Dale Lugenbehl’s article, “The Argument for an Objective Standard of Value,” was published in March 1974 issue (Volume 55, Issue 2) of The Personalist. In this article, Lugenbehl is making a case for the Objectivist theory of value, in face of claims from Robert Nozick and a few other philosophers that this theory is not sound.
The same issue of The Personalist has William Dwyer’s article, “The Argument Against an ‘Objective Standard of Value’,” which as the title suggests is a response to Lugenbehl’s article.
I think Dwyer has raised some valid concerns about the soundness of the Objective standard of value. He shows that Ayn Rand and her supporters are often unintelligible on this issue, as many of their statements are contradictory. In fact, some of their statements seem to contradict the arguments which Lugenbehl deploys to argue for the Objective standard of value.
In his article, Dwyer gives examples of several contradictory statements from Rand and Nathaniel Branden. He also exposes the disconnect between what Rand says in her philosophy essays and what she says in Atlas Shrugged.
For instance, John Galt says to Dagny: “At the first mention of a threat to you, I will kill myself and stop them right there.”
Galt goes on to say:
“I don’t have to tell you,” he said, “that if I do it, it won’t be an act of self-sacrifice. I do not care to live on their terms, I do not care to obey them, and I do not care to see you enduring a drawn-out murder. There will be no values for me to seek after that—and I do not care to exist without values.”
But Galt’s statements contradict the Objectivist position that life is the basic value that makes all values possible. Rand seems to be sanctioning suicide (under certain circumstances) in Atlas Shrugged, and her stance cannot be reconciled with her idea that man’s life makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible and is the ultimate standard of value.
In April 1964, Nathaniel Branden’s article, “In the context of the Objectivist ethics, what is the justification for knowingly risking one’s life?,” was published in The Objectivist Newsletter (a magazine edited by Ayn Rand). Dwyer offers this quote from Branden’s article:
“The man who, in any and all circumstances would place his physical self-preservation above any other value, is not a lover of life but an abject traitor to life—to the human model of life—who sees no difference between the life proper to a rational being and the life of a mindless vegetable. His treason is not that he values life too much, but that he values it too little.”
If we go by Branden’s contention, then John Galt can be accused of being a traitor when he promises to kill himself at the first sign of threat to Dagny’s life. Dwyer is right when he asserts that the Objectivist position on this issue is quite confused.
Ayn Rand adds to the confusion when in some of her writings she contends that the achievement of an emotional state of happiness is a rational goal, and if an individual is able to achieve such a goal then it is rational for him or her to commit suicide.
For instance, in Atlas Shrugged there is the character, Cherryl Brooks, who Rand says committed suicide “with full consciousness of acting in self-preservation.” Clearly, Rand is endorsing Cherryl’s suicide because there is no hope for Cherryl to achieve happiness. However, Dwyer shows that Rand is against the hedonist position which holds happiness as the basic aim of life.
Dwyer brings to light several weaknesses in the formulations that Rand and Branden have used in their various assertions on this issue. At times, Rand and Brandon seem to contradict themselves within the confines of the same statement. I think Dwyer’s concerns have to be taken seriously and the Objectivist philosophers must revisit their premises on this issue.