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From the Objectivist perspective, is the only justification for rights their role in advancing life? For instance if I knew that I was going to die next week because of terminal cancer, would it be okay for me to do unlawful actions such as stealing ?

asked Feb 05 '11 at 22:36

Fareed's gravatar image


edited Feb 06 '11 at 01:19

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

This is the death-chooser versus life-seeker question again. If one is not life-seeking, one is free to die. If one then chooses, for no possible rational reason, to attack others who are life-seeking, they as life-seekers are morally entitled to defend themselves. The death-chooser's stated choice is to die, and life-seekers commit no contradiction if they grant that choice in the course of having to defend themselves. (Incidentally, if man refuses to act to sustain himself in issues open to his choice, his bodily functions may well take over and compel him, automatically, to act for immediate physical survival in an entirely perceptual and muscular manner, like a subhuman animal. And that may well involve using physical force against others, as with all subhuman animals.)

More broadly, there is a serious misconception in this type of question that Objectivism justifies the identification of a standard of value for man by reference to whether or not an individual chooses to seek life. That is not correct. Objectivism looks at man generally, as a type of entity, and shows how man's survival qua man follows from the type of entity that man is and the alternative of life or death that he and all living entities face. Whether or not any particular individual chooses to accept and adhere to that standard of value is a different question, and (on the conceptual level) is entirely up to the personal choice of every individual.

To elaborate on this still further, many people regard morality as a set of mandates that everyone must follow in order to be recognized and accepted by the society that everyone allegedly belongs to. Others regard morality as a set of mandates that everyone must follow in order to be recognized and accepted by the alleged mystical authority that created man and rules all of existence. Observing these alternatives, a few regard the latter as a convenient device for implementing the former, i.e., as a means of keeping a society's members "in line" while the "savvy few" rise to the top of the society's power structure.

Objectivism rejects all of that, and also rejects the whole idea of compulsory morality itself. Morality in Objectivism is voluntary. It may seem incredible to suggest that morality could be voluntary, but in Objectivism it is. Nothing commands an individual to choose to be moral (or rational), other than his own choice to live or not in the face of the alternative of life or death and the need for a life-sustaining course of action if one wishes to live. The fact that everyone will die eventually anyway, sooner or later, is utterly and abysmally irrelevant (except insofar as death can come very soon or after a lifetime of living, depending on how one chooses to act in the face of the alternative). The objectivity of man's survival qua man as the only appropriate standard of value for man (as the core of a moral code) is not affected by individuals who are close to death or who allegedly choose death when they don't have to. It is a standard that proceeds from the fact that living entities exist and seek to remain alive.

Now consider the individual level again: Is it rational for an individual to continue to wishing to live and to act accordingly even when he knows he is about to die? One could also ask: Is it rational for rationality to matter to someone who is about to die? Would it be irrational for him to abandon rationality under those circumstances? I suggest that this is a reductio ad absurdum. A is A. Irrationality is irrational. And if one rejects rationality, what is left of morality (in Objectivism)?

The essence of what may make the question difficult is the subtle switch from the "type of entity" perspective to the "individual choice" perspective. The appropriate standard of value for man proceeds from the former, and from the fact that no alternative theory of value rationally follows (as essential or necessary for any reason) from any conceivable death-choosing response to the alternative of life or death.

(A similar question has long challenged my own understanding: what if an individual chooses "minimal physical survival" or "survival at any price" over "man's survival qua man" as the standard of value for one's chosen moral code? Does the full Objectivist code of values -- reason, purpose, self-esteem -- and corresponding virtues necessarily still apply? For example, wouldn't merely "thinking and productive work" be enough? As a brief indication of my thinking on this question, I would point out that one can measure "benefit" to a human life independently of whether or not the individual chooses to seek life at all or in some degree that falls short of "man's survival qua man." "Benefit" means aiding one's capacity to enjoy life in the present, and sustaining or increasing one's capaicty to perform life-sustaining actions in the future. The Objectivist code of values for man is necessary for maximum benefit to man's life, regardless of whether or not an individual actually seeks to benefit his life to that degree. Likewise, if one acts in a way that is detrimental to one's life, one certainly risks death, even if one does not die quickly. In terms of moral judgment, a lesser life-seeker can be evaluated as less "good" or "great" morally than an ideal man, while not necessarily being evaluated as "immoral." He becomes immoral or even evil if he tries to induce or coerce others to follow a less-than-ideal course of action. This is the difference between someone who says, perfectly honestly, "You're great, I'm less" -- and one who says, "You're no better than me.")

answered Feb 06 '11 at 14:56

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

The adjective "moral" does not apply to the concept of "rights." If any adjective is applicable, it is the one used in the Declaration of Independence, i.e., "inalienable."

It is immoral to forcefully deprive another of their right to life. In my opinion, the other rights are pretty much derivative of that basic and fundamental right. Infringing upon Property, pursuit of happiness, and liberty deprives to a greater or lesser degree the person of his or right to life.

If one accepts that right to life is inalienable in a moral society, than one's status of health, wealth, societal position, etc has no bearing upon justifying not infringing upon that right of other persons. As ideas for life states above, rejecting morality is to reject rationality and this is not dependent upon other factors.

Although the question relates to actions of individuals, it is important to realize that the right to life is not at the whim of the government. In a moral society, that right is inalienable. In a collectivist society, it is at the whim of the governing agent be that the majority (in a democracy), the dictator, or the communal good.

answered Feb 07 '11 at 12:15

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦

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Asked: Feb 05 '11 at 22:36

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Last updated: Feb 07 '11 at 12:15