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Post 0

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 6:21pmSanction this postReply
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Maybe someone could clarify what is meant by rational self-interest?  Or how should it really be used?  I've been reading here all day, and I see it being used somewhat ambiguously.

On a thread on this same forum, people seemed to make it analagous to "what you want." or "what makes you happy," almost like Hedonism.  Elsewhere, it seems to refer to something that is in line with your rationally chosen values and beliefs.  Or something else?

Also, I believe Rand did not try to show that we should disregard the interest of others.  How does the interest of a stranger or someone I care about fit in?  What if my highest priority is another person?  Is that wrong?  Or could that also be in my rational self-interest, since nothing makes me happier?

I can't quite find the right question to ask, but maybe you can - hopefully we can start with this.




Post 1

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 7:38pmSanction this postReply
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What are you reading? 



Post 2

Tuesday, July 18, 2006 - 8:52pmSanction this postReply
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I didn't want to point out individuals or certain posts, realizing that I can easily offend others in my ignorance.  It doesn't really matter though, all I really want is to understand what is really mean by it, and how others and those I love fit into self interest.



Post 3

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - 5:15amSanction this postReply
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Joseph, get a copy of The Virtue of Selfishness, and read essays 1 & 3. (The Objectivist Ethics, and The Ethics of Emergencies). That should help.



Post 4

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - 5:46amSanction this postReply
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I didn't want to point out individuals or certain posts, realizing that I can easily offend others in my ignorance.  It doesn't really matter though, all I really want is to understand what is really mean by it, and how others and those I love fit into self interest.
But that's what we do here: Critique ideology and thought processes within the Objectivist realm. There are scholars and lay people who participate in this forum, but you'll find they have little interest in discussing issues with people who haven't done the home work.

It's important to point out specific posts so others can understand the context of your question, and for the original writer to defend him/herself, or expand on his/her ideas.  Without this information, you won't find much interest in discussion.




Post 5

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - 8:21amSanction this postReply
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Joseph,

I can answer quickly a little bit concerning your questions. The advice given by Jonathan and Teresa is all good.

You asked:
"What if my highest priority is another person?  Is that wrong?  Or could that also be in my rational self-interest, since nothing makes me happier?"

Rand has her first model of her ethics, the fictional Howard Roark, condemn the morality of ever placing another person as one's highest priority. That is not to say that he would not die to save a loved one; Rand has him say directly he would. But he also says he would not live for the sake of another.

You say of holding another person as one's highest priority that "nothing makes me happier." Without deviating from precisely what you mean when you here use the idea of happiness, Rand says that one's rational self-interest is not simply whatever makes one happy. She does weld happiness right into one of the three cardinal values of her ethics. That is the value Purpose. She describes that value in terms of one's making some specific choice or other as to which specific happiness to try for.

To weld happiness securely into her cardinal value Purpose, which is cast as a cohort of two other cardinal values Reason and Self-Esteem, she gives happiness an explicit definition. It leaves a lot of room for variety in what could count as happiness in her express sense of the concept. But it is not so broad as to allow that whatever one chooses with a view to happiness necessarily is a case of pursuing happiness in her express sense.

You also mentioned the possibility of self-interest being anything whatever "that is in line with your rationally chosen values and beliefs." Rand would be wary of that. It would depend on whether your idea of rationality was too loose or too tight or just right. David Hume's notion of rationality was too tight; inductive inference was not included in the rational. Rand, like all other contemporary philosophers, would say that that concept of rationality was overly restrictive.

On the other hand, one might have an idea of what counts as rational that is so loose that any legally sane choice one makes counts as rational, and therefore, as self-interested. Rand, like many other moral philosophers, rejects this. One can genuinely choose to act against one's self-interest. One can genuinely place the interest of another above one's own. It is not the case that every legally sane person is selfish, neither under a typical pretheoretical sense of the idea of selfishness nor under Rand's somewhat more studied sense of selfishness.

Stephen

PS
Joseph, I realize that you may be writing under a pseudonym and that you may be asking these questions about Rand's philosophy to stimulate discussion, knowing the answers to them yourself as well as anyone. That is all right with me, if indeed the discussion does prove of interest, either because new or because it refreshes waning memory for readers here.

I should perhaps say, to avoid personal misperception, that I myself do not subscribe to ethical egoism (and have not since about 1981). Necessarily then, I do not subscribe to Rand's theory, which is a rational egoism. That means that I am not an Objectivist. I do think Rand's philosophy is very worthy of study and further development, deserving of accurate representation, and valuable for human existence.

