Rebirth of Reason

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Sunday, November 23, 2014 - 3:54pmSanction this postReply

Rand's ethical theory was not about mere survival. It was about survival man qua man.  Quotes (link#1):

1. The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics—the standard by which one judges what is good or evil—is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man. (VoS 23) 

2. The Objectivist ethics holds man’s life as the standard of value—and his own life as the ethical purpose of every individual man.

3. The difference between “standard” and “purpose” in this context is as follows: a “standard” is an abstract principle that serves as a measurement or gauge to guide a man’s choices in the achievement of a concrete, specific purpose. “That which is required for the survival of man qua man” is an abstract principle that applies to every individual man. (VoS 25)


Others have also addressed  'survival versus flourishing'.

Link #2. Excerpt: Nonetheless, it seems clear to me that Smith is onto something here: survival and flourishing do not really seem to function as separate standards at all. For me at least, her most compelling argument on this point comes when she points out (pp. 126-27) that even when we evaluate the well-being of the lower animals, the standard of survival cannot really be applied in complete isolation from flourishing-related concepts.


Link #3: Excerpt: It's time for a truce between the Survivalists and the Flourishers. For properly understood, Objectivism can bridge the legitimate concerns of both camps.


Link #4 , Link #5.


Is good health a component of survival or flourishing? It seems to me both.


(Edited by Merlin Jetton on 11/24, 5:34am)

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Monday, November 24, 2014 - 7:26pmSanction this postReply


Joe, I appreciate your arguments on this, and I agree to a considerable degree. I’d like to add that survival in Rand’s ethics means survival of life. That, of course, is supposed to be obvious, but it needs to be underscored, because it means that survival is to include concept of what is life. And as most anyone here knows, for Rand’s standard, it includes concept of human life. What is life? And what is it in its human form? On this I think not enough attention has been given to Nathaniel Branden’s essay “The Divine Right of Stagnation.” (In one paragraph of your article, about dynamics of needs, I think you were informed by his essay; it is important, very important to give credit.) Therein he stressed that growth is essential to life. It is not just that growth is instrumental to continued life in human beings, but that growth and learning are essential to human life, including the life that is our conscious selves. With injury or disease causing deteriation of one's mind, a part of one's self can continue, but it may not be much continuation of one's former full mind, including its tendency to growth. Sometimes as loved ones age, they become so demented, losing so much power of generating thought and action and losing so much memory that we begin to realize that though something of our loved one still lives, that person we love has already died.


Rand’s arguments for why her seven cardinal virtues are virtues of human survival, of human life, give much attention to the conditions of the mind and of mind-body relation that are needed for human mental and physical survival. Such would be integrity and pride.


Thanks again for the close reasoning and for stimulation of this mind.


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 11/24, 7:46pm)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 2:07amSanction this postReply

To me survival is what one does when the economy is really bad.  Your hours get cut or you become unemployed so you are just living day to day just getting by ( perhaps even having to " live off the grid") I would like to add though that sometimes many life enhancing innovations are actually invented during these times as necessity is the mother of invention.   Flourishing is what one does when business is good, you are in a growth stage and are able to think beyond mere survival.  At these times I end up working as hard as possible so as to be able to "coast" through the leaner times. :)

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Tuesday, November 25, 2014 - 9:48amSanction this postReply

With the word "standard" there are slightly different meanings. There is the use of the word as meaning a unit of measurement such as choosing feet and inches for the standard to used for a linear measurement in a given context.  The other, slightly different, meaning is to indicate the "gold standard" the example to which one compares others. Not so much a unit as a height or kind. This is the meaning that gives a kind of directionality or hierarchy. One might say, "When it comes to honesty, that man sets the standard."


When the word standard is intended to supply an objective UNIT of measurement, there is more of a separation from the meaning of "goal" or "purpose." I might have the purpose of cutting a piece of wood to given length, and choose the standard of feet and inches, but the standard just a tool and it can be used to move towards my goal, but in no way would it BE my goal.


If I choose functionality of some sort, within some context as my standard it could be in the sense of "That which is the most functional in this context is the highest of achievements," then I am attempting to measure different possible outcomes, say in the making of a bookcase, against all others and comparing them to see which has the most functionality.  In that approach it appears like taking the highest achievement (directionality) and then attempting to use that to create a unit - and the unit might only be hierarchical.


An example of that might be where medical science sets 65 beats per minute (just making up a number here) as the standard of health for the resting heart rate of an adult male.  Once they have established that, they can convert it to a measurment with units and draw lines marking good health from poor health.


As for "survival" as a standard, one can see three different ways that can be viewed.
1. "Survival" as a biological yes or no issue.
2. Survival as a process of functionality appropriate to man qua man. For example, Medical people are focused on survival but they don't just think of biological life as a binary yes-no issue. They look at the degree of functionality for the organ in question. When sports medicine started to take hold, one of the things that happened was that the concept of healthy functionality was raised as they saw what the normal or healthy functioning of, say a heart, was for an athlete.
3. Survival as flourishing as measured by the satisfaction of those needs that become exposed as the more basic needs have been taken care of.


I think that "survival" as a biological yes/no issue, i.e., alive or dead, can be thrown out for the simple reason that it doesn't differentiate between a person having an awesome life from a person in a coma, but still alive.


"Survival" as a standard where it refers to the connection of potential values with their impact on a person's survival has a few problems. It never rises to the level of a universal standard because it is dependent upon the context of the moment of the individual. We know that we have values that are universal to all men, and we have values that arise out of an individual context, and values that are more like preferences ("Coke or Pepsi?").  And what we "need" is a question that presupposes objectively determined values.


