Question: Can a person derive any self-esteem or happiness from university study? Study is not a productive activity: it is preparation for future productivity. In light of this, how can I draw any self-esteem from my studies, whether successful or not? Can I consider my learning as "productive achievement" even though I am not making any money from it or creating anything? Do I have to wait until later to start being happy or feeling self-esteem? Should I be working on the side while taking classes?
Summary: A virtuous person does not merely need to know the abstract principles of rational egoism: he needs to live them, day in and day out, in word and deed. When faced with the kinds of complex problems that arise in ordinary life, acting virtuously can be a major challenge. In this workshop, I lead a discussion on how to think about one such real-life problem, namely procrastination, in a principled way, while respecting differences in context and values. This talk was given at ATLOSCon 2012 on 27 May 2012.
Question: Should a person always care to work or earn money? Most people need to work to earn their bread, so to speak. They need to be productive – and be paid for that – to survive. However, that's not true in all cases. Perhaps someone has inherited enough money to provide for his life, or he has won the lottery, or a spouse can provide for the two of them. That person still needs a purpose in life to work toward, but must that purpose be productive, in the strict sense of creating material values? Might the person reasonably choose to spend his time studying subjects of interest to him, without any other goal in mind? Might he choose to spend the rest of his life travelling? Or producing art for his own personal satisfaction? Could such a person live a happy, virtuous, and meaningful life?
Question: What's so special about the seven virtues? Ayn Rand identified seven virtues: rationality, honesty, productiveness, independence, justice, integrity, and pride. What's different about those qualities – as compared to other commonly touted virtues like benevolence, creativity, temperance, or courage? Basically, why are those seven the virtues in Objectivism? Is Objectivism right to single them out? Are they exhaustive?
Tags: Character, Context, Ethics, Honesty, Independence, Integrity, Justice, Major Values, Moral Amplifiers, Objectivism, Pride, Productiveness, Productivity, Purposefulness, Rationalism, Rationality, Virtue
Question: Is ambition a virtue? Ayn Rand defined ambition as "the systematic pursuit of achievement and of constant improvement in respect to one's goal." If we apply ambition only to rational goals – as happens with the virtue of integrity, where loyalty to values only constitutes integrity if those values are rational – then could ambition be considered a virtue? Or at least, could ambition be an aspect of a virtue like productiveness?
Question: Does the example set by Ayn Rand's heroes encourage overwork? The heroes of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead seem to have a nearly unlimited well of energy. They work long hours, and they don't have many interests outside work. However, isn't that dangerous? Does this approach to work risk exhaustion and burnout? More generally, what's the rational approach to balancing work and self-care?
Question: How can I overcome feeling like a slacker? I am a very productive person, with multiple projects going on simultaneously, both personal and professional. Generally, I handle juggling things pretty well, and accomplish quite a bit. I can usually attain most of my goals, and I like that about myself. (I'm also a pretty ambitious person so I have many big goals.) However, I also often feel like a complete slacker. I can see all of the things I accomplish, but I often feel like I could be doing more – one more thing, one more project. Sometimes, when I look at the things I've accomplished, all I can see are the things I wasn't able to do and it can be easy to feel defeated and negative about that. How can I reconcile the gap here? How can I get better at feeling the sense of accomplishment I think I should – and deserve – to feel? Do you have any ideas for getting rid of this mantle of slackerness I've saddled myself with – unfairly, I think? I've been making some changes that have helped, such as writing down my accomplishments each day, but I'm looking for more ideas.
Question: Is it moral to live on passive income or just work a "four hour work week"? Would that be compatible with the idea that a person's productive work should be his central purpose? If a person is so productive that he is able to enjoy a great life by only working a few hours per week, would it be wrong for that person to spend the rest of his time on travel, relationships, hobbies, self-improvement, education, and other non-productive interests?
Question: How can I identify my own central purpose? I understand the importance of a central purpose to organize my values and pursuits. However, I'm not sure how to identify what my central purpose is. What if I have a few major pursuits, but none dominates the others? What if my career is in flux – or not yet settled? Also, how concrete or abstract should my central purpose be?
Question: What is the meaning and value of a central purpose? In "The Objectivist Ethics," Ayn Rand says that "productive work is the central purpose of a rational man's life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values." I find that confusing. What constitutes a central purpose? How does it function in a person's life, particularly in relation to other values like a spouse, children, and hobbies? Should I be worried if I don't have a clearly identified central purpose?
