Brian Smith

Values, Intrinsic Value, and Choice

104 posts in this topic

If a morality preaches death, neither it nor any action it advocates can be called "good".
And what is the standard of value which makes this statement true? The standard of life. And can one CHOOSE another standard? Yes - as the above explicitly indicates. Thus, your entire statement rests on the fact of a CHOICE.

And that is what I have been saying all along. I do not know how to make that fact any clear to you.

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If a morality preaches death, neither it nor any action it advocates can be called "good".
And what is the standard of value which makes this statement true? The standard of life. And can one CHOOSE another standard? Yes - as the above explicitly indicates. Thus, your entire statement rests on the fact of a CHOICE.

And that is what I have been saying all along. I do not know how to make that fact any clear to you.

I share your frustration. My statement is true not because I’ve chosen life, but because to hold any other standard than life abandons the concept of value. As Dr. Smith said, “value arises for those who seek to maintain their lives. It is only for people who wish to live that we can intelligibly distinguish things as good for them and bad for them relative to that purpose.”

Later in the quotation from me, I said, "How, then, does one evaluate faith or self-sacrifice? You don't say, 'it's good for the Christians', you say it's evil and inimical to human life." When you do judge any other morality, it is with reference to the goal of living, because again that's the purpose of morality and the context within which value has any meaning. There are no other standards in which things can be judged as good or bad.

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When you do judge any other morality, it is with reference to the goal of living, because again that's the purpose of morality and the context within which value has any meaning.
And WHY do I judge any other morality that way? Because I have CHOSEN life as the standard of value. Without CHOOSING a standard of value (whatever standard it might be), I could not make any judgment WHATSOEVER. The fact that I have made a choice in accord with existence, rather than in opposition to it, doesn't change the fact that it is still a choice.

So, unless you dispute the fact that there is a choice to be made - that there is no CHOICE between life or death as you aptly put it - or that there is no difference in the actions one takes and the ends one pursues because of the choice of standard of value - then there is NO dispute here.

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When you do judge any other morality, it is with reference to the goal of living, because again that's the purpose of morality and the context within which value has any meaning.
And WHY do I judge any other morality that way? Because I have CHOSEN life as the standard of value. Without CHOOSING a standard of value (whatever standard it might be), I could not make any judgment WHATSOEVER. The fact that I have made a choice in accord with existence, rather than in opposition to it, doesn't change the fact that it is still a choice.

So, unless you dispute the fact that there is a choice to be made - that there is no CHOICE between life or death as you aptly put it - or that there is no difference in the actions one takes and the ends one pursues because of the choice of standard of value - then there is NO dispute here.

ALL moralities involve a choice, so I don't think that anyone is disputing that choice is involved. The issue here is evaluating particular moralities as to their truth and value as a moral code. In this context, choice is a non-issue since it applies to any morality, but whether or not a morality promotes human life is the essential consideration.

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ALL moralities involve a choice, so I don't think that anyone is disputing that choice is involved.
THIS post certainly seemed to raise that question. And in THIS post, it was claimed my statements about choice being necessary for any identification of a value or a good to be made were examples of subjectivism. Based on these and many other comments, I do not see the basis for claiming that the issue of choice is not in dispute.

That said, if everyone actually agrees that nothing may be identified as a value or as good without reference to a particular choice of a standard of value (whatever it might be), then I would say we are all in agreement.

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If I understand Brian's position correctly, it is remarkably consistent with a fascinating discussion in OPAR in the section titled, "Values as Objective," at the end of Chapter 7, "The Good." For anyone seeking to understand Brian's position more clearly, I recommend that section of OPAR. (I would be especially interested in reading about any respects in which anyone concludes that Brian's view conflicts with the OPAR discussion. I have not taken the time that would be required to compare Brian's statements with the OPAR analysis line by line.)

In Chapter 8, "Virtue," there is also an excellent discussion of how physical force invalidates what would otherwise be a value for man, such as obtaining a million dollars by robbing a bank or defrauding investors, or being ordered by government to follow a particular career for which one may actually be well suited. That discussion appears (starting on p. 315) in the section titled, "The Initiation of Physical Force as Evil."

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As Dr. Smith said, “value arises for those who seek to maintain their lives. It is only for people who wish to live that we can intelligibly distinguish things as good for them and bad for them relative to that purpose.”

Later in the quotation from me, I said, "How, then, does one evaluate faith or self-sacrifice? You don't say, 'it's good for the Christians', you say it's evil and inimical to human life." When you do judge any other morality, it is with reference to the goal of living, because again that's the purpose of morality and the context within which value has any meaning. There are no other standards in which things can be judged as good or bad.

