Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Why Choose to Live?

Posted by Jerry on August 8, 2007

In the ensuing discussion on Ayn Rand on a liberal blog that I linked to in my previous post, a commentor–apparently sympathetic to Objectivism–made the following remark:

There is nothing that I’ve read in Objectivist literature that suggests that the philosophy dictates that one ought to *want* to live; the philosophy begins after that fact has been decided by the individual. The choice to live is prior to any philosophy (could one “love wisdom”, but not want to live?). But in particular, Objectivism is explicitly a philosophy for living life.

I think this issue needs to be clarified: is Objectivism fundamentally based on an arbitrary injunction to live? Is there no normative injunction to choose life and not choose death? Is the choice to live, arbitrary? If Objectivism is fundamentally based on a choice that is simply arbitary, then doesn’t that bring the entire edifice of Objectivist ethical theory crumbling to the ground?

To my knowledge, this criticism of Objectivism was first raised by the philosopher Robert Nozick in his book Socratic Puzzles. In Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Dr. Leonard Peikoff discusses this matter very briefly, concluding that the choice to live is indeed a premoral choice, in that moral evaluation can only function within the domain and context provided by life as the standard.

Another commentor responded to the abovementioned quote as follows:

I believe this pre-moral chioce [sic] is quite wrong for two other reasons:

1) What does the choice to live really mean? Is it the chioce to live as long as possible? Is it the choice not to commit immediate suicide? Is it the choice to carry on as usual? This choice is simply far too vague to yield such a specific set of conclusions as the tenets of Objectivism. It’s like saying that if you want a car, then you have commited yourself to a Toyota.

2) Men have reasons to pursue their existence, that is, there are ends in themselfs that makes life worth living. Thus, the choice to live can be conditioned by the particular reasons people have for pursuing their existence. If morality is dependent on the chioce to live it is also dependant on the reasons people have for making this choice. Thus those reasons (be it becoming a dictator or what have you) are outside any moral or rational evaluation. What is left is pure subjectivism, with as many moralities as reasons for living.

I felt that since even people sympathetic to Objectivism can be confused about this most fundamental and crucial of issues, it is important to examine and explore the fundamental basis of Objectivist morality. What follows is entirely my own understanding of Objectivism, not an exact account of Ayn Rand, although I believe it best captures her intent.

In response to FO:

It is a contradiction to first state that man can make choices in life that make life worth living, and then give an example of such a choice as “becoming a dictator or what have you.” The contradiction is in the fact that choices that make life worth living have to also be consonant with the requirements of life, i.e., life-sustaining or life-supporting.

The agent of action here is an individual, conscious, living being faced with choosing an option that will make his continued survival worth it. Choosing an objectively life-negating option (or at the widest, an option that is not consonant with life-sustenance) undercuts his primary motive of deriving a value from that choice which is supposed to make his continued survival of some worth.

In other words, choosing an objectively life-negating act existentially and factually undercuts (or acts against) his desire to continue living–whether he is aware of this effect of his choice or not.

The requirements of continued survival imposes certain necessary and objective decisions upon the individual; of course, the whole point of ethical theories is to guide the individual towards making choices that are consonant with life-sustaining requirements, thus allowing him to pursue his desire to continue living and acquire values that make living worth it for him.

FO, I argue that the choice to live is actually not pre-moral in the sense that it occurs at some point along a chronological chain of choices. It is a metaphysically given fact that we are living beings–we live from the moment we are born, and this is not a matter of our choice. This is a metaphysically given fact. The ethical choice to continue living and pursue life is a choice that is implicit in the ethical nature and sum of all and every other choices we make in our lives as we go on about our daily lives. This implicit choice to live (or not) is internal to (and made in) every other choice we make in life.

It is this implicit ethical nature of the sum of our choices that need to be brought to the realm of explicit moral evaluation, which can then be scrutinized in accordance to moral theories and standards of evaluation. Rand pointed this out by stating that life qua man’s life is a *standard* of evaluating the moral status of our choices and values.

This does not mean that the choice to live is amoral or is made at some actual moment in our lives–although one can give it explicit, verbal form–but that the choice to live (or not) is implicitly made at every juncture of our daily activities–in our pursuit of values–and is implicit in the ethical nature of those activities; moreover, by making our individual daily choices, we are thereby–inescapably–either upholding the choice to live or the choice to die in the kind of values we choose to pursue. Thus, in a sense, our daily activities, pursuits, goals, values, and choices are various forms of realizing the same implicit choice to live or the choice to die; often, we are even explicitly aware of this fact.

Therefore, if the choice to live or die is indeed a choice that has a moral status, then what is the answer to the question “Why ought we to choose to live?” Or, “Why should we choose to live?” Observe that the question is seeking an answer that needs to lie somewhere outside of the system of life; in other words, the answer should be external to the conceptually hierarchical system of morality and values. Just as existence cannot be evaluated by reference to a standard outside or beyond existence, life cannot be evaluated by reference to a standard outside or beyond itself. Life itself gives meaning to evaluation by providing both a context and a standard.

The logical error being committed, therefore, by raising the question is that of the stolen concept: concepts such as morality, values, and choices are logically dependent upon–and internally related to–the concept of life. One cannot derive morality and values outside of the domain of life. Chairs and tables neither can have morals nor a need for them.

It is only because we have life that the need for a system of morality and values arises. We must realize that the choice to live is internal and inextricable to the morality of the rest of our choices and values, which means it lends meaning to the rest of our choices and values.

Just as it would be a logical fallacy to steal the concept of “cause” out of its logical hierarchy by asking “What caused existence?,” it is a fallacy to steal the concept of “ought” (a normative concept of morality) by asking “Why ought we to choose life?”

[Edit: Some significant edits to enhance the clarity of ideas, and included a reference to Dr. Peikoff's discussion of this matter in OPAR]

37 Responses to “Why Choose to Live?”

  1. FO said

    Hi Ergo, I republish my comment here from Ezra Kleins blog.

    Ergo wrote:
    “It is a contradiction to first state that man can make choices in life that make life worth living, and then give an example of such a choice as “becoming a dictator or what have you.” The contradiction is in the fact that choices that make life worth living have to also be consonant with the requirements of life, i.e., life-sustaining or life-supporting.”

    Where is the contradiction in chosing 75 years of life-style X to 87 years hooked up to a life supporting machine? Even if you equate “consonant with the requirements of life, i.e., life-sustaining or life-supporting.” with the requirements to live as long as possible will you be able to derive a contradiction in the choice above because there is no nessesary conflict between ends. I really don’t understand your objection.

  2. Jason said

    Perhaps I’m looking at this too simplistically: perhaps Ergo is stating that becoming a dictator is not a “life-sustaining or life-supporting” choice?

    That tends to beg the question, what kind of dictator are you becoming? Of course, “dictator” implies a ruthless, iron-handed way of dealing with the other lives you are surrounded by and ruling over, otherwise you wouldn’t really be dictating, would you? I think the example you gave is the starting point for the objection Ergo makes overall…

    Be that as it may, I’m going back to reread the entire thing again…

  3. Ergo said

    Fo, the contradiction arises only when you substitute “becoming a dictator” or some other choice in the place of X that instrumentally undermines your end and conflicts with the objective requirements of man’s life. (The “end” you raised is = making living worth it, i.e., presuming that you desire to live and are seeking motivations to live.)

    For example, if you are a masochist and you choose self-flagellation on the rationalization that it makes you happy and that it makes your life worth living, your explicit premises are acting in conflict with what your life *actually* requires–your continued survival requires that you do not inflict physical tortue upon yourself lest you die of bleeeding, pain, infection, etc. And since your act was chosen on the premise that it makes your life worth living for you, the only possible consequence of consistently engaging in your act is the end of your life, i.e., death, i.e., the direct negation of your motive for continued survival.

    Observe that this is indeed the principle upon which hedonism functions–the “do whatever I feel like doing because it makes me happy and it makes my life seem worth living” principle.

    Of course, you could self-flagellate for some time till you can’t stand it anymore and then revert back to life-sustaining activities–like healing your wounds and sores and getting somethng to eat.
    But you must admit that your practice would then be inconsistent, contradictory, and by self-admission, contrary to the requirements of life (because you choose to stop self-flagellation at some point).

