Viable Values by Tara Smith Thomas M. Miovas, Jr. 11/19/2011
"Viable Values" is an excellent read for anyone concerned with rational values and what code of morality stems from this approach. After surveying modern approaches to values and morality, and dismissing them due to their lack of logic and a rational standard, Tara very thoroughly investigates what is required for something to be an objective value. The topic of the book is meta-ethics - the relationship between the facts of reality and moral codes and values. She demonstrates that only Ayn Rand's ethics of rational egoism is based on the facts of reality and the facts about man. If logic is the non-contradictory identification of the facts of reality - which I think it is -- then this book is extremely logical, and very thorough in its scope to discuss and analyze the factual basis of the concept "value" and how only life as the standard gives one an appreciation of the concept. The subtitle of the book is "a study of life as the root and reward of morality" and the book lives up to this. Not only is life the standard, but a proper ethical code has life as the reward for being moral. That is, if one is pursuing those things in reality that are in fact beneficial to oneself, then not only is one being rationally moral, but one gets more life out of one's actions.
There is one drawback to the way the book is written. After bringing up the issue of "Why be moral?" and showing that previous approaches to morality are not logical, she doesn't answer this question until about page 117. Consequently, I would not recommend the book to those who are novices to Ayn Rand. I would say that "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Virtue of Selfishness, " both by Ayn Rand, are pre-requisites because these do not get bogged down in other approaches to morality. In "Viable Values" one can become disheartened that there is no legitimate answer to "Why be moral?" and put the book down before Tara gets to the answer, which would be unfortunate.
I also have one philosophical misgiving about her approach to "Why should one live?" and focusing on acting to gain and or keep rational values. She states that such questions are pre-rational - that is, one has to decide to live one's life before the issue of values and morality become paramount. While I agree with her analysis, I don't agree with the phrasing. In a sense, all of the facts of reality are pre-rational - they come before reason (this is the Primacy of Existence approach) - but that is an awkward way of phrasing it, since I think it implies that rationality is the fundamental standard. Actually, the facts of reality are the ultimate and fundamental standards - and the starting point. The moon orbiting the earth is a metaphysical fact, it is neither rational nor irrational; it just is. Similarly, the choice to focus one's mind on living is a fundamental fact about man. That is, free will in man is a basic fact about his consciousness, and like the moon example is neither rational nor irrational; it just is.
But these misgivings are paltry compared to the immense value of the book and how it analysis the concept of "value" and squarely places it into a logical hierarchy.