Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

Why choose to live?

Rate this topic


Veritas
 Share

Recommended Posts

I am reading Leonard Peikoff's book "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" and I am stumped by something. I don't understand his reasoning. Can someone please say what he is saying in a different way or explain this differently so that I can grasp his reasoning?

The question is why should a person chose to remain alive as opposed to not?

He says, "The commitment to remain in th realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment." pg 212

Can anyone clarify please?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My paraphrase (based solely on your quote, because I don't have OPAR on hand) is:

Ethics is the science of action. If one wants to die, go ahead and die; you don't need a body of knowledge laying down principles for action. However, if one is going to live, then one has to continue to act, and that is where the need for ethics arises. The decision to live, (i.e. the decision to engage in ongoing action) is the basic context that makes Ethics necessary.

Edited by softwareNerd
Link to comment
Share on other sites

What softwardNerd said - in the similar manner that one cannot deny reason, because you require a reasonable argument to make an argument against reason; trying to debate requires that you be alive to make that debate - why bother to even make a case against living, if your aim is death? Just simply shut off.

Edited by Tenure
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Another way to put it is that only life-pursuing beings have any reason to ask questions. Even to ask a question is to seek knowledge, and to seek knowledge is an action taken by a purposeful being, i.e. a being whose purpose is life.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yet a fourth way to phrase this is in terms of what "why should" means. An action can only be evaluated in terms of whether it delivers you to a goal. What is that goal? Why that goal -- how do you justify the goal? In terms of another goal? The ultimate, logically most basic goal is "existing" -- if you deny existence, that's the end of the discussion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am reading Leonard Peikoff's book "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" and I am stumped by something. I don't understand his reasoning. Can someone please say what he is saying in a different way or explain this differently so that I can grasp his reasoning?

The question is why should a person chose to remain alive as opposed to not?

He says, "The commitment to remain in th realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment." pg 212

Can anyone clarify please?

Veritas,

I’m glad you asked this question, and I would like to chime in with the others. AYN Rand attacked the issue of ethics by going to the root: to the question of “meta-ethics" Other philosophers have failed to do this, and so this is one of Ayn Rand’s great contributions to philosophy.

There are many contenders, many possible “moralities” which have been postulated by philosophers: The Ten Commandments or ‘seek the greatest good of the greatest number’ or ‘the moral ideal is service to society’, etc, etc, etc. But what do all moralities have in common? Let’s ask Rand’s meta-ethical question: What is morality? You see, instead of merely asking “Which morality is correct?”—she asked, “Just what is a ‘morality’, anyway?” In other words, she went straight to the root of the question.

A basic point: morality—any morality whatsoever—is generally a set of rules of conduct to guide the actions of an individual human being. THIS is what all possible moralities have in common.

Sticking to the root of the issue, Miss Rand asked: why should there be any morality at all? Her question is a normative question. Let’s rearticulate it in a factual proviso: What would happen to a man who practiced no morality? (This echoes Rand’s “immortal robot”) A man who practiced no morality--NO morality at all--would be a man whose behavior was guided by no rules at all... and this man, of course, would die. (This is evidence that the connection between factual and normative statements is MAN’S LIFE). Man needs morality to live. But just any moral system will NOT do it.

As Ayn Rand said: “Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action."

Bottom line: Man ought to do certain things—because they are necessary for him to be. He ‘is’ because he does what he ‘ought.’ If man simply acted in any random manner, he would not be an “is” for too long. A valid moral code must address human needs long-range; it must conceptual the requirements of human survival into an integrated, hierarchically structured, non-contradictory system of rational principles. The conclusion: Such a code must hold human life as its standard of value.

-Victor

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The following is my own position. If one were to ask what are the origins of the fundamental choice to live, one might observe that human beings tend to want to live so long as they recognize sufficient opportunities for success. This would explain the relationship between hopelessness and suicide. Excluding the mentally ill (whose faculty of reason is impaired), one will want to live unless one is confronted with no possibility of a fulfilling life, as in the case of irreversible loss or injury, chronic untreatable pain, or the like.

To put it simply: If one is alive and conceives that he is able to continue living (in the Objectivist sense, i.e. flourishing), then he will choose to do so.

Note the central role of cognition: for humans, it is necessary to conceive of a way to success. This of course parallels the fact that reason is man's means of achieving it. When one can no longer conceive of a way to succeed, one will no longer try.

To put it still another way: Ethics is proper to those for whom life is an option. If it isn't, then ethics does not apply. When existence has already been denied, one's "choice" to not live is merely a recognition of this fact. So that what we call the fundamental "choice" of whether or live or not live is actually a fact, an answer to the question: can I live?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am reading Leonard Peikoff's book "Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand" and I am stumped by something. I don't understand his reasoning. Can someone please say what he is saying in a different way or explain this differently so that I can grasp his reasoning?

