality wouldn't exist.

We quickly find out that humans do need values in order to survive--we have to pursue values in order to live (does this make life 'good'? it seems like the concept "good" is inapplicable to life--since life is a precondition of good). Because we are constantly faced with the alternative of life and death, the concept value arises. If we weren't faced with this alternative, values would be inapplicable to our existence.

So, why is life the standard of morality--why is life that which all choices and actions should seek to uphold? Because without life, value is not possible.

Is my understanding correct? If it is. . .then it seems like we are making life the standard of value for the sake of allowing values to exist. (which seems weird and at first-glance counterintuitive)

Also, it's obvious we need values in order to survive, but is striving for the sustaining and furthering of one's life outside the realm of morality? In other words, is it logical to ask the question, "Is life good?"

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The only sure thing in life is death, and when you die you lose any capacity for anything, so staying alive becomes the ultimate goal. Taking that a step further, what keeps you alive becomes the standard of value since without life you can have no other values. Life itself is not the standard but the goal. The means of survival, or what keeps you alive, is the standard, which in man's case is reason.

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If morality is a code of values used to guide man's choices and actions, the first question that must be asked is, "Do humans need values at all?" The reason this is the first question to ask is because if humans don't need values, then they don't need morality--morality wouldn't exist.

I'd say the first question would be: What is a value?

Because until you understand what a value is, you can't understand if anything is of value to anyone. The result of this question is that you find out that values only exist for living beings and that values are the things which are beneficial to their life - objectively.

So value can only mean this. It's the nature of value. Life is value's only proper foundation. Any other foundation falls apart if you analyze it, because it breaks down to subjectivism: "A value is whatever I happen to value.", which doesn't really answer the question.

We quickly find out that humans do need values in order to survive--we have to pursue values in order to live (does this make life 'good'? it seems like the concept "good" is inapplicable to life--since life is a precondition of good). Because we are constantly faced with the alternative of life and death, the concept value arises. If we weren't faced with this alternative, values would be inapplicable to our existence.

Yes. Life is the standard by which you judge whether something is good or not.

So, why is life the standard of morality--why is life that which all choices and actions should seek to uphold? Because without life, value is not possible.

Is my understanding correct? If it is. . .then it seems like we are making life the standard of value for the sake of allowing values to exist. (which seems weird and at first-glance counterintuitive)

If you word it that way it does sound weird. But the thing is that objective values can only mean life-furthering values. An analysis of what a value is in the first place yields this insight. It's not that we say: "Gee, I'd like values to exist. Hm, looks like I have to pick life as a standard."

The thing is that values objectively exist for everyone who wants to live. It's a fact. There's no way around that. It's the nature of objective values.

Also, it's obvious we need values in order to survive, but is striving for the sustaining and furthering of one's life outside the realm of morality? In other words, is it logical to ask the question, "Is life good?"

"Is life good?" is another way of asking: "Do I want to live?".

For humans, living is a choice. If you want to live or not is up to you. But once you've made the decision that you want to live, reality dictates that you have to achieve the values that make this life possible. That's what the Objectivist Ethics are saying in a nutshell.

I hope this shed some light on the issue. :P

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The only sure thing in life is death, and when you die you lose any capacity for anything, so staying alive becomes the ultimate goal.

What if someone argues that life also allows for evil, just like it allows for good. How would you respond?

Taking that a step further, what keeps you alive becomes the standard of value since without life you can have no other values.

I don't think this is correct. What keeps me alive is my ability to recognize my biological needs, and then my ability to fulfil them. So what keeps me alive is thought(choice)+action. Those abilities, however, are not the standard of value--they aren't that which all my actions and choices are measured by.

Life itself is not the standard but the goal. The means of survival, or what keeps you alive, is the standard, which in man's case is reason.

I don't see how reason is the standard of value. But I do see how life could be the standard of value and at the same time the existential goal.

Morality is identified as a "code to guide man's actions" because that is what it is. Even if it comes from God it is still a "code to guide man's actions, delivered from God."

