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"What if Objectivism doesn't apply to me?"

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mb121
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After having a classical liberal vs. traditionalist conservative debate with a fellow student, I was asked these questions about objectivism:

1) Paraphrased: So what if I'm born a billionaire? I can live my entire life without producing any value. Although man "in general" needs to produce value to live, if I'm born a billionaire I don't need to ever and what if I had a different philosophy?

2) ON HAPPINESS: If happiness is the achievement of one's values, what if I valued stealing and looting? Would I be happy?

MY ANSWER: Your nature requires you to choose values that sustain your own life. Therefore, if you chose to be happy by achieving values of stealing and looting, nature will eventually punish you because you would run out of stuff to loot.

He then hit me with (1), saying that my insistance of phrasing objectivism as required for "man in general" is not practical to the real world.

MY QUESTION: Was my answer adequate? Furthermore, is it in our nature to be happy by achieving what WE value or what nature REQUIRES us to value? In other words, if I brainwashed myself to value stabbing myself in the gut, would I be happy doinog so?

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1) Paraphrased: So what if I'm born a billionaire? I can live my entire life without producing any value. Although man "in general" needs to produce value to live, if I'm born a billionaire I don't need to ever and what if I had a different philosophy?

2) ON HAPPINESS: If happiness is the achievement of one's values, what if I valued stealing and looting? Would I be happy?

The problem you are facing with him seems to be that you are trying to discuss how man ought to behave and he is interested in what you can get away with. Whether you are a born billionaire or a thief, it is of course possible to get away with existing for a long time, perhaps even a whole lifetime without ever producing a thing.

That is not what morality is about. Different ethical systems do not explain how you need to behave to simply exist. They explain how you ought to behave in order to have a good life. To be happy.

The reality part isn't that you can't get away with immoral behaviour(though usually that is the case). It's that you can't get away from the truth that you exist only as a parasite and that without someone elses productivity to loot or mooch, you would be dead. Simply put, as a looter or moocher, you are unfit for existence. That realization, even if only on a subconcious level, makes self efficacy, self-esteem, and happiness impossible no matter what outward demonstrations a person might make to try to convince you and themselves otherwise.

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The problem you are facing with him seems to be that you are trying to discuss how man ought to behave and he is interested in what you can get away with. Whether you are a born billionaire or a thief, it is of course possible to get away with existing for a long time, perhaps even a whole lifetime without ever producing a thing.

That is not what morality is about. Different ethical systems do not explain how you need to behave to simply exist. They explain how you ought to behave in order to have a good life. To be happy.

The reality part isn't that you can't get away with immoral behaviour(though usually that is the case). It's that you can't get away from the truth that you exist only as a parasite and that without someone elses productivity to loot or mooch, you would be dead. Simply put, as a looter or moocher, you are unfit for existence. That realization, even if only on a subconcious level, makes self efficacy, self-esteem, and happiness impossible no matter what outward demonstrations a person might make to try to convince you and themselves otherwise.

But you are ignoring (2). What if I valued mooching? Happiness is the product of achieving my values, so would I not go my entire life being happy living off of my billion dollar fortune? You can't say nature will eventually punish my irrational values - because it is a reality I have a billion dollars and will thus never need to produce a dime.

So we are left at square one. I'm happy, I'm living, and in the background objectivism's faint screams of "moral practicality" are simply not true.

WHAT IM GETTING AT: There has to be a flaw in (2). Does objectivism acknowledge that my nature SIMPLY WONT LET ME be happy mooching? In other words, happiness isn't merely "the product of achieving my values," but it must be the "product of achieving the values nature has handed me".

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...happiness isn't merely "the product of achieving my values," but it must be the "product of achieving the values nature has handed me".
Yes, that's pretty much it. The idea is that some things won't make you happy simply by wishing them to do so. There are a few threads on this topic, the latest closely-related one is here.
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In regards to (1): While it may not be necessary to produce in order to avoid death in this scenario, you must be careful to avoid confusing "not-death" with life.

<QUOTE>"Does objectivism acknowledge that my nature SIMPLY WONT LET ME be happy mooching? In other words, happiness isn't merely "the product of achieving my values," but it must be the "product of achieving the values nature has handed me".</QUOTE>

While (man's) nature determines how your values are to be evaluated, aside from your ultimate value, life, it will not simply hand you values.

