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In the question on Why does life qualify as an ultimate goal I am confused about the relationship between life as the ultimate goal and happiness as an end in itself.

To me, an ultimate goal is an end in itself. However, are there examples of things that are an end in itself that are not the ultimate goal?

asked Apr 27 '15 at 13:12

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Apr 27 '15 at 13:17

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

There are several closely related expressions that nevertheless must not be equated with each other:

  • Ultimate value
  • Ultimate goal (or final goal)
  • Ultimate end (or final end)
  • End in itself

Ayn Rand uses all four of these expressions in a very key passage from TOE which is excerpted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Ultimate Value" (excerpt #1):

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.

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."

A closely related passage appears in Galt's speech in Atlas Shrugged, p. 131 in the older Signet paperback edition of FNI (excerpt #2, underline emphasis added):

His own happiness is man's only moral purpose, but only his own virtue can achieve it. Virtue is not an end in itself. Virtue is not its own reward or sacrificial fodder for the reward of evil. Life is the reward of virtue—and happiness is the goal and the reward of life.

Excerpt #2 expresses one common usage of "end in itself" by others, which, in this case, Objectivism challenges: the view that "virtue is its own reward." Being its own reward would make virtue an end in itself. In Objectivism, virtue is the action by which to gain and/or keep a value. Virtue is not a value (and, hence, not an ultimate value); it is the means to gain and/or keep one or more values.

There is, however, another passage in TOE that describes happiness as an end in itself (excerpt #3, quoted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topics of "Happiness" and "Ultimate Value," underline emphasis added):

It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one's life [in the fullest sense or degree], in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself -- the kind that makes one think: "This is worth living for" -- what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself.

Note the emphasis on metaphysical in both Excerpt #1 and #3: "Metaphysically, life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself...." But psychologically, happiness (in purest form) is also an end in itself.

In other writings, Ayn Rand also speaks of sex as an end in itself (rejecting the religious view of sex as a means, not an end, a means to procreation). In The Romantic Manifesto, she also speaks of contemplating and/or creating good art as an end in itself (Chapter 11, "The Goal of My Writing," underline emphasis added):

The motive and purpose of my writing is the projection of an ideal man. The portrayal of a moral ideal, as my ultimate literary goal, as an end in itself -- to which any didactic, intellectual or philosophical values contained in a novel are only the means....

My purpose, first cause and prime mover is the portrayal of Howard Roark or John Galt or Hank Rearden or Francisco d'Anconia as an end in himself -- not as a means to any further end. Which, incidentally, is the greatest value I could ever offer a reader. [...]

My basic test for any story is: would I want to meet these characters and observe these events in real life? Is this story an experience worth living through for its own sake? Is the pleasure of contemplating these characters an end in itself?

Additional examples of how Ayn Rand uses the expression "end in itself" can be found by checking the indexes at the back of key books that have indexes, especially:

  • The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (VOS) -- look up "end in itself"
  • The Romantic Manifesto -- look up "art" and "literary style"

One particularly significant example of common usage, which Ayn Rand challenges, appears in her article, "Man's Rights," published in both VOS and CUI (underline emphasis added):

The United States was the first moral society in history.

All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself. The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means to the peaceful, orderly, voluntary co-existence of individuals. All previous systems had held that man's life belongs to society, that society can dispose of him in any way it pleases, and that any freedom he enjoys is his only by favor, by the permission of society, which may be revoked at any time.

Again, note the view of society as an end in itself, something that just is, for no other reason -- with Objectivism opposing that view of society (while implicitly endorsing the meaning of "end in itself" as a cognitive classification).

So, in short, we have happiness, sex and art as ends in themselves but not ultimate values; we also have two non-Objectivist examples of "end in itself": virtue as its own reward, and society as an end in itself. Excerpts #1 and #3 above also clarify that metaphysically, only life is an end in itself and ultimate value.

If I understand this correctly, "ultimate value" and "end in itself," applied to "life," represent two perspectives on the same phenomenon. "Ultimate value" emphasizes the hierarchy of values, with life at the top. "End in itself" emphasizes the hierarchy of means and ends, with life as the ultimate and self-sufficient end. But "end in itself" also has a psychological sense as well as the metaphysical sense, and the psychological sense subsumes phenomena such as happiness (an emotional state), sex, and art.

