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Does that help?

Somewhat. But how do you then show a person ought to value their own existence above everything else?

I understand it in the sense of "IF you value your life above everything else, you should do X, and not do J" but how do you show that a person shouldn't value some other thing's/person's existence similarly to or above his own existence?

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Rand's point was that since value makes sense only in relation to an alternative, and since all alternatives are reflections of the fundamental alternative of life or death, that therefore to value something IS to value it FOR your life. In other words, for you to claim that you value something is to implicitly say, "This is good for my life." The question is: is that thing actually good for your life? That's what ethics tells us.

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Somewhat. But how do you then show a person ought to value their own existence above everything else?

That is the nature of value. All living things pursue the values necessary for THEIR OWN lives. Now, as I said before, other forms of life take those actions automatically; they cannot act except with their life as the standard. Because of volition, we are able to act in opposition to to our lives, so we must first choose to take life as the standard of value.

It isn't really accurate to say a person ougt to value their own existence above everything else. There are some contexts (which I demonstrated for you in another thread) in which it may be entirely proper for an individual to give up his life to save some value (such as his spouse). What Obectivism says is that an individual's life is the standard by which all values are judged. This means that, in choosing a value, one must ask the question: In what way does this benefit my life?, or as Ayn Rand put it, value presupposes an answer to the questions: Of value to whom? And for what?

As Don said, because of the metaphysical relationship between life and value, implicit in any value-judgment is the statement: This adds to my life in some way. Because of the relationship between life and value, to take anything besides life as the standard of value involves a contradiction.

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  • 2 weeks later...

DPW, I respect your understanding of objectivism. You have clarified some points about the objectivist ethics which I have pondered for a long time.

I have read some essays by Timothy D. Chase http://members.tripod.com/~tchase/ where he argues that the standard of objectivity is more fundamental than the standard of value. Mr. Chase argues that "insofar as anyone takes the view that one should be rational simply because being rational promotes one's survival, he is wrong: one should be rational, not by reference to the standard of value, but by reference to the standard of objectivity."

What do you think about this?

Edited by trident
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What do you think about this?

As stated, that's absolutely wrong. The only reason one should be rational is because one wants to live. There is nothing in reality that demands objectivity except the choice to remain in reality. Outside the context of ethics, outside of the context of life or death, there are no "shoulds." The implicit implication is that man has a duty to gain knowledge, above and beyond his survival needs. He doesn't.

But this does not mean that people walk around being irrational until Objectivism tells them morality demands thought. A conceptual being cannot escape the knowledge that reason is his means of gaining knowledge, and he cannot escape the knowledge, in some terms, he needs knowledge in order to live. So while there is no reason to be rational except the choice to live, not knowing Rand's ethical argument is not a license to be irrational.

Edited by DPW
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Thanks for your answer DPW. I have to think more about this. I am not still 100% sure what I think myself. However I think that Mr. Chase confuses metaphysical fundamentality with epistemological fundamentality. Metaphysically the most fundamental alternative is life/death but epistemologically the fundamental choice is to think or not to think (identification preceedes evaluation).

Input from DPW or anybody else is appreciated.

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Metaphysically the most fundamental alternative is life/death but epistemologically the fundamental choice is to think or not to think (identification preceedes evaluation).

There are a couple issues here. Yes, epistemologically, the choice is to think or not, and to evaluate we first have to identify. But the question is, why do all that? Why think in the first place? The only reason to do it is in order to achieve values. Knowledge is not inherently good -- it's good because we need it in order to live.

But this is an issue of perspective. Hierarchically, epistemology precedes ethics. Knowing how to think precedes knowing how to live (it precedes knowing that "how to live" is moral standard).

Developmentally, neither of these is completely accurate. As children, we don't think in order to live. We don't even think in order to gain other values: we do it because it's pleasurable. All other things being equal, children enjoy using their minds and gaining knowledge. It's only later, as adults, that we can identify the vital importance of this process and see that the reason thinking is so pleasurable is because it serves our total well-being -- and if this is the standard we embrace, then thinking is essential.

Psychologically, on the other hand, there is no clear distinction between the choice to think and the choice to live -- for more on this point, see my article, "Embracing Existence," in the forthcoming issue of Axiomatic.

