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Monday, October 6, 2008 - 8:30pmSanction this postReply
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Your take on value related terms, such as "should," can be summarized as that they merely refer to the relationships between ends and means. You "should" eat, IF you want to live. Specify a goal condition, and the values fall into place in the analysis of a path to that goal.

This is true so far as it goes. However, it is also true that many goal conditions are simply impossible, due to the nature of reality. I might wish that I had the power to change lead into gold by merely chanting over it, but there is no path to that goal.

In other cases, goal conditions are mutually exclusive, as in eating ones' cake, etc.

Thus, right from the outset, one is challenged by the nature of reality itself to analyze and evaluate ones goals themselves. In the process of eliminating meaningless, impossible and mutually exclusive goals, it should become clear to a rational being that goals that are inconsistent with life itself cannot be successfully pursued.

However, this is taking the issue out of a real context and treating it like a floating abstraction. Living, conscious, rational entities do not suddenly "poof!" into existence seeking answers to existential questions. Such entities as human beings have a history, of organizing primitive sensations as a fetus, reorganizing the sensations into percepts on the basis of testing and then further organizing the percepts into concepts, etc. That history is important in understanding the is/ought issue.

The driving force in all this process of building a consciousness, involving millions, probably trillions of choices and paths, was the successful integration of data into a model of reality that could be continuously tested and verified via the feedback of action and observation. It was an evolutionary process that selected for the integrations that provided the most complete and coherent and efficient organization of data from the real world.

All the intellectual virtues were created, called into play and reinforced during this process, which was not arbitrary, but rather guided implicitly by the natural needs of the living entity.

Thus, at the point that a person starts asking the question "why," as in the example you gave, they have implicitly already given the answer - "to live." Otherwise, why ask "why" to begin with. That entity, that child, is attempting to extent the process of integration that started in the womb to the next natural level.

In a parallel to the character in Roger Rabbit, who explained her character in the famous phrase, "I'm just drawn that way," we just grew up that way. It wasn't very much a matter of choice. The mistakes - the deviations from the central inherent goal of integrating the data of the universe in the service of our well being - were erased from our sensory system, forgotten by our perceptual system, and identified as error, and thereby removed from normal consideration as potential premises, by our conceptual understanding.

Thus, it is legitimate to tell someone they are wrong, not just 'IF' they want to live, but in the sense that they have an error condition in their processing if they do not value life itself, as such a conclusion is inconsistent with what they as an evolved consciousness have been attempting to do with every breath and every synapse firing since they were conceived.




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Post 1

Monday, October 6, 2008 - 9:51pmSanction this postReply
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I've always considered this a somewhat stupid question. When being asked, it usually implies the assumption that there is some unknowable, noble and over-riding answer, not grounded in the current known reality. Bunk.

Life has no intrinsic meaning. Life only attains any meaning through one's own actions. We give meaning to our own lives only through how we live them. I can't see anything better than that.

jt



Post 2

Tuesday, October 7, 2008 - 1:25pmSanction this postReply
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Phil,
Thus, it is legitimate to tell someone they are wrong, not just 'IF' they want to live, but in the sense that they have an error condition in their processing if they do not value life itself, as such a conclusion is inconsistent with what they as an evolved consciousness have been attempting to do with every breath and every synapse firing since they were conceived.
Well said.


Dean,

From knowing me you must already know I disagree, so let me ask you eight questions:

================
Have you ever known anyone who didn't have it as one of their goals to be happy?

... and ...

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek knowledge?

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek health (mental or physical)?

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek beauty?

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek a friend?

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek self-esteem?

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek purpose?

Have you ever known anyone who got happy without having it as one of their goals to seek freedom?
================

Ed
[edited because I doubled-up on one of my "Seven Universal Values of Humans" -- I had the knowledge question listed twice]

(Edited by Ed Thompson on 10/07, 8:22pm)




Post 3

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 - 11:24pmSanction this postReply
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In order for there to be any goals in life, there has to be an ultimate goal -- one that is valued for its own sake as an end in itself, rather than as a means to some further end or goal. A healthy life is an end in itself, because it involves the experience of happiness, which is valued for its own sake. Given that a healthy life and its psychological concomitant, happiness, is valued as an end in itself, it follows that one "ought" to do whatever will best enable one to achieve a healthy and happy life.

