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The Survivalist/Flourisher-Dichotomy

SYNTHESIS: The Nature of the Survivalist/Flourisher-Debate

Section One: Critique of the Earlier Two Positions

The debate between the survivalists and the flourishers is, fundamentally, an expression of a much more fundamental (albeit false) dichotomy: intrinsicism vs. subjectivism. Now this does not mean that all survivalists are intrinsicists, nor that all flourishers are subjectivists. But what it does mean is that no one had succeeded in understanding the objective position down to the root.

Man's Life is the standard of value, which means that your life is the ultimate value towards which all of your action should be directed. On this point, the survivalists were right. However, to the extent that they did not recognize the context upon which the objective acceptance of life as the standard of value depends, they were dropping the context, and thereby treating this standard as an out-of-context absolute. This is, of course, an expression of epistemological intrinsicism. The antidote is to recognize that the standard of value is "Man's Life, man qua man," which means, man's life as a rational being. The standard of value itself can only be justified by the prior and more fundamental commitment to the standard of objectivity.

Reacting to the barreness which they saw in intrinsicist survivalism, the flourishers brought in other values to be pursued as ends-in-themselves. Sometimes these additional ends-in-themselves were virtues, such as rationality, honesty, or justice. Other times they were pleasures or happiness. By choosing virtues as ends-in-themselves, they were taking what is best interpreted as an ethical intrinsicist approach: what they were proscribing were duties, thereby placing the "I ought to" above the "it is." By choosing to regard pleasures or happiness as ends-in-themselves, they were taking what is best interpreted as a ethical subjectivist approach, in essence, placing the "I want" or "I like" above the "it is."

But does this mean that all the survivalists and flourishers are either intrinsicists or subjectivists? Only with respect to this issue and to the extent that they fail to recognize a prior commitment to the standard of objectivity. Just as the fundamental choice is not between life and death, but rather between being in focus or not being in focus, the fundamental standard guiding human action is not the standard of value, but the standard of objectivity. And it is this fact --the fact that the standard of objectivity is the fundamental standard in our philosophy-- which is the source of our philosophy's name.

Section Two: Three Additional Problems

However, if we are to properly apply both these standards, we must consider two more examples. First, what of the prisoner in the concentration camp who is rationally-convinced that he will be alive only for a short time, and that, assuming he continues to live for that time, he will be in such excruciating pain that those few days or hours will hold no value for him? Does he have a moral obligation to live through torture? No, of course not. The choice to live is still a choice. If he is convinced that there is no value in living, he has no duty to do so.

Second, what of the prisoner who faces almost certain death if he tries to escape, and a much longer but meaningless life if he remains a prisoner? Under such circumstances, the principle involved is the same as in the previous example: the choice to risk almost certain death is a rational option. Now notice-- in resolving these issues, I did not have to regard happiness or pleasure as ends-in-themselves-- I simply denied that we have a duty to live, which follows from the fact that the standard of value is an objective standard.

Yet there is still a problem here: Ayn Rand states at various points that happiness is the goal of life. Nevertheless, she also states that "... happiness may very well be the purpose of ethics, but it cannot be the standard." To properly deal with this issue, it will be necessary to go into Rand's theory of emotions, which will be one of the topics covered in my forthcoming "The Application of the Objectivist Standard of Value." But prior to my next article, I will say this much: to regard happiness as some which is pursued in addition to life or the values which life requires would be to commit oneself to the premise of the primacy of consciousness, and thus violate one of the central principles of the Objectivist Metaphysics. The proper resolution of this issue will require the avoidance of such a result.

Section Three: The Nature of the Synthesis

I have argued that the survivalists, who regard life as the only end-in-itself were correct in believing that ultimately, there is only one value which, for a given actor, can serve as an end-in-itself, and that, to the extent that the flourishers argue for the existence of more than one value as an end-in-itself, their position proves to be untenable. However, I argued that, insofar as anyone takes the view that one should be rational simply because being rational promotes one's survival, he is wrong: one should be rational, not by reference to the standard of value, but by reference to the standard of objectivity.

In any apparent conflict between the standard of value and the standard of objectivity, one should choose to act in accordance with the standard of objectivity, for it is only by means of the standard of objectivity that one can discover that the conflict was only apparent. Furthermore, I argued that the standard of value is an abstract principle, and therefore, is properly viewed as a derivative of the standard of objectivity, and as such, ulitmately, there can be no conflict between the standard of objectivity and the standard of value, for such a conflict would reduce to the absurdity of a conflict between the standard of objectivity and itself.

But as such, the end-in-itself towards which all the action of a rational being should be directed (by the standard of value) is not simply its own life, but its life as a rational being. In this sense, rationality is not some additional end-in-itself which we must balance against the pursuit of life, but is constitutive of the kind of life which we should pursue. It is not a value to be incrementally traded-off against other values in the pursuit of life, but rather, the means by which we incrementally trade-off some values against others in the pursuit of the rational life.

From this perspective, the interpretation which I have argued for may be viewed as a survivalist interpretation, since there is only one end-in-itself towards which all the action of a given actor should be directed, namely, his own life. But my interpretation may also be viewed as a flourisher interpretation, since the end towards which all of the action of a given actor should be directed is not simply life, but the life of a rational being. Rationality and life are both aspects of the end-in-itself, but they are not parts-- they are inseparable aspects of the life of rationality, and as such, they are attributes which can be separated in thought, but not in reality. In reality, one can no more separate rationality and life from one-another than one can separate the shape and size from the rock which they are attributes of. Both life and rationality are fundamental attributes of man, and since the conceptual level of man's awareness is the seat of man's volitional capacity, reason is man's fundamental means of survival-- as a rational animal. Such, I have concluded, is the meaning of the phrase "man qua man."

In all teleological causation, life serves as the standard of value. However, the manner in which this standard applies to a given organism depends upon what kind of organism that organism is. This should not be at all surprising, for the law of causality is applicable to every entity which exists, nevertheless the manner in which the law of causality applies to a given entity depends upon what kind of entity that entity is: if I release a hammer, one result will follow, but if I release a balloon, an entirely different result may be expected. All organisms act in order to remain alive-- this much they all have in common. But a specific organism has a specific mode of existence, and thus birds fly while fish swim. Man, too, has a specific mode of existence: rational activity. To the extent that he achieves excellence in the performance of this activity, he acts to promote his life and achieve the rational life.

General Index


©1996 by Timothy D. Chase. All rights reserved. This article is meant for personal reading. Copies may be made only for that purpose. Do not distribute.