How can an objective theory of value permit personal preference?

24 Jul 2011

My answer to this question is one of my top-voted answers on Objectivist Answers. It’s also one of my personal favorites. Here it is in full:

How can an objective theory of value not permit personal preference?

“Objective” means “based on both the facts of reality and the nature of man’s consciousness.” An objective theory of value says that a value must have a real, factual, positive relationship to your life—but that it must be good to someone and for something. In other words, a value must be good for a reason, not just on the basis of a whim or emotion (as the subjective theory would have it), but nothing is just “intrinsically good” or good “in itself”.

An objective theory of value, however, recognizes that some values are universal and some are personal. What flavor of ice cream you like (and whether you like ice cream at all) is a personal value. In contrast, food as such is a universal value—no matter who you are, you need food to live!

Objectivism certainly does not prescribe all values. (It would hardly be a philosophy of individualism if it did!) It identifies certain major, important, universal values—above all: reason, purpose, self-esteem. But it recognizes that many, many values are personal: everything from what flavor of ice cream you like to what specific career you choose.

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