To be sure, the means to that end can, at least to some extent, vary from person to person, as each person's happiness can be realized in different ways, which can depend on the individual's unique circumstances. But there are, nevertheless, certain general principles that apply to everyone in virtue of being human, and which, if followed, will lead to that desired end.

- Bill



Post 4

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - 6:18amSanction this postReply
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Dean:

I liked this article a lot. It is simply and straightforwardly written.

Thanks

Sam




Post 5

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - 10:54amSanction this postReply
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Dean, first of all, thanks for the article. As Sam said, it was well written and your point clearly stated. I realize now that in Post 3, I should have been more pointed and thorough in my response to you. In this post, I shall attempt to remedy that shortcoming. You wrote,
There is no universal goal. It is not satisfactory to include what one ought to do in your definition of what one is. Ayn Rand tried to do this with her concept of a "proper man". There is no goal prescribed by properties of the universe. No scientist will ever deduce what one should do from discovering the properties of elemental components of the universe. Nor will a religious person ever satisfactorily discover a worthwhile goal from some proposed God. Lacking evidence, a religious person accepts a proposed God's moral commands. They then frequently claim that a non-believer lacks morality. But their reason for acceptance of the moral commands are baseless: still the same problem.

How do we come about acquiring a goal, one's first goal, one's primary goal, and have a satisfactory logically valid reason for having it? It is impossible, unless you finally accept that your first goal is baseless. The meaning of life only exists as chosen by the individual. "The meaning of life", your goals, are chosen by you. One's only defense to someone's criticism is "These are the goals chosen and that is how it is."
You criticize Rand for arguing that there is a "universal goal" -- a fundamental value -- that is common to everyone. You argue, by contrast, that one's primary goal -- one's ultimate value -- is baseless and therefore arbitrary.

In Post 3, I gave what I consider to be an argument for why it is not baseless and, therefore, not arbitrary. As I understand Rand, she makes essentially the same argument. In her essay, "The Objectivist Ethics," she states:
In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts or reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought."
What Rand is saying, in so many words, is that it is a fact that living entities hold their own lives as their primary value. This is true for man as well as for other living organisms. It is an observable fact that human beings value happiness and disvalue its opposite, pain and suffering. Their valuation of happiness (and their disvaluation of pain and suffering) is built into their nature as living organisms. It is not something they have any choice or control over. And the satisfaction of that value depends upon the satisfaction of their needs as living organisms. Given this unalterable, biological fact -- that they value their own happiness and, accordingly, their needs as living organisms, it follows that they "ought" to live in a pro-life manner. This is what Rand means when she says that "The fact that a living entity is determines what it ought to do so." What is it about her argument that you disagree with or find unsatisfactory?

- Bill



Post 6

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - 2:22pmSanction this postReply
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Dean said, "Indeed, it is true that it cannot be deduced what one ought to do from merely what is. 'Should' is a declaration that it is best for a thing to act or be some way in order to achieve a particular goal."

I have to say, "...merely what is." Merely? What a strange adverb to attach to the verb that represents existence!

Dean continues, "There is no universal goal. It is not satisfactory to include what one ought to do in your definition of what one is."

Dean, when you say, "It is not satisfactory to..." is that like, "One ought not to..." And isn't that, well, you know?
---------------

I see two basic problems with Dean's position.

1) He implies that a goal does not reside in the world of 'is.' But there IS a goal in all things alive. It IS there in the process of life and it is not an artificial or arbitrary construct but rather an objective fact of life. Goals exist for living organisms whether or not they have awareness of the goal as a goal and without regard for the validity of any understandings you, I, or Dean have, and independent of the success or failure of any actions. It is inherent in the nature of life. Biologic structures and behaviors are understood in a context of evolution and that is the look at all life as goal directed functioning.

