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With man's life as his ultimate value - why is it immoral to sacrifice others for one's own life? Without resorting to the ethics of emergencies, opponents of Objectivism appear to assert that if Objectivist principles flow logically from this basic metaphysical starting point - conceivably, circumstance could present itself whereby the sacrifice of others might best serve an individual's life.

In short, with the Objectivist metaphysical take on "life" - specifically human life as ultimate value - how do we derive the basic "respect for others' lives and property" principle? I seem to get caught up in a "golden rule" scenario - whereby my life requires freedom from force, and therefore all human life does. However, with my life as my standard - why should I respect others' lives?

asked Nov 22 '10 at 11:04

Dairdo's gravatar image


edited Nov 22 '10 at 11:37

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

The question explains:

I seem to get caught up in a "golden rule" scenario - whereby my life requires freedom from force, and therefore all human life does.

This is backwards. The proper relation, according to Objectivism, is: (a) every human life requires freedom from force, (b) I am human, (c) therefore, I need freedom from force. Unless you engage in the fallacy of self-exclusion, the implications are very far reaching -- for yourself, for others, for your view of others and their view of you.

If you accept the Objectivist view of man in which man survives by production and trade guided by reason, you will be acting illogically if you violate that principle in your relations with others. Your life is served by acting in accord with reason and logic, not by acting otherwise.

answered Nov 22 '10 at 15:49

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

Ayn Rand covered this very neatly in the introduction to VOS.. Here is a snippet:

There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level.
. . . contnued below...

(Nov 23 '10 at 10:41) bildanielson bildanielson's gravatar image

Ms Rand went on later in the introductin:

The Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of his action and that man must act for his own rational self-interest. But his right to do so is derived from his nature as man and from the function of moral values in human life—and, therefore, is applicable only in the context of a rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral principles which define and determine his actual self-interest.
... continued below ...

(Nov 23 '10 at 10:44) bildanielson bildanielson's gravatar image
It is not a license "to do as he pleases" and it is not applicable to the altruists' image of a "selfish" brute nor to any man motivated by irrational emotions, feelings, urges, wishes or whims.
(Nov 23 '10 at 10:45) bildanielson bildanielson's gravatar image

She concluded the section stating(and in my mind directly to the point of this question):

This is said as a warning against the kind of "Nietzschean egoists" who, in fact, are a product of the altruist morality and represent the other side of the altruist coin: the men who believe that any action, regardless of its nature, is good if it is intended for one's own benefit. Just as the satisfaction of the irrational desires of others is not a criterion of moral value, neither is the satisfaction of one's own irrational desires. Morality is not a contest of whims.

(Nov 23 '10 at 10:47) bildanielson bildanielson's gravatar image
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It is out of respect for oneself that one refuses to sacrifice another. It is part of the desire to be, to be a man, to be a rational being, that one is proudly dedicated to providing for oneself. To sacrifice another would be to confess one's inadequacy, to accept one's failure at the most fundamental level, to let go of all pride, hope, and every possible shred of personal dignity. So refusing to seek or even accept sacrifice is the most intimate statement of one's individuality. It is the axiom of personal metaphysics, so to speak, the avowal of one's separateness and thus identity, the solo version of A is A: I am I.

answered Nov 28 '10 at 02:41

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

edited Nov 28 '10 at 02:42

As a self caring individual, one seeks for interaction with others in which trading is carried out with exchange of that which each considers to be of value. Unequal value trade can only come from either cheating or through sacrifice by one or the other. Cheating is obviously unethical and immoral. Sacrifice is, perhaps, less clearly immoral. However, consider how long will the sacrificer be able to continue that action and survive. How can it be moral to commit suicide for someone else's benefit? What are the outcomes of that sacrifice? Loss of income, loss of life, health, and other values come to mind. What of the family members of the sacrificer? Did they consent to the loss of value? For these reasons, acting in a sacrificial manner is neither ethical or moral.

Your question is somewhat different than the above paragraph. You act why it would be immoral for me to carry out a trade in which the other party ends up in a sacrifice. Here, I can only think of a couple ways for that trade to occur. Cheating, as stated above, is unethical and immoral. It is also likely to be self destructive since other traders are likely to avoid trades with a known trader. Use of force to make the other party make a sacrifice is called robbery. I do not know of anyone who advocates thievery as an ethical or moral basis for trade. I suppose it is possible to persuade the other party to make a sacrifice that will lead to my benefit. This might not involve force or cheating. I am having a difficult time thinking of how such a persuasion could be successful without deceit or begging, neither of which is generally considered moral.

In closing, I find frequent use of the term "sacrifice" used by politicians and many military leaders in describing military service. As a 27 year veteran, I find that term objectionable. I considered my service as a fair trade in exchange for helping maintain an effective military force that helps ensure the viability of this nation. When the politicians praise our sacrifice, I find myself very concerned that they are considering military adventures for which our nation will realize no strategic value. That would be a sacrifice and would be immoral.

answered Nov 22 '10 at 12:52

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

The debate invariably moves into the realm of "if - then what?" type reasoning. For instance - "if" an individual reasoned that they could spend their whole life cheating - and never get caught, or feel badly about such behavior - "then" would that action constitute a moral action to Objectivists?

My thoughts are that such type of questioning lacks context - lacks any meaningul consistency with reality and therefore makes such speculation irrelevant. Nevertheless, it comes across as a compelling argument in many debates.

Am I missing something critical?

(Nov 22 '10 at 13:28) Dairdo Dairdo's gravatar image

No. I think you are on track. Bottom line, it no more moral to ask others to sacrifice than it is to make a sacrifice. Ms Rand answers this clearly in the pledge allowing entry into Galt's Gulch.,

(Nov 22 '10 at 14:03) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

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Asked: Nov 22 '10 at 11:04

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Last updated: Jan 27 '11 at 17:20