    Now, I choose self-flagellation as an example because it most clearly illustrates my point. My argument equally applies to “becoming a dictator” but for me to explicate the entire chain of reasoning behind why and how being a dictator is in fact life-negating and not life-sustaining would be too daunting and complicated a task. Let me just state that when you’re a dictator, you’re also a slave at the same time, and your life hangs at the mercy (or stupidity) of others.

  4. FO said

    Jason wrote:
    “perhaps Ergo is stating that becoming a dictator is not a “life-sustaining or life-supporting” choice?”

    Yes, I suppose that is what Ergo is saying, but it won’t yield the contradictions Ergo is looking for. If the person in my last post is told that it is not a “life-sustaining or life-supporting” choice to have 75 years of doing X to 87 years hooked up to a machine, then this person will just say: so what, if “life-sustaining or life-supporting” actions are only those actions that will get me as old as possible, then I don’t care much for “life-sustaining or life-supporting” actions, I only care for those actions that keeps me alive without interfering to much with my with my preferred lifestyle X. There is no contradiction to be found here.

    A contradiction would arise if the argument was something like: If you do not want to commit immediate suicide, then you have revealed (even if you don’t know it) a secret desire to achieve the state of mind resulting from living as an Objectivist, thus if you don’t live as an Objectivist you are contradicting this (secret) desire.

  5. rambodoc said

    Ergo,
    You said, “For example, if you are a masochist and you choose self-flagellation on the rationalization that it makes you happy and that it makes your life worth living, your explicit premises are acting in conflict with what your life *actually* requires–your continued survival requires that you do not inflict physical tortue upon yourself lest you die of bleeeding, pain, infection, etc. And since your act was chosen on the premise that it makes your life worth living for you, the only possible consequence of consistently engaging in your act is the end of your life, i.e., death, i.e., the direct negation of your motive for continued survival.”

    If we apply the risks of bleeding, pain and infection to homosexual activity, how would this stand? It is known that gays are high risk groups for AIDS and STDs, so would gay activity be considered anti-life? As a gay, what is your philosophical rationale?
    (no offence implied)

  6. Ergo said

    I’m really confused by your question Rambodoc.

    First, masochistic self-flagellation is hardly at the psycho-sexual level of personal identity as heterosexuality is (or even homosexuality, for that matter). Therefore, engaging in the former is a matter of hedonistic choice divorced from the context of your life, engaging in the latter is a matter of your sexual expression–your sexual identity. So, I find the comparison very off.

    Second, heterosexual activity–indeed, any sexual activity in modern times–comes with associated risks. In fact, depending on which country or society you choose to survey, you will find that risks of sexual activities are concentrated in several different groups. For example, in Africa, the risk of HIV/AIDS is predominantly a heterosexual problem. In India, the risk is predominantly a heterosexual sex-workers/truckers problem. There used to be a time in American and European history where STD and HIV were predominantly homosexual risks.

    Third, I don’t offer philosophical rationale’s for being gay. The existential matter of being a homosexual is a-moral, i.e., it does not need moral justification or rationales.

    Fourth, humans engage in *many* activities that have potentially very high risks to human life; for example, deep sea explorers of oil, coal miners, high-rise window cleaners, etc. The moral status of an action is not evaluated on a basis of risks/benefits calculations. Now, if you ask me, how then, in my moral system, is the moral status of an act determined, I will have to recount the entire Objectivist moral theory to you.

  7. rambodoc said

    No, you got me wrong. I didn’t have any issue with the masochism bit. I was wondering that as your choosing to live should not involve an activity (like tying a rope around your neck for an intense orgasm, for example) that can kill you (in that sense, the self-flagellation is relevant), the fact that homosexuality can endanger life significantly could also be clubbed with anti-life activities. It is interesting that you call the choice of sexuality amoral. I was under the impression that Objectivism has a strong moral argument for tying sex to romantic love and, thereby, to moral values. If you have any article/s on this issue of homosexuality, I would be interested to read more.

  8. D.J.R. said

    In Response to Rambodoc, “If we apply the risks of bleeding, pain and infection to homosexual activity, how would this stand? It is known that gays are high risk groups for AIDS and STDs, so would gay activity be considered anti-life? As a gay, what is your philosophical rationale?”

    Homosexual activity is not dangerous qua Homosexual activity, the risk of catching a STD is largely dependent on your choice of partner and your safer sex practices. There is nothing about homosexuality that magically attracts STDs to it. Your sexual identity doesn’t change your risk of gaining any other disease, your cultural surroundings however do, and by cultural surrounds I mean the nature of the customs around you that pertain to preparation of food, applications of some form of hygiene and the use of some types of materials. I know of no study where it is possible to completely eliminate the possibility that any number of those other factors may be involved in whether a homosexual person will contract an STD.

  9. D.J.R. said

    Also not to overcrowd your comments Motif, again in response to Rombodoc, “I was wondering that as your choosing to live should not involve an activity (like tying a rope around your neck for an intense orgasm, for example) that can kill you (in that sense, the self-flagellation is relevant), the fact that homosexuality can endanger life significantly could also be clubbed with anti-life activities.”

    Again this comes under the same category of Homosexual activity qua homosexual activity, If you heard that someone died choking himself would you go to ask how he died? Of course not, you realize that choking yourself qua choking yourself is not just a “dangerous” activity but one that is by nature of itself an anti-life one. If someone told you your friend got an STD would the first thing you ask him was whether he was having sex with a someone of the same sex? Of course not, getting an STD is not something that happens qua being homosexual, it’s something that happens by engaging in sex unsafely (that is in selection of partner and the practices you engage in while doing it). If someone died flying do you say “Well no surprise that’s what happens when you fly.” same principle applies, flying in a plane by virtue of flying in a plane is not an inherently dangerous activity. Just because something is risky it is not automatically anti-life, by that standard refusing to resist criminal would be a “pro-life” activity but we can clearly see if we engage in letting criminals get away with crime it is very disastrous and anti-life policy.

  10. Ergo said

    “It is interesting that you call the choice of sexuality amoral. I was under the impression that Objectivism has a strong moral argument for tying sex to romantic love and, thereby, to moral values.”

    Yes, Objectivism has a strong moral argument for not divorcing sex from love–as an ideological position like that adopted by hedonists, subjectivists, and idealists.

    I said that the existential fact of having a heterosexual (or homosexual) identity is not in and of itself a moral issue. When a child is born and develops some sense of his sexual identity over the years, we immediately do not brand him as a moral or an immoral child just by virtue of his psycho-sexual identity (that is what religious dogmatists do).

    Objectivism insists that to hold an ideological position that sex and love can be separated is to bring the metaphysical mind-body dichotomy into the realm of ethics and morality. This is wrong.

  11. FO said

    After thinking about this a bit more I might just as well post another reply.

    Ergo:
    “concepts such as morality, values, and choices are logically dependent upon the concept of life.”

    Yes, but only in the trivial sense that you have to be alive in order to value or choose. Being alive is a precondtion imposing some weak constraints on the means we use to pursue our goals. But this fact by no means dictates what our values ought to be directed at.

    Rands definition of value is “that which you act to gain or keep” and it is perfectly possible to act to gain or keep a position as a dictator. It is also perfectly possible to let morality by definition be a code of values aiming at implementing the desire for power, instead of being a code for implementing the desire for longevity or what have you.

    The problem with your argument is that you want to derive a total code of values from the fact that a person do not wish to commit immediate suicide. But this fact doesn’t entail that implicit in this desire not to die is the desire to live as long as possible. That’s just an absurd inference. I know you do not mean to imply that Objectivism is about to live as long as possible, but you make the same type logical error that I display here.

    The contradiction you show in your post about the flagellant is simply the error of mistaken means. A person may think that such and such is the best way to accomplish X, and of course it is possible to be mistaken, in which case there is a contradiction. But to make this line of reasoning imply the conclusions you want, then you need an argument that speaks to the alleged “true” motivation of a man choosing not to commit suicide, and such an argument would reduce to something like the argument in my last post:

    “A contradiction would arise if the argument was something like: If you do not want to commit immediate suicide, then you have revealed (even if you don’t know it) a secret desire to achieve the state of mind resulting from living as an Objectivist, thus if you don’t live as an Objectivist you are contradicting this (secret) desire.”

    Ergo:
    “My argument equally applies to “becoming a dictator” but for me to explicate the entire chain of reasoning behind why and how being a dictator is in fact life-negating and not life-sustaining would be too daunting and complicated a task. Let me just state that when you’re a dictator, you’re also a slave at the same time, and your life hangs at the mercy (or stupidity) of others.”