(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 7/19, 8:25am)




Post 6

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 - 9:10pmSanction this postReply
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I appreciate the counsel, thank you.  I was actually most interested in what you all had to say, but those essays are certainly helpful.

If you believe that I'm going around just trying to get people excited, I assure you that I'm not.  I only pose these questions in an attempt to gain knowledge and understanding.  I imagine that I would be an arrogant fool if, having read a few books, I burst onto the scene telling everyone the way things are, without attempting to understand you, your philosophy, or the concepts you believe in.

Having said that, let me ask you, why exactly is it wrong to have someone else as my highest priority?  You say he would not live for the sake of another, much like Fransisco or any of the other Galtites.  Isn't living just a string of events, and of actions we choose?  What is the difference between consistently doing something nice for someone you love, and living for them?

I hope that I don't weary you - I assure you that these are honest questions.




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Post 7

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 1:15amSanction this postReply
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Joseph S.,

=============================
... why exactly is it wrong to have someone else as my highest priority?
=============================

To have someone else as your highest priority is -- effectively -- to live "for" another being. In doing so, your own life is taken to be of less worth than that which you can give to another's life. While you are a being capably of much growth & joy -- these take a back-seat to your "givingness."

Once the "giving" becomes more important than the "living" -- you have entered the morality of Death. It is not proper for a being to live "for" another being -- as opposed to living for the sake of living. Happy life is an objective value that is universal to all humans (there is NO human who could ever want its opposite).

This does not mean that folks won't care. Caring is natural and normal for human beings. It's part of being a human being. What's impossible is to care for another without caring for oneself. Only those that are able to recognize the value of virtue in themselves -- are able to recognize the value of the virtue of others.

A person not able to love themself, is not able to love others. All of psychology is understood only by successful introspection. If you can't introspect it (somehow see it within your own psychological continuity), then you can't ever understand it.

You have to learn what it means to say "I" -- before you are able to say the phrase "I love you."

Ed




Post 8

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 7:58amSanction this postReply
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Joseph,

As you go on asking questions concerning peoples' views and reasons here, you need offer your own answers on these issues, along with receiving our answers. Otherwise, you cast yourself as our superior and it is No Go.

Stephen

(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 7/20, 8:00am)




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Post 9

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 8:21amSanction this postReply
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Joseph Wrote:

What is the difference between consistently doing something nice for someone you love, and living for them?
Well, the difference is that by actively maintaining a quality relationship and doing nice things to loved ones tends to dramatically increase the quality of one's own life.  Loving someone else is usually good for you.

Bob

 




Post 10

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 9:16amSanction this postReply
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Good answer, Bob.

Ed



Post 11

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 10:03amSanction this postReply
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Stephen Boydstun wrote,
Rand has her first model of her ethics, the fictional Howard Roark, condemn the morality of ever placing another person as one's highest priority. That is not to say that he would not die to save a loved one; Rand has him say directly he would. But he also says he would not live for the sake of another.
Stephen, it's been some time since I've read The Fountainhead, but aren't you thinking of John Galt instead of Howard Roark? If I recall, it's Galt who says: "I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man. nor ask another mine to live for mine." I do know that Roark extols egoism, but I don't recall his every saying he would die to save a loved one, whereas Galt does say that he will kill himself if Dagny is threatened with torture: "At the first mention of a threat to you," he says, "I will kill myself and stop them right there." ..."I don't have to tell you that if I do it, it won't be an act of self-sacrifice. I do not care to live on their terms, I do not care to obey them, and I do not care to see you enduring a drawn-out murder. There will be no values for me to seek after that and I do not care to exist without values." (AS, p. 1091)

Also, you say that you've not been an ethical egoist since 1981. I'm curious as to why you changed your mind and what you're reasons are for opposing egoism. I view the doctrine as something of an ethical axiom, on the grounds that it is only one's own gain or benefit that can make an action worth performing -- that it makes no sense to choose an action if it will result in a loss. So, I'd be interested in your reasons for rejecting ethical egoism, if you'd care to share them with us.

- Bill
(Edited by William Dwyer
on 7/20, 10:10am)




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Post 12

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 11:30amSanction this postReply
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Stephen said:
I myself do not subscribe to ethical egoism (and have not since about 1981).
Stephen,
Haven't you been receiving the subscription renewal notices? : )
Glenn




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Post 13

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 1:06pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Bill,

Yes, the same point of view is given to Rand's fictional Howard Roark. It is expressed to his friend Gail Wynand:
I even admit that I love [my friends]. But I couldn't love them if they were my chief reason for living. . . . If one doesn't respect oneself one can have neither love nor respect for others.
. . . .

