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Darkademic's Philosophy - Part II


This is the second part of my philosophical treatise. It continues where the first part left off and explores the realm of ethics, building upon the established metaphysical and epistemological foundations. As with the previous instalment, this one coincides with the philosophy of Objectivism.

Part II - Ethics

Ethics is the third major branch of philosophy which studies the nature and purpose of human action. For what end should one live? By what fundamental principle should one act in order to achieve this end? Who should benefit from one's actions? These are the questions which the branch of ethics answers.

The previous section moved from metaphysics to epistemology and concluded that human beings are volitional and rational beings. Based on their knowledge of the world they must make decisions on how to act. A human being is it's own sovereign, free to decide his or her own destiny within the scope of reality. This section is about ethics, which basically answers the question of what to do with this free-will i.e. what courses of action are good and which are evil.

Life & Value

Life vs Death

Life and existence are separate. Living is merely a state that living beings have, it is not a prerequisite for existence, but rather, existence is a prerequisite for life. Therefore neither life, nor death, can be called "necessities". They are not "necessary" for existence. Life may be necessary for conscious existence, but then why is this "necessary"? Life doesn't imply a purpose i.e. "a living thing must live", it implies a state, i.e. "a living thing does live". Life is a variable which something may or may not have, nothing more. It is not a need, it is not a requirement. This neutrality may imply to some that there is an "is ought problem" in terms of transitioning from facts to morality, however this ceases to be problematic once one considers the nature of life and its status as a prerequesite for all other actions and values.

So, objectively, life and death are just neutral elements. They are just part of reality. Non-human organisms don't even have a choice, their natures are automatically self-preservational. A plant automatically grows in the direction of the most light which it needs for photosynthesis. Bacteria automatically multiply. Dogs automatically (instinctively) look for food if they are hungry. Morality is not applicable to such organisms. For humans, this is not the case; human beings have no automatic knowledge of how to survive, nor do they automatically choose to live. Human beings do not follow an automatic course of action as the organisms described above do, and they need a moral code of values to follow which will guide their actions.

This is how the "is ought problem" is reconciled: Although life and death are neutral, life has prerequesites (and death does not - death is the default, brought about simply by non-action). Since life is the prerequesite of all other action, it must be regarded as one's ultimate value and also as the standard of value by which all other values are judged. "Ought" implies an end or a goal, and the fundamental goal for which action is required (as opposed to non-action) is life. Any and all action requires life regardless of whether the actor recognises this or not.

The preservation of life requires action, this is a metaphysical fact determined by a living being's nature. Non-human organisms carry out the actions required to sustain their lives automatically. Human beings on the other hand have to discover how to sustain their lives. Human beings have to acquire knowledge of themselves and of reality, in order to survive. The automatic functions of the human body are not enough to keep it alive. A person has to think by choice, and action has to be taken by choice. A human being must learn that it is alive, and that its life is conditional. A human being must learn what is of value to its own life - a human being must learn and conceptualise what is required to sustain its life, and this must be done objectively, in strict reference to reality, to be valid.

Man's mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not. His body is given to him, its sustenance is not. His mind is given to him, its content is not. To remain alive, he must act, and before he can act he must know the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot obtain his food without a knowledge of food and of the way to obtain it. He cannot dig a ditch or build a cyclotron without a knowledge of his aim and of the means to achieve it. To remain alive, he must think. Rand (1957)


A value is something which one strives to gain or keep. "Value" is only meaningful in reference to something that is conditional, and life is such a conditional factor. It can only be sustained by continuous action. Life is the root of all value because it is the fundamental condition upon which all other values depend. The alternative of existence or non-existence, of life or death, is the precondition of all values. An invincible, immortal being would have no need of values, since its existence would not be conditional. Thus, by the very nature of "value", any code of values must hold life as the ultimate value. If life is not held as the ultimate value, then the only alternative is death (the non-existence of life), which thereby extinguishes all derivative values.

Values derived from life as the standard are things which will benefit one's life by making it sustained, longer, easier, more comfortable, more fulfilling etc. These values are hierarchical and objectively so. For example if a person is starving and was going to die very soon without food, food would be very high in that person's hierarchy of values, whether the person accepts this fact or not. Food would be a higher value than say, a car. A person who does not hold life as the root of all his/her values may disagree, but if a person in the situation placed cars above food (i.e. cars above life), then that person would simply die, and any values would be lost. Additionally, life as the root of all value means life as something (since everything has identity) - and regarding human beings it means life as a human being. This refers to the fact that a human has specific needs which must be met in order to sustain its life, and these needs differ from those of other living entities.

Humans are thus faced with the constant and ongoing choice between holding life as a value and acting to preserve one's life, or the opposite; acting to destroy one's life (which includes doing nothing at all). All other values must be based upon this initial value judgement. All subsequent value judgements are therefore objective - some things sustain and contribute positively to one's life (increasing health, vitality and efficacy), whilst other things diminish and destroy one's life (leading to sickness, impairment and ultimately death). Values (such as objects and actions) are good to humans and for the sake of reaching specific goals, the most fundamental of which is the sustenance of an individual's own life. It is only by the use of objectivity, logic, reason, that one can discern what is truly of value and what isn't.