That's a redundant explanation. Why is morality defined as such? My first thought is that first we discover that we need values, then from there, we say, "Ok, now that we know we need values, which values should we accept?" Once we figure out the answer to that question, we've come up with a noncontradictory code of values. Thoughts?

I'd say the first question would be: What is a value? Because until you understand what a value is, you can't understand if anything is of value to anyone.

And how do you discover what a value is? Miss Rand defined value as "that which one acts to gain or keep." I'm not entirely sure how she came about that definition, as it seems subjective to me. I can act to gain or keep AIDS, but I don't see how that would perforce make AIDS a value. If value is only possible where life exists, then only "things" upholding or further life seem to be of value.

I await your further responses ;)

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What if someone argues that life also allows for evil, just like it allows for good. How would you respond?

What is the meaning of this sentence? Do you mean, "if you're alive, you can be evil, or you can be good"? That's a truism, a tautology; it doesn't really require a response. It's a little obvious: this is why men NEED a code to guide their actions.

Or, do you mean "men can survive by being good or evil"? Then the answer is, no, they can't, not in the long run. Men can only survive by means of virtue, either their own or someone else's, they can only survive by being good. Of course, if you've accepted a moral code (and thus a standard of good and evil) that doesn't hold life as the standard of value, then men can ONLY survive if they are at least a LITTLE evil, in which case this question may have some merit. In order to answer it, you first have to demonstrate that life is the standard of value, plus a whole bunch of other things. This is why ethics don't float in a vacuum; you first must convince people of your metaphysics and epistemology before you can tackle ethical questions of this nature. Without foundation, the house collapses.

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And how do you discover what a value is? Miss Rand defined value as "that which one acts to gain or keep." I'm not entirely sure how she came about that definition, as it seems subjective to me. I can act to gain or keep AIDS, but I don't see how that would perforce make AIDS a value. If value is only possible where life exists, then only "things" upholding or further life seem to be of value.

I await your further responses :thumbsup:

Aids would be a value IF you act to gain or keep it. If it is something you attempt to get for yourself and not get rid of, then it is a value to you. It would be a poor, poor, poor choice of values, but a value none the less. The same could be said of pursuing a relationship with jesus. Whether it is a good one or not does not alter the fact that it is a value.

Life as the standard of value does not mean that anyone who does not act to better their life has no values, just that they have bad values, and if bad enough, soon they will have none due to their death. The fundemental choice between life and death has to exist for values to be possible at all. A rock has no values because it lacks the ability to act in anyway to change it's condition as well the self awareness necessary to consider it.

Morality, as defined by Ayn Rand (I don't have my VOS with me, but I think this is verbatim), is "A code of values used to guide man's choices and actions."

Why is morality defined as such? Some people might say, "Morality is whatever God has willed," or "Morality is right and wrong."

Those are particulars within the genus of morality.

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Morality, as defined by Ayn Rand (I don't have my VOS with me, but I think this is verbatim), is "A code of values used to guide man's choices and actions."

Why is morality defined as such? Some people might say, "Morality is whatever God has willed," or "Morality is right and wrong."

Where is the contradiction? The statement that an action is right is a particular moral judgment. The statement that morality is whatever god wills (wheeze) is a specific source of moral evaluation (a totally dumb one).

The question "why is morality defined as X" misunderstands the nature of concepts and definitions. Morality is defined as such because it's a fact that it is. You're really asking "why do we use the word 'morality' to refer to this concept", which is like asking the question "Why do we use the word 'square' to refer to a square-shaped object". Do you want the etymology of the word "morality"? Do you want to understand how people learn the meanings of words? The point is that there is a concept defined as "A code of values used to guide man's choices and actions", and that concept is assigned in English to "morality", in Ancient Greek to ethikos. Unless you actually dispute the fact that is what the word "morality" means, I don't see the point of raising a question about the "definition" of morality.

What keeps me alive is my ability to recognize my biological needs, and then my ability to fulfil them. So what keeps me alive is thought(choice)+action. Those abilities, however, are not the standard of value--they aren't that which all my actions and choices are measured by.
You're confusing living with not dying: don't focus on "keeping alive" which implies some pathetic barely clinging to live state as the goal. Unless you choose to die, you choose to live, not just "remain alive". Living implies much more than staving off the coroner. Your standard of value is (or should be) the effect of a choice on your life.

