I started this as a Facebook comment. It got a bit long, so I put it here instead.
When I say “success on earth,” I mean achieving life, not the short-range “successes” that consist of killing oneself long-term. Only successes that achieve life are objectively valuable.
We need to pause and answer the question: What is “valuable”? (or: what is “value”?)
Valuable means it helps me achieve something. My car is valuable for getting to the coffeeshop; my computer is not. It presupposes some goal I’m acting to achieve. But what objective goals can I have? A car is objectively valuable to get to the coffeeshop, but isn’t that goal subjective? We need a goal that’s objective: determined by reality, not by arbitrary whim.
The good thing is, we have one. We find it by asking: why do we need values?
What are Values? Why do We Need Them?
Values are things I act to gain and keep. Food, shelter, a career, a relationship, music I enjoy – all of these things are things I pursue and maintain, as are the virtues that enable my success. The field of ethics is all about this: what things should I pursue? What traits and actions allow me to attain them?
So why do I need values? What good are values and virtues?
I need them to live, and only to live. It’s only because I’m alive and need certain things to stay that way that they matter. They’re good to the extent they help me live.
I don’t need values to die. All I have to do is stop. I don’t need any guidance there.
But I only need values if I can die. If I’m immortal, I don’t need guidance either. What does it matter if I eat or starve, or pursue pain or pleasure? Any alternative is just as good. There’s no grounds to choose one over another, and no reason I need guidance.
It’s only because I’m alive and staying alive requires a specific course of action that I can say anything is more or less valuable. Food is valuable because I need it to stay alive. So is shelter. So is truth.
The need to sustain life gives rise to values. That’s their purpose, and the ultimate standard by which we judge something as valuable or not. “Is truth objectively valuable?” means “Will truth help me achieve life?” “Is success on earth objectively valuable?” means “Will success on earth help me achieve life?”
Once we choose life, the things we consider valuable aren’t decided by whim. They’re decided by the nature of reality and the nature of man. They have to be judged contextually – things aren’t inherently valuable, devoid of any relation to the conscious being who needs them – but that doesn’t mean anything I choose is valuable. Eating poison won’t help me achieve life, no matter how much I want it to.
The Choice to Live
But isn’t the choice to live arbitrary? What reason do we have to choose life?
You can’t logically ask that question.
Logic exists in one realm: existence. It has one function: understanding what is, and one purpose: helping you deal with it effectively. (Like ethics, it’s not needed to die.) It’s within that context – reality and the quest to understand it – that logic exists and is used; using logic presupposes reality. Concepts like “objective, “subjective,” and “arbitrary” presuppose logic, which presupposes reality.
You can’t logically choose a realm that negates every foundation of logic, or use the products of logic to describe such a choice. I can’t subjectively choose nonexistence: I’m choosing a realm where terms like “objectivity” and “subjectivity” don’t even exist.
I choose reality – I choose logic – and then I’m in the realm where terms like “objective” and “arbitrary” exist and can be applied.
Reality just is, as is the choice to accept it.
To sum up, success on earth is objectively valuable because life on earth is objectively valuable. Once we choose reality (a choice that just is), we run into the need to achieve certain objects and take certain actions to stay alive, needs which we can’t wish away or satisfy by any random means. The concept of “value” only exists within the context of these needs, which set the standard for what things are valuable or worthless. Life is objectively valuable because it’s what gives rise to the need of values.