Question: Is it wrong for a person to do less than his best at work? At work, I used to go above and beyond my basic obligations routinely. However, I was never recognized or rewarded for my superior performance. Instead, I was paid the same as those who barely functioned in their jobs. To this day, my employer uses only collective or team recognition; he does not appreciate individuals. Also, those who do poorly or make serious mistakes are not being disciplined, while those of us who work hard are given more duties. My response has been to lower my own work output. While I meet the minimum standards of my employment and still do far more than my equally paid coworkers, I am not performing nearly close to the level I could. Is that wrong of me? Should I do my best at work, even though my employer doesn't seem to value that? Should I continue to suggest ideas for improvement – and perhaps work on them on the side, in secret, if ignored?
Question: Is time for recreation compatible with the virtue of productiveness? If productive work is the means by which I achieve my values, how can one justify spending even one minute doing something that doesn't propel me toward some value? I am specifically referring to leisure activities like going to the movies, playing video games, and following sports. I'm not referring to activities that have obvious benefits like sleep, exercise, or cooking healthy food. What about hobbies that are enriching, but ultimately have no productive purpose like dance or guitar lessons (assuming I don't want to perform in either context as a career)? Is pursuing such hobbies wrong?
Summary: Do you want to accomplish more? Do you find yourself spinning your wheels or procrastinating on your projects?
Question: How can I encourage my friends to be more purposeful and passionate? I have been certain about my life's purpose – in terms of what career and personal creative works I'd like to pursue – from a young age. I've had friends who are above-average in their academic and career work, and who explore various hobbies, but they do not pursue those activities with eager passion. They say that they "do not know what they want out of life" and have not "found their calling." What is at the root of uncertainty about one's purpose? Is there a moral breach involved? How can I motivate, encourage, and inspire my friends?
Question: How can I manage my projects better? Too often, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer volume of projects on my agenda. Because I'm overcommitted, I'll miss important deadlines or allow some projects to be delayed into oblivion. Other times, my work is rushed and sloppy. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed that I become paralyzed, and then I don't get any work done. What can I do to manage my various work and home projects better, so that I keep making progress on what really matters to me?
Question: What should I do if I have a good job but not burning professional ambition? I have a good job that pays well. I perform my job well to the best of my ability. But I don't feel about it the same way that Howard Roark felt about the field of architecture in The Fountainhead or that Dagny felt about the railroad business in Atlas Shrugged. I don't hate my job – I do enjoy the work and the people I work with. But it's not my burning passion. On a scale of 1-to-10, my paying job (and the overall field) is a 7, but I also have various non-paying outside hobbies and activities that are more of a 8 or 9 for me. Should I try to cultivate a strong passion for my paying job? Or look for a different line of work? Or ramp up my pursuit of various hobbies and outside activities that give me greater satisfaction on the side?
Question: How can I achieve a better balance between introspection and productive work? Particularly I've made some mistake, I'll get wrapped up in the process of introspection until I get the problem sorted out. However, that consumes time – and often my projects suffer and I miss deadlines. How can I find a better balance between these two important activities?
Question: At death, should a person regret all the years spent at work? I often hear the saying, "No one ever laid on their death bed wishing they had spent more time in the office." What should a person think of that – and of the fact that so many people agree with it – in light of the virtue of productiveness?
Question: How should I respond when people disparage their work? Often, people make comments about the great burden that work is – not in the sense that they're unhappy with some problem in their current job, but that they resent the need to work at all. These are the kinds of people who live for weekends and vacations. I don't feel that way about my work, and I think these people are missing so much in life. How can I respond to such casual remarks in a way that might make the person re-think their attitude?
Question: What is the difference (if any) between 'productiveness' and 'productivity'? People often seem to use the terms interchangeably, but are they the same?
Question: Ought non-income generating activities such as child rearing, dancing, making friends, etc., be properly considered an exercise of the Objectivist virtue of productivity? In response to my question in an OAC class, Dr. Ghate stated that he interprets Rand's writings to mean that such activities, while rational, ought not be considered "productive" by her definition of the term. Upon further research, I agree with Ghate's interpretation of Rand, but I think I disagree with Rand here. Is it not unusual that someone who chooses motherhood as a career, for instance, is disqualified from practicing the virtue of productivity (assuming she does no other work for pay)? None of the other virtues exclude any rationally acting adult from practicing them. If productivity need to be redefined, would you have an alternate definition to suggest?
Question: We are sometimes forced to choose a professional endeavor out of financial necessity rather than professional passion, leading to difficulty in motivation and decreased creative output. How might one improve effectiveness under those circumstances?
Summary: I answer two similar questions from college students on how to choose a career from amongst their wide variety of interests.
Summary: I answer two questions – one on the morality of accepting an inheritance and another on a moral conflict about doing agreed-upon work when that promotes Islam on the anniversary of 9/11.