login about faq

There are two scenarios I would like to explore:

  • The scenario where you take a bullet for your love one
  • The scenario where you give up your heart (or another vital organ) for your love one

I see these as being two objectively different scenarios because in the case of the bullet, you have a chance of survival. In the case of giving up your heart, your chance of survival goes to zero.

asked Mar 27 '12 at 00:12

Humbug's gravatar image


edited Mar 27 '12 at 01:46

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

These both sound like "Lifeboat ethics" questions to me -- the answers to which are based on the specific (often contrived) context. Although they can be amusing, they do not form a proper basis for a system of ethics.

Can you come up with more 'down to earth' situations?

(Mar 27 '12 at 12:48) Jason Gibson ♦ Jason%20Gibson's gravatar image

This question was a result made by Eric within this post:


(Mar 27 '12 at 13:12) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Yes, you can rationally risk your life to save a loved one even in the case where your death is certain. The distinction you are trying to draw between certain death and probable death is relevant in many contexts to determining whether it would be in your rational self interest to take a given action to save another, BUT it is not true that it can NEVER be rational to knowingly die for your lover even when there is no chance of survival. (Note also that I do not claim that it is always in your interest to die for your lover--we shall see below that this is only so if the loss of your lover would render your life devoid of values and miserable, which would vary according to the context.)

[Spoiler Alert--Atlas Shrugged]

Near the end of Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart unwittingly led the forces of the government to the hero of the novel, and Dagny's lover, John Galt. Before the thugs arrived to snatch Galt he instructed Dagny that she was to pretend to be on their side and to hate him. He explained that if they found out that the two were in love, then they would torture and potentially kill her in order to get Galt to do as they wished. He said:

I am not going to wait for that. At the first mention of a threat to you, I will kill myself and stop them right there. . . . I don't have to tell you . . . that if I do it, it won't be an act of sacrifice. I do not care to live on their terms, I do not care to obey them and I do not care to see you enduring a drawn out murder. There will be no values for me to seek after that--and I do not care to exist without values.

Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged 998-99 (Signet 1996)

[End Spoiler]

The point is NOT that the other person is more important to you than yourself. The point is that your life--in the moral sense of the word as opposed to the biological sense--is more than just staying alive. Maintaining brain-waves (or whatever the test for whether a human is alive currently is) is not the ultimate value. A flourishing good life is the standard of value. (this is a rich subject in its own right, and I encourage you to read Tara Smith's excellent books Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics for more on it.) Therefore, the fact that one would still be alive after losing a lover is not, itself, sufficient. If you could still live a flourishing life despite the loss of the lover, it would not be rational to die for them, because nothing is a higher value to you than this. Some people could pick themselves up and flourish after a lover dies, while others, including heroic rational people (see the quote from Atlas Shrugged above), would find nothing but misery. Some values are replaceable; if they are lost, you can find new ones to fill the gap. Your lover may not be replaceable. Some people lose a loved one and are able to still find other values in life. They may be able to find a new lover who can fill, in some ways, the value-role of the lost lover, although even then it will never be the same because people are all unique. But for some people, depending on the context of their lives, there simply would be no other person or thing that can fill the loss of their lover. Having tasted of the best there is in life, and then lost that forever, everything else would suffer by comparison. If life loses its luster, if "there will be no values for [you] to seek", then there would be no reason to stay alive.

Avoiding this state of valueless wasting-away is an eminently selfish thing to do--if you know that this state will result from the loss of your lover, and the only way you can avoid that unbearable state is to die to save them, then dieing for them is the last selfish thing you will do in your life. Note that such a weighty determination that your life will have no further value after the loss of one value CANNOT be made lightly, on whim or emotion. One must make an honest and rational appraisal, which admittedly will be very difficult. (The same applies to the case of suicide.)

You might want to check out the Journals of Ayn Rand, pp. 254-55 for more on selfishly being willing to die for things. This topic is also intimately related with the topic of suicide, and how it can be rational. Indeed, facing a certain death for another is a form of suicide. Tarah Smith's book Viable Values has a good section on egoism and suicide (p. 143).

Here are some other quotes from Tarah Smith that I think are useful on this topic:

One person might love another intensely and prefer not to live without that person. As long as the love is based on a first-handed appraisal of the other person's qualities and role in his life, this is not a violation of independence. . . . It is not a character flaw to regard certain things as making one's life worth living.

Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics 132.

In other words, although we cannot "get behind" the choice to live or explain it by recourse to some other value--it is the ultimate value--that does not mean that we cannot speak of things making our lives worth living. Life is its own reward, but if this reward loses its luster, then there is no reason to pursue it any longer. It would take something absolutely extraordinary to cause this to happen; Rand's view was that the loss of a lover could in fact be such an cause.

Another quote from Smith:

Values are the content of life. It is these that a person seeks when he seeks his happiness. Happiness is not a goal that is independent of values, as if values existed in one sphere and a person's happiness in another. Values are not stepping stones to a happiness that is distinct and separate product from the use and enjoyment of those values. . . . Life consists of the achievement of values . . . . in seeking to promote his own life, what the egoist seeks is a world of values.

Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics 303.

In other words, the value of your loved one is not merely a stepping stone used to reach the real goal which is your life. No; your life is your values. The pursuit of values is what it means to live. If your "world of values" is destroyed, then your life becomes meaningless to you. As Galt said "I do not care to exist without values."

answered Mar 31 '12 at 15:05

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦

edited Mar 31 '12 at 15:11

I get it. I've had a similar experience with slurpees. I use to be able to drink slurpees from any 7-11. However, after I discover a particular 7-11 had a unique slurpee (much more icy and less sweet), I was unable to consume slurpees from other 7-11. Even if that 7-11 were to disappear, I don't think I would've been able to settle for a slurpee from somewhere else. However, I've always viewed this as an irrational change in taste. Since it is a specific food, it wasn't a big deal to me. However, what do you say to someone who sees no value if they get into an accident and loses their arms?

(Mar 31 '12 at 15:48) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

There are people who loses both arms and can still find value. Isn't value just a state of mind that can be shifted by changing thoughts?

(Mar 31 '12 at 15:48) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Also, isn't there a difference between giving up your life to save someone that you love vs. committing suicide because your love one died?

(Mar 31 '12 at 16:50) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Regarding your accident victim, read the section on suicide I referenced above.

Regarding your last question, yes there is a difference: in the former case you save your loved-one before you die, in the latter you both die. What more you mean I am not sure. The difference is not relevant to the above analysis as far as I can tell.

(Mar 31 '12 at 23:26) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I'll take a crack at her book. Thanks.

(Mar 31 '12 at 23:49) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image
showing 2 of 5 show all

Follow this question

By Email:

Once you sign in you will be able to subscribe for any updates here



Answers and Comments

Share This Page:



Asked: Mar 27 '12 at 00:12

Seen: 1,950 times

Last updated: Mar 31 '12 at 23:49