Value, Virtue and Sacrifice

“Value” is that which one acts to gain and keep, “virtue” is the action by which one gains and keeps it. “Value” presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? “Value” presupposes a standard, a purpose and the necessity of action in the face of an alternative. Where there are no alternatives, no values are possible. – Atlas Shrugged (quoted from the Ayn Rand Lexicon)

On Facebook yesterday there was a post of a quote from Ayn Rand’s Playboy interview in which she discussed her view on charity. One of the comments to the post was:

Ayn Rand also did not see the virtue in sacrifice, she’s not perfect.

To which I responded:

That is because there is no virtue in sacrifice, properly understood as giving up something of value in return for something of lesser, or no, value.

The author of the original comment replied:

Value is entirely subjective. So by her own metric, sacrifice is subjective as well.

My response to this was:

While it is true that where a person ranks his values, their hierarchy, can vary based on their individual context (e.g.. a millionaire would value an hour of work less than spending time with his family while someone struggling to earn enough to support his family would rationally reverse this order), the standard used to determine if something is an actual value is objective: man’s life qua man over the entire length of it. So love and money, which enhance man’s life, can legitimately be values while abusing drugs, which only destroys life, cannot.

Regardless of a person’s particular hierarchy of values, assuming that their hierarchy is rational, it is a sacrifice when they violate it, giving up something higher in value for something lower. Just as there would be no virtue, no value, in the millionaire sacrificing time with his family to work there is no virtue, no value, in the struggling man spending time with his family at the expense of allowing them to starve by not earning the money needed for their support.

If, on the other hand, they give up something lower in their hierarchy for something they rationally value more, e.g., giving up the daily Starbucks coffee that they enjoy so that their child can have a tutor to help them get into a good college, is not a sacrifice. (And if it is a sacrifice, they likely should not be a parent.) This would be more properly seen as an investment.

To lump these two very different acts together under the same concept, sacrifice, is to make the very concept meaningless.