"It is only for people who wish to live that we can intelligibly distinguish things as good for them and bad for them"

"you say it's evil and inimical to human life"

The two sentences seem to contradict. The contradiction would be:

* Only for someone who chose life can something be good or bad for them.

* Even if someone did not choose life, things can still be good or bad for them.

Is there an error in one of my rephrased statements above? If not, how do you settle the contradiction?

To me it seems false to say that "It is only for people who wish to live that we can intelligibly distinguish things as good for them and bad for them". As I understand it, morality for man emerges from man's nature, with life qua man as the standard (and ultimate value). This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it. What do you think?

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This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it.
Since a value is that which a man chooses to gain and/or keep, by what means does it "become" a value without "man's choice"? Or is the claim that "life" is a value with or without man's choice?

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This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it.
Since a value is that which a man chooses to gain and/or keep, by what means does it "become" a value without "man's choice"? Or is the claim that "life" is a value with or without man's choice?

A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. This is true of human beings and it is also true of other living organisms that do act to gain and keep that which their lives require but don't choose to do so.

When a baby is born, he is alive and he acts to remain alive, but does a newborn choose to live? In this case, the only way you can say that he does is that by "choice" you don't mean a conscious decision but, instead, merely that he acts to remain alive vs. not acting to remain alive.

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A value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. This is true of human beings and it is also true of other living organisms that do act to gain and keep that which their lives require but don't choose to do so.
Again, this is a dropping of context. But this particular dropping of context is troubling. Not only is it the same dropped context I explicitly noted and disposed of previously, but Ms. Speicher herself just established the same context in post 79 (though as I subsequently noted, the conclusion drawn in that post was questionable - an observation supported by prior postings and now by more recent postings).

Thus, while it is true that there are living things which do not choose to act, but act by some automatic means instead, such entities are neither the subject of this thread nor the Forum category in which it resides - ie "Ethics". That being the case, such statements do not address my comments, let alone serve as any sort of rebuttal to them.

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Thus I repeat (with emphasis):

This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it.
Since a value is that which a MAN chooses to gain and/or keep, by what means does it "become" a value without "man's choice"? Or is the claim that "life" is a value with or without man's choice?

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Thus I repeat (with emphasis):
This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it.
Since a value is that which a MAN chooses to gain and/or keep, by what means does it "become" a value without "man's choice"? Or is the claim that "life" is a value with or without man's choice?

Then what do you mean by "choice?"

Would you say that if a person acts to gain or keep something, that proves that the something is a chosen value? If a newborn acts or reacts is that an act of choice? Can any action that a human being takes be regarded as an act of choice?

Defining "choice" and giving some examples would help me to understand this better.

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If a newborn acts or reacts is that an act of choice? Can any action that a human being takes be regarded as an act of choice?
As Ms. Speicher explicitly stated in post 79, the context of this discussion is morality (as the title of the Forum Category should make quite clear). And morality is a subject concerning volitional choice - ie is only about those actions which are OPEN to man's CHOICE. As such, I am at a loss to explain why - even after this context has been pointed out multiple times now - Ms. Speicher continues to reference things which are, by her own words, outside this context. Perhaps Ms. Speicher is trying to claim that the actions of "newborns" and the like are subject to moral judgment. In other words, perhaps her suggestion is that it is proper to judge a newborn as unjust for instance, or lacking integrity, or dishonest, or that a "newborn" may even properly be identified as evil. If that is indeed the claim here, then I must disagree quite strongly. But unless that is the claim here, Ms. Speicher's posts are irrelevant to the points I have made because they are irrelevant to the context of morality.

Put simply, in the context of my statements and this thread, unless the claim is that a man has no choice in the standard of value - something even Ms. Speicher previously indicated in the aforementioned post 79 is not the case - then Ms. Speicher's posts have no bearing on the discussion in general nor the statements I have posted, since her statements and assertions drop the context even she herself identified here.

And if Ms. Speicher is now claiming man has no choice in the standard of value, I will simply refer her to this statement by Ayn Rand:

Life or death is man's only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.

On that note, I repeat my statement, hoping that its context will finally be respected:

This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it.
Since a value is that which a man chooses to gain and/or keep, by what means does it "become" a value without "man's choice"? Or is the claim that "life" is a value with or without man's choice?

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"It is only for people who wish to live that we can intelligibly distinguish things as good for them and bad for them"

"you say it's evil and inimical to human life"

The two sentences seem to contradict. The contradiction would be:

* Only for someone who chose life can something be good or bad for them.

* Even if someone did not choose life, things can still be good or bad for them.

Is there an error in one of my rephrased statements above? If not, how do you settle the contradiction?

