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Physical life vs. "Life as a man"

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If it is for reasons beyond "mere survival," then why?

I think it's because we have physical and non-physical aspects to us, and we face the fundamental alternative as a whole. So it's not just physical survival - it's survival of *you* as a whole. Which means survival of your individuality in some sense - so you need self esteem and indepedence to enable that.

Edited by ian
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Am I understanding this properly?

1) Man must want to not only live, but live with happiness.

2) Happiness is only achievable through man qua man.

What do you mean by "this"? Are you asking whether you understand the Objectivist view properly? If that's your summary, no. Living, or existing, meaning existing as something -- "qua man". If you live qua man, that will result in the cognitive state known as happiness. You have inverted the relationship: happiness is a consequence, not a primary goal. No philosophy that I know of holds that happiness is a primary goal; at best, simple animal pleasure is a primary goal, for hedonists.
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When one asks you "why do you care about doing X, when all you need to survive is Y." You tell them: "because that's what I am. Live man qua man!"

This is hardly satisfactory. So why live "man qua man"?

So far it is vaguely linked to survival, and vaguely linked to long-term-feelings of pleasure (happiness), but none of them seem to be the reason to live "man qua man" over just survival. Again, this is how I've understood the responses:

ME: Why should I live man qua man as opposed to living for just survival?

RESPONDERS: Because you wouldn't be happy.

ME: So I'm living for happiness?

RESPONDERS: No. Happiness is only the consequece of living man qua man.

(Rinse and repeat the original question)

Do you see how this is confusing me?

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Man is the only being on this planet that is capable of holding values and seeking to achieve values. But if one wishes to achieve values, one must act in accordance with his nature, i.e. must "live man qua man". Man cannot achieve values by trying to act as a cow, a bush, a rock or as anything other than human, not if he wishes to gain and keep his values, or for that matter to live. He is a man, his life and his values require that he act that way, he cannot succeed by living in any other way.

Happiness is the consequence of living qua man and achieving values, of knowing that one is fit to live on this earth as one should, as a moral person capable of achieving and enjoying values. It is not what a man seeks primarily, a man seeks to fulfill values, if they are proper values and if he achieves the morally he will be happy as a result. he will know this, he will know that he will be happy if he seeks and achieves his values, and this gives him more reason to achieve values.

He knows that to seek happiness directly should not be his goal, happiness like anything else must have a cause, he must earn it. So if he seeks happiness he must act rationally, morally to achieve his goals, then happiness will follow. But happiness is NOT his prime goal, but a consequence that motivates him to never forsake seeking values.

I know theres a little repetition in there, but I hope it is clear this time...

Edited by Prometheus98876
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Man is the only being on this planet that is capable of holding values and seeking to achieve values. But if one wishes to achieve values, one must act in accordance with his nature, i.e. must "live man qua man". Man cannot achieve values by trying to act as a cow, a bush, a rock or as anything other than human, not if he wishes to gain and keep his values, or for that matter to live. He is a man, his life and his values require that he act that way, he cannot succeed by living in any other way.

Happiness is the consequence of living qua man and achieving values, of knowing that one is fit to live on this earth as one should, as a moral person capable of achieving and enjoying values. It is not what a man seeks primarily, a man seeks to fulfill values, if they are proper values and if he achieves the morally he will be happy as a result. he will know this, he will know that he will be happy if he seeks and achieves his values, and this gives him more reason to achieve values.

He knows that to seek happiness directly should not be his goal, happiness like anything else must have a cause, he must earn it. So if he seeks happiness he must act rationally, morally to achieve his goals, then happiness will follow. But happiness is NOT his prime goal, but a consequence that motivates him to never forsake seeking values.

I know theres a little repetition in there, but I hope it is clear this time...

Yes, that is it exactly. Well, said, Dwayne. However, I doubt it will clarify things for him if previous posts are anything to go by.

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When one asks you "why do you care about doing X, when all you need to survive is Y." You tell them: "because that's what I am. Live man qua man!"

This is hardly satisfactory. So why live "man qua man"?

Living as a man means choosing your values. You cannot escape the fact that you are a choice-maker. You have volition. You even need to choose to live, because you always have the option of committing suicide.

