|"There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or non-existence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. 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." Ayn Rand, from Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged.|
"Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action." (Pulled from the paragraph above.)
Thiat is the most abstract context for viewing life - as a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action, it applies to all men, to you, to me, to all organisms including the most primitive of single-celled organisms. That cannot be the last word or final understanding on "life as the standard of value" that you would use to make choices. How could that understanding alone help you make any choice, other than those that are life or death and not contested by anything else?
When we look to flesh out the principles implied by the act of choosing, we find ourselves in the following general context:
Now lets open things up a little and talk about motivation. The question that has not been asked is, "Why live?" In other words, "What is the purpose of life for a human?" Notice the context I gave the last question. I gave each individual their own purpose when I said "a" human. Yet there is an implication that it might be possible to generalize in a way that includes all humans.
- Life is common to all organisms and is their most basic of alternatives - to be or not to be, he said.
- Humans have the capacity to choose... and many actions require choice... and many actions are required (or die).
- Some things are sufficiently abstract that they apply to all humans
- Some things are values for one individual but not others, like preferring vanilla ice cream over chocolate.
- If the most basic of choices - the choice to live - is made (implicitly or explicitly) that puts one into the game. And many choices will be made thereafter that are required to sustain that first choice.
This is the time to point out a complex kind of concept - a bridge between the individual and human nature. We can abstract what things are common to all humans AS HUMANS. Like the capacity to reason. That doesn't mean that a human in a coma will be able to reason, and it doesn't mean that an individual will choose to reason, and it doesn't mean there won't be humans born with defects that prevent the exercise of that capacity. Another example: My individual rights derive from my being human, and that humans, by their nature, have individual rights - they have them as an individual but they come from not from that person's individual nature (born of this particular woman, that man, at this time on that day) but from the nature of man as such. Do you see the bridge between human nature and a specific man's nature? Between mans life as statement about human nature and an individual's life as per his or her nature? Between mans' purpose (human nature) and an individual's purpose?
We can see this bridge in another way. I draw a line along a 'spectrum' where everything on one side is common to all of mankind, and everything on the other side may differ from one individual to another - yet without ever violating the generic items that are common to all. Example: Sustaining, nutrional intake is an objective value for all humans - Chocolate ice cream (in reasonable portions) does not contradict that but it may be preferred by some and not others.
I maintain that the only rationally justifiable generic purpose - that is, for all humans, is the most positive experience of living their life. We are different from a robot not just in having choice, but also in that we have emotions - our acts, our awareness, our thoughts are all accompanied by feelings and emotions and they are the reason to live. Try a thought experiment and imagine you could turn off all feelings and emotions for yourself, forever. That would be good if the only experiences you were going to have in the future fell into the category of pain, sorrow, and hurt. But what you were left with - nothing - would leave you with absolutely no motivation to move forward. (Note: don't mistake this for hedonism which mistakes emotions as tools of cognition and fails to differentiate between the feelings of the moment from long term happiness.)
When we look at the widest context of purpose - the purpose of all humans - we are engaged in philosophical thought. When we walk across the bridge we are looking at psychology and attempting to determine what we want out of our own life. My purpose will always be to maximize my positive experience of life, and I can demonstrate that the best emotional experience are only available to those who are rational and possesed of good self-esteem, but at a point I leave the generizations that apply to all and come to where my unique constellation of virtues and values and current life situation have placed me and my choices will become objective appproaches to material that contains subjective content (chocolate/vanilla).
This has been a very long post, but I don't think that a solid footing for the concept of a "Standard of value" can be had without considering these things. It is the tie between objective values and human flourishing that is the difficult bridge to be built so that an individual can be choosing according to an objective standard of values that belong to him or her along with all of their own preferences.