Supplementary questions: Does it mean that life is what is needed, as an epistemological reference, to identify values? Does it mean that life is itself a value and we identify all values by seeing whether they are similar to life? What does "value" mean in this context, which of the two definitions apply? If a standard is merely a unit of measurement as Ayn seems to say in ITOE, then how can she say in VOS that all organisms have have life as their standard of value - even if they can't think or measure? Where is the "standard" for lesser animals?
asked Apr 13 '11 at 20:46
The most significant missing concept that I see in this question is the concept of "Teleological Measurement." Refer to that topic in The Ayn Rand Lexicon for a seven-paragraph excerpt from ITOE explaining what it is. The application to life as the ultimate value and standard of value should become far more clear after one understands what "teleological measurement" means.
If the questioner is somewhat clear on "teleological measurement" but still unclear on how it applies to "life as the standard of value," here is some further point-by-point discussion.
[Q1] What does it mean to say "Life is the standard of value"?
This topic is well developed in both Galt's Speech and TOE. It would be helpful to know if the questioner is familiar with those works and, if so, what specific steps in those analyses the questioner has difficulty following. The final conclusion is stated very succinctly and unambiguously in TOE, and excerpted in the topic of "Morality" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon:
[TOE] 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.
"Proper" here means "consistent with the nature of," i.e., that which preserves the life of a rational being and/or enhances one's ability to perform life-preserving actions in the future.
[Q2] Supplementary questions: Does it mean that life is what is needed, as an epistemological reference, to identify values?
Yes, if one is clear on what "epistemological reference" means. Refer to the "teleological measurement" issue. Refer also to the topic of "Goal-Directed Action" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon. The topic of "Teleology" in the Lexicon says simply, "See Goal-Directed Action."
[Q3] Does it mean that life is itself a value and we identify all values by seeing whether they are similar to life?
This is "sort of" correct, but not "similar to life." We identify all further values by seeing how they serve or hinder the ultimate value of life.
[Q4] What does "value" mean in this context, which of the two definitions apply?
What does "the two definitions" refer to? What two definitions?
[Q5] If a standard is merely a unit of measurement as Ayn [Rand] seems to say in ITOE, then how can she say in VOS that all organisms have have life as their standard of value - even if they can't think or measure?
Objectivism says that life is the automatic standard of value operating in non-human organisms. It is not a consciously held and applied standard, as it needs to be for man. Indeed, it applies even to organisms that aren't conscious at all, such as plants, as well as to sub-human animals that can't think and can't form or grasp consciously held and applied principles of any kind.
[Q6] Where is the "standard" for lesser animals?
See my reply to Q5.
[Q7] I've looked in ITOE. I can see now (a LITTLE better) how this standard can be used mathematically. I assume you employ the standard "life" as a unit while measuring whether particular values will lead to it or not, and how much. It is still very unclear but that I [is?] what I get so far.But it still doesn't solve the issue for me. I don't know the answer to the main question, or the other ones.
"Telogical measurement" basically just means we rank two or more things as higher or lower, greater or lesser, better or worse, than each other, without specifying a quantity of "high" units, "great" units, "better" units, etc. There are no units involved, in the usual sense of using a unit to perform a measurement (like inches in a ruler), although there clearly are differences in intensity of "desire," for example, just not differences that we know how measure independently of other similar things, using a specific unit of measure.
[Q8] And why is it THE standard, and not A standard? I think I've heard Objectivists talk about standards of value in different contexts.
This depends on the context. Objectivism upholds life as the only objectively valid, rational standard of value, but non-Objectivist moral codes certainly promulgate other non-life standards for the codes of value which they propose. Religions, for example, may try to offer some alleged "life after death" (as awarded or withheld by a Creator on "Judgment Day") as the ultimate standard by which to select one's earthly values and actions.
[Q9] Is it because "life is THE standard of value IN MORALITY"?
Life is upheld by Objectivism as the only objectively valid, rational standard of value. It is the standard of value in Objectivist moraltiy. (Note also that "life" here is species-relative. The standard of value for any species, human or not, is the life of an entity of that species. To be even more precise here, "value for a species" refers to that which an entity of that species acts to gain and/or keep, to preserve and enhance its own life. If we are talking about how man evaluates other species for man's purposes, that must be judged by reference to man's standard of value, i.e., the human standard, man's life, by which man decides what to value or not.)
(Further incidental note, if or when the thought arises: reproductive action warrants special additional analysis in relation to the claim that life as the standard of valuing operates automatically in non-human organisms.)
[Q10] In further comments, Student asks if there are two different standards identified in the following formulation by Ayn Rand: "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."
I take the phrase after the "or" as expressing the same essential point, but from a slightly different perspective, as an elaboration of the formulation that precedes the "or." In English, we often encounter the expression "that is" or "in other words" to signal elaborations of an issue that are intended merely as explanatory clarifications, not a separate essential point. Latin has such an expression, also, "id est," which we abbreviate simply as "i.e." (I am extremely puzzled as to what a reader may see as different in essence between the two formulations. I myself have had questions in the past about the difference, if any, between "life" and "survival" and the meaning of "qua man" as against "life." If that is what Student is driving at, I trust he will explain his question further. Also, "good or evil" here means good or evil for man. This passage is talking about a standard of value for man, to guide man's choices and actions. The very next paragraph in TOE further explains how Ayn Rand intends the standard to apply to man, given that the essence of man, differentiating him from all other animals, is his rational faculty.)
By the way, I hope Student's comments aren't confusing TOE ("The Objectivist Ethics") with ITOE ("Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology"). Those are different works.
[Q11] Student asks about the idea of an automatic standard of value operating in non-human living organisms. This is an integration of several key points: (a) the meaning of "value" in the Objectivist view, with life as the standard; (b) the identification that the standard is applicable to all living things, not just man; (c) the phenomenon of action observable in all living things (living things initiate actions); (d) the nature and effect of living action (living things must act in order to remain alive); (e) the concept of a "goal" (to remain alive) and the applicability of that goal for non-human living organisms as well as man, without human purposiveness (there is an important footnote about this in TOE). The idea of living action as goal-directed is "teleological." A very important reference on how teleology can apply to non-conceptual beings is the book, The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts by Harry Binswanger.
[Q12] Student asks about the relation between the formulation, "Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep," and the seemingly narrower formulation, "that which furthers life" or stated differently "that which one acts to gain and/or keep which is good for one's life."
Objectivism begins with a definition of "value" that is recognizable by any theory of value, Objectivist or not. Objectivism points out that there are certain presuppositions in that definition, such as "values presuppose a valuer," and "value to whom and for what," and "entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative." The second formulation merely integrates these presuppositions and makes it the essence of the meaning of "value" in Objectivism. But Objectivism cannot start with the narrowed version in advance of the narrowed view of "value" having been more widely understood and accepted than it is so far today.
(To be precise, one cannot say "good" for one's life without some clarification, since "good" and "bad" presuppose some sort of standard of evaluation. It is more accurate to say "beneficial" or "detrimental," and it turns out that one can measure the effect of living action on the life of the organism without presupposing the standard of value that one is trying to validate. Living action can preserve one's life, or not; it can strengthen one's capacity for further living action in the future, or not. These effects can be measured objectively, independently of any standard of "good" or "bad.")