    This dependence is in the nature of power and is fully acknowledged by the dictator. The point is rather that the dictator do not have to justify his desire for a life in power, becuase his choosen hierarchy of values is “being alive as a dictator or being dead”. Thus his choice to pursue his existence stems from his desire, not to live as long as possible, but to live a life in power, and he is fully aware that this lifestyle happens to carry a raised probablity of early death. He doesn’t care about the actions you call “life-sustaining”, he’d rather be dead than pursuing them as is evident by his values. Thus I fail to see the logic between the choice to pursue existence and the set of values you are promoting as if they are the only possible embodiment of this choice.

    Let me stress here that I have no disagreement about the immorality of the dictator, I’m only questioning whether a morality implied by the choice to live can capture the immorality of the dictator.

  12. D.J.R. said

    If I may interject Motif in response to FO, To live for man means to live as a man. You may only look at Hitler’s brain splatter in his bunker to realize what the power mongers desire to lord over other men means in practical terms. A life of constant fear of assassination is not the life for man. Understanding that the nature of man as a rational being and what that entails (i.e. that force should not be injected into human relationships because another mans edict does not determine the reality of his statement, no matter how many guns he points at you reality is reality. However that is an antecedent concept.) is the key to understanding what Objectivists mean when we refer to living. Living for Objectivists is not the life of a deceptive power monger who is a parasite on the work of others.

    Speaking to me or Leitmotif on the forum will probably not satisfy your desire to solve what seems to be a contradictory position on our part namely that being a “prudent predator”, as it is refer to on some objectivist forums (not trying to straw man your argument it refers to a human who uses “reason” in a parasitical manner and manages to survive) that the objectivist position is that a human cannot survive by means of parasitical behavior, whim-worship etc. he can, but not in any long range human manner he can’t, being parasitical of itself contradicts a fundamental aspect of mans survival, that being that he must produce goods in order to survive and siphoning them from others is putting yourself at the mercy of their stupidity and your own refusal to produce (i.e. live as a man).

    I am not a philosopher FO, nor am I a very talented writer, conveying ideas to others has never been a forte of mine. Peikoff however is both of those professionally, so was Ayn Rand. I defer to them to resolve you lack of knowledge of our position. Debating with us is pointless especially if your doing it to actually learn the Objectivist position, primarily because the creator did a good enough job with Galt’s speech in her fiction and her essays, same with Dr. Peikoff in his non-fiction and course work material. Even now I assume you are coming up with tons of questions for my assertions “Why must a “man” produce in order to be a man?” is probably one of them or “Hitler is just one dictator there are probably others who enjoyed life, why can’t happiness be centered around the pursuit of power or fame?” and thousands of others I don’t doubt is beyond either mine or Motif’s ability to explain, but I can promise I won’t be as clear as Peikoff will be or Rand for that matter. I won’t speak for Motif cause I like reading the blog, he’s his own person and from what I’ve read his ability to clarify is not without it’s power to create envy within others.

    FO said: “I’m only questioning whether a morality implied by the choice to live can capture the immorality of the dictator.” And smart you are for doing so FO. Which is why you would probably make a good Objectivist. ;) Stop coming to us for answers and go to the source then come to discuss, unless of course you just enjoy discourse with Motif above actually obtaining full knowledge of the subject. I only say full because you will learn some things from Motif. In that case enjoy hanging around the comments.

  13. Ergo said

    FO,

    It’s nice to know that this matter interests you enough to pursue it. I’ll assume that your intention here is to actually gain a true understanding of Objectivism–regardless of the conclusion you reach of its truth (using your own rational judgment). My response will be long, but bear with me.

    Objectivism is a wholly integrated *system* of philosophy. As such, every concept is internally related to every other concept in a series of logical reasonings. For example, the concept of life as antithetical to stagnation and inaction is related to the concept of capitalism as a system of activity and production that is antithetical to stagnation, where inaction and stagnation in capitalism is swiftly and organically punished.

    In other words, one cannot pick and isolate a concept from any level across the internally connected hierarchy of concepts. Objectivism identifies a body of non-contradictory principles across all of these levels. When you decide to reflect on the concept of value, you have to necessarily consider all of its internally connected and hierarchically prior concepts, such as valuer, volition, reason, life, goal-direction, self-esteem, etc.

    Now, having given you that context, we’ll examine your comment:

    You said: “Yes, but only in the trivial sense [...] you have to be alive in order to value or choose. Being alive is a precondtion imposing some weak constraints on the means we use to pursue our goals. But this fact by no means dictates what our values ought to be directed at.”

    Actually, Objectivism does not base its moral theory on the precondition that an individual must be alive in order to value or choose. While this is certainly true, there’s a nuanced difference in the emphasis. Objectivism bases its moral theory on the *identity* of life, i.e., what is life, what is its essence, and what are its core fundamental requirements.

    Given an insight into the nature of life–all life–we can gain an understanding into what is required to sustain life. Now, Objectivism points out that non-human living animals are *automatically* (instinctually) equipped with the knowledge of how to lead their lives, i.e., they automatically choose activities that secure their own lives or that of their progeny. A stark example (for clarity) would be to point out how a dog can never choose to starve and die (unless it is afflicted with disease).

    It is only with humans that the issue arises of figuring out how to live and what is needed to continue living, because this knowledge is not automatic to human beings. But here, Objectivism regards human living qua rational man; this is in the tradition of Aristotle’s identification of “rationality” being the distinctive quality of the human species. Since the *identity* of man is “rational man” (this does not mean that all men are rational in *practice*), the basis of figuring out how man should live is suggested by what men are, i.e., by our identity, by our essential nature. In other words, man’s identity will not only give us an insight into how to act, choose, or behave, but also provide us with a standard of judgment by which we evaluate whether man is living to the entire essence of his being–is man living a rational life to the fullest extent of his honest judgment.

    Therefore, values–with regard to man’s life–has to be understood within this hierarchical system. Values are that which you act to gain and keep; but these values have to be evaluated according to the standard of life qua man, since man is the *valuer* (for reasons given above); and man’s means of evaluation and judgment is his *reason*. Thus, values have to be *rationally* integrated into the purpose of living qua man.

    In this sense, the concept of life indeed has crucial contraining influences on the kind of values we ought to choose, and it is also in this sense that Objectivists consider values as objective, not intrinsic, relativistic, or subjective.

    This is why, when you state that a dictator can choose “being a dictator” as a value and act to gain and keep it, he is actually not acting rationally or in his rational self-interest. Moral values do no pertain only to reality or only to the desires of a conscious being; it arises because of a specific relationship that the external world has with a conscious being. Thus, to evaluate whether “being a dictator” is a moral value, you have to consider both the man having this desire and the constraints of reality.

    Now, evaluation presupposes the capacity to think–and rational evaluation presupposes rational thinking, or the use of one’s faculty of reason. In this sense, moral evaluation is equivalent to conceptual cognition. Both are products of thinking, forming, and using concepts.

    In Dr. Peikoff’s words, “concepts designate facts as condensed by human consciousness, in accordance with a rational method (logic). Similarly, the good designates facts–the requirements of survival–as identified conceptually, and then evaluated by human consciousness in accordance with a rational standard of value (life).

    In this sense, the objectivity of concepts parallels the objectivity of moral evaluation, i.e., values. On this basis, then, Objectivism offers an irrefutable argument against the morality of choosing “to become a dictator.”

    Finally, FO, let me suggest that you read this highly condensed–but remarkably comprehensive–essay on Objectivism by eminent Objectivist philosophers before we proceed toward any further discussion. It will only help us gain common ground in the way we use and define terms and alleviate confusions.

  14. FO said

    D.J.R, my question is about how the commitment to a certain morality is logically connected with the choice to live, and I believe there is a seroius problem with your account below:

    To live for man means to live as a man.[...]Living for Objectivists is not the life of a deceptive power monger who is a parasite on the work of others.

    If you equivocate “to live” with this richer meaning of convergence to the ideal of “man”, then the choice to live must be the explicit choice to converge to this ethical ideal. But if morality rests on this choice of convergence to your ideal, well then it seems there is a problem becuase the dictator has not made the choice “to live”, he has explicitly choosen something else, namely a life more in line with his preference of power lust. It’s not clear then why he is morally bound to respect the rights of others for instance. If the ought in your morality is dependent on someone making a particular choice, then what about those who don’t make this choice?

