A while back, a NoodleFood reader asked me for references on the issue of optional values. Since I just listened to it for the first time, I thought I should mention that Leonard Peikoff’s two lectures “Integration as the Essence of Personal Identity” has some rather interesting discussion of the psychological mechanisms by which a person forms his optional values. Dr. Peikoff also discusses the issue in Understanding Objectivism, albeit in more philosophic terms. And Craig Biddle’s God Said has some good practical advice about cultivating and pursuing optional values.
In my experience, some Objectivists — although certainly not the above-named lecturers — seem to misunderstand the nature of optional values in various ways, often in thinking that an individual person should be indifferent between optional values. In fact, optional values are real values promoting human life, although they are not necessary to human life universally. So one person might lead a fantastic life with children, hiking, knitting, chocolate ice cream, and computer games, while another can live a fantastic life with a wholly different set of optional values. In other words, a wide range of optional values can properly fill up and fill out a perfectly moral life, with a person’s choice of career and spouse as the most important. And those choices of optional values are not arbitrary, but based upon the unique facts about a person’s life, some chosen and some not.
Frankly, I’m not sure that I’m as clear on this topic as I’d like to be, as I sense some thorny epistemology lurking in the background, particularly a danger of severing abstractions from concretes about which Tara Smith has rightly warned me. In any case, anyone interested in the topic should check out the lectures mentioned above.