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Objectivism and the Is-Ought problem

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3/22/2014 6:23:30 AM
Posted: 4 years ago
The Objectivist answer to the 'is-ought' problem is that, within any rational being, necessarily resides a value structure, in which the primary value (from which all others derive) is the being's own life.

"In answer to those philosophers who claim that no relation can be established between ultimate ends or values and the facts of reality, let me stress that the fact that living entities exist and function necessitates the existence of values and of an ultimate value which for any given living entity is its own life. Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between "is" and "ought.""

The most important leap in the argument is where rather than just valuing reason and life slightly more than otherwise, it must necessarily be the primary value. But how is this established? Why, just because we exist, must we value that more than anything else? Rand's argument doesn't really seem to address the central idea at all.

"It is only the concept of 'Life' that makes the concept of 'Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil."

I agree with this, but what we are really addressing is the value *of* a value. In other words, what makes a certain value the 'correct' thing to value? Rand's answer, within her selfishness paradigm, seems to be that if you value it, it's your value; but this is simply tautological. It sets up a system where Rand can never lose because any value is what you value. So in this sense, altruism isn't so much immoral as it is impossible. (If you want to give someone a gift, it's not altruistic if you value them, etc.)

Another issue is: what really is 'life'? It's not simply continuing to exist, because Rand admits that in some situations it's okay to reduce life-span for other, 'rational' reasons. But the vagueness of 'life' is then pushed onto the vagueness of 'rational'. It seems Rand is trying to set up a system where any situation can be answered by exploiting the vagueness of these terms; and none of this actually follows in the necessary, principled way that Rand seems to imply it does.