OPAR, Chapter Nine
by Carolyn Ray
Date: 19 Oct 1993
Forum: Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy
Copyright: Carolyn Ray
Warning! The following summary is loosely based on Peikoff's chapter 9, but only loosely. Peikoff is gloomy, hostile, and negative. I have tried to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, in keeping with the subject matter.
Why should I live? In order to be happy. Why should I try to be happy? No reason can be given except to point to the biological and physical facts of pleasure, which human beings are 'designed' to experience as ends in themselves. This is where the process of justification stops: in sensation and introspection. But life is a necessary condition for happiness; therefore, if happiness is my purpose, I must choose only among alternatives that won't kill me or hamper my chances at survival.
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 9
Peikoff begins by telling us that the best way to achieve an end (which in this context is general happiness) is by being practical. Being practical requires a practical moral code. A practical moral code is one which takes life as the standard and uses reason as its method.
Peikoff follows Rand in defining happiness as "that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values" (OPAR, quoting Rand, p. 336). In order to be happy, one must be able to achieve at least some of one's goals. To be achievable, goals must be practical. Practical goals are ones that are humanly attainable, consistent with one another, and possible to the pursuer (OPAR, p. 327). If the goals one chooses do not fit this description, the pursuer is doomed to fail to achieve them, and frustration will be the result. Branden puts it better than Peikoff:
"...it is through his values that man programs his emotional mechanism. Short-term, man can pervert this mechanism by programming irrational values. Long-term, he cannot escape the logic implicit in its biological function. The protector of the biological function of man's emotional mechanism is the law of contradiction. A man whose values were consistently irrational (i.e., incompatible with his nature and needs) could not continue to exist. Most men's values are a mixture of the rational and the irrational--which, necessarily, creates an INNER CONFLICT. Such a conflict means that THE SATISFACTION OF ONE VALUE ENTAILS THE FRUSTRATION OF ANOTHER" (NB, POSE, p. 74) [emphasis mine]).
And, to put it very conservatively, lingering frustration is not conducive to happiness.
Happiness is not guaranteed to the moral person. The universe is what it is, and other people are what they are. Existence, not consciousness, is primary; identity and causality are operative. Accidents happen, and some people are irrational. Therefore, one's good principles and simple integrity are not a guarantee of happiness. But happiness IS guaranteed NOT to accrue to the immoral person. Happiness can only be achieved through specific means, and the immoral person is one who tries to subvert those means instead of using them. What are those means? At the most general level, they are the virtues: rationality, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness, pride, tolerance, self-control, self-consciousness, persistence, to name a few. Peikoff assumes that we know how the virtues that HE lists relate to happiness, but I take the liberty of inserting a very simple discussion. I assume we know what is meant by the virtues that he lists; I elaborate on the ones I add.
RATIONALITY: 'Rationality is man's basic virtue, the source of all his other virtues....The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action' (Rand, 'The Objectivist Ethics,' p. 25). When one approaches all aspects of reality (survival needs, personal relationships, philosophy, etc.) rationally, one can approach them openly and fearlessly, expecting at the very least to come away having learned something. An irrational approach CREATES mystery and threat where there is none. People who are learning something and thus indulging in the efficacy of their minds are better fixed to be happy than those overwhelmed by mystery and fear of ineffectiveness.
INDEPENDENCE: The human being is a 'self-sufficient ego,' ultimately alone in the universe; this fact is an implicit challenge with the stakes being one's life and happiness. The pleasure/pain mechanism assures that the self-conscious experience of one's own efficacy under those circumstances is deeply gratifying.
INTEGRITY: A conceptual being in good working order is in a position to experience pleasure through self-contemplation. The conceptual faculty works best when all the parts 'fit together;' contradiction is a bad fit. Thus, a conceptual being whose principles and actions are in conflict has a bad fit to contemplate, whereas one whose principles and actions are in harmony has harmony to contemplate. Human beings are set up to like harmony (see the quote above from POSE).
HONESTY: Again, harmony is the key. Honesty is the acceptance of facts, of the primacy of existence despite what one might wish for. Where DESIRES are appropriate to reality, for example, they are at least satisfiable; where they are in conflict, they will be frustrated.
JUSTICE: Justice is a form of honesty: it is the idea that one can be rewarded only if one does the right things, and one cannot get something for nothing. This arrangement, determined by reason and the law of cause and effect, keeps everything neat and comprehensible--at least in the mind of the just individual, no matter how the rest of the world thinks rewards should be 'distributed.' If one is not at peace with one's society, one may feel pain; but at least one can be at peace with oneself and derive contentment from that.