Those values that are common to all men, as men, are going to be more fundamental than the others.



A standard is for measuring (or just directing choice based upon a simple hierarchy), and a purpose is required to answer the question of why - "why do I need to determine which option is of greater value?"


Each (values and purposes) can be marched back in their intellectual hierarchy to the most fundamental instance of its kind. If we march back purpose, we get something like "living a life that grants the most longterm happiness possible."  But that presumes that longterm happiness is the greatest of values.  Maybe that isn't coincidental - maybe to be the most fundamental requires that they merge and are not separable at that level of fundamentality?


I once asked Ayn Rand, at a question answer period, if happiness shouldn't be our standard. She misunderstood where I was coming from and said something about me arguing for hedonism, which I wasn't.  But there is no purpose to fulfilling needs, to biological survival, or to flourishing (whatever that is chosen to mean) if the result isn't a positive emotional experience. Just as robots don't have choice and thus can't hold values as we do, they don't have happiness and can't value the experience of life as we do. Living life but without "experiencing" it would have no value.



Flourishing only makes sense if we hold it intellectually as a capacity that is exercised - not as a laundry list of achievments.



Generalizing a standard for psychology is easier than for man's life itself which is such a broad context. In psychology we look at the capacity to assert one's values, to accept the reality of one's context and self, to accept love and success, etc.  When we see unnecessary blocks in these or other areas, like excessive defensiveness, or rationaliztion, or avoidance, or unreasonable fears, then we deem these as unhealthy (disvalues). When we look at the individual, he presents the context, but the principles are already established as what is healthy for man given his nature (that "given his nature" is the man qua man).


That is the idea of a standard for flourishing in the context limited to psychology. And we all have a sense of what flourishing means in the context of medicine.


At this point I don't see as much of a difference between "flourishing" as I've been describing it, and "survival" as a process of satisfying successive levels of needs, except that flourishing implies that we already have a set of standards of what is better than something else - a direction, whereas 'successive levels of needs' still leaves open the issue of what is a need, and how do we measure the worth of this need over that need.


I'm not sure that either is described well enough yet to act as a standard such that they could be used without falling into the trap of circular reasoning.


If we reject the notion that all values are relative to the individual and there can be no values that are universal, then we come face to face with the importance of studying human nature, just as the psychologist and the medical scientist must study their subject matter to discern the universal from the individual/accidental.


Joe talks about flourishing as a way of describing someone who is surviving well. This gives a directionality to survival and implies degrees of flourishing/survival. But it doesn't help with making a unit of measurement that is universal.


I don't think that flourishing or survival work as a standard. I think we need to have a deeper look at "life," which Rand defines as a process, where the context is life as generalized to fit the context of human nature - life as man ought to live it given his nature. The result we want is a hierarchy of values that are common to all men, and from which individuals can make choices that may or may not be unique to their context.


Let's say I am faced with choice where my mind throws up three options for a given encounter with another person.  

1) I can tell them what I honestly believe, but it will be uncomfortable,

2) I can avoid the question - sidestep it, but I the issue at hand isn't really addressed and I know they will go off without an answer, or

3) I can tell them a lie, but that could come back and bite me later.

We all walk about in a state where we live inside of a nest of hierarchial purposes. I have a purpose that is local to the immediate moment of dealing with this person, I have a purpose that is broader and relates to the relationship with the person over time, and I have a purpose that has to do being the person I want to be, and I have that broadest of purposes of having the happiest of lives possible to me.


Objectively I know that I need to integrate my levels of purpose to avoid contradictions and conflicts. This can't be done without a hierarchy of values. I have to value holding my sense of who I am and my right to be who I am higher than I hold the importance of the other person's opinion and the avoidance of a moment of uncomfortable conflict. I have to hold my sense of staying true to myself as more important than staying friends -if that is what it comes down to. I have to hold onto the idea that honesty and integrity are requirements for longterm happiness.

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Saturday, August 1, 2015 - 2:16amSanction this postReply

Historical note attaching to post #1 (and touching the issue of giving due credit):


“Every step upward opens to man a wider range of action and achievement—and creates the need for that action and achievement. There is no final, permanent ‘plateau’. . . . Survival demands constant growth and creativeness.”

—Nathaniel Branden in “The Divine Right of Stagnation” (1963)


“Intelligence, considered in what seems to be its original feature, is the faculty of manufacturing artificial objects, especially tools to make tools, and of indefinitely varying the manufacture.

. . .

[Such manufacture] reacts on the nature of the being that constructs it; for in calling on him to exercise a new function, it confers on him, so to speak, a richer organization, being an artificial organ by which the natural organism is extended. For every need that it satisfies, it creates a new need; and so, instead of closing like instinct, the round of action within which the animal tends to move automatically, it lays open to activity an unlimited field into which it is driven further and further, and made more and more free (155–56).


“[Intelligence] can never satisfy itself entirely, because every new satisfaction creates new needs” (160).

—Henri Bergson in Creative Evolution (1911)


Note also that Bergson’s thought, in this section of his book, on instinctual construction of tools (such as a bird nest) in contrast to human intelligent construction of tools (such as a steam engine) is an element in Rand’s presentation of her philosophy in Galt’s speech (by which time, we had gone to diesel-electric locomotives).


(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 8/01, 4:25am)

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