Man is not a subjectivist merely because he must choose his own values. He is a subjectivist when he believes that whatever he chooses is the good simply because it is his whim.

An Objectivist chooses objective values, meaning he chooses to pursue that which is actually, in reality, good for him, regardless of personal whim or feelings. An Objectivist uses reason and science, not emotion and faith, to determine what is good for him.

How much of the good life you pursue is up to you. As long as you don't violate my rights, I don't care if you hook yourself up to a life-support machine and watch reruns of Gilligan's Island all day and night. It's your life.

Edited by MisterSwig
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An Objectivist chooses objective values, meaning he chooses to pursue that which is actually, in reality, good for him, regardless of personal whim or feelings. An Objectivist uses reason and science, not emotion and faith, to determine what is good for him.

This is an excellent point which ties into another important point about choosing values. It is, that such choices derive from discoveries about our own metaphysically-given natures. To put it another way, our choices matter in the context of circumstances that we cannot choose. So for example, since we did not choose to be human as opposed to plant or other animal (that being a metaphysically given fact of our natures), our choice of values must be proper to life as a human, that is, qua man. Or, as Ayn Rand put it, "nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed".

Objectivism in no way commands anyone to live a life-by-machine, sacrificing one's own values and rational self-interest in the process, contrary to what human nature requires. A gross misunderstanding of human nature and its central role in Objectivist ethics seems to be the root of the problem. One may argue (incorrectly) that a life-by-machine is consistent with human nature, but not to say that Objectivism compels that result!

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ME: Why should I live man qua man as opposed to living for just survival?

Because that would be arbitrary (living just for survival). It is all of you that faces the alternative of existence or non-existence. On what basis does one pick and choose? On what basis does one say "I will focus on my physical needs and the rest be damned?"

Edited by ian
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All I know is that Rand said life, whether in plants, animals, or man, is biologically the highest possible value (it also makes other values possible). I don't understand her jump from this (which seems to be just physical life) to live life "man qua man."

Many people have trouble going from the is to the ought, from the given facts of reality to "what should I do". This was Ayn Rand's greatest intellectual achievement, the development and proof of an objective morality which up until then was considered impossible. It is important to understand Ayn Rand's method for answering all such questions because it is reflected constantly in her writing. Understanding her method will greatly improve your comprehension of her writing. Her method is always: look at reality -- what are the facts (metaphysics), apply reason (epistemology), arrive at a universal principle intended to further human life (ethics).

Do you see that your question sits on two different levels?: life is the highest possible value as opposed to why should I live as man qua man.

The facts:

- only living things value

- there is no value apart from life

- life is the highest value

- man is a creature with a certain identity

- man has volition

- man must act in order to survive

- all of man's actions originate in his mind

- man's basic means of survival is his rational faculty

It is a fact that in order to value you must be alive, so remaining alive is very important. But it is also a fact that man has volition and he must choose how to live. Would you enjoy living as a slave or would you rather die fighting to escape your oppressor? Would you rather live the last year of your life in constant pain or would you call Dr Kevorkian?

A should presupposes a choice. When you ask: why should I do a certain thing, what you are really asking is: why should I do this particular thing as opposed to this other thing, this is the province of ethics. So when you ask: why should I live as man qua man, what you are really asking is: why should I choose to act as man qua man as opposed to man qua vegetable (hooked-up to a life support machine) or as man qua animal (dictator or thief).

Ask yourself: can I be happy as a vegetable? Never acting volitionally to achieve values, never knowing the satisfaction of achieving values, never playing sports or playing with your kids. Growing roots through your bedsores and IV's you don't enjoy the taste of food. Ideas don't matter because you cannot act on them. Everyone pities you.

Can you be happy as a dictator? Force is how you deal with people. Every person who comes in contact with you fears you. Every woman you summon despises you and wishes you dead. Love and benevolence are non-existent, in their place is hatred and malevolence. You are responsible for the unnecessary deaths of millions. You have declared your mind and rationality in general impotent. You fear everyone and everything including reality itself.

