Rebirth of Reason


Objectivism and the Nature of Living Organisms
by Luke Setzer

Non-human organisms like trees and lions possess automatic and instinctive values acquired genetically for preserving and advancing their lives. By contrast, human organisms possess conceptual and volitional values acquired intellectually for preserving and advancing their lives. In all cases, as the beneficiary of its own actions, a living organism must possess the means to achieve the ends needed for its own survival and flourishing. A valid ethical system must embrace a life-centered set of values.

In her book The Virtue of Selfishness, Ayn Rand wrote an essay entitled "The Objectivist Ethics" supporting individual human life as the standard of value in ethics. She named three primary points of focus or supreme and ruling values of the human spirit required for a person to live a happy, rational and productive life. In her words:

Man must choose his actions, values and goals by the standard of that which is proper to man – in order to achieve, maintain, fulfill and enjoy that ultimate value, that end in itself, which is his own life.

Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep – virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it. The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics – the three values which, together, are the means to and realization of one's ultimate value, one's own life – are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.

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.
In order to live autonomously, a person must first choose to value his own life, i.e. possess self-esteem or the belief that he is able to live and worthy of living. This holds true whether that person finds himself alone on a deserted island or in the streets of a crowded metropolis. In either case, an individual must engage in self-governing, well-reasoned daily tasks to live a flourishing life. Such a fundamental fact of life refutes the notion that ethics have meaning only in a social context.

Self-esteem motivates the machinery of a person's spirit to activate his means of survival – his reason. With reason, he can learn about the world around him and act with purpose to attain the ends he needs to live. Effectively attaining those ends provides feedback to enhance further his self-esteem, while failure to act effectively can diminish it.

In the words of Ayn Rand's intellectual heir Leonard Peikoff:

"Self-esteem" is a fundamental, positive moral appraisal of oneself—of the process by which one lives and of the person one thereby creates. It is the union of two (inseparable) conclusions, neither of which is innate: I am right and I am good—I can achieve the best and I deserve the best I can achieve—I am able to live and I am worthy of living.
The following diagram illustrates the cycle of these values within the spirit of an individual.

Ayn Rand's long time associate Nathaniel Branden explained this relationship in his book The Psychology of Self-Esteem, published in 1968. This book played an influential role in the formation of the core productivity principles of the international training company Franklin Covey as a future article will show.
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