In the history of wars, you have vivid examples of great valor where a soldier will jump on a grenade and take the full brunt of a lethal explosion but in so doing save the lives of many others. We tend to honor and respect acts like these and there are medals awarded for this sort of brave behavior. My question is: under Objectivist ethics, is it desirable let alone honorable to ever "jump on a grenade" ? Why? You would clearly be losing your life (a huge value) in exchange for a lesser value (the lives of others). Strictly, isn't this "sacrifice" and/or "altruist" behavior? The same theme applies when thinking of a mother taking a bullet to save her child (or for that matter a boyfriend taking a bullet aimed at his girlfriend in the recent Colorado theater shooting). Is this code of honor legitimate under Objectivism ?
asked Jul 26 '12 at 10:35
Ayn Rand said: "Honor is self-esteem made visible in action."
As for "honorable", though, the term basically means "worthy of praise", which is essentially synonymous with "ethical".
There are many examples of individuals who choose probable or even certain injury or death for the sake of protecting others.
These acts are often publicly praised, and called sacrifices.
Ayn Rand was an egoist, and considered sacrifice to be vicious. So she disagreed with the practice of calling an act of defending your values a sacrifice.
This question boils down to: Is it ethical to die for the sake of others? Is it a sacrifice?
The answer requires knowing who the others are.
For instance, if you give both of your kidneys for the sake of two derelicts whom you have no personal interest in, or worse, for the sake of two enemy soldiers, it's certainly a sacrifice.
If we are specifically talking about jumping on a grenade in the heat of battle, then the question who are the others you are dying for becomes a bit harder to answer.
It's easy to say "a bunch of soldiers to whom you are not related", but that would be giving short shrift to the relationship between brothers in arms.
War requires, of every soldier who enters into it, a commitment to the mission. Every man at war knows that the mission could very well put his life in grave danger, yet he still chooses to take the risk, because he has committed himself. Presuming that any given mission is not a foolish one, when a soldier commits to a mission it is not a sacrifice. He's doing his job, and he's proud of it. He's no coward. He faces the danger because the success of the mission is of real value to him.
In this context, when on the mission, if something happens which could greatly jeopardize the mission, such as a grenade falling within blast range of many fellow soldiers, a true warrior, out of integrity, does what is best for the mission. He becomes a casualty, and prevents many.
No soldier wants to live with the knowledge that his own cowardice resulted in the deaths of several other soldiers. No solder wants to know that his failure to act jeopardized his unit, and the mission.
The values of a soldier are difficult for an ordinary man to understand. That's why we call such heroic acts sacrifices -- because they might seem stupid to regular people. But then our politicians praise them anyway, as if doing something stupid for the sake of others makes it a virtue.
It's time we set the record straight. True heroism is never a sacrifice. A man who makes a difficult decision to defend what he has committed himself to defend is not sacrificing anything. He is making the best out of a terrible situation, and demonstrating immense integrity.