Update: Sex

A comment asks for elaboration on sex as an end in itself. It must be emphasized that intensely passionate sexual intimacy -- for its own sake, as an end in itself -- isn't for everyone. There are people who approach it that way, and many others who, for any number of reasons, do not. The Catholic Church, for example, is adamantly opposed to sex as an end in itself, as explained in Ayn Rand's article, "Of Living Death" (VOR Chap. 8). The article analyzes the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) in depth and identifies its fundamental commandment to man regarding sex as follows (VOR p. 52):

What is the common denominator of these statements [cited earlier in the article]? It is not merely the tenet that sex as such is evil, but deeper: it is the commandment ... which, if accepted, will divorce sex from love, will castrate man spiritually and will turn sex into a meaningless physical indulgence. That commandment is: man must not regard sex as an end in itself, but only as a means to an end.

... why the stressed insistence on forbidding man to impede procreation by his conscious will and choice? ... There is only one answer: that choice rests on a couple's conviction that the justification of sex is their own enjoyment. And this is the view which the church's doctrine is intent on forbidding at any price.

On p. 53, Ayn Rand points out the meaning of the Church's willingness to allow procreation to be impeded by the "rhythm method" of birth control, but not by any other method (underline emphasis added):

What is the psychological difference between the "rhythm method" and other means of contraception? The difference lies in the fact that, using the "rhythm method," a couple cannot regard sexual enjoyment as a right and as an end in itself. With the help of some hypocrisy, they merely sneak and snatch some personal pleasure, while keeping the marriage act "open to the transmission of life" [quoted from the encyclical], thus acknowledging that childbirth is the only moral justification of sex and that only by the grace of the calendar are they unable to comply [with childbirth].

"End in itself" is emphasized again on p, 54 (underlines added):

The motive of the church's doctrine on this issue is, philosophically, much deeper than that [promoting childbirth] and much worse; the goal is not metaphysical or political or biological, but psychological: if man is forbidden to regard sexual enjoyment as an end in itself, he will not regard love or his own happiness as an end in itself; if so, then he will not regard his own life as an end in itself; if so, then he will not attain self-esteem.

Note the association of sex as an end in itself with man's life as an end in itself, and the Church's need to undermine man's self-esteem in order to perpetuate subservience to the Church.

For more on what sex as an end in itself is like in concrete terms, and what context it depends on, refer to the topic of "Sex" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, which includes key excerpts from the "Living Death" article. Also refer to the characterizations of the heroes in Ayn Rand's novels, including Anthem and We the Living as well as The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Refer to Dagny's love affair with Francisco during her youth, with Rearden later on, and finally with Galt. For contrasting background, refer also to James Taggart's love affairs with Betty, then Cherryl, and finally Lillian; and to Lillian's psychological state in her marriage to Hank Rearden. Refer to Francisco's brief speech on "The Meaning of Sex," excerpted in FNI. Refer to the passionate sexual intimacy between Roark and Dominique in The Fountainhead, distorted by Dominique's self-tortured premises (which she ultimately corrected and overcame). Ayn Rand's heroes did not engage in passionate sexual intimacy because they wanted any higher end, such as some vague idea of "happiness" as something apart from enjoyment of life in sexual expression; for them, sexual enjoyment is sexual happiness, not a "means" to it. There is a wealth of material on happiness in general and sex in particular in OPAR, Chapter 9.

One particularly memorable sequence between Dangny and Rearden appears in Part I at the end of Chapter VIII and the opening sequence in Chapter IX. In response to a brief speech by Rearden to Dagny about shame and guilt, Dagny says to him:

I want you, Hank. I'm much more of an animal than you think. I wanted you from the first moment I saw you—and the only thing I'm ashamed of is that I did not know it. I did not know why, for two years, the brightest moments I found were the ones in your office, where I could lift my head to look up at you. I did not know the nature of what I felt in your presence, nor the reason. I know it now.... I am an animal who wants nothing but that sensation of pleasure which you despise—but I want it from you. You'd give up any height of [conventional] virtue for it, while I—I haven't any to give up. There's none I seek or wish to reach. I am so low that I would exchange the greatest sight of beauty in the world for the sight of your figure in the cab of a railroad engine.... Did you call it depravity? I am much more depraved than you are: you hold it as your guilt, and I—as my pride. I'm more proud of it than of anything I've done, more proud than of building the [John Galt] Line. If I'm asked to name my proudest attainment, I will say: I have slept with Hank Rearden. I had earned it.

