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Put it another way, shouldn't you kill or steal if your life requires it?

This is the biggest doubt I have with the Objectivist morality.

asked Dec 04 '10 at 08:25

Cherman's gravatar image


Addressing your title question, I think you are referring to the fundamental alternative of existence/living vs. nonexistence/death, which is what makes values both possible and necessary:

There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of “Life” that makes the concept of “Value” possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.

Now, in the specific case of the existence/living of a human, we have to attend to the fact that every living thing has a distinctive mode of existence -- a manner and means of existing as that kind of thing -- and consider what is required in the case of humans. We are not an insect or fish or cat, so what is appropriate to their existence isn't appropriate to ours, and vice versa: in our case, we're rational, conceptual animals, and the requirements of our existence of course reflect that. So the standard of value for humans is what is required for the life of a human -- the life of a rational being -- or, simply, "man's life" (because we aren't aware of any other rational animals):

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.

answered Dec 04 '10 at 09:04

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

But there are sometimes when you need to violate someone's rights in order to live (for example, you have a fatal disease and don't have money for medicine). What should you do then? If life is your standard, you should steal the medicine. If "Man's life" is, you shouldn't, correct?

(Dec 04 '10 at 10:53) Cherman Cherman's gravatar image

Rational selfishness does not allow for stealing or forceful taking (the same thing?) from others for one's own self advancement. Survival as a rational being requires that we trade with each other exchanging value for value. If a member of society steals or seizes others' property, that member will not find honest members of the society willing to trade with him (or her). Dagny Taggert states this quite clearly when she says to Dan Conway, "If the rest of them can survive only by destroying us, then why should we wish them to survive? Nothing can make self-immolation proper. Nothing can give them the right to turn men into sacrificial animals. Nothing can make it moral to destroy the best. One can't be punished for being good. One can't be penalized for ability. If that is right, then we'd better start slaughtering one another, because there isn't any right in the world!" (site 1976 of Kindle edition of Atlas Shrugged). She is speaking of moochers stealing from producers. Is there any way in which one can justify the same immoral actions being performed by one who considers himself as a "producer?"
Put slightly differently, it is no more moral to steal from someone else than it is for someone else to steal from you. Life is the standard but your assumption that it is merely continued survival is no more accurate than thinking that Aristotle meant that man should enjoy pleasurable things when he stated that the ultimate good is happiness. Recheck your premise as to what is life.

answered Dec 04 '10 at 18:14

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

If you kill or steal from another, you change yourself from a producer to a predator. As a predator on men, you become the prey of men. Thereafter, every man you pass on the street has the moral right to strike you down and take whatever you possess. You can prey on others at the cost of becoming a fugitive, but what you cannot do is save your life as you know it, at someone else's expense.

Life prior to crime means life qua man, but afterwards means a degenerate sort of existence, even if that involves fine dining and tailored suits. You may break the rules and try to continue as you were, hiding in plain sight, but contradictions do not exist, and satisfaction is impossible to a cheat.

Logically, then, it is not possible to save one's life by killing or stealing.

answered Dec 04 '10 at 19:40

Mindy%20Newton's gravatar image

Mindy Newton ♦

I agree. With our actions we legitimize the actions that may be taken against us in return. To demand better treatment for oneself than one has given, destroys the concept of equality, the base of civil society.

(Dec 05 '10 at 02:42) garret seinen garret%20seinen's gravatar image

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Asked: Dec 04 '10 at 08:25

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Last updated: Dec 05 '10 at 02:42