2) Goal are values and values are objective. That which is good is rationally demonstrable as such - all that is needed is a standard. Life hands us an overall context - hence, a standard. There are laws we derive that describe for us what already exists in reality - some substances, in some quantities are good for my health, like vitamins, and others are bad for my health, like toxins. The fact that we are charged with grasping and implementing goals using our volitional consciousness which is quite capable of error does not mean that objective goals aren't there - whether we discover them or not and whether we discover them accurately.
----------------

Is Dean saying we "ought" not to derive ought from is? If so what is the "is" from which he derived that "ought"? If we cannot derive an ought from an is, then all oughts are totally adrift from reality (remember, no matter how Clinton tried to define "is," it remains 'existence'). I don't think Dean has realized that his position would make all of ethics and morality and all systems built thereupon, like politics, completely arbitrary. There is no objectivity in Objectivism if you can not derive 'ought' from 'is' - values from reality. I see no middle ground here.

(p.s., my apologies to Bill for restating some of what he has already written in post above... I ought to have known better, but my goal of getting it said just took over :-)





Post 7

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - 6:22pmSanction this postReply
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Commenting on Dean's article, Steve wrote,
Dean said, "Indeed, it is true that it cannot be deduced what one ought to do from merely what is. 'Should' is a declaration that it is best for a thing to act or be some way in order to achieve a particular goal."

I have to say, "...merely what is." Merely? What a strange adverb to attach to the verb that represents existence!

Dean continues, "There is no universal goal. It is not satisfactory to include what one ought to do in your definition of what one is."

Dean, when you say, "It is not satisfactory to..." is that like, "One ought not to..." And isn't that, well, you know?
I think Dean is wrong, not because he contradicts himself, as Steve is suggesting, but because all normative statements are primarily factual. Or, to put it another way, all prescriptive statements are ultimately descriptive. In saying that one ought to act a certain way, one is saying that it is the case that one ought to act that way. One is making a statement about reality.

All facts -- both normative and non-normative -- are grasped by observing reality -- by observing what exists. The old Humean saw that one can't get an 'ought' from an 'is' is a disgraceful piece of sophistry. There are things that one ought to do and ideas that one ought to accept, and the only place to get this information is existence -- reality -- the real world. We ought to do certain things and accept certain ideas, because they ARE the means to the achievement of our values. What we 'ought' to do is based, and can only be based, on what 'is.' There is no where else to go.

- Bill




Post 8

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - 9:10pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for your compliments and comments!

Phil, Ed, Bill, I'll have to disagree that every life form's goal is to live.

Evolution doesn't guarantee that every life form has the goal to live. Its just that things that don't have the goal to live quickly die, so there aren't too many around. They still come into existence in the same way that other mutations happen, or one comes into existence by a change in one's thoughts.

Ever heard of a suicide bomber (Or... I can come up with tons of examples of things that have died by making bad decisions when they know/don't know the consequences before hand)? Have you or someone you know ever felt very depressed and had a hard time finding a reason to do anything? And I'd like to question that even though one's goal may be to live, one may still question "Why should one have such a goal?".

The answer "Because evolution results in species who's DNA/proteins builds organisms that generally have the goal to maintain and multiply the DNA/proteins." does not satisfy me. Why should I do what evolution has most probably given me the general strive to do?

Steve, I agree that goals are a part of what exists. In that sentence, I meant "What a thing is minus its current goals if it has any.". You said "That which is good is rationally demonstrable as such - all that is needed is a standard. Life hands us an overall context - hence, a standard." I don't follow how you determined that life should be the standard. By "not satisfactory" I meant "does not logically follow from the premises".

Bill, In your quote of Rand you provided where Rand includes the goal to live in the definition of what a thing is. That is what I was talking about in the article, that she does that, and so do all of you! : P

I do agree that we all on this forum have the general goal to live, yet very in length of time, accomplishments, number of children, ... Yet why should we have it? And how can you convince a suicidal maniac not to kill himself or others?

I think we all understand what we mean, no? Isn't it clear that I'm leaving out my current goals in this discussion, while you are keeping them as a premise?



