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be of value

Objectivist theory of value

Note: This is not to be confused with theories of economic value, which seek to explain why things have different market prices.
The Objectivist theory of value is the ethical theory of value held by Objectivists, as propounded by the founder of Objectivism, Ayn Rand. Rand held that the best expression of the Objectivist approach to values was presented in The Objectivist Ethics.

Theory of value

Ayn Rand explains in her work Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal that the Objectivist theory of value holds the following:

  • Reality exists independently of perception:

see Objectivism
Reality exists independent of human perception. If humans did not exist, reality would still exist. Reality has some properties that cannot be changed; but humans can observe, learn and know what these properties are. These properties are said to be intrinsic to reality.

  • Humans have unique needs :

By virtue of being alive, humans have needs, which may be unique to each individual. Humans do not exist outside of reality, and have wants and needs to continue living. Some needs may be universal, like water; some needs may be individual, like hearing aids. Needs are subjective because they may change from individual to individual.

  • Value is an objective relationship:

Consider the following example of a caveman in need of meat:
*The caveman has a need for fresh meat.
*The caveman observes that a rock falling on an animal kills it.
*After many such observations, the fact that a rock has the property "kills animals", becomes part of the caveman's knowledge of reality.
*Because of this knowledge, rocks become valuable to the caveman as a tool for getting fresh meat.

The value of the rock as being able to kill animals, requires both the intrinsic and the subjective to be present:
*The intrinsic property of the rock of being both hard and heavy have to be present. A piece of pumice will not work.
*The subjective need for meat has to be present. A hard and heavy rock will be of no value to a vegetarian (although the rock may be of value as a grindstone to such a person).
Therefore value is not a quality contained solely in the object, or solely in the mind of the human, but is a relationship between the intrinsic facts of reality, and the subjective needs of humans. The value is said to be objective because for one particular human, under one particular set of circumstances, the value of an object will always be the same to that human.

Necessity of value

In The Objectivist Ethics, Rand begins her description of the Objectivist theory of value by arguing in favour of the necessity of value, explicitly stating the importance of opening with the question 'Why does man need a code of values?' and rejecting the immediate question of 'What particular values should man accept?' She argues, quoting John Galt, the Randian hero in Atlas Shrugged, that actions can only have value to living entities, and that it is the ability of living entities to hold goals that allows them to have value.

The best-known of the statements on this subject holds:

An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means — and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.
Rand considers life to be metaphysically removed from other values, as it is not a value by choice, but a value by its nature. Rand thus continues to claim to have solved the 'is-ought problem' posed by David Hume, writing, "The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the relation between 'is' and 'ought'. Hence, Rand determines, an objective system of morality is both possible and necessary.

Rand argues that this necessity is pressed by the greater potential of humans to conceptualise, and the inability of humans to rely entirely on instinct. She compares the distinction in this respect between humans and animals as similar to the distinction between animals and plants; she argues that plants rely on stimuli and are incapable of instinct, just as animals rely on instinct and are incapable of conceptualisation. Rand holds that it is the faculty of reason and the process of thinking that allow humans to survive by analogy. Humans have no instinctive precepts (unlike the plant), yet constrained by the necessity to hold life as the standard of value, and so must use their reason to determine the values that best advance their ultimate standard of value: life.

Aesthetics

In Objectivism, aesthetics are seen as a "recreation of reality according to [the artist]'s values". The worth of art stems from the Randian interpretation of the questions 'what could be' and 'what ought to be'. The fundamental Objectivist belief in the objectivity of reality demands that art 'could be' possible, whilst Objectivist value theory dictates that the art be a representation of the best of all possibilities, with what is 'best' being derived from the values of the artist. The worth and beauty of the art is then assessed according to the values of the beholder. As such, Rand describes Objectivist aesthetics, as expression of value, as being consistent with the romantic realist school of art.

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