“For what end should a man live? By what fundamental principle should he act in order to achieve this end? Who should profit from his actions? The answers to these questions define the ultimate value, the primary virtue, and the particular beneficiary upheld by an ethical code and reveal thereby its essence. […] The ultimate value is life. The primary virtue is rationality. The proper beneficiary is oneself.”
— Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, page 206.
(Diogenes Sitting in his Tub, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1860): Man’s life qua man is the Objectivist standard of value, not life at any price. One thing I can say for sure: Diogenes was not an Objectivist.)
Ethics provides “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions—the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” Value, according to Ayn Rand, is “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” Value presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where there is no alternative, there are no possible goals and values. The fundamental alternative of life or death is the precondition of all values. This shows that life should be our ultimate value, something to be pursued as an end in itself, the standard for all other values.