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Post 9

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - 11:42pmSanction this postReply
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Dean wrote:
Evolution doesn't guarantee that every life form has the goal to live. Its just that things that don't have the goal to live quickly die, so there aren't too many around. They still come into existence in the same way that other mutations happen, or one comes into existence by a change in one's thoughts.
Could you give me an example of a living organism that is not goal-directed or one that, if goal-directed, does not have life as its goal? Of course, organisms emerge that die out, but isn't that because they are not well enough equipped to survive, not that they have as their goal something other than survival?
Ever heard of a suicide bomber (Or... I can come up with tons of examples of things that have died by making bad decisions when they know/don't know the consequences before hand)?
People become suicide bombers not because life is not a value to them, but because they have failed to recognize it as a value. What I am saying is that, for anyone who is capable of achieving happiness, life is objectively worth valuing, not that everyone necessarily holds it as a value. If life were not objectively valuable to a suicide bomber, then how could you or anyone else condemn his behavior? You couldn't.
Have you or someone you know ever felt very depressed and had a hard time finding a reason to do anything?
Serious depression merits treatment, unless one's life is such that happiness is no longer a realistic possibility. Suicide is not a rational alternative, when treatment is available.
And I'd like to question that even though one's goal may be to live, one may still question "Why should one have such a goal?".
Because a happy life is valuable for its own sake, as an end in itself. See my previous post.
The answer "Because evolution results in species who's DNA/proteins builds organisms that generally have the goal to maintain and multiply the DNA/proteins." does not satisfy me. Why should I do what evolution has most probably given me the general strive to do?
But that's not the answer. The answer is that a happy life is an end in itself, worth pursuing for its own sake.
Steve, I agree that goals are a part of what exists. In that sentence, I meant "What a thing is minus its current goals if it has any.". You said "That which is good is rationally demonstrable as such - all that is needed is a standard. Life hands us an overall context - hence, a standard." I don't follow how you determined that life should be the standard. By "not satisfactory" I meant "does not logically follow from the premises".
If I may respond -- a happy life IS the standard, because it is worth pursuing simply for what it has to offer. We determine this by identifying the fact that what is conducive to our survival is also that which promotes our own happiness.
Bill, In your quote of Rand you provided where Rand includes the goal to live in the definition of what a thing is. That is what I was talking about in the article, that she does that, and so do all of you! : P
Yes, because life IS objectively valuable to those things that possess it. To be sure, man can act as his own destroyer -- he can choose to act against his self-interest -- the most extreme example of which is the suicide bomber. Rand makes this very point in her essay "The Objectivist Ethics, but she also observes that such self-destruction is not in one's rational self-interest.
I do agree that we all on this forum have the general goal to live, yet very in length of time, accomplishments, number of children, ... Yet why should we have it? And how can you convince a suicidal maniac not to kill himself or others?
A suicidal maniac is not rational to begin with, so it's probably impossible to convince him, unless of course he becomes rational. But one's ability to convince a suicidal maniac of the irrationality of his action cannot be the criterion of whether or not he is acting irrationally. The criterion of whether or not he is acting irrationally is reality, not his ability or willingness to accept one's argument.

- Bill





Post 10

Sunday, March 14, 2010 - 3:48pmSanction this postReply
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How does one define happiness? If you want to define happiness as a goal within itself, first tell me what happiness "is". William said "The answer is that a happy life is an end in itself, worth pursuing for its own sake. " , yet without "knowing what happiness is, as it cannot be defined a priori, how can it become a value?



Post 11

Sunday, March 14, 2010 - 4:01pmSanction this postReply
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Let me ask you this, Rick.

If you were happy, would you be unhappy?



Post 12

Sunday, March 14, 2010 - 5:30pmSanction this postReply
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Dean,

You wrote, "Steve, I agree that goals are a part of what exists. In that sentence, I meant "What a thing is minus its current goals if it has any.". You said "That which is good is rationally demonstrable as such - all that is needed is a standard. Life hands us an overall context - hence, a standard." I don't follow how you determined that life should be the standard. By 'not satisfactory' I meant 'does not logically follow from the premises."

