What’s Wrong with Ari Armstrong’s Account of Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics

[A]chieving life is not the equivalent of avoiding death. . . . You seek escape from pain. We seek the achievement of happiness. You exist for the sake of avoiding punishment. We exist for the sake of earning rewards. Threats will not make us function; fear is not our incentive. It is not death that we wish to avoid, but life that we wish to live.” — Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

Don Watkins has an essay, Atlas Neutered: Ari Armstrong’s Straw Man Attack on Objectivism, that explores some of the confusions in Ari Armstrong’s book What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics.

Writes Watkins:

What Ari doesn’t mention is that the very works he quotes from make the point that Rand’s ultimate value of life recognizes that values aren’t only a means to life but that which life consists of: for life to be an end in itself, in Rand’s view, means that values are ends in themselves.

And later:

Rand’s conception of life as an end in itself is grounded in certain facts about life. For our other values, our ability to see them as values depends on our ability to see them as means to some further value. We value our shoes for running, we value running for our health. Life can serve as an ultimate value because it is the only end that is a means to only itself. It preserves the teleological nature of values while also recognizing that there must be an ultimate value since “a series of means going off into an infinite progression toward a nonexistent end is a metaphysical and epistemological impossibility.”

But life, for Rand, is the values that constitute it, each of which can be valued for its own sake as well as its role in furthering the process of pursuing values. Thus specific values — completing a crucial project at work, playing with your kids, an electrifying conversation with a friend — can all be experienced as ends in themselves: they are in a literal sense the stuff that life is made of. But the proof they are legitimate values rests not in our emotions but in certain facts about their relationship to life.

So how does Ari, having sundered “value” from “life,” decide what values really are ends in themselves? We just know it. Reality, in effect, dumps in our laps a bunch of ends in themselves, which cannot be questioned or analyzed, and all we can do is try to make them integrate.

Philosopher Onkar Ghate Refutes Sam Harris on Free Will and Determinism

Onkar Ghate refutes Sam Harris’ misconceptions about free-will by explaining that free-will is primarily not about the reasons for choosing one’s actions (content), but fundamentally about the choice to think or not (process): to focus one’s mind on grasping reality or not. He then shows how to properly conceptualize the self-evident fact of free-will in a causal universe.

Objectivism’s Approach to Happiness (12 videos)

Onkar Ghate and Tara Smith join Dave Rubin to discuss the virtue of selfishness. This is the first in a series looking at Objectivism’s approach to Happiness.

The full list of topics covered in Objectivism on Happiness (Rubin Report episode list):

  1. Why Is Selfishness a Virtue?
  2. Do We Have Free Will?
  3. Tribalism vs. Enlightenment Culture
  4. Creating a Life Worth Living
  5. Grounding Morality in Facts
  6. Taking Your Happiness Seriously
  7. How to Fill Your Life with Meaning
  8. Truth, Objectivity and Self-Interest
  9. Why Ayn Rand Matters
  10. The Psychology of Happiness
  11. A Philosophy of Success
  12. Making Sense of Today’s Political Culture

You can view a playlist with all the videos.


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