Besides passionate sexual intimacy, the other great source of happiness in man's life is productive achievement. In The Fountainhead, Part 2, near the beginning of Chapter 6, for example, there is a concise discussion of this between Austen Heller and Howard Roark:

[Roark says:]"I feel completely natural only when I'm working."

"That's it. You're completely natural only when you're one inch from bursting into pieces. What in hell are you really made of, Howard? After all, it's only a building. It's not the combination of holy sacrament, Indian torture and sexual ecstasy that you seem to make of it."

"Isn't it?"

Remember, too, that the goal of Ayn Rand's fiction writing was always "the projection of an ideal man" (RM Chap. 11) -- which has always included his love life. But the morally ideal should not be taken as the morally commanded or obligatory. If people choose not to seek the ideal, or lack the ability to do so, this does not mean they are to be considered by an ideal man to be immoral and unfit for living. Ayn Rand's answer to the question of what an ideal man thinks of lesser men, especially those who are most personally disturbed by the sight of an ideal man, is succinctly and eloquently summed up in a simple line of dialog from Howard Roark at the end of Part 2 (Chapter 15) in The Fountainhead. Ellsworth Toohey, the major villain in the story, says to Roark: "Why don't you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear us." Roark answers, simply: "But I don't think of you." Another way to put this is Ayn Rand's statement: "to each his own sense of life." (Quoted from the Introduction to Night of January 16th, 6th page, immediately before Ayn Rand mentions the original title of the play.)

Lesser men and "mixed cases" always remain free (psychologically) to live by a philosophy of reason. To the extent that they do, they, too, are "ideal" on that level, even if they are less so than the fully consistent, hard-driving, highly able, top rank producers and achievers. Those of average ability and achievement have no rational grounds to regard their own moral worth as diminished in any way by the existence and sight of higher ideals. Indeed, the more rational a person is, the more he will regard the ideal as his inspiration rather than as a personal affront or reproach.

The ideal and the non-ideal are perfectly capable of coexisting together in peace, going their separate ways, perhaps engaging in mutually voluntary trade if they see a mutual benefit in it. The only requirement is for everyone to refrain from initiating physical force against others. (Certainly anyone who rejects reason will have a very tough time surviving on his own, since reason is man's basic means of survival. Those who try to reject a life of productiveness and trade guided by reason will suffer the consequences of their own choices -- yet also reap the rewards of better choices.)

Update: Forms of Enjoyment of Life

More new comments by the questioner provide five new bullet points attempting to encapsulate the Objectivist view of sex as an end in itself, and the relation to happiness as an end in itself.

I find the five bullets less clear and definitive than Ayn Rand's own terminology, but I also find the bullets largely correct, as far as they go, if I understand their intended meaning correctly.

The fundamental issue, in my understanding, can be described as enjoyment of life, which does, indeed, come in various forms, including romantic love and productive achievement, in particular, along with numerous lesser forms of "life's little pleasures" as well. Any form of pursuing and achieving rational values can produce some degree of a state of "non-contradictory joy" that we call "happiness." Overall happiness is simply the integration of all the individual instances of achieving rational values.

This does not make the individual forms of enjoyment of life mere means to "happiness" as a separate final end in itself, however. Forms such as artistic creation and contemplation, productive achievement, and especially romantic love are primarily ends in themselves (psychologically) -- actions and accomplishments that bring enjoyment of life in and of themselves. They can be said to make one happy, each form in its own way. Happiness is not something separate and apart from the various forms of enjoyment of life; the individual forms are all aspects and instances of the broad abstraction known as "happiness" (or enjoyment of life) through the achievement of rational values. Similarly, there are many aspects of life as an end in itself, happiness (in any non-contradictory form) being the psychological expression of efficacious living.