So what's more fundamental? It depends!

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If one took the narrow view that your life resided only in your own body, then your life would pass away after only one generation.

Um, my life does reside in only my personal body, and it will pass away after only one generation . . . that's what death is. Ancestor-worship is a form of primitive mysticism, as is the idea that your children exist to "carry on your legacy" as though you are identical to your genes.

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Developmentally, neither of these is completely accurate. As children, we don't think in order to live. We don't even think in order to gain other values: we do it because it's pleasurable. All other things being equal, children enjoy using their minds and gaining knowledge. It's only later, as adults, that we can identify the vital importance of this process and see that the reason thinking is so pleasurable is because it serves our total well-being -- and if this is the standard we embrace, then thinking is essential.

I agree with what Don's said, but I usually come at this problem from a different angle. Don't approach puts emphasis on the explicit, but one can also analyze the implicit.

Even though, as children, pleasure is the standard by which we choose to think, we are still implicitly taking life as the standard of value. Choosing pleasureable activities presupposes life as a standard. Even without the pleasurable aspect of thought, choosing to think presupposes life as a standard. I would go even further and say that, since all volitional actions are toward some end, toward some value, and since value is inseperable from life, taking any action whatsoever presupposes life as the standard (there are those who attempt to act on another standard, but they are in a state of contradiction, which is why it never works out for them in the long-run). The explicit identification of this doesn't come until adulthood, but even as children, it's there implicitly.

To continue what Don said: So, what's more fundamental? It depends! On what? Perspective.

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Thanks DPW and dondigitalia for your comments and answers.

I would go even further and say that, since all volitional actions are toward some end, toward some value, and since value is inseperable from life, taking any action whatsoever presupposes life as the standard
Does this mean that the the objectivist standard of value is axiomatic?

How about the following (quote from above mentioned essay)

Thus while metaphysically, man has no choice but to conform to reality, epistemologically, man does have to choose whether he will conform to reality in the sense of achieving volitional awareness of it, and as a result, he requires a normative standard to direct him in making this choice. This normative standard is the standard of objectivity, and it is a universal, absolute standard which applies to all cognition qua cognition. It is the "ought" which lies at the foundation of and is implicit in one's identification of any fact. To say "it is" is to imply that one ought to recognize the fact that "it is." Such normativity is implicit in the self-conscious affirmation "Existence exists."

Considering the above quote and taking it one step further, would the following be true?,

1. To say "it is" is to imply that one ought to recognize the fact that "it is." (any kind of identification)

2. if one ought to recognize the fact that "it is", one ought to preserve one's conceptual faculty (ought to preserve oneself as a rational being) put negatively it would be a contradiction to imply that one ought to recognize the fact that "it is" while at the same time destroying the faculty which does the recognizing.

Conclusion: The objectivist standard of value cannot be denied without contradiction=it's axiomatic

However, I think that the objectivist standard of value is usually not perceived as axiomatic by objectivist.

Furthermore in both mine and dondigitalia's examples (at least mine), the contradiction seems to consist of that one destroy the universal "means" (rational faculty, rational being, life) not the the ultimate value (end). If means and ends are the same doesn't it make it circular (invalid reasoning), or is it justified because means and ends are metaphysically inseparable (as dondigitalia mention). Life requires values and one have to be alive in order to pursue values, and knowledge can not metaphysically be separated from a rational faculty which aquire knowledge. Human values including knowledge is a metaphysical relationship which only can be separated in epistemological abstraction, not metaphysically.

Does this make any sense. I apologize for any misspellings etc., english is not my native language.

Appreciate any input or comments.

Edited by trident
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Does this mean that the the objectivist standard of value is axiomatic?

No. It's important to remember that "axiomatic" does not mean "inescapable" (although axioms are inescapable). An axiom is a fundamental fact of reality. Life as the standard of value is a fundamental fact only where the actions of living organisms are concerned.

I have to get to bed now, so I won't reply to the rest of your post until tomorrow. I just wanted to get that out, since it was a fairly short answer.

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Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

The process of life must be understood as extending beyond a single living organism. Your ancestors created your parents who created you. You may create children and thru them grandchildren and further descendants. Your life process extends across these generations.