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Wow, excellent post Marc K. If I'm understanding you correctly, it's that in the process of living I should strive to enjoy it. In other words, I could live qua vegetable or qua animal but I would be miserable. Since I am a man I should thus live qua man in order to get the fullest satisfaction. I still see this as valuing happiness, the consequence of living qua man, over life itself (especially since you implied you would call Dr. Kavorkian if you were in constant pain).

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Mb, your reply doesn't address these three critical points:

- man must act in order to survive

- all of man's actions originate in his mind

- man's basic means of survival is his rational faculty

Also, you have yet to address my post. It is not simply a matter of happiness. It is a matter of mental health.

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If life is the only ultimate value, why does it matter whether I am living as an independent man with purpose, self-esteem, etc. when I could be hooked up to a machine that breathes and nourishes me?

Because you are using the word "life" to denote a different concept than what Rand was using in that statement "life is the ultimate value", which indeed generates self-contradictions when you try to apply it with your meaning of life.

Objectivists often claim that it is not mere survival that morality is for, but for living as "man qua man." I don't understand why this is necessary.

The criterion of what is good or bad for every organism is what supports or goes against it's existence (life) - when by "existence" the meaning is all the aspects of it's existence. For plants this means mere physical existence, for animals it means some cognitive and emotional existence as well, etc'.

"Life qua man" refers to all the aspects of existence of man. The main 2 groups of existence are physical and spiritual. On the spiritual level, man has certain basic cognitive abilities, emotions and psychological needs. To create code of behavior that refers to some aspect of man's existence while ignoring others is to create a moral code which is incompatible with man's nature. Man's nature is such that it is both spiritual (with certain basic attributes) and physical.

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It's also a fact that this physical survival thing doesn't work. The truth is that the conditions of life change constantly: no one can "solve" the problem of living forever and ever. Think of it this way: suppose you were able to calculate exactly how much food, water, etc. every man would need, along with exactly how much "work" they'd have to put into some "system" you designed. Then you lobotomized everyone on the planet so that they could only perform their basic functions ad aeternum. What would happen?

Some unexpected thing would come up and wipe out the entire human race. A new disease. A meteor. An earthquake. A volcano. SOMETHING.

In order to ensure a man's physical survival you actually first have to leave him free to use his mind, because that is his means of physical survival. And using his mind to fulfill his needs will result in happiness and flourishing. The two cannot be separated successfully, any more than existence and identity can be separated. They are just two different ways of looking at the same thing.

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What to make though of how easily the very notion of "physical survival", for a human, is given a serious thought? Conceptually this should be easy to dismiss, but somehow the point is raised again and again (and answered here, again and again). One common explanation is to point to "The Objectivist Ethics" and its alleged "leap" from living organism to qua man (i.e. blame Rand for the mix-up), but this simply won't do. TOE is very clear provided one is capable of grasping conceptual hierarchies - which any child capable of knowing that a dog is a type of animal, can do.

I suspect something much more wicked: the acceptance of the Marxist idea that humans have certain basic survival necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, while anything more is a luxury: survival is only physical and momentary, and man is a mindless brute. In a way, just entertaining the idea by asking the question is a striking confession of one's own errors: a serious intellectual mistake at least, and probably much worse when one continues to fail to grasp the point even after it's been repeatedly explained.

It is absolutely essential to grasp that flourishing qua man is every bit as necessary, for man, as the "basic" needs the Marxists would approve of - that "physical life", for humans, is not a basic necessity upon which the rest is a nice add-on, but an oxymoron, the equivalent of asking "living death vs. life as a man?". If I could get mb121 to grasp just one idea here, it would be that.

Edited by Seeker
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If one stipulates that man is an organism of a specific nature, and cannot arbitrarily decide what will make him happy, then -- within that stipulation -- saying that "happiness is man's highest moral purpose" (Galt's speech) is a great informal conclusion. However, it is not an explanation or an argument, just a summary. If that's all one says, it raises the question of: what brings happiness? It does not provide direction, it only speaks of the results. (Or, it's misinterpreted to mean that man may act in any way whatsoever and still be happy.)

