Ultimate Value and Morality
Posted by evanescent on 2 May, 2008
I had a discussion briefly with several atheists on other blog that fancied themselves critics of Ayn Rand and Objectivism.
The blog-owner himself claimed that he had been an Objectivist for seven years, before realising the philosophy was flawed. One of his reasons for rejecting Objectivism was of its notion of intrinsic values. Later on, he clarified that the paper he wrote debunking Objectivism (which of course was highly praised in the Philosophy community) was actually an attack on Libertarianism.
Objectivism REJECTS intrinsic values. Objectivism is NOT Libertarianism. So, once again we see that those who pretend they have found a flaw with Ayn Rand don’t actually know what they’re talking about.
The only thing I can’t understand is why Objectivism should meet such a vociferous reaction; atheists like this slaughter theists when the latter make ridiculous claims about evolution and science; yet every other New Age Atheist feels themselves qualified to attack Ayn Rand on philosophical grounds when they haven’t the slightest clue what they’re talking about. It’s pretty embarrassing.
One point that was raised again and again was: why is life the ultimate value? One commenter even asked me for empirical proof to justify this statement, a question that belies gross philosophical ignorance. Again, I wouldn’t criticise somebody for just being ignorant – what I criticise is those who pretend to know what they’re talking about and cover it in all the usual postmodern philosophical rubbish to make it seem like they do. (If you want an example of this nonsense, wait until one of these philosophy students says something like “but how do you even KNOW you exist??”)
Since this “ultimate value” issue seemed to be the biggest bone of contention, I’ll deal with it here, and then encourage discussion in the comments below.
First of all, what is a value? A value is that which one acts to keep and/or gain. To quote Rand:
“The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible.”
Where there is no valuer, there is no value. The concept “value” means something only in relation to a living being, because only living beings face the dichotomy of LIFE OR DEATH.
Ayn Rand again explains this better than I can:
“Without an ultimate goal or end, there can be no lesser goals or means: a series of means going off into an infinite progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility. It is only an ultimate goal, an end in itself, that makes the existence of values possible. Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. Epistemologically, the concept of “value” is genetically dependent upon and derived from the antecedent concept of “life.” To speak of “value” as apart from “life” is worse than a contradiction in terms. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible.”
To even ask the question “why is life the ultimate value?” is to assume that there can be value without life! This is the fallacy identified by Rand of “concept stealing”. It is the philosophical equivalent of bungee jumping without a rope.
Life makes value possible. And all sub-values exist precisely because one is alive and needs things to further one’s existence. Ultimately, every value one pursues either has a positive or negative effect on one’s life.
I’ll let Miss Rand have the closing remarks:
“To make this point fully clear, try to imagine an immortal, indestructible robot, an entity which moves and acts, but which cannot be affected by anything, which cannot be changed in any respect, which cannot be damaged, injured or destroyed. Such an entity would not be able to have any values; it would have nothing to gain or to lose; it could not regard anything as for or against it, as serving or threatening its welfare, as fulfilling or frustrating its interests. It could have no interests and no goals.”
Once we understand the correct concept of “value”, we can understand the meaning of the terms “good” and “bad” – but good and bad, for whom?? “Good” and “bad” are moral concepts that presuppose a living being for whom something can have a positive or negative effect. But an effect on what?? That entity’s life! Therefore, the standard of morality is life. It is not duty, sacrifice, authority, consensus, society, god, or ‘others’, which define morality. What defines morality is that which is of value to the life of a rational being: that which benefits such a life is the good; that which harms such a life is the evil.