[This is the 2nd in a series of posts summarizing Ayn Rand's 1961 article, "The Objectivist Ethics". The first post is here.]
To challenge the basic premise of modern ethics (that morality is subjective), one must first discover: what are values and why does man need them? "Value" is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The need for values and goals arises for living organisms from the constant alternative they face of life or death, existence or non-existence.
Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. The physical functions of an organism's body are automatic actions directed to a single goal, the maintenance of the organism's life. To survive, an organism must take in material or fuel from outside its body and use it according to the standard of its own life, a standard predetermined by its nature.
An organism's ultimate value, the final end to which all of its lesser goals are the means, is its life -- which is therefore its standard of value: that which promotes its life is good, that which threatens it is evil. Life is the only phenomenon that is an end in itself, a value gained and kept by a constant process of action. All of the values for an organism are its means to its life. The concept of "value" thus derives from the concept of "life."