The question is why should a person chose to remain alive as opposed to not?

He says, "The commitment to remain in th realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment." pg 212

Can anyone clarify please?

My first response is to say that you're confused because you're missing the actual point of that entire section. The section you draw that quote from is about why it is the existence of life and the possibility of its loss are preconditions of value. So far the reasoning can apply to any living creature, where genetic and parental programming for creatures other than man automatically make it act to pursue value so as to live. Your question relates specifically to volitional creatures, the only ones to whom the question of 'why' has any actual meaning. That issue doesn't even get raised until the next section, starting a full page and a half after your quoted words, and your issue doesn't get answered until the section after that (which starts on page 229.)

Now, recall that at the beginning of Chapter 7 Dr Peikoff posed three questions? The first two questions and answers implicitly presume that the reader wants to live, which is a perfectly rational assumption to make for most (Western) people, and so he then goes on to explain how to judge value and how to decide courses of action. It is not until the answer to the third question - for whose benefit should I act? - that your particular question is dealt with explicitly. The simple answer is because you can - and SHOULD! - benefit from your virtuous, life-affirming actions (p230): "Each individual must choose his values and actions by the standard of man's life - in order to achieve the purpose of maintaining and enjoying his own life. Thus Objectivism advocates egoism - the pursuit of self-interest - the policy of selfishness." Later in this section, he goes onto raise the issue of what of those who choose not to live, and shows why it is rational in some cases to make such a choice.

Thus the answer to your question - which is fully dealt with in its own entire chapter! - is simply this: a volitional creature should choose to live, and as a consequence find itself in need of knowledge of a standard of value and system of virtue, because happiness is possible. Life generally is an end in itself, and in application to volitional creatures it is the happy life that is an end in itself.

Enjoy!

JJM

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yet a fourth way to phrase this is in terms of what "why should" means. An action can only be evaluated in terms of whether it delivers you to a goal. What is that goal? Why that goal -- how do you justify the goal? In terms of another goal? The ultimate, logically most basic goal is "existing" -- if you deny existence, that's the end of the discussion.

How about people contemplating suicide. Their goal is (apparently) to no longer exist. On the other hand one must exist to no longer want to exist.

Bob Kolker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

How about people contemplating suicide. Their goal is (apparently) to no longer exist. On the other hand one must exist to no longer want to exist.
You seem to be asking about people who have decided to commit suicide rather than people contemplating it. Why would they need Ethics? Why aren't they dead already? Not sure what point you're making.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

How about people contemplating suicide. Their goal is (apparently) to no longer exist. On the other hand one must exist to no longer want to exist.

Contemplating suicide suggests that they are undecided, not that they have set a goal. A person contemplating suicide could possibly still be shown reasons why remaining alive could be a better goal.

Dissatisfaction with Rand's metaethics and her response the very question you're asking is what ultimately made me reject Objectivism several years ago. I'm in the midst of formalizing it as expressed in OPAR ch. 7 so that I can assemble a critique of it.

Why would you want to participate on a board dedicated to Objectivism if you reject the philosophy?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Contemplating suicide suggests that they are undecided, not that they have set a goal. A person contemplating suicide could possibly still be shown reasons why remaining alive could be a better goal.

Why would you want to participate on a board dedicated to Objectivism if you reject the philosophy?

Youse guys raise the interesting questions. I do not consider Objectivism as a package deal (sound familiar?). I concur with the Objectivists on the issue of capitalism and economic freedom. I have been pro-capitalist since the age of 23 (48 years ago) and I managed to be so without any help from Ayn Rand. When I did get to read what Ayn Rand wrote at the age of 24 (I read -Atlas Shrugged-) I was quite impressed. Finally(!!!), I thought, someone who is as smart as I am. So call me a sympathizer on matters political and economic. I do not have to buy the epistemology or metaphyics in toto.

I subscribe to Reality Lite (my own version which I formulated when I was 21 years old, about 50 years ago). Reality Lite == There is an Out There out there and we are endowed by our evolved biological nature to perceive and grasp part of that reality. A portion of reality sufficient so that we can survive on this planet and even have fun doing so. Ayn Rand did not invent the primacy of existence. I did (along with millions of other people). She wrote about it, I didn't. So she gets the credit and I don't.

My motto: Facts Rule, Theories Serve.

My Other Motto: Nature does not give a damn what we think or what we do not think, but how and if we survive depends on whether we do think. I was operating on this principle long before I read a word of Ayn Rand.

