Life, The Universe and Everything

Philosophical Reflections X

In my last Reflections (Ethics and Absolutes), I wrote that if there are no valid values, then the “rational man, knowing it is all whim anyway, simply goes with whatever values the current gang demands.” But that is a paradox, because why should he do so? And why implies motive which implies value, and his motive is: because that is his best way to maintain his life. Indeed, implicit in my entire discussion of ethics was that same assumed value: the preservation and enjoyment of one’s own life.

Life is the Prime Value

Life as a value was implicit because the study of ethics is the study of how to live. If your life is not a value to you, then how to live is of no interest to you, so ethics are of no interest to you: which means, no other values are of interest to you. Indeed, life as the basic value underlies all philosophy, because the purpose behind both metaphysics and epistemology is the Prime Principle: “I must learn about the world”. And the reason for the Prime Principle is simply this: “for the sake of my life”.

Thus, your life as your prime value is one of the necessary foundations of any valid philosophy. The Prime Principle is the fundamental purpose behind philosophy: without it, philosophy is at best a meaningless game. Thus a philosophy which attempts to deny the primary value of your own life can have no point, no reason for being, except only for this one possible aim and this one inevitable result: death and the destruction of all values.

To Be or Not To Be

Like other philosophical axioms, the prime value of your life has deeper validation than the necessity for everyone to assume it. Its value rests on the nature of reality, in this case the nature of life. The nature of life is to seek to stay alive. Seeking to stay alive is fundamental to life because life, to continue, must be actively pursued. This is because life, by its nature and by the nature of the universe, is a constant fight against the law of entropy, and requires the directed use of energy: passivity is death. Therefore there is no middle ground. There are not three choices: life, death or undecided. It is life, or death.

Directed action is the essence of life, from the biochemical level to the highest mental functions. Directed action implies a goal, the end to which the action is directed. And the ultimate purpose of all life’s actions is the maintenance of life. Thus, the nature of life necessarily entails a prime goal, which is life itself. And a goal sought by conscious life is a value.

Life and life alone, then, faces the one fundamental choice in the universe: to be or not to be. This choice is open only to living things, as only living things possess the power of self-action (and only living things can die). And by the nature of reality, as noted above, the choice is not merely open but must be made.

The choice to live is faced not only by life as biology but by life as consciousness. Biologically, the choice to live is automatic: living organisms have no option but to fight to maintain life, as all of their structures and processes are by the laws of evolution, themselves derived from the nature of reality, made for that purpose (this includes reproduction, which is the means to continue biological life in the face of death). But rational consciousness means free will. So with regard to consciousness, the choice is not automatic: one can choose to die. Therefore to live, a rational consciousness must choose to live.

The Fundamental Value

A fundamental value is one on which all other values rest, and which is not itself based on deeper values. It is important to establish one or more fundamental values, because otherwise ethics have no firm foundation: you have either an infinite regression, which is meaningless, or the foundation is some arbitrary choice or other, which is no better.

Your life is your one and only fundamental value.

The value of your life is what makes all other values both possible and necessary. Possible, for the reason given above: you can have no values if your life is not at least an implicit value. Necessary, because of reality. Reality makes no moral demands on us per se: we can choose to do whatever we like, if we don’t care about the consequences. But having decided to live, the demands of reality are absolute, for everything we do has consequences for our life, consequences derived from what reality is. Therefore, to achieve our fundamental value of life, we must identify and seek the subsidiary values which make it possible.

The value of your life is fundamental, because it rests directly on the nature of life and the nature of the world. It is not dependent on any other value or alleged value; it is not a value merely because it allows some other value to be gained. Of all values, it alone is a value because of what it is, and all other values depend on it. To the question of what is the point of all you do, the one final answer that is sufficient in itself and beyond refutation is this: “Because ultimately, this helps to maintain my life and its quality.”

No Contest

That the choice to live is not arbitrary, that it is not equally reasonable to choose life or death, is a point that cannot be made too strongly. On the proof of that proposition lies the validation of ethics. It is appalling how prevalent in philosophy is the view that there is no absolute validation of ethics, that nowhere in “what is” can we find “what ought”: that ethics therefore are essentially subjective, the arbitrary whims of men or the arbitrary commands of imaginary gods.

Yet as shown above, “what is” necessarily implies a goal, a “what ought”: life. And the very origin and purpose of consciousness, like all other functions of life, is the fulfilment of that goal. But consciousness is not tied to its biology: reason gives it freedom. It can choose death, if reason tells it to. But reason validates life.

