[This is the first in a series of posts summarizing Ayn Rand's 1961 article, "The Objectivist Ethics".]
Men have been damning themselves through the ages for not being moral enough, yet have never questioned the standard of their code of morality. Ayn Rand is the first philosopher to discover an objective moral standard and code of values.
A particular system of ethics is a code of values for guiding one's choices and actions. The science of ethics is for discovering and defining such a code.
Before defining a code of ethics, one must grasp whether man needs ethics and why. There are two types of answers: historically, ethics has been thought of as the province of arbitrary whims; Ayn Rand's answer is rather that the need for ethics follows objectively from man's nature. (A whim is a desire experienced by someone who does not know, nor care to discover, its cause.)
Most philosophers either inherited the idea that the standard of good is the "will of God," or substituted this with "the good of society." The latter ends up meaning that the majority or a strong minority is ethically entitled to do whatever it wants. Rather than reject this as unreasonable, modern philosophers have decided that reason has failed, and agree that ethics must fundamentally be a subjective issue. If unchallenged, this is the premise of modern ethics that will doom civilization.