PRODUCTIVENESS: 'The fullest and most purposeful use of [one's] mind' is the chief factor that makes one capable of exerting control over one's life. A sense of control is a source of pleasure and makes pride possible; lack of a sense of control is a source of prolonged stress (see, e.g., Bloom and Lazerson, p. 230-233), a condition inimical to health and therefore to happiness. Happiness requires the achievement of (at least some) values, and requires that one recognize one's own goodness (self-esteem); the latter depends on the former, and therefore one must get out there and DO stuff so that achievement is an actual state of affairs and not just an idea in a well-thumbed book. An interesting and challenging career is the concrete instantiation of this abstract virtue, (even if the career is something that one is currently not engaged in but only preparing for).
TOLERANCE: Tolerance is the acknowledgement of the virtue of rationality in others. The private aspect of tolerance is principled intellectual respect for the rationality of others; the public aspect is the decision to give people a hearing. Tolerance facilitates discussion between rational people who currently disagree, and discussion facilitates the acquisition and spread of knowledge. In addition, a commitment to tolerance enables one to enjoy not only one's own virtue and the virtue of one's intellectual cohorts, but puts one in a better position to recognize and appreciate it in many others. The feeling that one is in good company results, and that obviously is much more conducive to happiness than the feeling that one is doomed to a lonely life. For an extended discussion, see David Kelley's TRUTH AND TOLERATION.
SELF-CONTROL: This is related to tolerance, in that it is dependent partly on having that virtue. The private aspect is the commitment to understand one's emotions and to take responsibility for one's mental states; the public aspect is the willingness to take responsibility for one's overt reactions to others and for the predictable consequences thereof. One example is not blaming the rest of the world if one does not have friends and instead investigating whether one is causing one's own isolation. In fact, it is self-control that makes it possible to have friends at all; and friends are so important to happiness that it seems as though there should be a virtue dedicated just to that! FRIENDLINESS or SOCIABILITY just doesn't cut it, though. Edwin Locke has some concrete if very elementary things to say about related matters.
SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS: Continual monitoring of one's mental states, of one's virtues, and of one's relation to the rest of reality is crucial for happiness, both directly and for all the other virtues which make happiness possible. Something can only cause one pleasure if one appreciates it; and one can only appreciate something if one is aware of it; and one can usually only be aware of something if one focuses on it. In order to enjoy one's own efficacy and productiveness, for example, one must not only BE efficacious and productive but FOCUS on these characteristics. In order to know and enjoy the fact that one is behaving with integrity, one must be aware of one's actions and how they relate to one's principles. Obviously, self-control is impossible without self-consciousness. Awareness of sensations (the colors and odors one is perceiving at any moment, no matter what the principle action is) makes pleasure a constant companion rather than an infrequent visitor. Pleasure builds on itself when contemplated, creating the second level pleasures necessary for happiness.
PERSISTENCE: Neither a good character nor a desired situation happen over night. Peikoff reminds us that Roark was supposedly happy during his extended unpopularity, but it isn't just his other virtues that makes this possible. One puts oneself in a position to achieve happiness even during a difficult period if one insists on one's virtues, focuses on them (see above discussion of self- consciousness), and never gives up the goal.
PRIDE: 'Pride is the recognition of the fact that you are your own highest value....' (Lexicon, p. 381). The possibility of pride is conditional upon having and exercising all of the other virtues. Self- esteem, the knowledge that one is WORTHY to be happy, is possible only if one has the virtue of pride.
There are other virtues. This is a brief list of some major ones. Please contribute some and explain their connection to happiness.
In addition to the virtues, a person needs Luck, the Integrity of Other People (especially freedom from oppression by them), Knowledge, and Romance; these constitutes Peikoff's list, to which I add Health and Fitness. Contrary to popular myth, ignorance is not bliss. Bliss requires a sharply focused mind ever on the alert for new information and opportunities, ever on guard against irrational ideas that might set up a frustrating internal conflict. A person must understand the fact that it is nature, not her imagination, that decides what she may hold properly hold as a goal, since it is nature that decides what objects are attainable (p. 327) and thus decides what sorts of things may contribute to her happiness; so she needs Knowledge. Health is a requirement for the highest degree of happiness, since being overweight, run-down, or sick precludes one from many pleasant activities which may include anything from sports and dancing to romance and certain careers.
