Man's Life as His Moral Standard

For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors - between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.
Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Life is the process of self-sustaining and self-generating action. Life requires action, and action requires values. Philosophy in general, and ethics in particular, attempt to answer the questions, "What do I do?" and "Why?" People study philosophy so they can know how to live their life.

So that you can live life successfully and happily, you must learn which values to hold and how to achieve them -- this is your life as your moral standard. All moral questions (questions of right action) are questions of how to live happily and successfully, and all moral principles must be measured against how they promote and benefit your life and happiness. Your life as your moral standard holds all things promoting your life as the good.

To every living thing, there is one primary choice, and that is to live or not -- to engage in the action required to further its own life or to engage in action that destroys its own life. The only other alternative is death. Choosing life as your standard of value is a pre-moral choice. It cannot be judged as right or wrong; but once chosen, it is the role of morality to help man to live the best life possible.

The opposite of choosing life is altruism: the moral doctrine that holds death as its moral standard. It holds sacrifice as the only good, and all things "selfish" as evil. According to altruism, it doesn't matter what you do, as long as it does not further your life it is considered good. The more consistently a person is altruistic, the closer their actions are to suicide. The consistent altruist will give up every bit of food he owns to other people because that is what he considers good, and die because of it.

Your life as your standard does not mean Hedonism -- the spur of the moment instant gratification, doing whatever you feel like. Your life as your standard means acting in your rational self-interest. Rational self-interest takes into account the long-term effects of every action.

Your life as your standard does not mean trampling on other people to get what you want. This is not in your rational self-interest. It is in your interest to be benevolent.

Nor does your life as your standard mean cheating people to get ahead, even if they don't realize it and you never get caught. Fraud is not in your rational self-interest because you lose your independence and you sacrifice honesty to an unreality that you have to maintain to perpetrate your fraud. This is self-destructive in the long run.

In order to know what is good, which actions are objectively in a person's self-interest, we develop virtues which are principles of action.


Copyright 2001 by Jeff Landauer and Joseph Rowlands