Life, your ultimate value, is the STANDARD of value. If you choose unworthy values as judged by this standard, then no, you will not be happy. Happiness is the product of achieving worthy values.

Stealing and mooching are anti-life. In the long run, it will not make you happy.

Edited by Nate
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But you are ignoring (2). What if I valued mooching? Happiness is the product of achieving my values, so would I not go my entire life being happy living off of my billion dollar fortune? You can't say nature will eventually punish my irrational values - because it is a reality I have a billion dollars and will thus never need to produce a dime.

So we are left at square one. I'm happy, I'm living, and in the background objectivism's faint screams of "moral practicality" are simply not true.

WHAT IM GETTING AT: There has to be a flaw in (2). Does objectivism acknowledge that my nature SIMPLY WONT LET ME be happy mooching? In other words, happiness isn't merely "the product of achieving my values," but it must be the "product of achieving the values nature has handed me".

I apologize for being unclear. I did not ignore #2. I deny that happiness, properly defined, is possible without self esteem. And that self esteem can be had without self efficacy. A looter or moocher will never develop self-efficacy.

He may learn to steal well or con well and develop some sense of second handed accomplishment on those notes, but he will never feel the self-love and inner strength of a man that knows how to conquer realty. Whether or not he is even intelligent enough to realize his dependency on others isn't even relevent. It is not because something might be taken away from him that he will suffer. He will suffer because of what he will never gain.

I never meant to imply that reality would punish you. As I stated before. You might very well "get away with" any manner of cheating or incompetence or evil. But what you will not be able to do is lack the virtue of productivity and still have self worth. You can't fake that. Not to yourself. Not money nor any other end result will create self-worth. The ability to create does.

Happiness is the product of achieving values, but a value is not an arbitrary word applicable to anything you might whimsically desire. It is attached to a fundemental choice you make with regard to anything you do-and remember we're talking rational, longterm self interest here-Does it make me like myself more or less when the day is through?

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Even a billionaire still has values, he's not an indestructable robot. At the very least he has to exercise and keep healthy...

Could someone point me in the right direction on this one:

When Rand says man's highest value is his "life", she doesn't mean merely the physical process of "living".

What EXACTLY does she mean? I know one answer is "living life as a human," but why should this be man's highest value? (This is relavent to my original questions).

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because it is a reality I have a billion dollars and will thus never need to produce a dime.

Here is a premise you may need to check. Is the only purpose of being productive to get money? As others have mentioned, think about self-esteem, accomplishment, achievement, etc.

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After having a classical liberal vs. traditionalist conservative debate with a fellow student, I was asked these questions about objectivism:

1) Paraphrased: So what if I'm born a billionaire? I can live my entire life without producing any value. Although man "in general" needs to produce value to live, if I'm born a billionaire I don't need to ever and what if I had a different philosophy?

For one thing, being born with a billion dollars does not mean that you will automatically be a billionaire for the rest of your life. You need to at least be productive enough to know how to manage your money, and keep it safe, or at least to be able to distinguish people you can trust to manage it, from those you can't. Then of course, there are the needs of life other than having money, some of which have been mentioned.

2) ON HAPPINESS: If happiness is the achievement of one's values, what if I valued stealing and looting? Would I be happy?
I think that this scenario is possible, for a certain type of depraved person, in an unusual type of situation. But it doesn't matter, because happiness is not the standard of morality (Objectivism is not eudaimonism), life is. Happiness is the goal and reward for being moral, but not the standard (see "The Objectivist Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness, specifically pg 27, and pgs 32-33).

MY QUESTION: Was my answer adequate? Furthermore, is it in our nature to be happy by achieving what WE value or what nature REQUIRES us to value? In other words, if I brainwashed myself to value stabbing myself in the gut, would I be happy doinog so?

This depends on the context for your use of happiness. If you mean eudaimonia, or "the good life," which is more than a simple, fleeting emotion, then achieving happiness is more difficult, and would require more objective virtues than it would if you mean hedone, or momentary pleasure. Unfortunately, we only have the one word in English, and sometimes people equivocate on what exactly they mean, so it's sometimes helpful (in my experience) to use the more specific Greek terms. (Usually, when Ayn Rand uses the term, I think she means something closer to eudaimonia. But when a Pragmatist uses it, he probably means something closer to hedone).

She just means physical life, but a psychological side-effect of following the physical life values is happiness.
No--when Ayn Rand speaks of the "life of man qua man," I believe she means, "the life proper to a rational being."

