Wednesday, 22 December 2010

The Virtue of Selfishness

I have been reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand of late having before that read Atlas
. The book centers on the philosophy of Objectivism, which is, as it is put on the back cover of my copy, an uncompromising defence of self interest as the engine of progress.

Rand describes Objectivism in it's simplest form as follows.

At a sales conference at Random House, preceding the publication of Atlas Shrugged, one of the book salesmen asked me whether I could present the essence of my philosophy while standing on one foot. I did as follows:

Metaphysics: Objective Reality
Epistemology: Reason
Ethics: Self-interest
Politics: Capitalism

If you want this translated into simple language, it would read: 1. “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed” or “Wishing won’t make it so.” 2. “You can’t eat your cake and have it, too.” 3. “Man is an end in himself.” 4. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

If you held these concepts with total consistency, as the base of your convictions, you would have a full philosophical system to guide the course of your life. But to hold them with total consistency—to understand, to define, to prove and to apply them—requires volumes of thought. Which is why philosophy cannot be discussed while standing on one foot—nor while standing on two feet on both sides of every fence. This last is the predominant philosophical position today, particularly in the field of politics.

My philosophy, Objectivism, holds that:

Reality exists as an objective absolute—facts are facts, independent of man’s feelings, wishes, hopes or fears.

Reason (the faculty which identifies and integrates the material provided by man’s senses) is man’s only means of perceiving reality, his only source of knowledge, his only guide to action, and his basic means of survival.

Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.

The ideal political-economic system is laissez-faire capitalism. It is a system where men deal with one another, not as victims and executioners, nor as masters and slaves, but as traders, by free, voluntary exchange to mutual benefit. It is a system where no man may obtain any values from others by resorting to physical force, and no man may initiate the use of physical force against others. The government acts only as a policeman that protects man’s rights; it uses physical force only in retaliation and only against those who initiate its use, such as criminals or foreign
invaders. In a system of full capitalism, there should be (but, historically, has not yet been) a complete separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.

Some recent discussions have highlighted how most people have a profound misunderstanding of rational-self interest. Most do not realise that selfishness underlies all of mans willed actions. Those who do understand I have found to be few and far between, Anthony 'Dream' Johnson however is exemplery of man living for his own sake, with his greatest productive acheivement as his goal.

The purpose of this post was to highlight the ethical views or morality of Objectivism.


I have posted a video by Dr Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute before in which he describes the real issue with today's economic and political system as being a moral one. The conditioned view of most in today's day and age, and the view which has predominated leading to the moral decay is as follows.

I am my Brother's keeper

Consider the two moral positions for a moment if you will.

The first implies that man exists for his own sake. For the pursuit of his own life and of his own happiness. That man must choose his own virtues, that which stem from his right to his own life and liberty. That man is a being of integrity who stands by these values. That before man is able to offer love, the expression of reverence and worship in acknowledgement of the virtues of another, he must first love himself and his own life for this is the only means for him to confer it upon another. Before one can say 'I love you' one must learn to say 'I.'

The second implies that man exists not for his own sake. That man exists only as a sacrificial animal to be used at the whim of others. That man has no right to his own life and liberty and that any beggar may lay claim to his life and the product of it. In essence, man is not fit to live.

The first is the morality of life.

The second is the morality of death.

My reason for this post is a purely selfish one. I do not wish to live among men who think me as a means to their end. I wish to live in a world where men deal with each other as rational individuals, where the virtue of man is traded for the virtue of another.

I recently came across this pdf. It is a copy of Ayn Rand's book The Virtue of Selfishness. The reason I am sharing it is in recognition of its value and for the reasons detailed above. I hope that acknowledgement and sharing of the work is enough, though I recommend purchasing a copy of the text also. I hope that people reading this post will take the time to read it the book and bear its implications with the utmost of their integrity. For their own sake and mine.

1 comment:

  1. Not a bad post, highlights quite a few points about the main 'goal' in any rational individuals lifestyle. Clearly points out how every action a person takes is directly to serve themselves and to help them. Good job.