|tok, you wrote:|
I have read most of Rand' s books and studied every major internet site on Objectivism ...
Wow! That's more than even I've done, and I already have earned a "black-belt" in Objectivism (I can defend it nearly as good as anyone can)! You've apparently studied Objectivism harder than I have.
If I regard my life as my ultimate value and therefore as the standard by which I decide what things are in my interest ...
... what role does self-interest play as the essential of ethics as Rand said? ...
... Is it a certain aspect of Rationality? Is it a standard? Is it a separate virtue?
tok, it is life that is essential to ethics. It's a special kind of life, too. Life for beings who have potential rationality. Plants don't have ethics. Yeah, sure, they "compete" in a "free market" for sunlight (by growing taller than other plants overshadowing them), but they don't need a code for action -- because their genes prescribe all of their "behavior." This isn't true of man, though (would you agree?). Man lives by chosen codes of action. Here are some examples of codes men have chosen:
It is wrong to live by stealing. It is right to produce needed things. It is wrong to live by forceful expropriation. It is right to employ one's mind productively.
In the one case man is living as lower animals do and taking from others whenever he can (just as some plants "take" the sunlight from others they've outgrown), but man is different from lower animals or plants (see US Constitution or UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- for proof of this aspect of reality).
One way to live, is to produce a bunch of good (like a bunch of food), so that you can feed yourself, etc. One way to interact with others is by trading to mutual benefit -- where you want something someone else has produced, more than some of the things that YOU have produced. Now this trading principle only works when folks look out for themselves (and produce a bunch of things to own). If they hadn't looked out for themselves so much, then there would be nothing of value to trade with others.
Rational selfishness produces increasing value (value that didn't previously exist) on planet Earth. The mind, respected, creates new values -- by which man can truly flourish.
Back to your question: Is selfishness a separate virtue? Virtue is nothing other than habit aimed at value. At first glance, it might seem that selfishness is a habit aimed at value -- but then we're stuck in a conundrum: What value is selfishness aimed at? As it turns out -- upon close inspection -- selfishness is merely the seedbed for value; a place where values can "grow." Rand mentioned 3 theories on value: Subjective, Objective, Intrinsic.
Here's what she had to say on the Subjectivist theory:
The subjectivist theory of ethics is, strictly speaking, not a theory, but a negation of ethics. And more: a negation of reality ...
Now that doesn't sound very good, does it? Subjectivists claim that each man can/should live by his "own" code -- which breaks down to: his own, rationally-groundless feelings. An Objective theory would stake claim to a code for all men, as would an Intrinsic theory. Let's take the latter first.
An Intrinsic theory of value postulates that there will be value "inside" an action (divorcing the "actor" from the good). In this respect, some actions, per se, are good -- even if they kill you. Some actions, per se, are good -- even if they kill others. It was this kind of theory that led Abraham to initiate the human sacrifice of his son -- for example. In the case of old Abe' -- the Lord had commanded that he kill his own son. The Lord's will is intrinsic (it is actor-independent, anyone can do the Lord's will -- and it'd be a good thing).
Another intrinsic theory is the environmentalist view of holding nature as sacred and above man -- where man is a cancer on earth, leaving footprints everywhere, none of them justified. This view ignores that the being "man" lives by modifying his environment. If you disagree, then I invite you to consider going to the Serengeti plains of Africa, and trying to live among the lions, without the modifications of nature that include shelter and weapons. In short, the acting moral agent can't be dismissed in the code -- if everyone got naked and wrestled, with their bare hands, with lions for food, then we wouldn't be here. It is natural and good for us (not Lord or lion) to be the primary benefactor of our choices.
And finally we get to an Objective theory of values -- what does IT say about values? Here's Rand:
A value that one is forced to accept at the price of surrendering one's mind, is not a value to anyone; the forcibly mindless can neither judge nor choose nor value. An attempt to achieve the good by force is like an attempt to provide man with a picture gallery at the price of cutting out his eyes. Values cannot exist (cannot be valued) outside the full context of a man's life, needs, goals, and knowledge.
The free market represents the social application of an objective theory of values. Since values are to be discovered by man's mind, men must be free to discover them--to think, to study, to translate their knowledge into physical form, to offer their products for trade, to judge them, and to choose, be it material goods or ideas, a loaf of bread or a philosophical treatise. Since values are established contextually, every man must judge for himself, in the context of his own knowledge, goals, and interests. Since values are determined by the nature of reality, it is reality that serves as men's ultimate arbiter: if a man's judgment is right, the rewards are his; if it is wrong, he is the only victim.
So, what we have here is a concept of value (of goodness). And in order to have it, men have to be free to discover things, and free to own products they've produced. Only individual men, thinking and producing, can discover that perfect admixture of good for them. Only they can tweak their actions to bring out that best good in their lives. The very concept of value logically rests on the concept of rational selfishness. So, rational selfishness is the seedbed for value. The virtues are the habits planted in the seedbed. The garden grown is the value -- the enrichment of the life of man.
(Edited by Ed Thompson
on 10/13, 11:54pm)
(Edited by Ed Thompson
on 10/13, 11:59pm)
(Edited by Ed Thompson
on 10/14, 12:06am)