The concept of "value" doesn't mean anything without life. Values are a kind of benefit, one that you must work for (whereas fortuitous rainfall is simply a benefit that happens, regardless of what you do). Why do you act at all? What is your ultimate goal? That is your standard of value -- the thing that you ultimately work to keep.

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What is the meaning of this sentence? Do you mean, "if you're alive, you can be evil, or you can be good"? That's a truism, a tautology; it doesn't really require a response. It's a little obvious: this is why men NEED a code to guide their actions.

Thanks.

Aids would be a value IF you act to gain or keep it. If it is something you attempt to get for yourself and not get rid of, then it is a value to you.

And that doens't seem odd to you? I usually associate the word "value" with something that truly has a benefit to my life. So to me, saying there are "good values" is just redundant. And saying there are "bad values" is contradictory.

And yes, David, good point about the definition of morality. The reason I asked my question was because I was discussing ethics with a Christian, who then asked, "but what if I don't accept your definition of morality. What if I think morality is whatever God chooses it to be?" Which made me wonder if the truthfulness of a moral code was based on its definition. But of course, if someone says morality is merely right and wrong--then fine, but by what standard?

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Thanks.

And that doens't seem odd to you? I usually associate the word "value" with something that truly has a benefit to my life. So to me, saying there are "good values" is just redundant. And saying there are "bad values" is contradictory.

Well...no. You have to seperate your personal values from values qua values. A value is anything that anyone acts to gain or keep. As I pointed out with the jesus example, they can be bad values as well as good values. This is a definition you are asking about, not a commentary.

Take capitalism. You can call it "the only moral economic system" and that would be a correct assessment in my oppinion but a poor definition. A proper definition for it should be something like -an economic system where the means of production are owned privately. It is, what it is, regardless of anyones estimation of it. Even a communist would agree with the definition. Same goes for values. They are anything that anyone acts to gain or keep.

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And that doens't seem odd to you? I usually associate the word "value" with something that truly has a benefit to my life. So to me, saying there are "good values" is just redundant. And saying there are "bad values" is contradictory.
The use of "good" and "bad" in this context might be confusing, but still correct. More plainly, values are rational or irrational, depending on your ultimate goal. If your ultimate goal is to live, the ordinary values apply, and taking cyanide would be irrational; if your goal if to die, oxygen is not a value and it rould be irrational to try to keep breathing.
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What if someone argues that life also allows for evil, just like it allows for good. How would you respond?

I'd respond they were correct. Men's actions are what is good and evil, and man can not perform any actions dead.

I don't think this is correct. What keeps me alive is my ability to recognize my biological needs, and then my ability to fulfil them. So what keeps me alive is thought(choice)+action. Those abilities, however, are not the standard of value--they aren't that which all my actions and choices are measured by.

you're right, poor choice of words on my part. Instead of saying "or what keeps you alive" I should have said "or what steps you take to keep yourself alive".

I don't see how reason is the standard of value. But I do see how life could be the standard of value and at the same time the existential goal.

Reason is how man survives as a man. We could all set aside reason and just live as savage animals with no tools, no language, etc. but then we wouldn't really be men. Men use reason to gain knowledge to conquer their environment to survive, it's what we are. Survival as a man is the standard of value, man qua man. Reason is the tool we use to survive, reason isn't the standard.

And how do you discover what a value is? Miss Rand defined value as "that which one acts to gain or keep." I'm not entirely sure how she came about that definition, as it seems subjective to me. I can act to gain or keep AIDS, but I don't see how that would perforce make AIDS a value. If value is only possible where life exists, then only "things" upholding or further life seem to be of value.

Value is exactly what you quoted "that which one acts to gain or keep." Doing nothing is an action, it's a volitional choice to gain nothing. If you have no choice in an action, no alternative to choose, you can neither gain nor lose any value by doing it. Determining what that value is, whether it is a positive value or a negative value, is determined by the standard of survival as a man. What one acts to gain or keep that is in ones rational self-interest is a positive value, it's good. The rest is a negative value, it's evil.

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