    You might suggest that since the dictator has not made the choice “to live”, then he must have made the choice “to die”, and the best way to implement this choice would be to commit immediate suicide. But that just doesn’t follow since “to live” by equivocation now means “to live in a specific way” then the choice not to live only means “not to live in this specific way” which certanly doesn’t entail immediate suicide. The dictator has not made the choice to commit suicude, he has choosen a life style according to a certain preference that requires him being alive.

  15. Ergo said

    D.J.R, my question is about how the commitment to a certain morality is logically connected with the choice to live, and I believe there is a seroius problem with your account below:

    To live for man means to live as a man.[...]Living for Objectivists is not the life of a deceptive power monger who is a parasite on the work of others.

    If you equivocate “to live” with this richer meaning of convergence to the ideal of “man”, then the choice to live must be the explicit choice to converge to this ethical ideal.

    No, Fo. The point Objectivists are trying to make is that to live qua man is the only full and complete realization of “humanness”, i.e., the fulfilled realization of our identity. My post points out that there is no explicit choice to live made at any point–the choice to live is implicit in the sum and nature of all your other choices in life; and all these other choices either work instrumentally in the realization of your choice to live qua man (realizing your humanness) or your choice to die (working towards your own self-destruction).

    But if morality rests on this choice of convergence to your ideal, well then it seems there is a problem becuase the dictator has not made the choice “to live”, he has explicitly choosen something else, namely a life more in line with his preference of power lust. It’s not clear then why he is morally bound to respect the rights of others for instance. If the ought in your morality is dependent on someone making a particular choice, then what about those who don’t make this choice?

    The dictator is incapable of escaping the immoral nature of his choice, i.e, that his choice to be a dictator is objectively and undeniably antithetical to the requirements of life qua man. Insofar as he chooses to be a dictator, he *needs* to survive and thrive at the expense of others. But the realization of humanness–living life qua man–requires that one act through one’s own efforts and not through the exploited efforts of others. Life qua rational being (since rational man is the distinct feature of man as a species) cannot be attained by someone other than the self. Every man must seek the realization of humanness in his own self, because it is possible only to him and metaphysically impossible for one man to realize it for others.

    You might suggest that since the dictator has not made the choice “to live”, then he must have made the choice “to die”, and the best way to implement this choice would be to commit immediate suicide. But that just doesn’t follow since “to live” by equivocation now means “to live in a specific way” then the choice not to live only means “not to live in this specific way” which certanly doesn’t entail immediate suicide. The dictator has not made the choice to commit suicude, he has choosen a life style according to a certain preference that requires him being alive.

    Merely making a choice is not a moral blank check to act as one wishes so long as it is consistent with the choice. As I said, the choice to live or die is implicitly made in the nature and sum of every other choice we make in life. At every juncture, the moral nature of our choice needs to be evaluated (unless your choices are a logical outcome of already rational choices, in which case moral evaluation is often automatic or habitual). When the dictator rejects the choice of living qua rational man, all his consistent choice thereafter will be made on the implicit premise of choosing death. This certainly does not mean he has to commit suicide, as there are several ways of surviving without being rational. However, insofar as you choose to survive irrationally and against the requirements of life, your survival is accidental, or is precariously at the mercy of persons/events outside your self.

    Incidentally, Objectivism does not reject suicide as immoral; indeed, Objectivism considers suicide as a fully moral affirmation of life in some contexts.

  16. FO said

    Ergo, my disagreement persists and maybe we will have to agree to disagree, but I try again to frame my concerns.

    No, Fo. The point Objectivists are trying to make is that to live qua man is the only full and complete realization of “humanness”, i.e., the fulfilled realization of our identity.

    I perfectly well realize this, but that doesn’t do away with the confusion caused by the equivocation. If “to live” refers to a specific way of conducting yourself that results in “fulfilled realization of our identity”, then the choice “to live” is no more than the choice of this specific lifestyle.

    There is a problem here with what the choice “to live” means. In a minimal sense it could be said to be not to commit suicide in the next instant, but the choice in this incarnation while hard to sidestep will have very weak entailments, it is equally consitent with the end to live as long as possible as the end to live as a dictator. On the other hand, in the version above where the choice does entail a specific lifestyle it can be very easily sidestepped, which is exactly what the dictator does, and that might be concidered a problem if morality itself is dependent on that choice.

    My post points out that there is no explicit choice to live made at any point–the choice to live is implicit in the sum and nature of all your other choices in life;

    I’m not sure I fully understand the notion of implicit choice, I can only make sense of it as implicit requirements. So, in “the choice to live as long as possible” is implicit, or entailed, the choices to breath and to eat breakfast and other requirements for this explicit goal. But it doesn’t seem to work the other way around, the dictator eating his breakfast doesn’t entail that in this action is an implicit choice to live as long as possible. There simply is no logic in such an inference. Thus I cannot see how the choice to converge to your ideal is implicit in the dictators choice to eat breakfast. All his explicit choices clearly announces that he doesn’t intend “to live”.

    [...]and all these other choices either work instrumentally in the realization of your choice to live qua man (realizing your humanness) or your choice to die (working towards your own self-destruction).

    Yes, but the perspective that interests the dictator is it that his choices either work instrumentally in the realization of his end to live as a dictator, or they do not.

    The dictator is incapable of escaping the immoral nature of his choice, i.e, that his choice to be a dictator is objectively and undeniably antithetical to the requirements of life qua man.

    I suppose this means that the dictator is unable to escape the consequences of his choice, which he conciders good since the most important consequence for him is the possibility to excercise power, and this certainly is a consequences of being a dictator. Life “qua man” doesn’t interest him in the least. In regualar moral therories, this implies that the dictator really is immoral, but if morality is dependent on a choice then it seems that you can just exclude yourself from being subjected to a universal morality.

    Merely making a choice is not a moral blank check to act as one wishes so long as it is consistent with the choice.

    I don’t see how that follows from what you say.

    When the dictator rejects the choice of living qua rational man, all his consistent choice thereafter will be made on the implicit premise of choosing death. This certainly does not mean he has to commit suicide, as there are several ways of surviving without being rational.

    In an intrumental sense the dictator certainly can be rational, some ways of upholding a dictatorship are more effective than others. The dictator is only interested in survival in as much as being a dictator requires him being alive, but survival per se is not an end in itself to him, without the prospect of power he would prefer literal death. So yes, he has chosen “death” in this sense and is freely admitting it. But then again, this seems to imply that he is not subjected to your morality, you cannot then say that it is wrong for him to kill at will.

  17. thomtg said

    In the original post, the question is raised on the moral status of the choice to live. While Jerry/Ergo accurately credits OPAR for saying that this choice is pre-moral (244-245), he nevertheless argues that it is subject to moral evaluation. On this point, I disagree.

    Ayn Rand in “Galt’s Speech” (FTNI 122, and especially 124) writes that there are two kinds of choices: the choice to live, and the choice to live as a man. In Rand’s view, choosing to live per se is a basic act of choice, while choosing to live as a man (in the manner of a man, or qua man) is a moral choice.

    Every individual is on his own with respect to the first category of choices. As for the second, “it is the task of ethics to teach him how to live like man.” (TVOS 27)

    The implication then is that one does not praise or fault another individual for his choice to live, but that one can evaluate him morally for his choice to live as X, which Rand classifies into either rational man or “subhuman” animal. (Ibid.)

    So, is the choice to live (of the first kind) an arbitrary choice? Is it subjective? Rand summarizes this point succinctly: “My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live. The rest proceeds from these.” (FTNI 128) This choice, too, while not subject to morality, is subject to the law of existence. The individual making this decision is in every moment making the decision to continue his conditional existence with certain identity.

    And how does he make this decision? Rand here makes a distinction between a cardinal value and an ultimate value. (TVOS 27) Choosing to live is choosing to gain/keep the ultimate value, which is one’s own life. But in order to do so in practical terms—in terms of its “realization”—the individual has to choose his central purpose (e.g., become a writer from the age of 9, be a businessman, a scientist, a philosopher, a musician, etc.) and all subsidiary purposes for his lifespan as a “continuous whole” up to and including the present action of the moment—all subject to the constraints of the facts of reality.