The error is that the second statement is rephrased incorrectly. If you choose a morality, it's with the goal of living. If you don't want to live, why would you bother to become a Christian, a Muslim or an Objectivist? These are systems that show you how to live, which you don't want to do. Therefore you do not judge Christianity, for example, by saying "it is neither good nor bad" but rather it is evil, because implicit in choosing a morality is the wish to live, and the Christian morality of altruism is inimical to life.

Therefore, the second statement rephrased is actually,

* If someone chooses to live but lives by a morality that is anti-life, that is evil.

To me it seems false to say that "It is only for people who wish to live that we can intelligibly distinguish things as good for them and bad for them". As I understand it, morality for man emerges from man's nature, with life qua man as the standard (and ultimate value). This ultimate value does not require man's choice to become a value, it only requires his choice to maintain it. What do you think?

When we say what is good for man, we mean what is good for man's life. However, what if you don't choose to live? That's the distinction you have to make. How man should live is based on his nature as a rational animal, however whether he should live is the choice of the individual. It is only if he does choose to live that he will say "I should do this or that", in other words that such and such is a value to him.

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ALL moralities involve a choice, so I don't think that anyone is disputing that choice is involved.
THIS post certainly seemed to raise that question. And in THIS post, it was claimed my statements about choice being necessary for any identification of a value or a good to be made were examples of subjectivism. Based on these and many other comments, I do not see the basis for claiming that the issue of choice is not in dispute.

That said, if everyone actually agrees that nothing may be identified as a value or as good without reference to a particular choice of a standard of value (whatever it might be), then I would say we are all in agreement.

The issue, which I have argued since post 12 in this thread is where choice is involved in the concept of value. My argument has been that value is based on the choice to live, whereas your argument has been that it is based on the choice of the standard of value. The result is that, where value based on the choice to live means Objectivism is the only proper moral system, value based on the standard of value makes any action "good" if it accords with the moral standard the individual chooses. In other words, the result is objective morality vs. moral relativism.

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If you choose a morality, it's with the goal of living. If you don't want to live, why would you bother to become a Christian, a Muslim or an Objectivist? These are systems that show you how to live, which you don't want to do. Therefore you do not judge Christianity, for example, by saying "it is neither good nor bad" but rather it is evil, because implicit in choosing a morality is the wish to live...

Do you mean that the choice to live, that the christian in your example has made, is the choice to "survive qua man"?

"Man's survival qua man" means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan - in all the aspects open to his choice.

Do you mean that every adult person I see on the street has chosen to survive "in all the aspects open to his choice"?

Does the choice to "survive qua man" the same as the choice to live? If not, what is the difference?

What if somebody simply chooses to survive physically, and nothing more? (other aspect of him may still exist, but only to serve this end, and not because he chose to maintain them) is it possible to choose that? And then, if this is the ultimate value which was chosen, can "life" in the Objectivist sense, still be used as a gauge to measure what are values or dis-values to this person?

In other words, is it possible for anyone who seeks a morality, to have choose anything else but "survival qua man" (="life") as their ultimate value?

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Do you mean that the choice to live, that the christian in your example has made, is the choice to "survive qua man"?

No, certainly not.

"Man's survival qua man" means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan - in all the aspects open to his choice.

Do you mean that every adult person I see on the street has chosen to survive "in all the aspects open to his choice"?

Does the choice to "survive qua man" the same as the choice to live? If not, what is the difference?

Choosing to live isn't the same as choosing to live rationally.

There are those who want to live and from that set life as their standard of value and evaluate the facts of reality against this standard. They will recognize, to use a primitive example, that fire can cook your food, can protect you from the cold, and can ward off wild beasts, and because these things benefit human life judge them as good. He'll also recognize that because these things are good, the cognitive tool that makes them possible - reason - is also good.

Then there are those who want to live, but believe they can fake reality. The evader may choose to believe that prayer to gods and spirits will sustain and protect him. He wants to live, but he doesn't want to face reality. Instead, he thinks he can live by self-delusion, by living in a fantasy world.

The purpose of morality is to provide a guide to living, and to that end you can measure the validity of any morality by its success at doing that. Now only one of these methods above has a chance of succeeding, so it's to the extent that one is rational or an evader that we say they are moral or immoral. Choosing to live is, as I said, the choice that every individual is free to make, but success at living is based on an objective code of values. That's the difference. All moralities are an attempt at living, but whether they succeed or not depends on whether they recognize man's nature and the requirements of his survival "qua man".

What if somebody simply chooses to survive physically, and nothing more? (other aspect of him may still exist, but only to serve this end, and not because he chose to maintain them) is it possible to choose that? And then, if this is the ultimate value which was chosen, can "life" in the Objectivist sense, still be used as a gauge to measure what are values or dis-values to this person?

In other words, is it possible for anyone who seeks a morality, to have choose anything else but "survival qua man" (="life") as their ultimate value?