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man.

Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are- thinking and productive work.

Edited by Bold Standard
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No--when Ayn Rand speaks of the "life of man qua man," I believe she means, "the life proper to a rational being."

I would say life qua man is the standard: the abstract set of principles you measure your actions against. But the concrete you are trying to preserve is your own continued physical existence. (see your tagline)

Edited by ian
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But you are ignoring (2). What if I valued mooching? Happiness is the product of achieving my values, so would I not go my entire life being happy living off of my billion dollar fortune? You can't say nature will eventually punish my irrational values - because it is a reality I have a billion dollars and will thus never need to produce a dime.

So we are left at square one. I'm happy, I'm living, and in the background objectivism's faint screams of "moral practicality" are simply not true.

WHAT IM GETTING AT: There has to be a flaw in (2). Does objectivism acknowledge that my nature SIMPLY WONT LET ME be happy mooching? In other words, happiness isn't merely "the product of achieving my values," but it must be the "product of achieving the values nature has handed me".

This argument essentially casts Objectivism as subjectivism, with "life as the boundary" (rather than life as the standard). That is, as long as you are living, ANY value is acceptible and will yield happiness. It does this by starting with the effect, happiness, and then trying to assert that the cause is anything you want it to be. As such, your response was inadequate in countering this.

In answering this question on the basis that it is stated, you implicitly accepted the premise. The context of Rand's statement (while correct) "Happiness is the pursuit of one's values" was dropped, and you did not put it back in. That is, Rand works up the concept of value according to rational, objective terms, and then says "happiness is the pursuit of ones values." The entire context is at least referred to by stating "happiness is the pursuit of rational values." She specifically addresses this in the VOS reference already given, and I found it in the 3rd or 4th reference under happiness in the Lexicon. Pursuing irrational values such as robbery, may keep you alive in the short term, but they will NOT make you happy. She specifically addresses such things as robbery in the referece. (sorry at work don't have it with me)

The argument that nature will eventually punish you when you run out of victims, while true, leaves open the fact that you could "be happy" during the interim for the many years it takes you to exhaust such a long list of victims, essentially the square one senario you give above.

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This argument essentially casts Objectivism as subjectivism, with "life as the boundary" (rather than life as the standard). That is, as long as you are living, ANY value is acceptible and will yield happiness. It does this by starting with the effect, happiness, and then trying to assert that the cause is anything you want it to be. As such, your response was inadequate in countering this.

In answering this question on the basis that it is stated, you implicitly accepted the premise. The context of Rand's statement (while correct) "Happiness is the pursuit of one's values" was dropped, and you did not put it back in. That is, Rand works up the concept of value according to rational, objective terms, and then says "happiness is the pursuit of ones values." The entire context is at least referred to by stating "happiness is the pursuit of rational values." She specifically addresses this in the VOS reference already given, and I found it in the 3rd or 4th reference under happiness in the Lexicon. Pursuing irrational values such as robbery, may keep you alive in the short term, but they will NOT make you happy. She specifically addresses such things as robbery in the referece. (sorry at work don't have it with me)

The argument that nature will eventually punish you when you run out of victims, while true, leaves open the fact that you could "be happy" during the interim for the many years it takes you to exhaust such a long list of victims, essentially the square one senario you give above.

I'm sorry, I have to ask again: if physical life is the ultimate value, then if I'm born a millionaire why is living productive relevant to me? OK, so I accept I cannot be happy unless I choose values that would advance my life were I NOT a worthless billionaire, but still, I'm here...I'm rich...I'm gonna live...so what's next? I have life, am always going to have life, so what next?

Is the incentive to live "rationally" when I've got 1,000,000,000 dollars mere happiness (in the non-hedonistic sense)?

My friend will not accept my argument if I merely say "life is the ultimate value" and then "but oh, even a billionaire MUST live productively in order to advance life". He will respond by saying "No, life is an absolute for him no matter how he lives". So objectivism doesn't seem to apply to someone unless he is in a binding situation like the rest of us."

In other words, I'm a billionaire, and I'm diong minimal things to survive (managing money, eating, and sleeping - these are objectivist activities). For the other 15 hours in the day what does objectivism have to say about "life"? Nothing, since I've acheived it? It seems to me that at this point objectivism says "well,if you want to live happilly, you must live like this." - but what happened to life as the highest value? Has it not become happiness?

