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The forms of these conflicts are numerous. For instance, a mind/body dichotomy, where a man accepts that his mind and his body are different entities with conflicting interests, will cause him to isolate the two from each other. They will be at war. He may dismiss all material and physical interests as barbaric and crude, devoting his life to contemplation of the universe. Or he may reject his mind, seeing it as useless and devoting himself to hedonism. In both cases, he becomes at man at war with himself.
This article will focus on the conflicts that arise from accepting intrinsic values. An intrinsic value is something that is valued for its own sake, instead of for what it can do for your life. An intrinsic value is non-relational. You don't value it for what it can do, or what it provides. You value it for some outside reason, not related to you or your life.
The intrinsic value that is most prevalent is other people. This intrinsic value is the core of altruism. It is the standard of value in an altruistic ethics. Altruism requires you to sacrifice and work to satisfy the needs and desires of other people. They are not valued for what they do for you or your life. They are just to be valued.
The conflicts that arise from altruism are numerous, and they are similar in the case of all intrinsic values. The first, and most visible, is the conflict between altruism and your life. Since other people are the standard of good, all actions should be geared at helping others, even at the cost of your own happiness and life. Your own life becomes a means to the ends of other people. You are to sacrifice yourself whenever it would benefit others. This is true of all intrinsic values. Since these values are not accepted for what they do for your life, they will inevitably conflict with your life.
So altruism, and intrinsic values in general, conflict with your life. Nobody practices altruism consistently, though. To do so would mean certain death for you. But how do people avoid that outcome? They survive by accepting another conflict. They accept the moral/practical dichotomy, which says your moral code must be sacrificed occasionally. This dichotomy is your natural defensive mechanism against your faulty ethics. In essence, it's when you tell yourself not to take your morality so seriously.
Of course, there's a contradiction here. You're upholding the intrinsic value, in this case altruism, as the standard of good. And yet, you act contrary to it when the stakes are high. You cannot accept contradictions with impunity, though. This is the basis of additional conflicts.
The first conflict that occurs from ignoring your intrinsic value is guilt. You feel you should have pursued that value, but you chose not to. It will create a conflict between your emotions, and your life. You will feel like a terrible person. Every act you do to promote your life will also be a slap in your face. If you buy a nice car, when there are all those poor, starving children in Africa, your emotions will attack that value. Every gain in life is an affront to your conscience.
The second conflict that arises from ignoring your morality is between your emotions and your moral code. You will begin to resent morality as burden on your life. You will begin to hate the intrinsic value for the damage it does to your life, or the choices it makes harder. In the case of altruism, you will begin to despise the weak and helpless for the moral burden they leave you with.
This is especially sad when the intrinsic value is also an objective value. People are a huge benefit to your life. They provide love, companionship, humor, education, fulfilling relationships, emotional support, and so much more. The result of holding them as an intrinsic value makes you lose sight of their actual value. You start to think of them as a cost, instead of as a benefit.
A third conflict that arises from ignoring your morality is between your mind and your morality. You learn to rationalize your actions that contradict the intrinsic value. You try to ignore the moral implications of your actions. Instead of analyzing your actions carefully to see if you can improve your moral habits, you will ignore the actions. You will try to shut them out of your mind.
This causes a habit of dishonesty. You seek to cover up your transgressions with excuses, and then attempt not to look to closely at the excuses. You learn to lie to yourself. You learn to shut your mind down when it gets close to any danger zones. You begin to think that some things are better unknown.
So intrinsic values make you worse off if you practice them consistently, and when you don't practice them consistently. You either hurt your life directly through the pursuit of values that contradict your life, or you internalize the contradictions, allowing an unspoken war to take place.
The examples given above are just when your intrinsic value conflicts with your life and happiness. But what if the two don't conflict, or the conflict is minimal? For instance, ethical vegetarianism, which holds the lives of animals as intrinsically valuable, only requires you to avoid eating meat. A travesty of course, but something you can practice consistently without too much harm. Right?
