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Sociobiology. Your children over yourself?

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Hi, I am getting familiar with the objectivist philosophy. So far I am surprised I had never heard about Ayn Rand, because her philosophy makes so much sense to me (and I think that it would be the same for so many people unaware of her). Here in Europe (in Spain at least) the very few times she is named in a press article or similar, it is basically to demonize her ideas and to criticize her “despicable” capitalists ideal. 

I am struggling to understand something though. I know that life is the ultimate value for all living beings since without it there is no value to achive and there is no action or virtue to perform. I am a father of a 3 yo child, and though I acknowledge that I act (fundamentally) to preserve and prolong my life, I know that in the case I would have to safe my child’s life and to do so I had to accept death I would. Therefore, it seems like my child’s life is a value even over my own life.  

I can try to go around that idea by thinking that although my life is my biggest value, not being able to keep my child’s life will make unbearable to me the sorrow and my life would not be worth living, as long as my child death could have been avoided by me. 

Also, there are some animals willing to sacrifice themselves to save their offspring when attacked, and they do not act based on the use of reason but instinctively.  

How does objectivism explain these situations? 



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Welcome to Objectivism Online.

I suggest that highest goodness of your life has come to consist in having this child. Part of that goodness is the opportunity to love someone so greatly and to have occasion of this special love that nature has set up in the life of humans.

In your life as an agent and as a subject of experience, your own life remains as highest context of your valuations after having a child, as it was before having a child. I suggest that the child and your lives together has become a paramount project within your life as an agent and as one experiencing a human life. But there is more to it. It is for the sake of continued life of the child that you would be willing to lose your own individual life to save continued life for the child. 

When Rand writes in the VoS Introduction that each person should be the ultimate beneficiary of all of their value-pursuits (a proposition she argues for in “The Objectivist Ethics”), I think an exception should be added in the case of one’s children (and perhaps their are other specific kinds of exception-cases that should also be added). That is, what might be called uniform beneficiary-egoism is not entirely correct.

In needing to forfeit one’s continued life for something, one remains in the human business of making one’s life as a whole-story, purposed sequence. What might be called uniform agent-egoism remains correct.




Edited by Boydstun
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@Boydstun Thank you very much for the answer Stephen,

After reflecting more deeply on what you wrote and doing some more research in this forum and other places, I came to conclude the following:


I imagine that the fact that one's life is the standard of value does not mean that life is one's highest value in all circumstances. Being true that once you give up your life your existence stops and there is nothing to be valued, it is still possible to hold other person's life (or other values such as freedom) higher in your hierarchy of values than even your own.


Your own sacrifice is still something that falls under one's best interest, as the father is not acting to protect a stranger or somebody he does not care about, but he is acting for something that for him is of the upmost value. In your own hierarchy it may not be worth living knowing that you did not act to preserve your child's life, even if that entailed losing yours. You still are the beneficiary of your pursue (along with your child) as not protecting your child will cause you more pain than even your death. 


Your life seems to be the standard to evaluate that which is good or bad for yourself. Nevertheless, by the use of your own reason you get to choose your values. Exceptionally, for people you love the most in your life, (and I would say that this is particularly true for your kids when they are your responsibility, and to foster them may be one of the purposes, and therefore a value of your life in itself) it is moral to give one's life in a very extreme (and probably unlikely) situation. It is moral as long as you are following your hierarchy of values and you do not betray it. This makes your action neither a sacrifice nor an act of altruism.


I still have a lot to read and learn as I am just starting, but objectivism is helping me to structure my thinking much better. If somebody finds this to be flawed I will be glad to read other opinions :)

(English is my 2nd language, sorry for misspelings and grammar errors)

Edited by Salva
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Two good overviews of ethical egoism in moral philosophy today are these which I link below. The first one explicitly presents the place of Ayn Rand in this area of philosophy. The second is also informative, but toes the line on not mentioning the existence of Ayn Rand (or L. Peikoff or Tara Smith) in an academic presentation.



Edited by Boydstun
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