If one took the narrow view that your life resided only in your own body, then your life would pass away after only one generation.

Um, my life does reside in only my personal body, and it will pass away after only one generation . . . that's what death is. Ancestor-worship is a form of primitive mysticism, as is the idea that your children exist to "carry on your legacy" as though you are identical to your genes.

When the gametes from your parents fused to form the zygote which was you, what "self" generated that action? Your life came from and is a continuation of the lives of your parents. It is normal for some cells in a multicellular organism to die. Periodically, the vast mass of somatic cells dies. But life may (or may not) continue via the germ cells which generate a new soma (body).

I am not engaging in ancestor-worship. I am just looking at this from the standpoint of biology.

If children did not carry on the legacy of their parents to the extent of producing grandchildren which carry their genes, then life would long since have ceased to exist on Earth.

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It's important to remember that "axiomatic" does not mean "inescapable" (although axioms are inescapable).
Thanks for the clarification.

I would go even further and say that, since all volitional actions are toward some end, toward some value, and since value is inseperable from life, taking any action whatsoever presupposes life as the standard

Dondigitalia, I think I misunderstood you. The reason why "Any action presupposes life as the standard" is because one only take action if there is a perceived benefit (difference), a difference for the acting agent. If it wouldn't make any difference one wouldn't take any action. Is this what you mean?

I first thought you meant that you have to be alive in order take any action and achieve values, hence acting to achieve something and same time acting against life as the standard would be self-defeating.

This would clarify things and make life as the standard of value more fundamental than the standard of objectivity. There must be an perceived benefit for the acting agent in order to use its conceptual faculty. The perceived benefit is not and cannot logically be conceptual in nature (maybe a feeling of curiosity).

Edited by trident
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Dondigitalia, I think I misunderstood you. The reason why "Any action presupposes life as the standard" is because one only take action if there is a perceived benefit (difference), a difference for the acting agent. If it wouldn't make any difference one wouldn't take any action. Is this what you mean?

I first thought you meant that you have to be alive in order take any action and achieve values, hence acting to achieve something and same time acting against life as the standard would be self-defeating.

I mean both of those things, since they are two different perspectives on the same fact. It's crucial to hold the context that this applies only to chosen actions. There are times when we act automatically, reflexively or without thought; those actions are exempt from this line of reasoning.

That does not mean, however that life is not the standard in the case of unchosen actions, it just means that the line of reasoning we follow to arrive at life as the standard is slightly different. Incidentally, I don't view the standard of unchosen actions as a philosophical subject, but a scientific one, since it involves biological/evolutionary inquiries as well.

This would clarify things and make life as the standard of value more fundamental than the standard of objectivity. There must be an perceived benefit for the acting agent in order to use its conceptual faculty. The perceived benefit is not and cannot logically be conceptual in nature (maybe a feeling of curiosity).

I'm not sure what you mean here. Objectivity is a virtue, not a standard of value; it is an action by which values are gained and/or kept, and presupposes a standard of value both metaphysically and epistemologically. All of my earlier comments were in reference to the fundamentality of the life-standard vs. the choice to think (i.e. the choice to focus, which is also more fundamental than objectivity).

Objectivity really isn't a fundamental anything. Well, maybe you could look at it as a fundamental virtue, but it's really a consequence of the more fundamental virtue of rationality.

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1. To say "it is" is to imply that one ought to recognize the fact that "it is." (any kind of identification)

Yes, but this is really a consequence of a more fundamental (and much simpler) is-ought relationship. That fundamentality is: if something is a value, one ought to act to gain it. Really, it's just common sense. But, to paraphrase Heinlein: Good sense is never common.

Objectivity is a manifestation of this because it is a virtue, i.e. an action by which one gains and/or keeps a value.

2. if one ought to recognize the fact that "it is", one ought to preserve one's conceptual faculty (ought to preserve oneself as a rational being) put negatively it would be a contradiction to imply that one ought to recognize the fact that "it is" while at the same time destroying the faculty which does the recognizing.
You're reversing causality, but arriving at (pretty much) the same conclusion. Objectivity is not the reason one should act to preserve oneself as a rational being. It's the other way around, with a few steps in between. You're deriving your goals from the mode of action, and the mode of action should always be determined by the goals you are trying to reach. Deriving goals from the mode of action is exactly what whim-worshipers and mystics do (except that they don't bother to examine it like you).