Life is not taken as the root of all value in the absolute sense of being alive vs being dead, but rather as a gradient between the two, and meaning life as a human being. With life as the standard of value, and having life as the ultimate value, this includes living for as long as possible, and therefore as healthily as possible, and therefore as comfortably as possible, and therefore as happily as possible. Happiness as a result of successful living will be discussed later.

Reason is the basic means of human survival and is therefore the primary value required to sustain one's life. Rationality is the acceptance of this fact; the acceptance that reason is an absolute principle of human survival. Anyone practicing rationality will not tolerate blanking out facts of reality (i.e. evasion). Rationality is therefore the primary virtue, as the acceptance and use of the faculty of reason is the primary action to sustain one's life.

Good & Evil, Virtue & Vice

Why Choose Life?

The initial choice between life and death is not subject to morality. In most cases life is automatic. A new life lives, that is its nature, and it will live until it no longer meets the requirements for life. A new-born child is dependent on its parents to survive in the early stages; it has no choice, nor concept of life and death. Morality is only applicable when life is chosen, and it is meaningless to try and judge this choice in terms of ethics. It is a pre-moral choice. Life being the basis of all value means that values are simply not applicable without the initial, ultimate value of one's own life. All value, all actions and all thoughts require life, and therefore any thoughts or actions imply life as their ultimate objective (even if the actions are irrational and destructive). Non-value of life means actions or thoughts are no longer relevant or consequential, so to think or act without holding one's life as the ultimate value is a contradiction. Even a suicidal person who no longer wants to live is only doing so because that person is unable to live life to a standard that is reasonable or acceptable to them - e.g. they may be experiencing intolerable pain due to an illness. A person who no longer values life would be someone who shuts down completely.

The decision to continue living is also influenced by one's metaphysical nature. In most cases, any action which leads to death will cause a negative, unpleasant biological reaction: Pain. Aversion to pain is not a moral issue in this instance, but a purely biological one. Pain can be supressed and ignored however, and there are also life destroying actions which do not cause pain, so the choice does still remain between life and death, but our metaphysical natures support life on a basic biological level. It should be noted that pain does become a moral issue when life is chosen - it is immoral (in most cases) to seek pain because it is a signal that life is being threatened or destroyed. However in some cases pain may be necessary when considering life long-term. For example it would be rational to accept the small amount of pain caused by an injection of some form of medicine or vaccine since a greater long-term value is achieved.

Individualism / Egoism

An individual's primary moral obligation is to him/herself, this being a corollary of one's life as being the standard by which value is judged. Life is a characteristic of the individual, just as reason is. There is no collective life, just as there is no collective consciousness. This view rejects the doctrine of altruism - the idea that one's primary moral obligation is to serve someone or something other than one's self (e.g. "society", race, tribe or God), at the expense of one's own welfare. Objectivst egoism advocates rational long-term self interest. This should not be confused with subjective egoism however, which advocates short-term, irrational self-interest in the form of hedonism, irresponsibility, context-dropping, and whim-worship. A person cannot survive by acting on the range of the moment and it is only through choosing lifelong goals, values, and courses of action that a person can live successfully.

One might suggest that force and violence could be seen as a rational course of action, however this is not the case. Force is the opposite of reason, and it requires the surrender of one's mind and the disintegration of one's principles. A principled ethical approach requires that one integrates all possibilities and circumstances, rather than taking every situation as it comes. One cannot live successfully if one disintegrates and evaluates every single variable as an isolated fragment, human beings simply do not have the mental capacity to do that, therefore principles are what one uses to consolidate the immense complexity of day-to-day decisions into a unified whole. Reason, being the basic tool of a human being's survival, is fundamental to long-term survival. Force, which is the negation of reason, is therefore a an unprincipled substitution (essentially of somebody else's reason).

It might be pointed out that evil men throughout history have been better off using coercion than they would have been had they not: This is pragmatism and it does not follow that coercion is a rational course of action, any more than gambling is rational just because a small number of people win at it. Force is necessarily dependent on faith rather than reason: One cannot know how any individual will react to force being used against them at any given moment, as one cannot peer into another person's mind. Since force is inherently destructive to any person whom it is used against, the rational response to it is retaliation, which could be potentially very harmful to the aggressor. One can learn about reality, and produce things by the use of reason, however one cannot rationally depend on the weakness (or compliance) of others for sustenance (something which Ayn Rand called being a "second hander") because it is not simply the unknown, but the unknowable. This is especially incompatible with the long-term self interest that rational egoism stands for, and means that force simply cannot be part of a principled code of rational egoistic action.