There is a very helpful passage in TOE (VOS Chap. 1) describing joy and suffering in human consciousness, and their relation to happiness. The passage is excerpted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon under the topic of "Happiness." It's the first of three TOE excerpts in that Lexicon topic. The same principles are also expressed in Galt's speech, in three paragraphs beginning as follows (pp. 131-132 in the older Signet paperback edition of FNI):

Just as your body has two fundamental sensations, pleasure and pain, as signs of its welfare or injury, as a barometer of its basic alternative, life or death, so your consciousness has two fundamental emotions, joy and suffering, in answer to the same alternative.

The complete passage also explains the nature of emotions as products of one's ideas, with ideas, in turn, as open to one's volitional choices.

The questioner asks:

And if the above assumption is aligned with your thinking, then wouldn't it make more sense that sex (the act of) is a means to sexual happiness; and sexual happiness, as a type of happiness, is an end in itself?

Objectivism does not differentiate between "sex, the act of" and "sexual happiness," with the former being a means to the latter and not an end in itself. Objectivism treats romantic love, also describable (in my view) as passionate sexual intimacy, as a unity of the physical and the psychological, an integration of mind and body. But if one wants to isolate human sexuality into component aspects, I believe it would be completely correct to say that the physical act of sex surely is not, by itself, an end in itself. Enjoyment of the physical aspect comes from integrating it with a specific psychological context in one's mind (which occurs most directly in a sense-of-life manner, not by explicit intellectual deliberation, except insofar as all aspects of one's sense of life develop over time from prior thinking or lack of it).

answered Apr 28 '15 at 02:05

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited May 02 '15 at 00:52

I don't understand why sex is an end in itself and not a means to happiness. Actually, isn't it both a means to happiness as well as a means to reproduction which can also be a means to happiness. Can you explain?

(Apr 28 '15 at 21:25) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Based on your response, the understanding that I am drawing from this is:

  • Happiness is a classification of a positive emotion for which there are many unique types each which can vary in intensity.
  • There is sexual happiness which comes from having sex with someone that you love.
  • There is physical pleasure happiness which comes from getting a back massage, having sex with someone that you don't love, etc.
  • There is productivity happiness which comes from you creating values (art, computer program, baked goods, etc.)
(May 01 '15 at 01:55) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
  • There is pride happiness which comes from you achieving something OR when someone you associate with (e.g., a sport team) achieves something. If the team win by a small margin, you experience this type of happiness to a lesser intensity than if the team wins by a wide margin.

Is this, then, why sex is considered an end in itself because sexual happiness IS a form of happiness and is not a MEANS TO happiness?

(May 01 '15 at 01:58) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

And if the above assumption is aligned with your thinking, then wouldn't it make more sense that sex (the act of) is a means to sexual happiness; and sexual happiness, as a type of happiness, is an end in itself?

(May 01 '15 at 02:46) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

And if the above assumption is aligned with your thinking, then wouldn't it make more sense that sex (the act of) is a means to sexual happiness; and sexual happiness, as a type of happiness, is an end in itself?

(May 01 '15 at 02:46) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
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They mean, essentially, the same thing. To be an ultimate goal means there's no subsequent goal or end. To be an end in itself is ALSO to have no subsequent goal or end.

Don't get caught up in shades of difference between these. The different phrases might be used in different contexts, but they really are synonymous. To say "Man is an end in himself," emphasizes that he serves no master -- it's a metaphysical/social statement. To say "Man's life is the ultimate goal or value," is to say the same thing, but with an emphasis on personal ethics: that it's HIS LIFE which should serve to determine his actions.

Both claims really identify the same fact: man's life is sovereign and his own ultimate value.

answered May 09 '15 at 16:29

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

From the conversation with Ideas for Life, an ultimate goal is an end in itself but not all end in itself is an ultimate goal. This means they can mean the same thing but they do not have to always mean the same thing.

(May 11 '15 at 01:30) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

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Asked: Apr 27 '15 at 13:12

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Last updated: May 11 '15 at 01:30