This essay contends that the debate between subjectivism and objectivism in ethics is better understood as a dispute among three alternatives: subjectivism, objectivism, and intrinsicism. Ayn Rand has identified intrinsicism – the belief that certain things are good “in, by, and of” themselves – as the doctrine that is actually operative in many defenses of moral objectivity. What intrinsicism fails to appreciate, however, is the significant role of the subject, the person to whom and for whom anything can be valuable.
Objective value, in Rand's view, is relational. Its existence depends on contributions of both external reality and human consciousness. Values are not reducible to psychological states, as in subjectivism, but nor are they independent of them, as in intrinsicism. Objectivity in ethics is attained neither through revelation of the intrinsic property of goodness nor through the subject's creation of goodness, but through a rational procedure of evaluation that is governed by the method of objectivity.
This essay is in three parts, explaining Rand's view of exactly what intrinsicism is; elaborating on her view of the nature of moral objectivity; and highlighting certain features that make plain the differences between an intrinsicist and an objectivist account of value.