NoodleFood Question on Sacrifice

 Posted by on 17 February 2007 at 5:22 pm  Uncategorized
Feb 172007
 

A “Question for NoodleFood” from Ergo:

I understand that Objectivism believes that sacrifices imply giving up a higher value for a lesser value, and that they are neither necessary nor moral under a rational moral code.

But what is the moral course of action in a case where one is faced with having to choose between two (or more) equally valued and necessary options. For instance, having to choose between two equally close friends.

In essence, I am questioning the premise that all values are hierarchical and that one can choose one over another based on how important or necessary the value is to their own lives. Could there not be a case wherein I value two things equally and thus having to choose between them necessarily demands a sacrifice from me (assuming there is no force acting upon me and that the situation arises from my own actions)?

A few comments:

First, I should mention that Leonard Peikoff talks about the problems associated with having to choose between friends in his short lecture course Judging, Feeling and Not Being Moralistic. Although he’s mostly concerned with cases in which two of one’s friends are irreconcilably conflicted, it might still be a good resource.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter, which may or may not be consistent with the Objectivist ethics:

Strictly speaking, I’m doubtful that two substantially different goods (like people) can be genuinely equal in value to a person. It can be difficult to discern which is more valuable than another in the context of one’s whole life. Yet I cannot imagine them to be equal, in substantial part because you won’t value their different good qualities equally. (Plus, those qualities are ranked ordinally rather than cardinally, so it’s impossible to conclude that both friends are worth 4.6 utils, for example.)

When the choice is non-exclusive, minor differences between values are of little importance: it’s perfectly reasonable to alternate between ordering your two favorite dishes at your favorite restaurant. However, sometimes the choice is exclusive simply due to the constraints of time: you can only work one job, pursue so many hobbies, enjoy one perfect friendship, etc. In those cases, you need to try to discern the greater value to you in the long run using your full context of knowledge — and pursue that. (In keeping with Aristotle, I’d say that such weighing requires experience, skill, and judgment — meaning that it gets easier with practice.) In that case, the lesser value is obviously not sacrificed, even though it’s possible to regret your inability to pursue it.

Even if two exclusive values seem equivalent to you, I don’t think the choice of one over the other ought to be described as a sacrifice of any kind. Sacrifice is the deliberate renunciation of a greater value to a lesser value, but that’s not what’s happening in such hard choices.

Thoughts?

   
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