Evil only survives as much as the good feeds it, the evil creates nothing, the dependent creates nothing and is always living on borrowed time. By definition, a looter must depend on the work of others and needs their "loot" since they are choosing not to produce their own. So, the looter is dependent on others in a specific way; depending on others' weakness (if he conquers them) or stupidity/naivete/ignorance (if he defrauds them) or wrong moral views (if his victim is a willing slave). Contrast the dependence of a looter with the independence of a producer. A producer's primary frame of reference is not on the weaknesses of his fellow men, but ultimately on theirs and his grasp of reality. If he chooses to properly and accurately identify the nature of reality, he is able to create his means of sustenance and trade with those who have done the same. His means of survival fundamentally is within his control, whereas the looter's means of survival fundamentally is not within his control. The producer, if he rationally appraises the opportunities reality provides him, creates his means of sustenance. In contrast, the looter is entirely dependent on the availability of victims. What if there are no victims, or the victims rebel, or they shrug? Then the looter has no means of survival. The loot is gone.

Followers of Objectivist egoism seek to produce and trade freely with others in all areas of life including food, clothing, education, knowledge, friendship, love, etc. Such rational self-interest also includes helping individuals who are of value such as partners, children, friends, perhaps even strangers, but not necessarily those who are of no known value, and certainly not those who are of disvalue such as beggars, criminals and one's enemies. Deliberate self-sacrifice (altruism) is the opposite of rational self-interest (egoism).

Selfishness is a requirement of the human mind and of human life. An individual has to be the beneficiary of his or her own actions. The opposite of this is altruism, this being the doctrine of self-destruction. The more consistently one tries to practice altruism, the closer to death one gets. Altruism is the surrendering of a greater value for a lesser one, and ultimately, one cannot hope to survive in this way.


A virtue is an action required to gain and/or keep a value. Rationality is the virtue that is required to gain or keep reason. It is the conscious, chosen act of using reason to guide one's subsequent actions. This will lead to the values of happiness and self-esteem which are derivatives of the value of life. Both are the result of living successfully. The person with self-esteem and pride rejects the concept of self-sacrifice. Man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.

So, with the identification of rationality as the primary virtue, Objectivism identifies six interconnected virtues required to practice overall rationality. These are independence, integrity, honesty, justice, productiveness and pride. These are practical principles, and Objectivism rejects the idea of a dichotomy between morality and practicality. Independence is reponsibility for one's self and one's actions. Honesty is the non-rejection of reality, i.e. never faking or blanking out what is. Integrity is the non-sacrifice of one's own convictions and values to the opinions and wishes of others. Justice is never granting the undeserved or unearned. Productiveness is the means by which one achieves one's values, it is the adjustment of the environment to suit one's own needs and requirements; it is creativity, innovation and alteration carried out for a specific rational purpose - ultimately to sustain one's life. Pride is really an emotional response to the achieviement or keeping a value, but the acceptance and acknowledgement of the response is a virtue in itself, so long as the emotion is founded upon a rational value system.

Rejecting the idea that any good can come of sacrifice, Objectivism holds that the principle of trade is the only rational, ethical principle for all human relationships of any kind. Dealing with one another as traders is to give value for value. This is equivalent to the principle of justice. Traders do not treat men as masters or slaves. Only free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchanges which benefit both parties by their own independent judgments are permitted. A trader values achievements, not faults; virtues, not weaknesses.


Happiness is a state that a person achieves by achieveing their values. Happiness is in fact a necessary part of human life as it gives one purpose. Happiness is a result of living successfully, it is not separable from the act of living successfully. If you are not living successfully, you can't be happy, as living unsuccessfully is not living at all, it's dying. If you can no longer be happy (which can happen) then you cannot live successfully. Consciousness has identity just like everything else. Your mind requires happiness in order to function and you require a functioning mind in order to survive. Rational happiness (this being the only kind of happiness Objectivism acknowledges as existing) is the highest moral purpose, as it is an emotional measure of how successfully one is living and a reflection on one's knowledge and values. In this respect, a happy life is what one should strive for, rather than simple "morgue avoidance".

Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man -- in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life. Rand (1961)

Summary of Ethics

• The choice between life and death precedes morality.
• One's life is the standard of morality for all who choose to live.
• Life requires conscious thought and action.
• Choosing life and acting self-destructively is immoral.
• Reason is used to judge and evaluate values.
• Rational values are objectively life-enhancing.
• Rational ethics are based on egiosm not altruism.
• Happiness is the result of living successfully.

Continue to Part III: Politics >>>


Madden, R. [no date]. An Introduction to Objectivism [online]. Available from: http://home.earthlink.net/~rdmadden/webdocs/Intro._to_Objectivism.html [Accessed: 15/10/08]

Rand, A. (1957). Atlas Shrugged. New York: Signet.

Rand, A. (1964). The Virtue Of Selfishness. New York: Signet.

Setzer, L. [no date]. Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand - Book Summary [online]. Available from: http://attitudeadjustment.tripod.com/Books/OPAR.htm [Accessed: 02/10/08]