The closest thing I have to a sincerely held religious principle are the words of Rabbi Hillel. If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? I not now, then when? (Perke Avot I 15). As you can see one can have a religious principle without being self destructive or stupid.

You don't have to be an Objectivist to be smart.

Bob Kolker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I do not consider Objectivism as a package deal (sound familiar?).
But even by your own "Reality when convenient" standard, you have to admit that in reality, Objectivism is a package deal. You may decide that you like some aspects of it but some irrational aspect makes you reject the epistemology: but still, Objectivism is what it is, and the fact that you reject Objectivism doesn't change what it is.
My motto: Facts Rule, Theories Serve.
Liar. It's "Shut up and compute". Also, in politics, it's "Rise up early in the morning and rip their heads off".
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I subscribe to Reality Lite (my own version which I formulated when I was 21 years old, about 50 years ago). Reality Lite == There is an Out There out there and we are endowed by our evolved biological nature to perceive and grasp part of that reality. A portion of reality sufficient so that we can survive on this planet and even have fun doing so. Ayn Rand did not invent the primacy of existence. I did (along with millions of other people). She wrote about it, I didn't. So she gets the credit and I don't.

But since you only get a portion of reality, you could be wrong. That portion that you don't get could be why you reject Objectivism. :)

You can have the Lite version, I guess it's less filling. I'll take the Full version, it tastes great!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But even by your own "Reality when convenient" standard, you have to admit that in reality, Objectivism is a package deal. You may decide that you like some aspects of it but some irrational aspect makes you reject the epistemology: but still, Objectivism is what it is, and the fact that you reject Objectivism doesn't change what it is.Liar. It's "Shut up and compute". Also, in politics, it's "Rise up early in the morning and rip their heads off".

Those are merely consequences. It is the Facts that lead me to the other conclusions.

And let us get the quotations right, shall we? If he comes to kill you, rise up early and slay him first. This is from the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72A. Ripping their heads off is necessary only if you wish to shit down their necks. Frankly, I am getting too old for violent emotions. I would settle for dispatching my enemies (along with massive collateral damage) by nuclear weapons launched in cold blood. As the Klingons say: Revenge is a dish best eaten cold. Hating takes too much energy and causes indigestion. On the other hand, pest removal can be done in sange froid. Also in vollstaendige freude.

"Shut up and compute" is applicable to quantum physics where the theory is at odds with intuition and "common sense". Dirac, for example, trusted his mathematics and predicted the existence of anti-matter. This was the first instance of a specific substance accounted for by theory -before- the experimental facts were in hand. The following year, anti-electrons were discovered experimentally. Later on Wolfgang Pauli predicted neutrinos, for mathematical reasons. It took over 20 years to corrobarate his prediction.Sometimes Theory serves very well, indeed. But Facts ueber alles. Which is not so far from your creed: Existence exists. It sure does! Facts are not propositions. Facts are not statements. Facts are not axioms. Facts are.

Bob Kolker

Edited by Robert J. Kolker
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Why would you want to participate on a board dedicated to Objectivism if you reject the philosophy?

For the same reasons one might read and discuss the work of any philosopher one disagrees with.

It's part of a process of engagement with views that challenge one's own, a process which helps one in arriving at the truth.

It sharpens rhetorical, logical and exegetical skills.

I entertain the possibility of my own fallibility.

Are you suggesting that simply because you disagree with some view you can't derive any value from discussion of it?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Are you suggesting that simply because you disagree with some view you can't derive any value from discussion of it?

The question was an inquiry. There was no suggestion on insinuation in it. There are a variety of other reasons beyond the one you mentioned that non-Objectivist participate on here as well; I was simply asking your reasons.

That said, you should limit your arguments against Objectivism or aspects of it to the Debate sub-forum as per the forum rules.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To get back to topic:

A primary choice does not mean an "arbitrary," "whimsical," or "groundless" choice. There are grounds for a (certain) primary choice, and those grounds are reality--all of it. The choice to live, as we have seen, is the choice to accept the realm of reality. This choice is not only not arbitrary. It is the precondition of criticizing the arbitrary; it is the base of reason.

A man who would throw away his life without cause, who would reject the universe on principle and embrace a zero for its own sake--such a man, according to Objectivism, would belong on the lowest rung of hell. His action would indicate so profound a hatred--of himself, of values, of reality--that he would have to be condemned by any human being as a monster. The moment he would announce his decision seriously he would be disqualified as an object of intellectual debate. One cannot argue with or about a walking corpse, who has just consigned himself to the void--the void of the nonconscious, the nonethical, the non-anything.