    The cardinal value of reason, if he values it, further constrains his choice of purpose. Becoming a dictator is not a rational choice. The cardinal value of self, if he esteems it, further constrains his choice of purpose. If his degree of ability is of a programmer, then a career as a fast typist is beneath him, on account of ambition and pride.

    Thus, there is no moral injunction that one ought to live. Life is not an intrinsic value. But at the same time, life as an ultimate value is not subjective. The valuer chooses it by making of it into a whole lifespan he can experience and take pride in. And each human life has definite, objective requirements. “Neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whim. … The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues.… And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one thinks: ‘this is worth living for’—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.” (TVOS 31-32)

  18. Ergo said

    Thomtg,

    I’m pretty sure that we are not in any significant disagreement. While I did say that the choice to live is not pre-moral, my article also goes on to point out, what you say in your words, that the choice to live is made by the valuer who “chooses it by making of it into a whole lifespan he can experience and take pride in.” In other words, the valuer who values his life lives accordingly in harmony with his ultimate value, which implicates the moral nature of his choices: to live in harmony with your rationally chosen values is a moral act.

    Even LP points out that morality is a concept that is only meaningful within the domain of human life, as I have stated in my article as well. My reason for noting that the choice to live is not pre-moral is to dispel the idea that people explicitly or consciously make a *choice* at some chronologically specific point in their lives, following which they continue to live–which is even impossible to do. Therefore, as my article explains, the choice to live (or die) is implicitly made in every act of our lives, in every waking moment (in your words), which then reveals the fundamental choice one has made (to live or die) and the moral nature of that fundamental choice–which, by implication, means that the choice to live (or die) has a moral status as well.

    But I fully enjoyed reading your thoughtful comment. Thanks for this.

  19. The Metaethics of the Choice to Live

    Ergo offers two comprehensive comments at about the 138th and 139th into the list, and at which he concurs that the choice to live is “meta-ethical.” He follows up the issue further in

  20. FO said

    thomtg,

    I still think there are some missing links.

    First I would like to point to a distinction between two classes of hypothetical imperatives:

    1) If you choose to become as old as possible, then you ought to breath
    2) If you choose to become as old as possible, then you ought to crack an egg against your head every sunday 2.14pm.

    The ought in the first hypothetical is entailed by the choice, breathing is a nessecary requirement for the goal. However in 2) the ought is not entailed by the choice, it is therefore a dressed up categorical imperative, since there is no entailment the choice cannot affect the ought thus it doesn’t matter if we remove the choice.

    I will use this distinction later.

    A choice relates to intentions, and intentions and desires have objective requirements for fullfillment. If a dictators intenion is a life in power, then his choice to pursue his existence simply means to conform to the objective requirements for a life in power. When the dictator is eating his breakfast, he is just honoring those objective requirements.

    What I fail to see here is how the tenets of Objectivism is entailed by a choice to pursue existence. If a choice relates to intentions, then the dictators choice to pursue his existence rest on his intention to live a life in power, and such a life clearly does not have the tenets of Objectivism as a nessecary requirement.

    Thus it seems that Objectivism relates to the choice to live as a hypothetical of class 2) above; if you choose not to commit immediate suicide, then you ought to live as an Objectivist. There is a clear lack of entailment.

  21. Ergo said

    FO,

    Here’s where the problem lies: I don’t think you have fully grasped the fact that the Objectivist morality is derived from the rational nature of man and the objective requirements of life.

    1) If you choose to live as a human being, you ought to discover what human living entails (and how is human living different from animal survival, if at all).

    2) To discover what human living entails, you ought to identify the unique nature of human beings, i.e., what makes humans different from animals, if at all.

    2a) This discovery entails realizing the fact that humans cannot ensure their survival by brute muscular force, claws, or canines; humans have to put their faculty of reason to the task of devising survival strategies. The more rationally and ingeniusly they use their mind, the more certain and rewarding their life becomes (as evidence, our technological age today is the expression of the application of reason to the task of human survival).

    3) Thus, to live qua human, is to live rationally, i.e., with the full extent of their use of reason.

    4) In other words, if you choose to live qua man, you ought to choose to live rationally.

    Of course, you could also survive irrationally without committing immediate suicide (although for not very long, or only accidentally and at the mercy of the prudence, benevolence, and rationality of others), but you are not properly living qua man, and are therefore evading the requirements of life and the nature of man. In other words, you are living contradictorily, self-destructively, and (using the standard of human life) immorally.

  22. FO said

    1) If you choose to live as a human being, you ought to discover what human living entails (and how is human living different from animal survival, if at all).

    To “live as a human being” is obviously just a shorthand for a life according to your ethical ideal. The dictator has by his own free will choosen not to converge towards your ideal because of a preference for a life in power, thus by implication he has choosen not to live as a “human being”. The fact that you call him an animal doesn’t concern him at all.

    Of course, you could also survive irrationally without committing immediate suicide (although for not very long, or only accidentally and at the mercy of the prudence, benevolence, and rationality of others), but you are not properly living qua man, and are therefore evading the requirements of life and the nature of man. In other words, you are living contradictorily, self-destructively, and (using the standard of human life) immorally.

    The dictator doesn’t care for living “properly qua man” as you define the terms, and he has no illusions about the fact that a life in power is coupled with a higher probability of early death than a life as a truckdriver. But so what? Why should he care about living as long as possible?

    The problem is that if the Objectivist morality is hypothetical, if the oughts rest on a choice, then the dictator is outside your oughts, he has made no choice that entails the tenets of Objectivism, his explicit choices requires him to honor the objective requirements for a life in power. You cannot then, for example, say that it is wrong for him not to respect your rights.

  23. Ergo said

    FO,

    If a man (as a dictator) chooses to live irrationally and contradictorily (contradictorily because he is *inescapably* an entity belonging to genus “animal” with the differentia “rational”), then by logical necessity, he is being immoral–and no, not immoral by “Objectivist tenets” but immoral by the standard of life qua human life (because he is inescapably a human being–even if he chooses to act like an animal). This logical argument has been presented repeatedly above.

  24. FO said

    But then there is no choice. “You ought to live according to your (unchoosen) nature” is a categorical imperative.

    My argument is that the dictator has made no choices that entails Objectivism, his choices (directed by his intentions) entails that he ought to honor the objective requirements for a life in power, thus you cannot from any of his choices logically infer that he ought to obey Objectivism. That is, you cannot make a case for a hypothetical imperative of type 1) from my post #20.

    In order to capture the immorality of the dictator you have to point to an imperative derived from a source that is independent of his choices. But that imperative is then categorical, thus morality doesn’t fundamnetally rest on a choice. And that’s my point.

  25. Ergo said

    FO, I don’t understand how Kantian “categorical imperative” is applicable in this context; perhaps you mean an unchosen duty??

    In any case, your comment “But then there is no choice. “You ought to live according to your (unchoosen) nature”” misses a logical step.

    If you choose to live, then you ought to live according to your metaphysically-given (unchosen) nature. (“Ought” is a normative term of moral prescription). Since you are inescapably a human being, you ought to discover what it means to live a fully and fulfillingly human life and then live it!

    But the choice to live or not remains and is not forced upon you. And if after having made the choice to live, you act contrary to your metaphysically-given nature and contrary to the requirements needed to sustain your human life independently, then you are acting immorally and irrationally–by objective criteria (which happens to also be Objectivist tenets).

  26. FO said

    FO, I don’t understand how Kantian “categorical imperative” is applicable in this context; perhaps you mean an unchosen duty??

    An imperative is a commandment, and it is categorical if you have no choice about it.

    If you choose to live, then you ought to live according to your metaphysically-given (unchosen) nature.

    What function does the choice to live serve here? None. Why not say that no matter if you wish to live or not you ought to live according to your nature. My point is that you cannot show an entailment between the choice to pursue existence and your morality as a necessary requirement for this choice, thus you have a type 2) hypothetical imperative.

    2) If you choose to become as old as possible, then you ought to crack an egg against your head every sunday 2.14pm.

    The conclusion doesn’t rest on the choice thus the choice cannot be shown to serve any purpose with regard to the conclusion, thus the imperative would be just as true or false if we removed the choice and made it categorical.

    (”Ought” is a normative term of moral prescription). Since you are inescapably a human being, you ought to discover what it means to live a fully and fulfillingly human life and then live it!

