Is Life the Ultimate Value?
A Reassessment of Ayn Rand’s Ethics
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Ole Martin Moen
We all value things. For example, we value friendships, prosperity, and
knowledge. These seem to be good things and things worthy of pursuit. They
seem better and more worthy of pursuit, at least, than do their opposites:
enmity, poverty, and ignorance.
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A notable fact about the things we consider valuable is that most of
them appear to be valuable not merely as things worth having for their own
sake, but as things worth having for the sake of something else. Consider
prosperity: Though we genuinely value prosperity—we want it, we think it is
good, and we act to gain and keep it—we value it not merely so as to be
prosperous, but so as to achieve something further, such as steady access to
food, drink, and clothes. Were it not for the food, drink, and clothes—and the
other things that prosperity brings about, such as transportation, medicine, and
homes—a great deal, if not all, of the value of prosperity would be lost. Food,
drink, and clothes, moreover, do not seem to be ends in themselves either.
Though they are ends of prosperity, they are also—from another
perspective—means to avoid hunger, thirst, and cold. Furthermore, avoiding
hunger, thirst, and cold seems to be a means to yet another end: remaining in
Where does the chain of values end? It seems that the chain of values
must end somewhere, for though some values can be values by virtue of being
means to or constituent parts of further values, not all values can be values of
this kind. If they were, all values would be values only insofar as they
contribute to something further, in a justificatory regress. In order to get a
chain of values off the ground, it seems that something will have to be
valuable by virtue of itself, not by virtue of that to which it contributes.
Aristotle puts forth this point as follows in the Nicomachean Ethics: