Joe Rivera, Vice-Chair of the Objectivist Party, was recently asked by one of the party's members to address the issue of whether the fact that people choose different purposes in life reveals that said choices are therefore necessarily subjective in nature. Mr. Rivera responded as follows:
Objectivism holds that life is best lived with logic, reason, and purpose. A purposeful life is a life lived with the ultimate moral goal being the achievement of one's own happiness. The specific purpose is left to discretion, but just because it is variable does not mean it is subjective. To say that a life lived for the purpose of feeding starving children is necessarily a better one than a life lived for the purpose of building houses would be a subjective evaluation. However, as long as a person uses reason and rational thought to select a purpose that leads to a productive life, the selection of that purpose is left up to the individual.
That being said, there are objective ways of measuring each person's progress toward the achievement of their chosen goals. One could ask, "How far have I come toward achieving my goals?" or "Have I set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals that will allow me to steadily work toward the goals I have set for myself?" If a person has used reason to come up with a progressive plan (meaning each goal builds upon the last) toward what they would consider a better future, then they are living a purposeful life. A life that is not purposeful has no such plan, and any short term goals do not lead to long term goals.
I think this is a satisfactory objective definition as it doesn't take into account any subjective interpretations of what the purpose is in deciding whether or not the life is purposeful. However, just because a life is purposeful does not make it acceptable to an Objectivist; it still must pass the rationality test. Spending a lifetime killing clowns or learning to be the best heroin addict one can be, for example, are purposes but they wouldn't be acceptable to an Objectivist because the first goal violates the non-aggression principle, and the second leads to self-destruction. Here, by the way, is an example of how Objectivists differ from Libertarians. A Libertarian might have no problem with someone living their life with the goal of being the best heroin addict they can be since they are supposedly only harming themselves. Choosing a goal that does harm to oneself is morally unacceptable to an Objectivist.
In the end, all Objectivists share the same meta-purpose: to strive for the achievement of their own happiness by utilizing reason to select goals and purposes that will lead to a heroic, productive, happy life of their own choosing.
I appreciate Joe Rivera taking the time to speak out on this topic and I know he welcomes your feedback.
Dr. Tom Stevens