    Why is this not true if I want to kill myself? I’m a human being no matter what my state of mind happens to be. If your answer is that you wouldn’t need Objectivism if you wanted to kill yourself, then this is equally true for the dictator, the dictator doesn’t need Objectivism, because Objectivism isn’t conductive to his preferred way of life.

  27. Ergo said

    “What function does the choice to live serve here? None. Why not say that no matter if you wish to live or not you ought to live according to your nature. “

    Because, *then* it becomes a categorical imperative. If you say, regardless of whether you wish to live or not, you ought to live according to your nature, you are in essence denying that life is a value and that life forms the foundation and context for morality. Here you are departing from anything resembling Objectivism. That’s why.

    “My point is that you cannot show an entailment between the choice to pursue existence and your morality as a necessary requirement for this choice, thus you have a type 2) hypothetical imperative.”

    Now, your repeated assertions to the contrary, my comments have indeed demonstrated that the choice to live entails a moral prescription to live in accordance to one’s metaphysical nature, by which all normative prescriptions are also derived and against which they are assessed. If you wish to live, you need to learn *how* to live. And since you are a human being, you need to learn how to live like a human being–not like a rat.

    “2) If you choose to become as old as possible, then you ought to crack an egg against your head every sunday 2.14pm.”

    This is plain nonsense and warrants nothing more.

    “Why is this not true if I want to kill myself? I’m a human being no matter what my state of mind happens to be. “

    If you wanted to kill yourself, then you have made the choice to pursue death. Insofar as you keep delaying your death by not committing immediate suicide in harmony with your choice to die, you are acting contradictorily.

  28. FO said

    Because, *then* it becomes a categorical imperative. If you say, regardless of whether you wish to live or not, you ought to live according to your nature[...]

    But you are saying that regardless of whether you want to live according to (what Objectivists cliam to be) your nature or not, you ought to live according to your nature. How is that any different? I can state that if you wish to die, then this wish is not in harmony with your unchosen metaphysical nature, and thus you are immoral if you act on it.

    Now, your repeated assertions to the contrary, my comments have indeed demonstrated that the choice to live entails a moral prescription to live in accordance to one’s metaphysical nature, by which all normative prescriptions are also derived and against which they are assessed. If you wish to live, you need to learn *how* to live.

    The dictator doesn’t wish to live as an Objectivist, that’s the point. If a choice relates to intentions, then the dictators choice to pursue his existence rest on his intention to live a life in power, and such a life clearly does not have the tenets of Objectivism as a nessecary requirement. When the dictator is eating his breakfast, he is just honoring the objective requirements for a life in power which is perfectly in line with his intentions.

    The dictator has never made a choice that entails Objectivism. Compare those two statements and concider what hypothetical imperatives are entailed:
    1) I choose to live as long as possible.
    2) I choose not to commit suicide in the next instant.

    no 1) has strong entailments but can be easily sidestepped, thus a hypothetical morality based on 1) will fail because the dictator is just sidestepping the choice and places himself outside the realm of morality. 2) is impossible to sidestep unless you commit immediate suicide, but living a life in power is on the other hand perfectly consonant with 2).

    It seems to me that you want both, you want a choice that cannot be sidestepped but with strong entailments, but it’s a simple point of logic that you cannot have both. And that is my point with the hypothetical imperatives in post #20. If you opt for 2) as the basic choice, then the morality won’t be entailed by the choice and thus have to derived from a source that is independent of the choice. On the other hand, if you opt for 1) then the dictator isn’t subjected to your oughts because he has sidestepped your meta-ethical choice.

    I still think it is very unclear exactly what is intended by Objectivism, there seems to be a slide between different positions.

    If you wanted to kill yourself, then you have made the choice to pursue death. Insofar as you keep delaying your death by not committing immediate suicide in harmony with your choice to die, you are acting contradictorily.

    But the converse seems equally true, If I wish to pursue a life in power, then it would be a contradiction to obey Objectivism.

  29. Ergo said

    “I can state that if you wish to die, then this wish is not in harmony with your unchosen metaphysical nature, and thus you are immoral if you act on it.”

    You said: If you wish to die, then this wish is not in harmony with your metaphysical nature. This is nonsense! the metaphysical nature of man is “rational animal”; the wish to die is not contradictory to the metaphysical nature of man. To die is open to your choice; to be an entity whose genus is “animal” and whose differentia is “rational” (i.e., man) is not open to your choice.

    Man is free to try his utmost best to survive irrationally in any random manner whatsoever; however, the key is, his survival will never be guaranteed by his own actions: his survival would be accidental or at the mercy of the benevolence, rationality, gullibility of others. To efficaciously act for your own self to ensure your own surival, you *ought* to live as your nature requires (this is a moral choice; if you fail to follow this moral prescription, you are immoral–your dictator is immoral even though he is powerful).

    The dictator cannot choose to live a life of power without first having to choose life. But if he were to choose life, then he must act accordingly to sustain life; a dictator, by definition, survives at the mercy of the people he rules over; he has to depend on the actions of others to sustain his survival by his evil means. In other words, he is not acting in accordance with his metaphysically given nature of a rational animal, he is acting irrationally, contradictorily, and immorally; i.e., his choice to have power conflicts with his antecedent choice to live (a dead dictator pursuing power???). Thus, a dictator is immoral by the objective nature of man.

    The rest of your comment has been substantively answered and disposed off in my previous comments. I’d suggest that before you hurry to dash off another response to this comment, you scroll up and carefully re-read and grasp the logical structure of the argument I presented above.

    As an bonus tool to aid your understanding, let me give you some direct quotes from Ayn Rand herself:

    “The only man who desires to be moral is the man who desires to live.”

    “You do not have to live; it is your basic act of choice; but if you choose to live, you must live as a man”–not as a rat.

    “No, you do not have to live as a man; it is an act of moral choice. But you cannot live as anything else.” cuz you’re inescapably–and perhaps unfortunately for yourself–a man.

    P.S. I cannot improve upon the patient clarity by which I have engaged with you thus far. I’m not going to respond to any of your future comments on this topic because there is nothing more to say than what I have already said. I urge you to read carefully and ponder before you type up another comment in haste. Ask yourself, have we already covered this ground?

  30. FO said

    Ergo, it seems like we are stuck, but I will make a last response becuse you make an argument that I refuted in my very first post, and that is quite obviously fallacious.

    The dictator cannot choose to live a life of power without first having to choose life. But if he were to choose life, then he must act accordingly to sustain life; a dictator, by definition, survives at the mercy of the people he rules over; he has to depend on the actions of others to sustain his survival by his evil means.

    Yes, but so what? That is in the nature of dictatorship, and the dictator has no illusions about it. Even if this makes you not want to become a dictator, the dictator certainly isn’t scared by possible hardships.

    In other words, he is not acting in accordance with his metaphysically given nature of a rational animal, he is acting irrationally, contradictorily, and immorally; i.e., his choice to have power conflicts with his antecedent choice to live (a dead dictator pursuing power???).

    This just doesn’t cut it. In my first post in I gave the follwing example:

    Where is the contradiction in chosing 75 years of life-style X to 87 years hooked up to a life supporting machine?

    The contradiction you are pointing to just isn’t there, the alternative is evaluated for exactly what it is, and no intentions are undercut or contradicted. The dictator is fully aware of what it means to be a dictator, he just happens to think that a life in power is worth a possibly shorter lifespan.

    In the end the nature of your position seems to be: You are only subjected to morality X if you wish not to commit immediate suicide. It’s glaringly obvious that we cannot infer any meaningful X as a requirement for carrying out this choice, because the enatilments are so weak that anything will be consonant with the choice. Thus my point stands, Objectivism isn’t entailed by the choice to pursue existence, the morality isn’t hypothetcial, it’s categorical.

    Thus, a dictator is immoral by the objective nature of man.

    Yes, but not becuase he has violated any hypothetical imperative entailed by a choice of his, I’ve shown you clearly that he has not, he is immoral beacuse he is subjected to a morality that doesn’t rest on a choice.

  31. ThomTG said

    FO,

    Let me see if I can restate your point in a scenario.

    If a person wants to be a life-long dictator, how shall he go about doing it? Presumably, he would read up on it, do lots of research on gaining power over others, learn all the mistakes from previous dictators, and come up with a moral code to live by. Or let us stipulate that someone else already did that (say, Niccolò Machiavelli). The person simply pulls it off of a bookshelf, the bookshelf of lives, and his choice is the code of morality of Dictatorism.