Could you go into this a bit more? What would be an example of surviving only physicially?

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My argument has been that value is based on the choice to live, whereas your argument has been that it is based on the choice of the standard of value.
The choice to live is A standard of value. However, it is not the ONLY standard of value. As such, where my statement recognizes the fact that other systems of morality can exist, your argument blanks out any system other than Objectivism.
The result is that, where value based on the choice to live means Objectivism is the only proper moral system...
It is the only moral system which will achieve that ultimate value. As such, it is the only proper moral system IF one chooses that standard of values. If one does NOT choose that standard of value, then Objectivism is not the proper ethical system for that choice, let alone the ONLY system of morality for that choice.

Put simply, it is ONLY within the context of a particular standard of value that one can claim "Objectivism is the only proper moral system". Outside that context, such a claim is necessarily false.

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The choice to live is A standard of value. However, it is not the ONLY standard of value. As such, where my statement recognizes the fact that other systems of morality can exist, your argument blanks out any system other than Objectivism.

So what morality are you thinking of, that doesn't implicitly at least, accept life as a standard of value? IOW, what morality could exist without life as the standard? Bear in mind that those who choose death cannot be considered in need of morality in the first place.

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Choosing to live is not the same as holding life as the standard of value. For example, most religions promise some otherworldly benefit as the reward of living up to their moral code. The standard against which you are supposed to measure any action, according to such moralities, is not life, but dogma handed down by religious authorities. Also consider the morality of altruism, which holds as the standard not your life, but the lives of others.

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The choice to live is A standard of value. However, it is not the ONLY standard of value. As such, where my statement recognizes the fact that other systems of morality can exist, your argument blanks out any system other than Objectivism.

So what morality are you thinking of, that doesn't implicitly at least, accept life as a standard of value? IOW, what morality could exist without life as the standard? Bear in mind that those who choose death cannot be considered in need of morality in the first place.

Is the claim here that ALL morality somehow has life as its standard of value? If so, I must disagree completely.

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For example, most religions promise some otherworldly benefit as the reward of living up to their moral code.
This statement makes MY point. The chosen standard of value is not man's life.
The standard against which you are supposed to measure any action, according to such moralities, is not life, but dogma handed down by religious authorities.
The standard is not the dogma. The standard is God, or existence after death, or love of the almighty, etc (as opposed to man's life). Dogma is simply the actions one must take in order to supposedly achieve this value. As such, the case of religion makes MY point.
Also consider the morality of altruism, which holds as the standard not your life, but the lives of others.
I do consider it. In such a case, the standard of values chosen is not man's life. It is the life of other men. As such, this makes MY point.

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As an attempt at a broad summing up, I wonder if the following formulations would be helpful to answer any lingering questions that anyone reading this thread may still have.

1. There are certain things that man ought to value, because they would sustain and strengthen his life if he were to value them, and because (as explained in Objectivism) man's life is the only objectively valid standard of value for man.

2. To "value" means to act to gain and/or keep. This is true for all living things, not just man. Man, however, has a choice about what to value (though he has no choice about various elementary bodily functions that he possesses in common with other animals). To "value," when applied to living entities in general, pertains to goal-directed action without implying that there is any kind of conscious purposiveness involved.

3. "Man's life" in item 1 means man's life qua man, and it means life on earth -- this life, in this realm of existence (since Objectivism denies the possibility of any additional, separate "realm" of existence).

4. The "ought" in item 1 is (as explained in Objectivism) an objective identification of facts of reality, independent of whether or not particular humans actually choose life as their ultimate value and standard of value. (Objectivism also offers a thorough account of what "objectivity" is, and why it is important.)

5. Loosely speaking, the "ought's" in item 1 are often referred to as values for man, omitting any mention of whether or not particular men actually choose to value them. The natural presumption is that someone who is alive wants to stay alive (which, in turn, necessitates value-seeking action), although that presumption (wanting to stay alive) can certainly be false in some cases.

6. More technically, however, if one does not act to gain and/or keep some object, then one does not value it. In that sense, it is not a "value" to the particular person in question (nor would it be of value to him if someone else were to try to force it on him against his will, or merely give it to him for free [if possible] despite his indifference or aversion toward it).

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As an attempt at a broad summing up, I wonder if the following formulations would be helpful to answer any lingering questions that anyone reading this thread may still have.

[...]

Thank you, System Builder. I agree with your summary 100%.

Most important, you make clear distinctions between concepts that may have been responsible for the confusions and misunderstandings on this thread.

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As such, this makes MY point.

Heh, no.

I don't think you understand the distinction I've tried to make between the choice to live, and the choice of the standard of value. They're not the same thing, and that's what my examples were aimed at illustrating.

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