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Man's life is both an end and a means to that end. I've seen this fact given as evidence that it is wrong to sacrifice others, but I don't understand what the reasoning is that leads to that conclusion. Why does the fact that man's life is an end in itself lead to the conclusion that one shouldn't sacrifice others?

asked Oct 11 '13 at 12:17

gk1's gravatar image


edited Oct 11 '13 at 15:56

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

When it is said that "man's life is an end in itself," which men (i.e., people) are included within the meaning of "man"? If the claim is, "My life is an end in itself, therefore I should not sacrifice others to my ends," the missing step should be clear: failure to include others within the meaning of "man," treating "man" as applicable only to oneself. I wonder if the questioner is unclear about who the concept "man" subsumes.

Also, "man is an end in himself" is not an axiom or self-evidency; it is a conclusion from more fundamental observations and integrations. For the Objectivist validation of "man is an end in himself," refer to VOS Chapter 1 and Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged, reprinted in FNI. (Excerpts can be found in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.)

Update: End in Itself

In a comment, the questioner seeks further clarification of the relation between "ultimate value" and "end in itself." This is answered in the topic of "Ultimate Value" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon:

An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means -- and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.

... 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.

The Lexicon entry on "Standard of Value" is important to understand, also:

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics -- the standard by which one judges what is good or evil -- is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man.

Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

Regarding the issue of how to deal with others, including whether to sacrifice others to oneself or not, the Lexicon entry on "Trader Principle" explains:

The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.

A trader is a man who earns what he gets and does not give or take the undeserved. He does not treat men as masters or slaves, but as independent equals. He deals with men by means of a free, voluntary, unforced, uncoerced exchange -- an exchange which benefits both parties by their own independent judgment.

If one accepts the principle that being sacrificed to others is evil, why wouldn't one also accept that sacrificing others is also evil? Sacrifice is sacrifice; evil is evil. One does not achieve virtue by doing evil.

answered Oct 13 '13 at 01:04

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Oct 14 '13 at 02:56

Thanks for your response. I understand the idea that any given man's life is his ultimate value. I think the part I don't understand is why any given man's life is an end in itself. If I accepted the idea that any given man's life is an end in itself, it would follow that every man's life is an end in itself for the same reasons, which would mean sacrificing anyone is a denial of those facts of reality.

(Oct 13 '13 at 12:08) gk1 gk1's gravatar image

Thanks for the additional clarifications! Asking this question and thinking through your answers helped me realize that I didn't actually understand what it meant for something to be an end in itself and not the means to some other end. I've reread the excerpts you suggested, and now I have questions about the proposition that life is an end in itself. I'll ask those as separate questions from this one. Thanks again!

(Oct 15 '13 at 00:02) gk1 gk1's gravatar image

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Asked: Oct 11 '13 at 12:17

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Last updated: Oct 15 '13 at 00:02