Rebirth of Reason


Ayn Rand Society 2005 – Paper 3
by Stephen Boydstun

The contribution of Fred Miller to the theme “Ayn Rand as Aristotelian” was a paper titled “Values and Happiness” (VH). Professor Miller took issue with Rand’s assessment of the distance between her own ethical theory and Aristotle’s.

Rand thought that Aristotle’s ethical system was merely a carving of accepted ideals. He failed to answer:  Do humans really need a code of values? What for? Is there a noncircular basis of the good? Rand said that Aristotle “based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.”

Rand had an answer to the question of why humans need a code of values. She thought her answer was the first “rational, objectively demonstrable, scientific answer” ever given. In Rand’s theory, humans need a code of values for the sake of human life. The nature of all life---its continual need of energy, repair, and growth in order to survive---is the charter of objective value. The specific nature of human life is the charter of an objective moral code.

Life itself is a value that is its own value. It is the only comprehensive end in itself. Life itself is the rational choice for one’s ultimate value, the objective value with which all one’s values should be aligned. “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.”

The human desire for continued life is not automatic. Human know-how for continued life is also not automatic. Human life requires the deliberate exercise of reason in the service of continued life. Rationality, productiveness, and pride are the three cardinal virtues. These are the practices coordinate with the cardinal objective moral values, the cardinal values essential to human life, the cardinal values proper to make one’s own: reason, purpose, and self-esteem. The achievement of maintaining one’s life in this deliberate way brings a comprehensive joy of life, which is happiness. This is the outline of Rand’s ethical theory.

Miller observes that Rand’s reasoning that instrumental values are possible only if there is some ultimate value that is its own value is like Aristotle’s thought on the matter. There are other plain similarities as well.

“Furthermore, the study of Aristotle may shed light on certain of Rand’s claims which some readers find difficult to understand” (VH 8). Miller finds illumination in Aristotle of these important claims in Rand’s theory: The three cardinal values are “together, the means to and realization of one’s ultimate value, one’s own life.” (Cf. EN 1144a5–6.) The standard of moral value is “man’s survival qua man.” (Cf. Metaph. 1003a30–31.)

Rand and Aristotle disagree on what is the proper ultimate value for a human life. For Rand it is survival as a human being. For Aristotle it is a condition of well-being.

Furthermore, Rand evidently disagrees with Aristotle on the full role of choice in morality. “According to Aristotle, we make choices about the objects of deliberation, which are not ends but the means to ends (EN 1121b11–12, 1113a3–12).” Rand held that for man, “to live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice.” Does that mean that the choice of an ultimate value is arbitrary? Uninformed by reason? Not if “only life-promoting goals qualify as objective values” (VH 12).

Rand’s ethical theory parallels, in Miller’s survey, more facets of Aristotle’s theory than Rand recognized. Her clear disagreements with Aristotle, such as whether we choose our ultimate ends, may be important advances over Aristotle.

Earlier, published works on Rand and Aristotle concerning ethical value and happiness are these:
Douglas Den Uyl and Douglas Rasmussen (1984). “Life, Teleology, and Eudaimonia in the Ethics of
Ayn Rand” in The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand.
Jack Wheeler (1984). “Rand and Aristotle: A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics” in PTAR.
David Kelley (1992). “Post-Randian Aristotelianism” Liberty (July).
Peter Saint-Andre (1993). “A Philosophy for Living on Earth” Objectivity 1(6):137–73.
Ray Shelton (1995). “Epicurus and Rand” Objectivity 2(3):1–47.
———. (1996). “Parallel Metaethics” Objectivity 2(4):213–25.
Gregory Johnson (1999). Section 6 “Rand: Aristotelian or Baconian?” of “Liberty and Nature”
Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 1(1):135–66.
Neera Badhwar (1999). “Is Virtue Only a Means to Happiness?” Reason Papers 24:27–44.
——. (2001). “Is Virtue Only a Means to Happiness?” Objectivist Studies 4.
Roderick Long (2000). “Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand” Objectivist Studies 3.
Darrin Walsh (2002). “A Revival of the Ancient Tradition in Ethics: Aristotle versus Rand”
Journal of Ayn Rand Studies 4(1):87–122.
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