The ultimate, objective standard in ethics for Ayn Rand is life. “It is only the concept of ‘Life’ that makes the concept of ‘Value’ possible” (Rand, 1964, pp. 15-16). Rationality is the highest virtue and value, because it is rational thinking that makes survival possible.
According to individualism, since only the individual is real and autonomous, the individual is necessarily the unit of value. As noted, concepts such as “groups” and “societies” are abstractions referring to collections of individuals. By implication, therefore, individualism entails egoism, as in Aristotle’s view that each individual should seek his or her own happiness. Individualism holds, with Rand (1992), that individuals are ends in themselves, not a means to the end of others, and thus the proper beneficiary of their own actions. Seeking one’s own individual happiness (egoism) is not just permissible but morally virtuous (Peikoff, 1991). Collectivism, in contrast, holds that the group (e.g., society, the state, the party, the race) is the true reality and the unit of value. Therefore, collectivism advocates the doctrine that individuals must sacrifice themselves to others. In this view individuals are not ends in themselves but a means to the ends of the collective. This also reflects the philosophy of Plato, who advocated self-sacrificial service to the community as a whole (the “real” entity). The view that self-sacrifice is the highest virtue was made more explicit and intensified by Christianity and by a long line of philosophers including Comte (who coined the term altruism, meaning “other-ism”), Rousseau, Hegel, Marx, and others. Immanuel Kant, an ardent Christian, was the most extreme and influential philosophical advocate of self-sacrifice (Peikoff, 1982). To Kant (1960, pp. 27-32) capitulation to self-love represents a “wickedness (the wickedness of the human heart), which secretly undermines the [moral] disposition with soul destroying principles . . . . ” Kant regarded the principle of one’s own happiness is the most objectionable of all . . . .“a radical innate evil in human nature.” The alternative to self-love for Kant and for collectivists is duty—a life of unchosen obligations even if (and especially if) they lead to life-long suffering and misery (cf. Peikoff, 1982, pp. 79-81).