Gail, if this boat were sinking, I'd give my life to save you. Not because it's any kind of duty. Only because I like you, for reasons and standards of my own. I could die for you. But I couldn't and wouldn't live for you. (660)




The statements that you have recounted from Rand's Galt are in perfect step with the stance she had earlier given to Roark.

~~~~~~~~~~

Bill, you also asked how it was that I came to reject ethical egoism and what are my reasons for rejecting it. Thank you for your interest.

I'm afraid I can no longer remember the steps (or their years) by which I changed my mind. It was definitely Rand who had persuaded me of the correctness of ethical egoism. At least I was persuaded of its correctness in a modern and rational form such as hers or Eric Mack's. I have spoken, in an exchange with Ciro, of how that came about. That would have been in 1967.

The reason I mentioned 1981 as the approximate time at which I changed my mind was because that would have been when I read Nozick's Philosophical Explanations, which was an influence in my rejection of ethical egoism. Let me give you two of the reasons for which I continue to think that egoism is an incorrect moral theory. The first of these will connect with something I had meant to say about Howard Roark, but had then forgotten, back in post #5.

In 1984 I wrote an essay titled "The Moral Value of Liberty" which was published in Nomos. I need to quote something I wrote therein:
Just as the self cannot be the subject it is without having been subject to external objects, so the self cannot be the value it is without external objects of value to it. And just as the self cannot be the subject it is without also being the self-reflective object it is, so the self cannot be the value it is without being of that value to itself. (V2N1 20)


This is an expression of what I think of as conveyance of the primacy of existence into human values in a radical way. This is primacy of existence running more deeply in human values than in any egoistic theory of ethics.

The idea that external things need to be valuable to oneself in order for oneself to be valuable to oneself is not entirely foreign to Rand's writings on ethics. She has an essay called "Selfishness without a Self" that touches on this. She drafts her Howard Roark as oriented to external things and constructions he values; he is only secondarily oriented to himself as valuer of those things.

Ethical egoism is the view that all moral values and virtues can be based purely on consideration of the agent's self-interest. I have watched attempts to set ethics purely on self-interest from Protagoras and Socrates to Plato and Aristotle to Spinoza and Rand and Mack to my colleague Irfan Khawaja. I don't buy them. They all fail. They fudge sooner or later. There is truth and value in these attempts, and I will keep on watching their latest editions.

Ethical egoism is not simply praxeology. If ethical egoism is reduced to simply an acknowledgement of some sort of psychological egoism necessary for any human action, then it is not an ethical theory.

Well, let me close by touching that second reason that comes quickly back to mind, reason for which I reject ethical egoism. It is probably related to the primacy-of-valued-object reason I mentioned above. I'll use the virtue of honesty for the example: Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic. When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person. Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs.

Stephen

(Edited by Stephen Boydstun on 7/20, 3:37pm)




Post 14

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 6:51pmSanction this postReply
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Oh, I must have misunderstood the "question and answer" part of the "question and answer."  Should we rather call it, "Answer so I can attack?"  You think I'm trying to set myself as superior?  Where do you get this stuff?

 

You should have more faith in me.  (That's a joke)

 

I will tell you what I'm thinking if you want.  I'm still not convinced, but I wouldn't mind it if someone were to convince me. 

 

Some people depend on others, and will cause themselves great harm at the request of a loved one.  I think that is unhealthy, having been on both sides to some extent, and immoral for both persons involved.  Another person should not be our only reason for living, nor should we sacrifice our joy for theirs.  In a healthy love, such a win-lose situation is rare, and can always be worked out.  I assume that this is not far off from the idea of not living for another.

 

But why can they not be your greatest, most enjoyable reason to live?  Not because you need them, or because they’re deceiving or controlling you, but because you both choose for it to be so.  Everyone needs a purpose, or a reason to get up in the morning.  Everyone has a reason for not committing suicide, or continuing to eat.  For many, it is only an attempt to avoid pain - pathetic.    Well, I subscribe to the Objectivist belief that “to love is to value.”

 

What if I love someone more than myself?  What if you recognize that that person is better than you are, in every aspect?  I imagine a sexy female John Galt, like a one-stop Wal-Mart that fulfills all your needs.  Anyway, you recognize that you are doing pretty well, but certainly not like that ideal person.  You realize that this other person is better than you.

 
Obviously you want to do is improve yourself, but if our love is to be realistic, and based in the present reality, shouldn’t we love that other person more?  Unless you would have us love something that isn’t there.  Ok then, hit me Stephen, I know you want to.





