Immortality and Value

Immortality and Value

2 Mins
January 26, 2011

Question: Let's suppose that science advanced to such a point as to allow man to become immortal (i.e., through genetics, cryogenics, or some other unforseen technology). Should the Objectivist try to imploy this technology? On one hand, man's ultimate value is life, yet on the other hand, Objectism holds that it is only the alternative of death that allows us to value. This seems to be a contradiction in Objectivism : If one becomes immortal, then one loses the concept of value, but if one shunns immortality, then one fails to achieve life.

How would you resolve this?

Answer: Objectivists would try to employ any technology that reliably allowed them to live longer, fuller lives. It is wonderful and life-affirming that the technology may soon exist to radically extend the human lifespan and render us more capable of healing disease and injury. However, none of this will ever, ever make us immortal.

Immortality in the sense that Ayn Rand considers it is the inability to die. It is not merely having an indefinite lifespan, but having to take no action in order to continue living. But it is not possible to maintain anything like the complexity of structure and organization that is a living thing, and have it require neither energy for its sustenance nor have it face dangers of some kind or other. Such a being would have to be able to think and move, yet be able to survive in the heart of a star. I don't see any reason to think that anything more organized than bare elements could do such a thing. I also do not know of anything in the universe that provides its own infinite power supply.

So I don't think any technology will ever produce the quandary you are worried about. So it is not a problem for the Objectivist ethics, and is not a contradiction between the Objectivist ethics and the facts. As a general methodological matter, just because someone can imagine a scenario does not mean it is a natural possibility that philosophy need be concerned with. Ayn Rand herself used examples of immortals sparingly and counterfactually, to try to shed light on what it is to be alive. Her point was that were one immortal, one would not need values. It was not that being immortal was really possible.