Peikoff talks about Romance here because sex is a form in which one may feel happiness: 'the rapture of experiencing emotionally two interconnected achievements: self-esteem and the benevolent universe conviction' (p. 344). The benevolent universe premise is that happiness is the normal condition of human beings. The main point [to be gleaned here] is that, to have the happiest life possible [I'm being generous to Peikoff again], one needs to have a sexual romance, AND one must do it right. Doing it right consists in having rational principles and loving them; choosing a partner who embodies those principles and loving him (mainly) for that reason; feeling a physical attraction to him partially for that reason; and acting on that attraction in a mutually agreeable way.
I cannot give a very good ARGUMENT for the conclusion that these things are necessary for happiness; I can really only point to the facts and hope that you get it. But an EXPLANATION is more readily available. That explanation comes from the relation of the pleasure/pain mechanism to survival.
What does it mean to say that one is happy? It means that things in one's life are going well. What does that mean? It means that the requirements of one's biological and psychological life are met; i.e., one is healthy both physically and mentally. What are those requirements and how are they determined? This would take a long, long time to catalog; the mental requirement was touched upon in the discussion of virtues. But the average person can know whether things are going right if the overall feeling of one's body in the average day's varied conditions is good (or, unnoticed), while the day-to-day feeling of her mind is cheerful eagerness for whatever might come along and peace with what has already gone by. Many physical discomforts (backaches, fatigue) and mental discomforts (grumpiness, depression) indicate that something is wrong with the way one is conducting one's life. HAPPINESS is the pleasure/pain mechanism telling its owner that she is doing pretty much everything right. For more scientific details on what is the RIGHT thing to do for the body and the mind, the modern human being can consult numerous authorities ranging from documentaries and books to medical school.
Happiness is the conceptual form of pleasure. Bodily pleasures can contribute to one's happiness if they are pleasures that it is rational to seek. Pleasures that it is irrational to seek are those that cause a net damage to the body; pleasures that it is rational to seek are those that result in no change in, or in improvement to, the body [I am helping Peikoff here]. If one seeks pleasures of the former type, then one WILL feel the pleasure (cocaine, for example); but one will also eventually experience suffering that outweighs this pleasure. If one holds that life is the standard of value, then one knows that one is behaving inconsistently and so cannot feel an associated CONCEPTUAL pleasure when one indulges in a physical pleasure that causes harm. In other words, no matter how one rationalizes it, one knows that the reason one is rationalizing is that the action is wrong. But if one seeks the latter type of pleasure, then one can experience an associated conceptual pleasure that comes from the knowledge that this is RIGHT!
It is more difficult to discuss CONCEPTUAL pleasures that are irrational to seek, and Peikoff doesn't do it here. I take the liberty of inserting an extension of the physical discussion. Blind 'love' for one's family is one example of a wrong method of seeking conceptual pleasure. For example, a person who claims that she loves and is loved by a family member whom she would never choose as a friend is attempting to gain the conceptual pleasure that accompanies love merely by saying the word. The result will be that she will experience some amount of pleasure just because the word connotes a nice feeling, but to some degree that family member is going to get in the way of her happiness--the 'higher level' conceptual pleasure that DOES accompany actual love (by mistreating her in some way, or by coming to live with her!). In other words, one will feel psychological pain when one tries to apply pleasure-connoting concepts to objects that do not cause conceptual pleasure, and one will feel psychological pleasure when one applies these concepts to objects that do cause conceptual pleasure, such as the real object of one's esteem. This is the conceptual version of the pleasure/pain mechanism at work.
CRITICISM OF PEIKOFF
I am not happy with Rand's definition of happiness given on page 336 ('That state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.'). It is too broad, in that it allows that people who have the wrong values are happy upon achieving them, when in fact they are not experiencing 'non- contradictory joy,' and it also allows that animals are happy in the same sense as people; fix it by adding that the values must be RATIONAL. Also, there are many different states of consciousness that might proceed, individually or together, from the achievement of values: it is impossible to distinguish it from other states of consciousness, like mental exhaustion, satisfaction, self- righteousness, knowledge, memory, etc. It is too narrow, in that it does not allow for people being happy even though some of their values are not achieved. Peikoff discusses this point, but prefers to explain at length rather than fix up the definition. In addition, Toward fixing things up a bit, I would say that the definition must include some provision for the SEEKING OF VALUES to be in its own right a value (such as, 'THE ACHIEVEMENT OF RATIONAL VALUES OR THE CHEERFUL AND RATIONAL PURSUIT THEREOF COMBINED WITH FOCUSED ATTENTION TO ONE'S VIRTUES AND TO POSITIVE ASPECTS OF LIFE')--sometimes known as 'process-orientation.' I would repair the genus, starting with Rand's own 'elaboration,' 'the state of non-contradictory joy' (p. 338), to produce this definition:
THE STATE OF NON-CONTRADICTORY JOY that proceeds from the achievement or the cheerful and rational pursuit thereof combined with focused attention to one's virtues and to positive aspects of life;
But now it seems circular--what's joy?
