What makes something good? Is it how you feel about it, how the universe "built" it, or how something in the universe relates to you?
These are 3 different philosophical approaches to "the good", which are Intrinsic, Subjective and Objective:
- Intrinsic: "Eating a banana is good because food is good"
- Subjective: "Eating this banana is good because I feel like it"
- Objective: "Eating this banana is good for me because it gives me energy, health and enjoyment"
- Intrinsic: "Religion is good because that's the nature of reality as dictated to us by god"
- Subjective: "Religion is good because I feel good whenever I read the bible"
- Objective: "Religion contradicts reason, which is requires for my survival, therefore it's bad"
A description of the three approaches by Ayn Rand, from "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal" (in blue):
"There are, in essence, three schools of thought on the nature of the good: the intrinsic, the subjective, and the objective.
The intrinsic theory holds that the good is inherent in certain things or actions as such, regardless of their context and consequences, regardless of any benefit or injury they may cause to the actors and subjects involved. It is a theory that divorces the concept of “good” from beneficiaries, and the concept of “value” from valuer and purpose—claiming that the good is good in, by, and of itself."
"Intrinsic value" is the approach of the man that says that what makes something good is how the universe "built" it.
Examples of an intrinsic approach to values:
The Subjective approach:
- "The elimination of the human genes in the process of evolution is good because this is the nature of the universe, or the will of the universe, if you will"
- "The existence of living things is good" (This implies that something can be good regardless of someone for which it would be good)
- "Having sex before marriage is bad" ("Why? Because god said so" - or "it simply IS")
- "Cutting down plants is bad because it hurts mother earth"
"The subjectivist theory holds that the good bears no relation to the facts of reality, that it is the product of a man’s consciousness, created by his feelings, desires, “intuitions,” or whims, and that it is merely an “arbitrary postulate” or an “emotional commitment.”
The intrinsic theory holds that the good resides in some sort of reality, independent of man’s consciousness; the subjectivist theory holds that the good resides in man’s consciousness, independent of reality."
Subjective approach examples:
- "Religion is good because whatever makes the person happy is good for him"
- "What I see as good is not the same as what you see as good, therefore, there is no real concept of "good" or "bad"; In your worldview, a killer is bad, but in his worldview, he is not."
- "Nobody really knows what is good or bad for anyone - it's a matter of individual feeling."
- "I am good because I am me, and every person thinks of himself as good." (implies that a person is good because he wants to be good, not because he has some criterion to judge himself by)
"The objective theory holds that the good is neither an attribute of “things in themselves” nor of man’s emotional states, but an evaluation of the facts of reality by man’s consciousness according to a rational standard of value. (Rational, in this context, means: derived from the facts of reality and validated by a process of reason.) The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man—and that it must be discovered, not invented, by man."
Objective approach examples:
- "This medicine is vluable to me because it will cure my illness"
- "I value independent thinking because it allows me to create material good necessary for my life"
- "Listening to this kind of music is good for me because it uplifts my spirit and inspires me to acquire the success I dream of having"
- "Listening to this kind of music is bad for me because it drives me further into despair, despite the fact it provides temporary emotional relief" (a dis-value)
- "This woman is no good for me because she is a liar and a cheat who will end up hurting me" (again a dis-value)
Notice that in each case a fact of reality is identified, which is relevant to the person's well being - not just his momentary feeling, but that which allows good feelings in general. He holds his own life (not someone else's) as the standard to judge what is good and bad for him, and ultimately it his his choice and understanding that makes something a value to him.
If the intrinsicist followed his idea of the good to the fullest, he'd be like a robot acting to satisfy the universe or "god" or some unquestioned moral code. In one example, he'd be trying to eliminate himself in favor of the next step in evolution, or in favor of preservation of "mother earth".
If the subjectivist would follow his ideas to the fullest, he'd be looking only at his inner state to decide what is good for him - never at reality. If he craves food he'd be fat, and if he's fat, then he'll say that being fat is good, because he decides what is good.
Only the objectivist (denoting here: a man who uses the objective approach to values) lives with his eyes open, considering both the facts of reality, how they relate to his well being and to the satisfaction of his spiritual needs.
What makes something good for someone is not just how it makes him feel, nor how the universe is built - but his own identification that the thing promotes his physical and spiritual well being.
Like the subjectivist - he strive to enjoy things - to give his emotions satisfaction and achieve pleasure. But unlike the subjectivist he uses reason to identify how to achieve enjoyment, not mere emotions.
Like the instrincisist he strives to follow a moral code - but unlike the intrinsicist he does not take a moral code from "the universe", from god or from society as a given - he develops his own moral code by discovering the principles necessary for his life and happiness.
Personal experience, books and other people can be of great aid in this process, but essentially the process is done with his own judgement.
Under this process the values he chooses are objective: They are his choice, but not an arbitrary one: They are a result of correct identification of the facts of reality in relation to him.