Bill, responded to this as follows:

"If I may respond -- a happy life IS the standard, because it is worth pursuing simply for what it has to offer. We determine this by identifying the fact that what is conducive to our survival is also that which promotes our own happiness."

That is an excellent answer, but I would go farther and state that both life and happiness are very basic alternatives. Without life you can have no values - there is no 'you' to value things. So that makes it the primary value. Then the alternatives of 'happy' versus 'not happy' becomes a very primary purpose. Can one name a single thing that they would rate higher than long-term happiness? What would you trade for happiness (ending up with a permanent state of misery) but getting what you traded for?
-------------

Ayn Rand arrived at life as the most basic value in this way:

"It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil."

Do find anything you disagree with in that formulation?



Post 13

Thursday, December 23, 2010 - 9:20pmSanction this postReply
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In order for there to be a question of what one OUGHT to do, he must first exist. He must be alive. He must “be” or “is”. Thus, “being”… or remaining alive, is the ultimate goal that an ought must strive for. Otherwise, one would die, and asking “what ought I do” is a moot point.

Here is a quote from "The Objectivist Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness:

It is only an ultimate goal, and end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”

In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”



Post 14

Thursday, December 23, 2010 - 11:18pmSanction this postReply
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Ryan, you wrote,
In order for there to be a question of what one OUGHT to do, he must first exist. He must be alive. He must “be” or “is”. Thus, “being”… or remaining alive, is the ultimate goal that an ought must strive for. Otherwise, one would die, and asking “what ought I do” is a moot point.
It is true that in order for there to be a question of what one ought to do, one must first exist in order to ask the question, but it doesn't follow from that that one's ultimate goal must be to exist or to remain alive. Your argument confuses a precondition of morality with the ultimate end of morality; these are two very different things. Even though one must first be alive in order to entertain the question of what one "ought" to do, one could still, under certain conditions, rationally opt to end one's life, if one finds that it is no longer worth living.

Say one is dying of an excruciating terminal illness like cancer. Couldn't one ask, "What ought I to do in this situation?" -- and answer it by saying, "I'd be better off ending my life than living it in a state of prolonged agony."? Couldn't one rationally opt for physician-assisted suicide? In that case, one's ultimate goal wouldn't simply be to "exist," but to exist in a way that enables one to achieve one's values -- to live a happy, fulfilling life. If that were no longer possible, the best option could very well be to escape the excruciating illness in the only way possible -- by ending one's life.

Rand's argument is not that life per se or mere existence is an end in itself or that suicide is never justified, but that a life worth living is an end in itself -- that a happy life is one's highest moral purpose. I know she doesn't say precisely that in the quotation you cited, but that is what she means. Recall Cheryl Brooks' committing suicide in Atlas Shrugged. Rand describes her as doing so with full consciousness of acting in self-preservation. What is the self that she is preserving? A life that she has come to know and love, but which she now realizes is no longer possible. For her, no other life is worth living. Or consider John Galt's willingness to commit suicide if Dagny Taggert is tortured. He is willing to end his life in order to avoid the total and devastating loss of his highest values, which would otherwise occur.

(Edited by William Dwyer on 12/23, 11:49pm)




Post 15

Friday, December 24, 2010 - 2:48pmSanction this postReply
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Welcome to RoR, Ryan.

Ed




Post 16

Friday, December 24, 2010 - 4:50pmSanction this postReply
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Yes, welcome, Ryan! I guess I was a bit abrupt in my reply. Feel free to reply and to argue with me, if you disagree. That's what we do here! :-)

Cheers!

Bill



Post 17

Monday, June 3 - 5:04amSanction this postReply
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"Descriptive ethics tells us only what is, not what ought to be. Ought here means the justification of an ultimate goal, not what should be done to reach an agreed-upon goal." The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (St. Martin's Griffin, 1999), p. 90.

This is an interesting way to put it because Sam Harris in his tackling of the is/ought gap in the moral landscape confuses the two instances of the use of the term 'ought'





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