The primary validation of life is metaphysical. My consciousness exists, and an external reality exists. These are the Two Absolutes, the irrefutable basis of philosophy. In these two things lie all possible purpose and all possible value. Non-existence is not a thing or even a state in any positive sense: it is an absence of all things, a nullity, a zero. It is a concept literally without referent: merely a negation of what is. It is then impossible for the choice between life and death to be equal, the decision valid either way, a matter of tossing a coin. The realm of existence is all there is: and in a choice between all there is and nothing, between existence and zero, there can be only one choice. Life. To decide otherwise is to know the Two Absolutes, yet reject them in their totality. For consciousness to exist, yet choose to end itself. For a mind to know that reality exists, yet choose to spurn it and all it offers. That is to reject all value on principle, to repudiate life for being life, to despise reality itself.

Epistemology too validates life as a value. The very question “are there rational values?” implies the answer, because the answer must be in the context of the function of reason. Reason is our consciousness’s means for knowing reality in order to live in reality; reason exists because it furthers the goal of life. Therefore reason is intimately entwined with the value of life. So to use it to choose death would be a perversion of all that reason is. One cannot care if values can be based on reason and reality, without implying that the answer is yes, and the answer is life. Rejection of life as the fundamental value is possible only to those who abandon reason.

Ethically too, there is no contest. Ethics are concerned with choice. Yet to choose death is to make the one choice that destroys all possibility of further choice. Though the concept of value has meaning only in the context of existence, it is to say that non-existence is your prime value. It is to say that your fundamental value is not the base and purpose of all other values, but rather the destruction of all possible values.

Thus of all the choices we ever face, this is the most clear-cut. In the scales of this decision we have on one side, all that there is and can be; on the other we have, quite literally, nothing. To choose death is to choose that which is not, to choose a zero, to seek the obliteration of all values and all possible values: to prefer what is not to what is, the absence of value to value, a zero to existence, a nothing to reality.

Rational Death

The above concerns the fundamental, ab initio decision. It can be rational to choose death in some contexts, for example in the face of unbearable suffering. But the very concept of suffering is dependent on the concept of value, therefore on the fundamental acceptance of life. It is never rational to choose death as a primary value. Rationally it can be chosen to escape the destruction of your values, but never to achieve the destruction of all possible values. The nothingness of death might be preferred to anti-values if that is all life offers anymore: but it can never be preferred to values.

Dying for religious reasons, such as to “reach heaven”, also is based on your own life as a fundamental value: one wishes to live in heaven. Such a death is irrational for epistemologicalreasons (there is no reason to believe in heaven), but though fundamentally anti-life in fact, at least it recognises the value of life in intent.


All of metaphysics and epistemology rest on the two Absolutes (my consciousness exists, and an external reality exists). When you work back validating each step, they are where you stop: they are the linchpin, the foundation of the whole structure, and the validation of all the subsidiary concepts (such as the reliability of senses). In ethics, the value of your own life holds the same position. It is the unassailable foundation of the entire structure: the end of the chain of “why’s”. It in turn is valid because it is based on the two Absolutes: I exist in reality, and here is all there is and can be, all that I am and can be, so here is where I must fight to remain.

Life then completes a fundamental trinity at the core of philosophy. The first base of the trinity is reality, on which all else depends. The second base is consciousness, without which reality would be unknown and unknowable, as the very concept of knowledge requires someone who knows. And at the apex, derived from these two, is the value of life: the one fundamental purpose in the universe, without which there could be no purpose.

All the errors of philosophies which preach subjectivism, relativism and nihilism rest on this: the evasion of the two Absolutes and/or the fundamental value of one’s own life. Such philosophies are necessarily indefensible, because they are necessarily hypocritical: for their exponents have no choice but to live in reality, or die. The test of he who claims to deny the objectivity of existence is simple: “walk off a cliff and see what reality cares about your denials.” The test of he who denies the primary value of one’s own life is similar: “practice what you preach.” These tests quickly establish his true beliefs in the matter, i.e., the philosophy by which he actually runs his life!

In contrast, a true philosophy is not an intellectual game of specious arguments that no one, except the victims, is expected to believe. It concerns life in the real world, so it must reflect and describe the nature of reality. Thus the trinity described above reflects the fundamental nature of reality, and the relationships therein between reality, consciousness and value. Reality exists. Without conscious life, reality would still exist, but would merely exist. But reality is such that it has produced consciousness: and the existence of consciousness makes knowledge and value possible. And where consciousness exists, and reality exists, there follows the one fundamental value that is and must be: life.

© 1993, 1996 Robin Craig: first published in TableAus.