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I have life, am always going to have life, so what next?

But how do you know you always will? Maybe you'll lose everything in a stock market crash. Maybe your accountant will run off to Mexico with your wife and your entire fortune. Maybe you'll drive in to someone and they will sue you for all you've got. On the other hand, maybe you invest in the next Microsoft and make even more money.

The point is that you simply don't know, you can't see the future. All you know are the present (though direct perception) and your principles (be productive, be rational, ...). Since that's all you know for sure, that's all you can rationally act on.

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My friend will not accept my argument if I merely say "life is the ultimate value" and then "but oh, even a billionaire MUST live productively in order to advance life". He will respond by saying "No, life is an absolute for him no matter how he lives". So objectivism doesn't seem to apply to someone unless he is in a binding situation like the rest of us."

Well if you let him get a way with claiming that, then you are buying into his argument, and Objectivism doesn't give you a way to squirm out of it.

Life is not an absolute for anyone. There is no situation that is inherently "not binding". A "non binding" situation assumes that the billionaire can keep his money. But in reality he must keep his money by doing some things as opposed to doing others. Just managing a $1B fortune is a full time job, it is hardly a 1 hr a day task. Look at the number of lottery winners who after winning, fritter away their money. Aren't they in a "unbinding" situations? What kind of people did they have to be? Yes, you have a lot more degrees of freedom, but to think that your money will preserve itself without you having a significant amount of rational values already in place is foolish. Don't let someone portray it to you like that, and then not call them on it.

The senario you are setting up is a false one. I won't accept it and neither should you. The basic answer is, if the billionaire doesn't live pursuing rational values, then he will lose his money, and he'll lose if far faster than he would ever have believed.

I think someone once said something like...

"But money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver. It will give you the means for the satisfaction of your desires, but it will not provide you with desires. Money is the scourge of the men who attempt to reverse the law of causality--the men who seek to replace the mind by seizing the products of the mind.

"Money will not purchase happiness for the man who has no concept of what he wants: money will not give him a code of values, if he's evaded the knowledge of what to value, and it will not provide him with a purpose, if he's evaded the choice of what to seek. Money will not buy intelligence for the fool, or admiration for the coward, or respect for the incompetent. The man who attempts to purchase the brains of his superiors to serve him, with his money replacing his judgment, ends up by becoming the victim of his inferiors. The men of intelligence desert him, but the cheats and the frauds come flocking to him, drawn by a law which he has not discovered: that no man may be smaller than his money. Is this the reason why you call it evil?

"Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth--the man who would make his own fortune no matter where he started. If an heir is equal to his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him. But you look on and you cry that money corrupted him. Did it? Or did he corrupt his money? Do not envy a worthless heir; his wealth is not yours and you would have done no better with it.

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I would say life qua man is the standard: the abstract set of principles you measure your actions against. But the concrete you are trying to preserve is your own continued physical existence. (see your tagline)

Why do you say physical existence? A man qua vegetable has physical existence.. Doesn't the mind have requirements for its health, besides the mere requirements of the body?

What I mean is, doesn't man's life qua rational being require that he has a healthy mind, not only a healthy body?

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What I mean is, doesn't man's life qua rational being require that he has a healthy mind, not only a healthy body?

Yep, the human has many different requirements, from many different aspects or quas. But the thing that makes it objectively good to fulfil those requrirements is the fact that physical death or not corresponds to existence or non-existence. That is the fundamental alternative that makes it good to look out for your other non-physical health requirements.

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Yep, the human has many different requirements, from many different aspects or quas. But the thing that makes it objectively good to fulfil those requrirements is the fact that physical death or not corresponds to existence or non-existence. That is the fundamental alternative that makes it good to look out for your other non-physical health requirements. (Emphasis added)

Maybe this is just nit-picking on my part, but I'm still not sure why you use the term "physical death." I agree that it is death or not that corresponds to existence or non-existence. Why qualify it as "physical" death, though? I assume you don't think there is a soul that goes on living after the body dies. But the issue is whether or not a person goes on living after the mind dies. For example: Terri Schiavo. Was she still alive, after her consciousness had permanently left, but her body was kept going by machines? Your mind can't exist without your body, but your body can't keep itself alive without your mind either. I don't understand why you hold that the physical aspect of life it more fundamental than the mental.. I would think they both start out at the same time, as equals.

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