Post 15

Thursday, July 20, 2006 - 11:22pmSanction this postReply
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Stephen, you wrote ...

============================
Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic.
============================

What you claim here is that Rand only judged honesty on a utilitarian standard (ie. because it produces the best results, overall). What is missed is the natural human revulsion of any intentional duplicity (ie. it doesn't 'feel good' to lie). How come it doesn't feel good to lie, Stephen?



============================
When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person.
============================

Now, that's what I'm getting at (and it doesn't necessarily involve rejecting egoism -- the ego being the logically genetic antecedent of any viable value).



============================
Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs.
============================

To wish another well, is not a transgression of egoism -- if another's well-being can be seen to be part of one's own. If it's natural and normal to care for others, to take pleasure in their personal successes of living on earth, then it's egoistic to do so. What is naturally satisfying to us, is good for us.

Helping others is not, ipso facto, anti-egoist.

Ed



Post 16

Friday, July 21, 2006 - 6:05amSanction this postReply
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Thanks for these good thoughts, Joseph. Thank you for sharing them.

I really like what you wrote in these two paragraphs:

Some people depend on others, and will cause themselves great harm at the request of a loved one.  I think that is unhealthy, having been on both sides to some extent, and immoral for both persons involved.  Another person should not be our only reason for living, nor should we sacrifice our joy for theirs.  In a healthy love, such a win-lose situation is rare, and can always be worked out.  I assume that this is not far off from the idea of not living for another.

 

But why can they not be your greatest, most enjoyable reason to live?  Not because you need them, or because they’re deceiving or controlling you, but because you both choose for it to be so.  Everyone needs a purpose, or a reason to get up in the morning.  Everyone has a reason for not committing suicide, or continuing to eat.  For many, it is only an attempt to avoid pain - pathetic. Well, I subscribe to the Objectivist belief that “to love is to value.”



I will mention that I would expect that having mutually chosen each other to be your most enjoyable reason to live, you will need them. Really, really need them. You were thinking of them needing each other in some way that is psychologically undesirable, I imagine. Anyway, I myself think it is an excellent thing for people to need other people to love and admire as well as to learn from and trade with.

In my long life, two people have loved me totally. That's pretty good. Lucky life. My first lover and I were together for 22 years, from when we were both 19 years old to when he died in my arms in 1990. I know what you mean about someone being your most enjoyable reason to live.

Ayn Rand knew about that too. Some months after her husband had died, she returned to making public appearances by coming onto the Phil Donahue Show. He said some words of sympathy to her, and she said at one point "Yes, I lost my top value."

You posed a hypothetical case of loving someone who is better than yourself in every way. You wondered if in such a case it would be right to love them more than yourself. I would be interested to hear what others think about this. I do think, as Rand thought, that romantic love is importantly a self-mirroring business. I'm doubtful such a hypothetical case is psychologically feasible for human beings. But the reasons are behind the clouds for me this morning.

Stephen





Post 17

Friday, July 21, 2006 - 11:00amSanction this postReply
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Stephen, thanks for sharing your reasons for no longer subscribing to ethical egoism, although I must say that I'm sorry you let your subscription lapse. :-) You write,
The idea that external things need to be valuable to oneself in order for oneself to be valuable to oneself is not entirely foreign to Rand's writings on ethics. She has an essay called "Selfishness without a Self" that touches on this. She drafts her Howard Roark as oriented to external things and constructions he values; he is only secondarily oriented to himself as valuer of those things.
I don't think there's a contradiction here. As I understand it, egoism doesn't entail any opposition between valuing the self and valuing things outside the self. To value the self is necessarily to value things outside the self; it is to value those things that contribute to one's own happiness. It is where one is called upon to sacrifice the things that are conducive to one's happiness that the issue of egoism versus self-sacrifice arises. Suppose that Howard Roark were faced with the choice of supporting Peter Keating's ailing mother versus pursuing a career in architecture. Ethical egoism would tell him that he has no moral obligation to sacrifice his career in architecture to support Keating's mother - that his highest moral purpose is to further his own happiness, not the happiness of Mrs. Keating.

You also write,
