Rebirth of Reason


An exchange with a non-Objectivist
by Jim Henshaw

Reason.com has had several recent Ayn Rand blog posts recently. I (commenting under the name "prolefeed") had an interesting exchange with "Hazel Meade" on the thread commenting on the Ayn Rand book interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on 10-15-09. (the interview can be found here):


Feel free to comment on the interview, or on the exchange below:

Hazel Meade|10.19.09 @ 9:12PM|#

I think there are two aspects to Rand's philosophy that can be separated: individualism and egoism.

The individualistic aspects of her philosophy relate to the free market and liberal democracy, political systems designed to protect the rights of individuals. That part is pretty much interchangable with libertarianism.

The egoistic aspect is her philosophy of how one ought to live one's own life - that one ought to live for oneself and pursue one's own interests unashamedly. That part tends to go with the atheism, partly as a rejection of the command to obey God.

Athough there's obvious room for overlab, the two don't necessarily HAVE TO go together. The more controversial aspect of Rand work is definitely the egoist part. Nobody really has a problem with individualism or liberty - they have a problem with endorsing selfishness as a personal philosophy.

prolefeed|10.19.09 @ 10:09PM|#

Bear in mind that when Objectivists say "selfish" and "altruistic", they mean something very different than what most people mean by those terms.

To an Oist, "selfish" means never sacrificing something you value highly for something you value less. Thus, "selfish" could mean giving up things for the sake of others, if you value those others highly enough that you interests, broadly defined, are advanced by this exchange.

Hazel Meade|10.19.09 @ 10:57PM|#

Some objectivists argue that, but they are confused.

If you go that far, you eliminate all distinctions between altrusim and selfishness. For instance, you can argue that anything apparantly altrusistic is actually genetically selfish because it benefits your chances of reproduction through kin selection or social signalling.

But then, if you accept than then you eliminate the distinction between living for oneself, and "serving God", or society, or the state, or dying for one's country. Even a nun would be selfish, and no objectivist would uphold the lifestyle of a nun as an objectivist ideal.

Don't get me wrong though. I am not dissing egoism. I think our society imposes far too many artificial moral obligations on individuals. I would go way, way in the direction of egoism from where our culture stands now. However, I think Rand goes a bit far by demanding that everyone live as a rational egoist, purely for themselves, because it seems to me to preclude the possibiltiy of love. Individuals can still be free, and free to be selfish and egoistic, and yet induldge in an irrational act of self-sacrifice on behalf of someone (or something) they love. But the difference is that it is a thing of their own choosing, not something imposed upon them by the state, or society, or the culture.

prolefeed|10.20.09 @ 1:43AM|#

Hazel -- Objectivists are not confused about this issue -- you are.

Objectivists DO NOT sacrifice. They do not give up something they value for something they value less.

They do not "induldge in an irrational act of self-sacrifice on behalf of someone (or something) they love." For love, they will indulge in rational acts of exchanging something they value less (such as money or time or whatever) in exchange for something they value more, such as the love and appreciation and happiness of their loved one, because they feel they are better off making this voluntary exchange.

Altruism, a dirty word for altruists, would be, for example, giving up your time or money or whatnot to someone you don't love, but feel obligated to do so due to societal pressure or religious dogma or whatnot, and feeling resentful or unhappy afterwards because of the awareness that you've made a sacrifice.
Sanctions: 12Sanctions: 12Sanctions: 12 Sanction this ArticleEditMark as your favorite article

Discuss this Article (9 messages)