To find the causal chain, one has to approach the subject like a scientist -- like a biologist. Observe living things, looking for the following: action, value and life. What does each of these consist of and how they are related? Life is not just a state, it's a process: a process of action -- eating, photosynthesis, breathing, thinking, talking, swimming. Life is action. Actions are goal-directed. For instance, there is a goal (not a conscious goal, but an end) to photosynthesis. Actions are mean to ends. These ends are often means to other ends. When one examines the actions of living beings (i.e. the values they pursue) and looks for the end, working the chain of "what for" step-by-step down to the root cause, one finds that the final end is life itself. Not some abstract life, but the particular form of life that has come about through evolution, for that particular species; life as a particular plant requires particular values, life as an amoeba requires a different set, life as a tiger, a deer, and a human... all these require their own sets of values.

A plant that gets less sun than it needs may not die, but it may remain a perpetual shade of yellow, and stunted. Such a plant is not getting something that is of value to its life qua plant. There's a certain mix of values (with many optional substitute mixes) that will make a certain plant thrive. To use an anthropomorphism, one might say there are certain mixes of values that make a plant "happy".

All this does not yet point to the specific values that humans must pursue, but it sets the direction better than the vague idea of the "pursuit of happiness". It sets the stage for the ethicist to ask the next question: what is the organism called man? what is his nature and specific requirements? But, that leads to a whole different topic.

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I suspect something much more wicked: the acceptance of the Marxist idea that humans have certain basic survival necessities like food, clothing, and shelter, while anything more is a luxury: survival is only physical and momentary, and man is a mindless brute.

I think it might be monism. They hear us talking about man qua man, but they think man is just a lump of meat, so they can't understand how we "get to" man qua man from pure physical survival.

But of course we don't "get to" it at all, we start at it, because we see man as an entity with many aspects in the first place. As JMeganSnow said, we don't separate existence from identity.

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In other words, I could live qua vegetable or qua animal but I would be miserable.

As we all know, (and I thought you had acknowledged) happiness is a consequence of achieving rational values. So when I asked if you could be happy as a vegetable or a dictator I was trying to get you to work backwards from a state of unhappiness.

The fact is that you CANNOT survive as a plant or animal. Living as an animal would require you to renounce your conceptual faculty and compete with the wolves for food. Living as a plant would require you to destroy your conceptual and perceptual apparatus in the hope that if someone plants you outside you will survive. Both of these approaches lead to certain death and to the degree that one is able to survive in either one of these states, someone else is living for them.

Since I am a man I should thus live qua man in order to get the fullest satisfaction. I still see this as valuing happiness, the consequence of living qua man, over life itself

As I think JMeganSnow said and I will reiterate: life and happiness are aspects of the same thing. If you pursue rational values and practice rational virtues you will be doing the things required for your survival. Concomitantly, you will also be doing the things which will make you happy. [Thank you Peter Schwartz]

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However, I doubt it will clarify things for him if previous posts are anything to go by.

I honestly do not see the necessity for condescension here. Both the principles "Life as an end in itself" and "Life as the standard of value" are certainly not obvious. If they were, then there would not be sections in OPAR or lectures in Dr. Peikoff's OAC courses devoted to their elucidation.

If you wish to promote Objectivism to others, it is important to distinguish between honest inquiries from individuals who are still ruminating the more difficult concepts and individuals who are either opposed to principles, unnecessarily argumentative, intellectually dishonest or just downright cognitively lazy. Please show more understanding towards individuals who are relatively new to Objectivism.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Other people on this forum have propably already answered you. Even though that propably is the case, I would still like to answer your questions in my own way.

Let me begin by saying that there seems to be three issues here, that I think you might have mixed up.

First: Survival vs Happiness.

Second: The meaning of holding the survival of man qua man as the standard of value.

Third: Why would it matter to merely "survive" instead of surviving in a flourishing way?

The first issue, the issue of survival vs happiness, is something a lot of people for some reason have a lot of trouble understanding properly. I don't know why or how, but for some reason, that is the case. I assume that you have not read The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand? I assume that you have not read it because the answer for all of your questions is there. In case you have read it but still managed to miss the relevant paragraphs, I would like to quote directly from "The Objectivist Ethics":

In psychological terms, the issue of man's survival does not confront his consciousness as an issue of "life or death," but as an issue of "happiness or suffering." Happiness is the successful state of life, suffering is the warning signal of failure, of death ... Happiness is the state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievements of one's values. (The Virtue of Selfishness, pp 27-28.)