    Now your question is, what is wrong with accepting Dictatorism instead of Objectivism if he gets to choose to live. What is wrong with a life of having power over other human beings, as opposed to a life of rational living among others, if he does so choose to live?

    I think this is the essence of your objection. (If not, please correct the above and ignore the below.)

    On the assumption that I understand you correctly,

    The basic answer is, it depends on the 1) nature and 2) purpose of the living being that is doing the choosing. To take a fanciful digression, if it is a fish and were it to have the choice of lives, it would want a life that keeps it living, presumably, flourishingly well. For the purpose of this flourishing life, it would therefore not want to choose dry-land living. So, the base constraint is reality. Only certain modes of living are possible for certain living beings for the purpose of their living.

    Here is the more elaborate answer: While choosing to live or die per se is pre-moral, in choosing to live—and this choice has to be made in every living moment—the fish has to live moment-to-moment the singular life of a fish. At each moment, it would be immoral for it to live or act as anything else but as a fish. So, while choosing to live but yet acting on the morality of fish-death is wrong, morally wrong.

    If the fish chooses to live but takes to dry-land living anyway, one can evaluate it at two levels: 1) at the level of how well it conforms to the mode of dry-land living, and 2) at the level of how well this mode is in accord with its nature as a living being. On the first, the fish may have all the intentions to live in the world, and it may well do everything it can to survive on dry land. To the extent that it tries really hard to live consistently by this code of morality and not cheat by the occasional underwater dip, it can be said to have survived by this code, albeit, to have a very, very short life.

    At another level, however, one can evaluate its chosen mode of living in relation to its nature. It is a fact of nature that a fish needs to breath water. The mode of dry-land living is contradictory to the fish’s requirements of living qua fish. So, this evaluation explains why the fish was not successful at the purpose of living. All other modes of living (e.g., volcano-living, air-flying, etc.) can be similarly evaluated.

    Thus, while the first level of evaluation is relativist, relative to the particular chosen mode (e.g., dry-land), the second level of evaluation is absolutist, relative its actual requirements. And each kind of living things does have a unique set of requirements, which is the standard for that kind of life.

    Which of two levels of evaluation ought one to judge it morally? Which level is the moral level? It cannot be at the relativized level because otherwise every fish choosing to live but dying on dry land is as moral as every fish living under water, thus morally equating death with life. In choosing to live, the fish values its own life, and this life is sustainable only on a proper standard for fish-life. This then is the inescapably absolute standard to judge its living activities. Therefore, objectively speaking, the evaluation on a standard of fish-life is decisive in evaluating the fish morally.

    Now returning from the fanciful digression, since fish don’t have free will, they seek automatically to survive within the environment they find themselves. If they could be conceptual, one would say they had a categorical imperative to live. Human beings, by contrast, do have free will, and we do have the conceptual capacity of consciousness, namely reason, and so we don’t have a categorical imperative to live. Human beings do not seek life automatically, we seek life volitionally. Life versus death is a basic choice, and we are free to choose one or the other. But while it is a choice freely made, it is not a freedom to bypass nature.

    In choosing to live, a particular man may choose whichever mode of living he finds on the bookshelf of lives. For him as a man, however, the bookshelf has shelves for subhuman animals and for rational beings. Dictatorism is classified under the first, as are looterism, plunderism, gangsterism, etc. On the second, there are books for him to live as a scientist, businessman, engineer, artist, football quarterback, etc. He is free to choose whichever book he likes and to practice living from it as best he can—and ‘best’ here is relativized to his chosen book. But he cannot escape his nature as a man. And if the mode of living comes from a book on the subhuman side, his activities will be morally wrong on the standard of a rational being, which he inescapably is. For human beings, the rational is the pro-life; the subhuman is the anti-life. That which is anti-life is the immoral.

    On the chance that you may wonder why can’t Dictatorism be shelved under rational beings, the key point here is that a book of rational living has to be universally practicable potentially by every human being. Choosing to live and to live rationally should not interfere with anyone else wishing to live rationally. This cannot be said for a book recommending a life as a thief… and you can scale that reasoning to see the contradiction all the way up to living as a dictator and having power over other human beings.

    Metaphorically, where is Objectivism on the bookshelf of lives? Well, it’s not in one single book. It’s in every book on the rational-being side, as a preface. But people rarely choose to read the preface, preferring to dive right in without having the full context. (To this extent, the original comparison between Dictatorism and Objectivism was really a mismatch. The former is a particular mode; the latter a general, open-ended moral code.)

    By our nature, while we are free to choose to live, we cannot escape the consequences of our choices in living. Objectivism, as a moral philosophy, reminds us that reason is the only means for discovering answers and for identifying and correcting mistakes in the furtherance of our lives. Not muscles, nails, teeth, spears, swords, guns, or faith, as human beings, reason is above all THE means for realizing the continuous choice to live.

  32. evanescent said

    ThomTG, kudos! What a brilliant comment and so nicely worded! Thanks for taking the time to write that.

  33. FO said

    Thanks for your reply, I think however that you have missed my objection so I will try to restate it.

    Now your question is, what is wrong with accepting Dictatorism instead of Objectivism if he gets to choose to live. What is wrong with a life of having power over other human beings, as opposed to a life of rational living among others, if he does so choose to live?

    Well, No. I’ve tried to pin down the relationship between the choice to live and the Objectivist ethics. Let me try to clarify the problem.

    If a person intends to live as long as possible, then he is bound by this choice to breath, because he would die if he did not and that would contradict his intention. Thus, the choice to live as long as possible implies a set of hypothetical imperatives related to this particular goal, namely the imperatives that can be shown to have causal efficacy visavis the goal. I hope that is clear.

    I’ve shown that Objectivism isn’t related to the fundamental “choice to live” in this manner, and the reason is quite simple. If the choice to live is going to imply any meaningful set of hypothetical imperatives it must be quite specific, it must be on the same “specificness level” as “the choice to live as long as possible”. The obvious problem is that if morality itself rests on such a choice, which Rand claims it does, then the dictator just sidesteps morality becuse he has never made the choice “to live as long as possible”, thus he is not bound by the hypothetical imperatives implied by the choice.

    On the other hand, if you want this fundamental choice to be hard to sidestep, then you will have weaker entailments. The choice not to commit suicide in the next instant is very hard to sidestep, but the hypothetical imperitives entailed as the necessary requirements to carry out this choice are so weak that being a dictator is perfectly consonant with them.

    Thus, the point is the Objectivist morality isn’t entailed by a “choice to live”, and it doesn’t help to profit on the vagueness of the expression either, because if you want to claim that this choice has specific implictaions the choice can be evaluated in terms of the implications instead, and the dictator will just say: If the choice to “live” is the particular choice with the Objectivist ethics as its entailments, then since I have choosen to live as a dictator and this choice does not have the Objectivist ethics as its entailment, it thereby logically follow that I have not chosen to “live”, which means that I’m not bound by the hypothetical imperatives of Objectivism.

    That is the main point of my objection. The rest of your reply is a common restatement of natural end ethics, that is: You ought to live according to your nature. If we relate this to the “choice to live” where the choice is formulated in its “hard to sidestep “-version then your position can be restated as follows: If you wish not to commit suicide in the next instant, then you ought to live according to your nature. I confess I don’t see the point with the choice here, whats wrong with: You ought to live according to your nature no matter what your state of mind happens to be?

    My objection is summarized in my last post:

    Yes [the dictator is immoral], but not becuase he has violated any hypothetical imperative entailed by a choice of his, I’ve shown you clearly that he has not, he is immoral beacuse he is subjected to a morality that doesn’t rest on a choice.

  34. ThomTG said

    FO,

    When I wrote that last post, I half suspected that you might restate your old example, but I thought that I would ignore it in the hope that you would recognize the error and distance away from it on your own; However, I think it is time to address your interpretation directly. The issue of “the choice to live” is not about whether to live as long as possible [full stop]. Whether to live as long as possible is certainly a consideration in anybody’s life, but it is not the Objectivist issue referred to technically as “the choice to live.”