Joy, happiness. These words name EMOTIONS, feelings of psychological contentedness and pleasure. It is not easy to say precisely what these are like. Maybe 'happiness' is like 'blue'--you can only point.
"No action an organism takes is irrelevant to its existence. Every such action is either in accordance with what self- preservation requires or it is not: it is for the entity's life or against it....Life is motion. If the motion is not self-preserving, then it is self- destroying" (Peikoff, 215).
What Peikoff fails to notice is that acting 'in accordance with' is not the same as acting 'for'. There can be actions that are in accordance with self-preservation without actually contributing to the preservation of the person's life, but certainly not inimical to it either.
At any rate, life is more complex than Peikoff makes it out to be: things are not simply either self-preserving or self- destroying. Even healthy food, if eaten in overabundance or in imbalance, will send one to an early grave. Virtually nothing is unequivocally good or bad for one.
He goes about this subject all wrong! There are some very serious things to get straight here, but Peikoff makes happiness sound like a real bummer. He rants for pages about the wrong way to seek happiness, and then we do not get any positive direction from him. This is very bad, considering that happiness is what this ethics is all about, and that it is a very practical matter of personal concern to everyone. Reading this chapter was like being in church.
(a) He spends a lot of time griping about bad luck and evil (pp. 326-335!), explaining tediously why accidents can be mitigated and evil is impotent. I think what he means to say in those eleven pages is 'For goodness' sake, don't WORRY about the accidents and the mean people! As long as you keep your wits about you, happiness is within your grasp!' Maybe I'm being too hard on him; after all, I get to address a group that is almost exclusively objective, whereas he intended his book for a wider audience and so felt that he had to defend himself against the 'antilife' forces--but if that is the case, honey would work better than vinegar.
(b) The rationalism is rampant. Pages 329-333, to name one of the large chunks of texts, don't even broach the subject of happiness. Happiness is an effect that accrues to INDIVIDUALS through the efforts of their OWN MINDS. This section is about the barriers to the good life that emerge when many individuals, over a long period of time, contribute bits of irrationality to a given political system. He seems in these pages to be explaining why happiness is NOT possible to any of us, which is false. Only under [severe?]the worst oppression is happiness impossible.
(c) The fact that the only concrete example Peikoff gives is sex is disturbing. If he needed to give one example, then he needed to give more. Furthermore, the emphasis on sex is fine for people who actually HAVE virtuous lovers [and they are not all that easy to find]; what is everyone else supposed to do to achieve some small measure of happiness? He's right to say that if one isn't a moral person, then one can count on having suboptimal romantic/sexual experiences; but what about the fact that a LOT more goes into having a good romance than just knowing what the right principles are and making moral decisions? The rest of the things that one does toward the end of achieving happiness (which I will be discussing in a separate posting) are vitally important and he barely mentions a couple in passing; thus he seems to not really understand what he means when he says that morality is the practical means to achieving happiness-- he only knows it THEORETICALLY works that way. The juxtaposition of the ranting about abstract evil and the concrete example of sex lends a malevolent universe tone to the chapter! Though he means the opposite (I guess), he comes across as saying 'Life sucks--but one may seek relief in sex.'
(d) At the very least, we need a discussion of the importance of friendship in this chapter, both as a concrete example of what one must do in order to be happy, and (since Peikoff brings it up) as an aid to understanding how one is supposed to go about having a good romantic relationship. The abstract two-page discussion of friendship in Chapter 7 does not help. For better discussions, see Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics especially books 8 and 9; and Branden's Psychology Of Self-Esteem, especially the sections concerning psychological visibility and romantic love. Hopefully, we will have some room for this very important subject during this chapter's discussion period.