Well, let me close by touching that second reason that comes quickly back to mind, reason for which I reject ethical egoism. It is probably related to the primacy-of-valued-object reason I mentioned above. I'll use the virtue of honesty for the example: Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. That is false and psychologically inauthentic. When I tell someone the truth, it is not typically only because it is in my rational self-interest to do so. It is first and foremost because lying to someone is prima facie a rotten way to treat a person. Moreover, my concern for another's self-interest (e.g., not filling their mind with falsehoods) is not firstly a matter of being concerned for my rational self-interest, but of being concerned for theirs.
The issue of egoism versus self-sacrifice arises only in a context in which one must choose between pursuing one's own values and sacrificing them (usually for the sake of someone else's values, on the premise that one has a moral obligation to consider the values of others ahead of one's own). But in a context in which there is no such conflict -- in which pursuing one's own interest does not conflict with telling someone the truth -- the issue would not arise. You say that lying to someone is a rotten way to treat him, meaning that it is against his interest. But if the choice is to act against his interest or to act against yours, then on what grounds should you give his interest preference over yours? Why is his interest more important to you than yours? And if it isn't, then there is no reason for you to sacrifice your interest to his.

If telling someone the truth is against your interest, then there is absolutely no reason to do it. Normally, however, honesty is the best policy, not only because it is difficult to maintain a lie and the consequences of being found out can be devastating, but also because trustworthy relations are in everyone's interest. If we want to be able to trust others, then we must be trustworthy ourselves. But if a person has no right to the truth -- e.g., for reasons of privacy or self-defense -- then lying can be justified. Within the proper context, however, honesty to others is entirely appropriate, not as a selfless moral obligation, but as a supremely selfish principle of social conduct.

Joseph, you write:
What if I love someone more than myself? What if you recognize that that person is better than you are, in every aspect? I imagine a sexy female John Galt, like a one-stop Wal-Mart that fulfills all your needs. Anyway, you recognize that you are doing pretty well, but certainly not like that ideal person. You realize that this other person is better than you.

Obviously you want to do is improve yourself, but if our love is to be realistic, and based in the present reality, shouldn’t we love that other person more?
The issue of egoism versus altruism -- or of selfishness versus self-sacrifice -- isn't an issue of loving oneself versus loving another, nor is it an issue of loving oneself more (or less) than one loves another. To love oneself is to honor one's selfish values, including one's love for significant others. The issue of selfishness versus self-sacrifice pertains only to the issue of pursuing one's selfish values rather than sacrificing them for the sake of others or for the sake of some principle of selfless duty.

- Bill



Post 18

Friday, July 21, 2006 - 11:55amSanction this postReply
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Bill Wrote:

Why is his interest more important to you than yours? And if it isn't, then there is no reason for you to sacrifice your interest to his.
I think Steven's point is a more fundamental one - before any self-interest/sacrifice comparisons.  He writes

Rand thought that the justification for the virtue of honesty was only that it is in one's rational self-interest to be honest. 

To me, Rand's connection of honesty to one's self interest is far too weak, and I just do not buy this connection.  I do not have a quote handy but IIRC, she defended honesty mainly on the basis that dishonesty was inherently damaging to oneself.  Well, sometimes it is and sometimes it's not.  It is too often not for her argument to hold up.  Her argurment never touched solid ground on this one.

Steven Wrote:

I have watched attempts to set ethics purely on self-interest from Protagoras and Socrates to Plato and Aristotle to Spinoza and Rand and Mack to my colleague Irfan Khawaja. I don't buy them. They all fail. They fudge sooner or later.
I agree (about Rand at least)  - I haven't read all of those positions.  The 'fudges' makes it difficult for me to continue reading though when I encounter them.

Bob

PS - I have my own $0.02 theory on this.  Essentially I believe man struggles with a nature that includes a mostly selfish, but also altruistic tendencies, both of which are morally equivalent.  I dismiss the notion that altruism is entirely evil.  Too many "fudges" to support this.

(Edited by Mr Bob Mac on 7/21, 12:03pm)




Post 19

Friday, July 21, 2006 - 12:16pmSanction this postReply
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A good presentation of the Randian argument that dishonesty is never in one's interest, more detailed than Rand's own, is "The Metaphysical Case for Honesty" by Tara Smith in The Journal of Value Inquiry 12 03.  It's no longer free online, but you can buy a printed copy or subscribe online at http://www.springerlink.com/(d5kyece43jw05p45hz4mnuyt)/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,8,20;journal,5,145;linkingpublicationresults,1:102951,1

Peter

(Edited by Peter Reidy on 7/21, 12:17pm)




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