Now this is, I admit, very condensed writing. But it does answer the first issue, namely how one should properly understand the relationship between survival and happiness. If one understands that there not only is no conflict between the two and that, in fact, they are the very same thing, i.e., that to live in a flourishing manner, i.e., a life-promoting manner is, emotionally experienced and rewarded with the psychological state of being happy.

Let us now deal with the second issue, the issue of holding the survival of man qua man as the standard of value. Once more, this is a issue a lot of people for some reason have trouble understanding properly - or understanding at all. Some people erroneously seem to think that this is to say it's one thing to merely survive and an entirely different thing all together to survive qua man. That is now at all what is being said or meant here.

What is being said here is that you simply can't survive if you attempt to act against your own nature, i.e., your nature as a rational being. Now that may seem somewhat trivial. But the thing is that when you attempt to survive without acting like a rational being, that is, without actually using your mind as your primary and fundamental instrument of survival, you will not make it. Not in the long run.

Just like every other life form man has a particular nature, and it is his nature which determines what his survival demands out of him. Basically man can't survive while attempting to live on the perceptual level of consciousness. I.e., on the level of an animal. Not if he is to survive long term. In order to achieve long term survival, he has to use his mind, his faculty of reason, to think generalize, form concepts. He need to discover and validate the rational principles which defines the kind of actions that actually promotes his life.

If you haven't read Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff, then do it. He deals with this and many other related issues thoroughly.

Now over to the third issue: Why would it matter to merely "survive" instead of surviving in a flourishing way? Or as you stated the same question more concretely: "If life is the only ultimate value, why does it matter whether I am living as an independent man with purpose, self-esteem, etc. when I could be hooked up to a machine that breathes and nourishes me?"

Life is the ultimate value. But that is also what makes it the standard of value. The ultimate end determines the standard of value. This means, in this case, that the standard of value here is life. That is to say: you determine whether or not life is being worth the trouble with LIFE ITSELF as the standard of value. Which means: the value of the ultimate value, life, is being estimated with life as the standard of value.

Now, at a first glance, this might seem circular, but it really isn't. Here's a clue as to why that isn't the case: Is it "circular" to conclude that one meter is equal to a meter? Of course not. Similarly it is not anymore "circular" to measure the value of your own life with life as the standard of value. Also, notice that you can measure the value of one dollar in terms of dollars.

Basically the answer here is that if you conclude that it is not longer possible for you to achieve happiness, i.e., to live in a life-promoting way, i.e., a flourishing way, then fighting to stay alive is not worth the trouble any longer. This is usually the case when you can't live as a *human being* any longer. I.e., when you live qua man, i.e., qua rational being. It might be in a concentration camp or, which is the case here, when you've been reduced to a "human vegetable".

Now whether or not you should live as a human "vegetable" or not, is up to you. Nobody else can answer it for you. I would not like to live like that. I would not consider such a life good.

I hope my answer have been to some help for you.

Edited by knast
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Good post, Knast.

I have a question and a comment:

What is being said here is that you simply can't survive if you attempt to act against your own nature, i.e., your nature as a rational being.

...

Just like every other life form man has a particular nature, and it is his nature which determines what his survival demands out of him. Basically man can't survive while attempting to live on the perceptual level of consciousness. I.e., on the level of an animal. Not if he is to survive long term. In order to achieve long term survival, he has to use his mind, his faculty of reason, to think generalize, form concepts. He need to discover and validate the rational principles which defines the kind of actions that actually promotes his life.

What you said sounds like physical survival is the ultimate value, but only a life according to one's nature can allow physical survival, and are therefor good by the mercy of serving this final goal.

But as I understand it, that is not true; the ultimate value is not physical survival, but the survival of all the aspects of your existence, including your consciousness.

Now over to the third issue: Why would it matter to merely "survive" instead of surviving in a flourishing way? Or as you stated the same question more concretely: "If life is the only ultimate value, why does it matter whether I am living as an independent man with purpose, self-esteem, etc. when I could be hooked up to a machine that breathes and nourishes me?"