1. Happiness will not come just because one knows the right principles, even if one has lots of luck and knowledge and the cooperation of other people. One has to know how the little things fit into that grandiose scheme. 'Just 'cause you got a halo, don't mean that you can fly...just 'cause you're an angel, don't mean you're havin' fun' (Madonna, 'Back in Business'). That is why I will be posting a separate discussion, a list of 'instructions,' that bring the virtues down to a less abstract and thus more applicable level. I hope that readers will agree that such an endeavor is useful and will contribute their own suggestions.
2. I have said above that happiness is like blue--you can only point. Unfortunately, there are people, maybe even some who are reading this, who do not know what 'happiness' refers to. The best way to tell them is to get them to do, for example, the things mentioned herein, with some specific instructions concerning the little pleasures that are available to them, and THEN point to the way they feel.
3. Alice wondered 'whether the pleasure of making a daisy- chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies' (Carroll, Alice'S Adventures In Wonderland). I thought of her dilemma during a conversation with an elderly woman I know, who wondered whether she ought to leave the house and bowl once in a while, or just give in to laziness and stay in. 'Life is the standard of value' does not give one nearly the guidance that one needs. Life is the final arbiter where one option is life-threatening. The choice to live is made every minute of every day. Not in the sense that after each minute, one thinks, "Yes, I still choose to live"; for this is decision-making on the level of concretes, and it is therefore not surprising that basically, safe, healthy, well- provisioned adults don't incessantly repeat it to themselves and then see about engaging in actions that will support that choice. It is reasonable for conceptual beings to abstract from the concrete moment and materials as these concretely relate to survival, and say to themselves, "THAT looks like fun!" instead of 'THAT will preserve my life.' It is only in cases of awareness of peril that the less abstract choice to live ever comes to mind.
There are all sorts of things that one must choose between whose connection to survival itself is not at all clear. If the choices one has are (a) take cocaine, (b) be lazy on the couch because it is easier, or (c) disturb oneself enough to go out and bowl, then of course cocaine is out; it so clearly endangers one's survival that the standard applies to it obviously.
But now we are left with b and c--what should we do? Given survival as the standard, they are difficult to distinguish. Look around your own daily life and you will notice that many of your decisions are like this. This is not a simple matter of seeing which one feels better--obviously there is a question, because at the moment, sitting on the couch FEELS better; in fact, night after night that may be what FEELS better. But in the long run, the absence of friendly faces, change of scene, excitement, challenge, etc., will take its toll. Passing up the daisy-chain or the bowling won't kill one immediately, but it will make it that much less likely that one will survive and be happy. Rand makes this point clearly in THE OBJECTIVIST, April 1966 (my source is Binswanger's LEXICON, p.369- 70):
'A chronic lack of pleasure, of any enjoyable, rewarding or stimulating experience, produces a slow, gradual, day-by-day erosion of man's emotional vitality, which he may ignore or repress, but which is recorded by the relentless computer of his subconscious mechanism that registers an ebbing flow, then a trickle, then a few last drops of fuel--until the day when his inner motor stops and he wonders desperately why he has no desire to go on, unable to find any definable cause of his hopeless, chronic sense of exhaustion.'
This leaves us with a fact that may sound odd, but really is quite reasonable; in order to assure one's long-range happiness, one must exert considerable effort and sometimes even do things that one does not like at the moment.
Fortunately, however, most of what we have to do in order to be happy is easy with a little practice. The virtues are, after all, nothing more than abstract principles that help us conceptual beings condense a lot of information on survival and happiness into a few words so that that information is always within easy reach. Equipped with these, we have access to one of the most important conditions for happiness: the strength of our convictions.
Aristotle. Nichomachean Ethics, translated by Terence Irwin. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 1985.
Binswanger, Harry, ed. The Ayn Rand Lexicon. New York: Meridan, 1986.
Bloom, Floyd E. and Lazerson, Arlyne. Brain, Mind And Behavior, second edition. New York: W. H. Freeman and Co., 1988.
Bailey, Covert. The New Fit Or Fat. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.
Branden, Nathaniel. The Psychology Of Self-Esteem. New York:Bantam Books, 1971.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice'S Adventures In Wonderland. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
Kelley, David. Truth And Toleration. Institute for Objectivist Studies, 1990.
Locke, Edwin.Setting Goals To Improve Your Life And Happiness (tape cassette). Second Renaissance Book Service, 1985.
Rand, Ayn. The Virtue Of Selfishness. New York: NAL Penguin Inc., 1964.
Sullivan, Joseph V. The Morality Of Mercy Killing. Westminster: Newman Press, 1950.
Find Enlightenment at enlightenment.supersaturated.com.