I’ve shown what I think needs to be shown for the principle that “life is the standard of value.” That applies to all living things as such. But humans are special, and it’s their special nature that brings in the necessity of morality.
Everything I said in the previous section is pre-ethical, because I haven’t explained why humans need a code of values, let alone a morality or ethics. The key is the different means of survival for the ranges of living things. Assuming everything I’ve already discussed about life being the standard, I can then incorporate the human faculties of volition and reason, tie in facts about long-range thinking, the significance of actions on life, and our need to think in terms of a lifetime. Integrating this together will lead to the idea that we need principles to survive long-range, and thus the need for moral principles. This will then conclude with an induction about what the standard of moral value is, and why.
Plants and animals have automatic means to sustain their lives, such as nutritive organs, the pleasure-pain mechanism, and perceptual organs. They automatically pursue life: it is their innate standard of value, and life sets the conditions for all their goals and actions.
Volition/Reason: Humans have volition and reason, a volitional, conceptual consciousness. Besides our internal bodily processes, our actions are not automatically geared towards values or beneficial things. We do not automatically pursue survival, nor do we automatically know what courses of action to take in order to live. There’s no way to automatically know who to trust, which company to work for, which foods are actually harmful for you, and what political system one should advocate. We live by choosing to think, by applying our reason to the issues that confront us in life (e.g. career, money, people, and places), forming ideas and principles, evaluating them, and then choosing to guide ourselves by means of the ideas.
Long-Range: “allowing for an extended span of time.” We need to use our reason, and based on the available evidence and knowledge, predict the future state of things to some extent. A person should work hard now in services, in preparation for a more advanced job in management years later; if he values his children’s education, then he should save money now to allow them to afford college expenses later in life; he should be honest and caring to his girlfriend now, so that she will accept his marriage proposal later. He can’t act on short-range impulse, not with impunity: reality will punish him for his lack of forethought and discretion (or at least it has the capacity to do so). Thinking or planning long-range is critical to preserve and improve our lives because seemingly innocuous actions can have dire effects far into the future.
Our long-range thinking has to extend over a lifetime, because we have no automatic means of assessing our standing in life or in particular areas of life (romance, career, fitness, entertainment). Further, our actions and interests in one area of life can have great consequences in other areas. A one-night-stand can ruin one’s reputation, a political career and a marriage; a drug injection can destroy a man’s job, his financial independence, and his overall health.
The goals one can pursue in life differ in the actions required to reach them, the length of time required, and in how the success or failure to attain them will affect our lives. Life can involve very complicated ends that require painstaking effort to determine how they affect our lives, and what actions we can and must take to accomplish them. The resulting difficulty is that our cognitive abilities are much too limited to deal with all of life’s trials with case-by-case, short-range analysis and decision-making. What we need to do is conceptualize what actions we need to take to live, the fundamental actions and choices that shape all of the others, and how these choices affect our goal of self-preservation. It’s the complexity of ends and our limited cognitive faculties that gives rise to the need for principles.
Principles: “A fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behavior or for a chain of reasoning.” Basically, principles are fundamental generalizations reached by induction: that is, by examining various cases, isolating important facts and distinctions, and incorporating the facts and lessons into a conceptual proposition or set of propositions. In this case, we need prescriptive generalizations—moral principles. With the guidance of principles, we can determine why we should be honest, or have integrity. Principles are the means by which we can assess our lives in general, take note of all the intersecting goals that comprise our lives, and choose the actions that will best promote our complex interests. Just as we rely on principles for swimming or cooking or repairing a car, we need principles as a practical means to sustain and advance our lives.
Now, I just need to tie everything together again. Realizing that we have to make choices across our lifespan, and that we can’t live impulsively and expect to live long, we plan long-range. We consider our actions and how our goals involve and influence other goals in other areas of life, but the human mind cannot hold all of these minute details and decide a plan of action case-by-case. This becomes our need for principles, specifically moral principles, and thus our need for morality.
In the Objectivist definition, morality is “a code of values accepted by choice,” a code of values, “to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” A code means “an integrated, hierarchically structured, noncontradictory system of principles, which enables a man to choose, plan, and act long-range.” A moral code identifies the most significant values (the moral values) that must be gained to achieve one’s ultimate end, and the fundamental actions that generally accomplish those values; building off of those identifications, it prescribes principles and virtues to follow, because virtues are the moral actions that lead to the attainment of moral values.
From everything I’ve said, the standard of moral value has to be “man’s life,” which means “the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice.” This standard encapsulates everything stated above. The standard means life in accordance with the principles of human survival, life in accordance with reason as a man’s means of survival. The principal values in this morality are reason, purpose, and self-esteem, and the ultimate value, the ultimate end, *the purpose* of the morality is for you to live well, to flourish and attain happiness. “Productive work is the central *purpose* of a rational man’s life, the central value that integrates and determines the hierarchy of all his other values. Reason is the source, the precondition of his productive work—pride is the result.” The primary virtue is rationality, as it is the acceptance and use of reason in all spheres of one’s life, to accept it as one’s only source of knowledge, one’s only judge of values, and one’s only guide to action. Its view of the proper beneficiary of moral actions is that each person should morally act to further their own lives; this means that it endorses egoism, the view that each person’s primary moral obligation is to attain his own well-being and interests. And in this philosophy, egoism means a person who furthers his life as a rational being, with “man’s life” as his chosen standard of moral value.