Note the use of the conditional mood in the second paragraph. It is a counterfactual hypothetical: there IS no man who does not wish to live qua man. Man has no choice about the fact that life is a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action. Even someone to whom life qua man is not possible and chooses to die would wish that he could live qua man.

There are only those who have been failing at life and seek to evade their failure by questioning whether life is a goal at all.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To get back to topic:

Note the use of the conditional mood in the second paragraph. It is a counterfactual hypothetical: there IS no man who does not wish to live qua man. Man has no choice about the fact that life is a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action. Even someone to whom life qua man is not possible and chooses to die would wish that he could live qua man.

There are only those who have been failing at life and seek to evade their failure by questioning whether life is a goal at all.

Life is NOT self sustaining. It requires an external energy source. There are some steady state processes that are maintained given sufficient energy. Our bodies are heat engines and they are subject to the same thermodynamical laws a locomotives, airplanes and electric motors. Energy in, some physical work is achieved, the rest of the energy is dumped as waste energy. Just like any other heat engine.

Bob Kolker

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Life is NOT self sustaining.

How is this meant to address the quoted statement? He does not make the statement that life is self-sustaining. His statement is that life IS a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action. Man has no choice but to accept that IF he wishes to live, he must do something to make it happen.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

He does not make the statement that life is self-sustaining. His statement is that life IS a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action.

Yes; in other words, I am saying life involves taking action to sustain oneself (by seeking out external sources of energy etc.), not that life requires no external source of energy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

About the question of the thread: "Why choose to live?"

I just wanted to make this question more "down to earth" by giving it the right context; the actual phase in life that a man can face this question.

As a baby and a child, a human being's mind is not mature enough to understand the concept of their own mortality. Children understand what pain is, but at a really young age, I doubt that children are able to understand what death is.

Like every other subject, it requires learning and conceptualization.

So until a person understands the concept of their own existence, and the concept of death, and knows how to end their own life, the question of choice does not exist for them. They perform the actions required to live, but it's not because of a fully informed choice, but rather a default behavior that is pleasant for them (Once they learn that eating eliminates the sensation of hunger they seek food when hungry. Not because they know it keeps them alive, but because it feels good).

Once a human being's mind is developed enough, and they understand the concept of their own existence and how food relates to it, then the choice to eat becomes a conscious choice to sustain their life.

At this point a human being already has some image of the world, themselves, and are making the decision to exist or to stop their existence according to what they think is possible for them or not. For example, if someone at this point of his life thinks that they are worthless, or that the world is evil, and that they can never achieve happiness, they will choose to kill themselves. So I think that the question "why choose to live", in it's appropriate context, is a psychological question, and not a philosophical one.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The question is why should a person chose to remain alive as opposed to not? He says, "The commitment to remain in th realm of that which is is precisely what cannot be debated; because all debate (and all validation) takes place within that realm and rests on that commitment." pg 212 Can anyone clarify please?

Peikoff is not saying that you should choose life instead of death. Although he does say that it would be wrong to choose death before life, without any reason, he does not explicitly make the case that you should choose life. He says that there *are* reasons for choosing life. But what does are is only implied.

Let me therefore try to "flesh out" this.

In OPAR Peikoff says that non-existence is nothing and can therefore not be viewed as an alternative to existence in the same sense as Ford is an alternative to Mercedes-Benz. So while you could say that a car from Ford has some benefits and that a car from Mercedes-Benz has some disadvantages, you could not *rationally* say that non-existence (death) has some "benefits" and that you then have consider against some "disadvantages" of life. That would be impossible and irrational. "Non-existence" *is* "nothing" with all that this implies.

Remember also that life is the source of all values: values are only possible (and necessary) for living beings and only if they want to live. If you, for whatever reason, choose life then life becomes the standard of value. So whatever argument you could make in favor of choosing life *instead* of death, that argument would only be possible if you've already made the (implicit) choice to live. So whatever you say in favor of life will assume that you are committed to remain in the realm of existence.

Another way of stating the same point is to say that while you could give a whole bunch of various reasons for choosing life, you could never come up with "The ultimate reason". The closest thing you could come up with is perhaps something like: "life itself" or "existence in its totality". Why? Because whatever reasons you come up with they will by necessity have to relate to life *in one way or another*. (And they would, as I stated above, all assume that you alreday want to live, otherwise you wouldn't have any standard of value to go by.) It is inescapable.

This is what is being meant, I think, by Peikoffs correct statement that all debate and all validation of the choice to live takes place within the realm of existence and rests on that commitment. And this is why it cannot be debated in the same sense as you could have a debate about whether to vote for Bush or for Kerry, or whether you should buy a computer from Apple or from IBM, or whether you should buy a car from Ford or from Mercedes-Benz.

Edited by knast
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
×
×
  • Create New...