Well first, an intrinsic value always conflicts with your life. If it always coincided with your life, there's be no point to accept it as a new and separate value. People don't hold the act of breathing to be a value in and of itself. You value it because it's necessary for your life. Intrinsic values are always accepted in order to modify your behavior from what it would normally be. Which means, it always requires some action that disagrees with your life.
Let's ignore the conflict with your life for now, though. Even without that conflict, holding intrinsic values cause other conflicts. The most obvious conflict is between the intrinsic value and your life as the standard of morality. The two ethical codes are in conflict.
Normally, when you choose between two values, you have to compare them by a single standard. If a youth wants to go to college, but also wants to get out in the workforce and start making money, he has to compare these two goals. What are the costs and benefits of each, and which will move him in the direction he wants to go. Heíll weigh them against each other based on how well they match his goals in life.
An intrinsic value canít be weighed like this, though. The value isnít accepted for what it does for you. It is valued for its own sake. You canít rationally compare the intrinsic value to other values. Thereís no basis of comparison. This is where the next conflict arises. A conflict between your mind and your moral code. Since you canít rationally compare an intrinsic value to other values, your reasoning must be abdicated in order to accept it.
For example, if you want to promote your own life, and someone else's life, and the two require different actions, how do you choose? Which is more important? To answer that, you'd need to answer "Important, by what standard?". There is no single standard to compare these two values. You have no method of comparison. Your mind cannot resolve this conflict.
Since reason canít compare these different kinds of values, you have to leave it to emotions. Not that emotions can solve the problem. They canít. But in both cases you have some emotional response to these values. The emotional responses can be compared, and you can pick whichever one ďyou feel likeĒ. The result is not rational, though. Your emotional response to the intrinsic value is groundless. You will be acting irrationally. Just because you feel helping other people is better than helping yourself, doesn't make it so.
This in turn creates a conflict between your mind and your emotions. You use your emotions to make decisions that cannot be rationally analyzed by your mind. The result is that you abdicate your mind on issues of morality. You accept your emotions as some alternative means to truth. And in this case, you'd have to accept it as a superior means of acquiring knowledge. Living with emotion as your guide to understanding isn't a good idea, though. It'll leave you with one more conflict between your life and reality.
An intrinsic value always acts as a standard of value. Actions must be judged separately by each moral rule, or intrinsic value. The standards canít be integrated, because they conflict and have no common reason for holding them that would unify them. The more intrinsic values you hold, the more complicated the process of judging actions is. For each intrinsic value, you have to make a separate judgment.
This creates a moral schism in your mind. It slows down your decision making process, because you have to compare to one standard after another. You end up morally sluggish. Instead of moral principles becoming second nature to you, they will always require internal debate. You can never fully integrate your moral code. When you need to make quick decisions, instead of clarifying your options and making the decision easier, your moral code gets in the way.
A conflict between your standards of value also causes moral uncertainty, even when you can make decisions. This is because there is always some reason to believe you are making the wrong decision. You wonít be able to act with full confidence. Your efforts always reflect any moral uncertainty you may have. You are slow to act, you are never decisive, and you get confused easily. Whenever a conflict between your values occur, you'll always feel that somehow you did something wrong. Could you have helped someone else with your money? Could you have done more good if you had worked harder?
These are just a few examples of the conflicts that arise from intrinsic values. Any time one tries to accept contradictions into one's philosophy, the outcome must be chaos. It creates in internal war where your mind fights with itself, your emotions are thrown around as weapons, and your morality is riddled with schisms.
Objectivism has a lot to offer as a tool to end this kind of conflict. It allows you to integrate your values along a rational scale. It doesn't guarantee that you won't run into problems, but it allows you the means to think through the problems, and determine which values really are the most appropriate. It also aligns these values with your life. In so doing, morality becomes a tool for living, instead of a burden to be carried. And without the conflicts, your mind and emotions can become harmonious again.
Many people search for inner peace to quiet the storms within themselves. A proper philosophy can take you a long way down that road. Just another positive result of applying Objectivism.
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