Life is the ultimate value. But that is also what makes it the standard of value. The ultimate end determines the standard of value. This means, in this case, that the standard of value here is life. That is to say: you determine whether or not life is being worth the trouble with LIFE ITSELF as the standard of value. Which means: the value of the ultimate value, life, is being estimated with life as the standard of value.

I understand the 1dollar=1dollar idea you presented, I just don't see how this is an answer to the question he raised ("Why would it matter to merely "survive" instead of surviving in a flourishing way?").

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What you said sounds like physical survival is the ultimate value, but only a life according to one's nature can allow physical survival, and are therefor good by the mercy of serving this final goal. But as I understand it, that is not true; the ultimate value is not physical survival, but the survival of all the aspects of your existence, including your consciousness.

It may sound like I am only talking about the physical survival. But that is not what I meant. So you are absolutely correct. It is not the mere (and short-term) physical survival that is interesting here, it is the long-term survival of a WHOLE man: body and soul. Or as you put it: "the [long-term] survival of all the aspects of your existence". This is how Ayn Rand herself puts it in the Virtue of Selfishness. Leonard Peikoff (OPAR) and Tara Smith (Viable Values) says the same thing.

(It is, by the way, important to emphasize that we are talking about the *long-term* survival here because if we were only to survive for the moment, the "here and now", without any regard for the future, then we wouldn't need any moral principles. Our perceptual level of consciousness would propably do. See OPAR for a further elaboration of this issue.)

I understand the 1dollar=1dollar idea you presented, I just don't see how this is an answer to the question he raised ("Why would it matter to merely "survive" instead of surviving in a flourishing way?").

I may have misunderstood the original question. But the point I was trying to make was that you can not answer the question, as I understood it, without trying to put some value on your state of life. A bad life is not worth living, but a good life is. But what then is a good life? How do you tell a good life from a bad life? By the same standard that you determine any value, by the standard of (man's) life.

According to the standard of life, that which furthers your life is good and that which harms your life is bad. To live a good life, i.e., a flourishing and happy life, is therefore to live a *life-promoting* life. (Notice above all the things that I have said that happiness itself is a *life-promoting* state of life. Happiness is not only the reward of proper living, it is further a life-promoting *value*.) Now ask yourself: Is it possible to promote your life (*whole life* defined as above) if you are in a concentration camp? Is it a worthy life? Is it a worthy life to be a "human vegetable"?

So, I am trying to answer the question by stating that you can say that it does not matter to merely physically survive INSTEAD of surviving in a flourishing way, because it is not worth the trouble. It is not a good life. And besides, since it is not a good life, that is a life-promoting life, it is in fact not even possible. A flourishing or happy life is the reward of proper living, of *life-promoting* living. Thus, to be *unable* to flourish or achieve happiness (because you're a human vegetable or a prisoner in a concentration camp or something of that order) is therefore just another way of saying that life is not possible anymore. All that is possible is a slow horrible death where all you can expect is suffering and misery as a result.

In the case of a "human vegetable" you may not experience unhappiness, but a man who is in that sorry state, is propably to be viewed as already dead, namely "dead inside", i.e., psychologically dead, since the *person* is no more. See the Terri Schiavo case here.

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So, I am trying to answer the question by stating that you can say that it does not matter to merely physically survive INSTEAD of surviving in a flourishing way, because it is not worth the trouble. It is not a good life. And besides, since it is not a good life, that is a life-promoting life, it is in fact not even possible. A flourishing or happy life is the reward of proper living, of *life-promoting* living. Thus, to be *unable* to flourish or achieve happiness (because you're a human vegetable or a prisoner in a concentration camp or something of that order) is therefore just another way of saying that life is not possible anymore. All that is possible is a slow horrible death where all you can expect is suffering and misery as a result.

A prisoner can live with the hope that someday he will escape or be liberated. If this were not the case then prisoners should commit suicide at their earliest opportunity or convenience.

I am not sure one can say absolutely in all cases what is a good life or a bad life. One can always say which kind of life he would -prefer- and which kind he would not prefer

Bob Kolker

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