    The issue is as follows: In “the choice to live,” one of the alternatives (one of its alternants) is the ethical choice to live as X [pick a noun], which anyone may optionally append “as long as possible.” The two general categories for X as proposed by Objectivism are either “rational man” or “subhuman animal.” [See the fourth paragraph of my #17.] The other alternant in “the choice to live” is literally to die. If I could use my previous analogy, the pro-life alternant is like the choice to reach for a book on the bookshelf. Every book on the shelf is a guidebook for living—guiding volitional choices and actions—and that includes books for any life-long purpose, such as dictator, stockbroker, etc. (By the way, none of the books will command the reader to breathe, digest his foods, or pump his blood. These are automatic animal functions. On the other hand, every book has guidelines on suicide.) Pick a book, any book. THAT is the entailment of choosing affirmatively to live. And this metaethical “choice to live or not” is made at every moment of a man’s life.

    Thus, “to live as long as possible” (or “to become as old as possible”, from your #20 and #26) is not the issue referred. To believe so is to misintegrate the issue. As it is the case, you have profoundly misunderstood the Objectivist ethics from the start. Perhaps, if someone had mentioned this explicitly at the beginning, it would have saved you from trudging toward a philosophical dead end.

    Let me offer another perspective on the issue. I will illustrate metaphorically by opening a couple of guidebooks. I will open a modern edition on being a thief and one on being a farmer. Both books have identical chapters in the beginning, which concern human physical maintenance on health, grooming, fitness, diet, and so on. For example, they both have the guideline to brush your teeth at least twice a day. The books differ in later chapters concerning the respective life-long purpose: either a life of thievery or of farming. In the first book, it advises its reader to always case the joint in a non-homey ‘hood. In the second book, it advises to always check the CBOT futures market before planting soybean or breeding hogs.

    The pro-life choice/alternant makes available all of these guidelines simultaneously.
    If you choose to live, …, brush your teeth at least twice a day.If you choose to live, …, burglarize homes not in your own neighborhood.If you choose to live, …, check the seasonal demand and produce accordingly.The pro-death choice removes or dispenses with all of them. At every moment in a human life, this choice presents itself.

    For example, with all due considerations and priorities in your life, you know you ought to brush your teeth at this moment, but you choose the pro-death alternant. All guidelines disappear; or rather, you choose not to take action to sustain your life as guided by whatever moral code you hold. No voluntary action takes place. Your heart makes a beat. The moment passes. No surprise, you are still alive; after all, the action being considered isn’t all that life-altering. A moment later, you are at the breakfast table, with a copy of the Wall Street Journal on the side and some rap “music” in the background. For this moment, you choose affirmatively to sustain your life. If you are a farmer, you flip open the newspaper’s C section to scan the tables of closing prices. If you are a thief, you call up yo’ homey for the down-low on the low-down at C and Dupree.

    Choosing to live as a thief sets you on one course of action, while choosing to live as a farmer, on another. Ethics is the science to discover which of the courses are in accord with reality and with man‘s pro-life choice. Since ethics is the science for defining a moral code, from among all sundry guidelines available, life as a man (and not as a rat or a fish) is therefore the standard for evaluating which choices (as a thief or a farmer) and which courses of action are moral or immoral. Thus, the basic choice to live per se, with its two alternants, is not an issue awaiting ethical evaluation, for it stands at the foundation of the science.

    Analogically, pick a book, any book. That’s the metaethical issue. Why choose to live? You don’t have to. You don’t have to pick a book. That is your basic choice. Which code of morality? Which book to pick, this book or that book? That’s the ethical issue. Given your own life and its conditional existence in reality, you pick some book. That is your moral choice.

  35. Ergo said

    ThomTG,

    I had the exact same thoughts–about FO’s conflation of the Objectivist “choice to live” with “the choice to live as long as possible.” And for almost the same reasons you cited, I decided to just ignore it, thinking that FO will identify the error eventually.

    I suspect FO was led down the “long as possible” path due to my use of the phrase “continued survival”. However, my phrase was meant to specifically refer to the pursuit of values necessary on the *precondition* that survival was already one’s ultimate chosen value.

    Moreover, I was drawing an internal relationship of entailment (where one is not possible without the other) between the (1) pursuit of values in the *act* of living, (2) the choice to live that makes the pursuit of values meaningful and possible, (3) and the moral evaluation of the choice to live that is implicit in the moral nature of the values one pursues.

    Also, from FO’s comment at another site, I get the impression that FO considers “life qua man” as circular reasoning because “qua man” apparently indicates life as per the moral system of Objectivism. This, again, is false; and this is a symptom of rationalistic reasoning. “Qua man” is derived from obervation and the empirical study of man’s *existential* nature; man’s identity; man’s unique attributes, qualities, and characteristics. The law of Identity (and its corollary) necessitates that the entity act according to its nature. Since volition is an aspect of causality for human beings, human nature necessitates that we live volitionally, which necessitates the need for a guide-book to life, i.e., a moral system. In brief, “qua man” is not a rationalistically derived standard at the base of Objectivist ethics; “qua man” is derived empirically and inductively from reality.

  36. FO said

    The issue of “the choice to live” is not about whether to live as long as possible

    The point with stating things is this manner was to highlight the relationship between a choice and a hypothetical imperative as guide for how to carry out the intentions behind this choice. It doesn’t matter whether Objectivism subscribe to this or not, the point is only that “the choice to live as long as possible” can be sidestepped and any choice that entails meaningful hypothetical imperaitves have to be on this level of specificness, and they can thereby be sidestepped (which is a problem if you claim that morality itself rest on a fundamental choice that entails hypothetical imperatives). The choice to live, and man qua man are inherently vague, and it is hard to make a point while using such vague phrases.

    The issue is as follows: In “the choice to live,” one of the alternatives (one of its alternants) is the ethical choice to live as X [pick a noun], which anyone may optionally append “as long as possible.” The two general categories for X as proposed by Objectivism are either “rational man” or “subhuman animal.” [See the fourth paragraph of my #17.] The other alternant in “the choice to live” is literally to die. If I could use my previous analogy, the pro-life alternant is like the choice to reach for a book on the bookshelf.

    We can refine this example further; first you stand in an empty room with a door. On the door is a sign that says “Enter the door and pick a lifestyle, or stay and die”.

    If the (wannabe) dictator stands in the empty room he knows exatly what to do and why. He has a desire for a life in power and if he would find that the dictatorbook was already taken, then he would go back into the empty room and await his death (or maybe pick the pimp book).

    So, the dictator enters the room and sees the shelf, on top of the shelf is a sign that says “Pick the lifestyle you want”, the shelf itself is divided into two sections; “proper lifestyles” and “not so proper lifestyles”. He looks around in the proper lifestyle section, he opens a couple of books: Objectivist philospher, truckdriver, a book that briefly captures his interest about being a secret agent for a minarchist government. However, on the whole he is decisively unimpressed. He then looks around in the not so proper section and immeditaly finds what he is looking for: “Warrior Conqueror Ruler”.

    First we can conclude that what book he ought to choose (the books in the proper lifestyle section) has absolutely nothing to do with his reasons for entering the room, thus the morality isn’t hypothetical in the sense that he ought to choose a book that gives the necessary conditions for carrying out the intenstion behinds his chocie for entering the room.

    Now, Objectivism claims that the morality is hypothetcial because the dictator had a choice in the first room. But this choice doesn’t make much sense, because when the dictator stands in the first room he is a human being with a reasoning mind that can evaluate the choice between staying in the room or entering the other room. It doesn’t make sense to say that we cannot evaluate his reasons in the first room. Or if we envision that the person in the first room is in a blank slate it makes even less sense; “pick a life style”, well, what does that mean? “stay and die”, what does that mean?

    To me this “choice to live” thing seems entirely ad hoc, and the reason it is there seems to be that Rand had an aversion for the word categorical.

  37. FO said

    ThomTG, you wrote on your blog (in the entry about the metaethical choice):

    Since Objectivism holds metaethically that a proper ethics is wholely hypothetical (whether it is Objectivist in content or not), the choice to live, in a modus-ponens way, completes the reasoning process to unfold an ethical system of principles into a morality to guide a person’s choices and actions so as to fulfill his metaethical choice.

    This is exactly what I claim is false, as should be evident by my posts, for example from my last post:

    [...]we can conclude that what book he ought to choose (the books in the proper lifestyle section) has absolutely nothing to do with his reasons for entering the room, thus the morality isn’t hypothetical in the sense that he ought to choose a book that gives the necessary conditions for carrying out the intenstion behinds his chocie for entering the room.

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