The correct chain of is-oughts is: Life is the standard of value, so one ought to choose values based on their contribution to one's life. If something is good for one's life, one ought to try to get it. Since reason is the human means of gaining values, one ought to be rational. Since being objective is part of being rational, one ought to be objective.

Furthermore in both mine and dondigitalia's examples (at least mine), the contradiction seems to consist of that one destroy the universal "means" (rational faculty, rational being, life) not the the ultimate value (end). If means and ends are the same doesn't it make it circular (invalid reasoning), or is it justified because means and ends are metaphysically inseparable (as dondigitalia mention). Life requires values and one have to be alive in order to pursue values, and knowledge can not metaphysically be separated from a rational faculty which aquire knowledge. Human values including knowledge is a metaphysical relationship which only can be separated in epistemological abstraction, not metaphysically.

I don't really understand what all of this means. Means and ends are not the same thing. It is metaphysically possible to have an end without a means. My basic point was that it is not metaphysically possible to have a means without some end. A means presupposes an answer to the question: a means of doing what? An end doesn't presuppose any sort of means, metaphysically or epistemologically.

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Dondigitalia, thanks again for your detailed reply.

The correct chain of is-oughts is: Life is the standard of value, so one ought to choose values based on their contribution to one's life. If something is good for one's life, one ought to try to get it. Since reason is the human means of gaining values, one ought to be rational. Since being objective is part of being rational, one ought to be objective.

But in order to justify the above one have to refer to the fact one is objective, refering to the fact that one have used objective epistemic norms such as primacy of perception and the norm of linear reasoning. Doesn't justification per se mean that one refer to something more fundamental than the knowledge that's being justified? It seems circular to refer to objective epistemic norms in order to justify the conclusion that one ought to be objective (including the fact that one ought to be objective in reference to Life as standard of value).

I think I understand the ethical justification for Life as the standard of value (by showing that it is the source of all values and to show that if one choose to live, one must pursue it as one's ultimate value or else be engaged in a contradiction). However, all this is knowledge and knowledge has to be justified epistemologically (by showing that it has been generated by an objective method). Isn't the Objectivist ethics (at least partly) derived from the Objectivist metaphysics and Objectivist epistemology? Epistemology seems more fundamental than ethics.

I know that something is missing in my reasoning but I can still not put my finger on what.

Edited by trident
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If one is thinking rationally, one certainly is being objective, but the ethical idea that one should obtain knowledge, or that one should be objective comes much later.

They're really two completely different contexts. The first is in the context of: this is how you know what's true. The second, which you learn by using the first, is: this is why you should try to know it.

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If children did not carry on the legacy of their parents to the extent of producing grandchildren which carry their genes, then life would long since have ceased to exist on Earth.

Yes, but this in no way means that my children's life is somehow an extension of my life, or that I am somehow an extension of my great-great grandparents, who remain alive because I am alive.. We are all separate, distinct individuals, we live our own span of years, then we die. This fact is not changed, altered, or affected by whether or not we choose to have children.

As far as I'm concerned, my life didn't actually start until I was 2 or so, because I can't remember anything that happened before then; it is a void without experience and thus irrelevant to my awareness.

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As far as I'm concerned, my life didn't actually start until I was 2 or so, because I can't remember anything that happened before then; it is a void without experience and thus irrelevant to my awareness.

You seem to be equating a person's life with with his consciousness. I can understand how it seems that way subjectively. However, since we are discussing the objective basis of values, the subjective view is not appropriate.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Elaborating on the idea of setting an ultimate value other than your own life: What if a value that eventually lead to your alternate ultimate value killed you? Your ultimate value is what you have decided to ultimately work for, but in order to, you have to stay alive. If the other is truely your ultimate value, i.e. you do whatever is absolutely logical to attain that end-in-itself value, then you must keep yourself alive in order to attain it. Even if this means feeding yourself in order to stay alive to even have values. Every value has to make sure that the entity it is benifiting stays around to have the faculty of value, essentially.

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