I finally got through my friend's recommendation Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Tara Smith. It was a dense, long read, but it was a great overview of all the major virtues in the Objectivist philosophy, including a lot of subtleties of how they can be misunderstood or misapplied in various real-world situations.
It is precisely the real-world situations I was most interested in, and I wish that more of the text could have been devoted to that. I could immediately tell that the book was written by an intellectual and a professor: the writing was immaculately clear and precise, with over 15% of the book's volume devoted to footnotes and citations. At times the language seemed excessively formal, and I would not recommend this book to someone just starting out in this area of philosophy; OPAR seemed much more palatable (in its writing style) for a beginner.
After reading this book, I now have a much better grasp of the ethics Rand proposes, and I enjoyed all the connections and comparisons the author made between some of Rand's fictional characters as well as other philosophers and works on related subjects. I can see just how deeply researched this book was.
Below are some of my main takeaways and highlights from the book.
This book explains the fundamental virtues that Rand considers vital for a person to achieve his objective well-being: rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride.
goodness is determined by what is beneficial for the organism
It is only by leading a morally upright life that a person can be happy and it is for the sake of having a happy life that a person should be morally upright.
last book, Viable Values, is the case for egoism by examining the nature of morality itself, probing the fundamental nature and validation of values, from which moral prescriptions follow. Here, turn from the questions of what it is to be moral and why such prescriptions are necessary to how to be moral.
Because egoism is widely perceived as reckless, self-indulgent whim-worship and the selfish person as thoughtless, unprincipled, and inconsiderate of others, the suggestion that egoism can demand the disciplined adherence to a moral code will itself be surprising to many.
Values are intelligible only in relation to a living organism's struggle for its life. Nothing is valuable to or for inanimate objects.
the standard of value is life.
values are neither intrinsic (simply embedded in certain things in the external world) nor subjective (inventions projected by consciousness), but objective.
life as the standard of value, we must understand her to be speaking of a flourishing life rather than a minimal, bare bones subsistence.
Rationality is the acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge and fundamental guide to action.
rationality consists of fidelity to facts.
Because things in external reality are what they are independently of an individual's thoughts or wishes about them, because we control whether and how we use our minds, and because, as fallible beings, our beliefs are not automatically correct, human beings must exert a concerted effort to base the thinking that guides our actions on the way the world actually is. This is what rationality enables its to do.
honesty as the refusal to fake reality.
honesty's requirements that a person renounce self-deception, develop an active mind, and act on his knowledge.
Independence, as Rand understands it, consists in setting one's primary orientation to reality rather than to other people.
In contrast to the parasite, the independent person accepts full responsibility for making his way in the world by forming his own judgments, adopting ends that he deems valuable, and acting to achieve those ends.
In order to reap the substantial objective values that human beings can offer one another, in other words, individuals must exercise first-handed judgment of reality.
Rand understands justice to consist in judging other persons objectively and treating them accordingly by giving them what they deserve
person's characteristic posture as that of a trader who neither seeks nor gives the unearned.
evaluating others objectively, by reason rather than emotion; judging individuals as individuals, taking into account salient features of their particular circumstances; treating others as they deserve through an array of both modest gestures and more significant rewards and punishments.
support from the good is evil's only lease on life. It is wrong to sanction evil, in short, because it is ultimately self-sabotaging.
integrity, which Rand defines as loyalty in action to rational principles.
Because our survival depends on goods and services that are not found, ready-made, in nature, we must create the material values that sustain us; we must give physical reality to ideas that can advance human life.
Neither rational thought that is not given some material incarnation nor physical labor that is not guided by rationality can further a person's life.
adopt productive work as his central purpose.
Because a person's proper goal is his own happiness (objectively understood), there is no limit to how good - how secure, how comfortable, how enjoyable - he should strive to make his life. Correspondingly, there is no limit to how productive a person should be.
pride as moral ambitiousness, an energetic dedication to being one's best.
A person must believe that he is worthy of values and that he will be able to achieve them, in order to act in the ways necessary to flourish.
When an act of charity would be a sacrifice, requiring the agent's surrender of a greater value for a lesser value, it would be antithetical to egoism. In cases in which no such sacrifice is involved, however, charity is fine. In some such cases, it can even be obligatory
Unlike charity, generosity is not necessarily a response to need. Generosity consists in giving in excess of what custom or morality requires;
does not require self-sacrifice and is extended to an appropriate beneficiary, generosity is morally permitted.
kindness consists in acting out of consideration for another person's well-being.
He does something, however minor, to cheer or assist another person.
He can love a person for his character, that is, rather than for some narrow utilitarian purpose (such as access to a club) or for no particular reason, as some analysts of love have urged.
Morality, Rand writes, "is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions - the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life."
A value is "that which one acts to gain and/or keep. "
Life makes values possible insofar as nothing can be valuable to nonliving things.
at the bottom of all of our ends rests a single alternative: life or death.
life makes the achievement of values necessary. Living demands the pursuit of life-sustaining ends. If an organism is to survive, it must achieve the values that its nature requires.
Life is a process of self-generated, self-sustaining action,
Their physiology rules; they are "deterministic value-trackers,"
the moral guidance justified by this explanation of values is egoistic.
each person's primary moral obligation is to achieve his own well-being and he should not sacrifice his well-being for the well-being of others.
The reason to be moral is selfish.
The crucial feature of Rand's theory is that value is objective. What is good for a person - what is in his interest - is not simply a subjective projection of that person's beliefs, attitudes, tastes, or desires, for those are not adequate guides to meeting his life's requirements.
The objective theory holds that the good is neither an attribute of "things in themselves" nor of man's emotional states, but an evaluation of the facts of reality by man's consciousness according to a rational standard of value....
The objective theory holds that the good is an aspect of reality in relation to man - and that it must be discovered, not invented, by man.'6
Objectivity allows for a range of values that can vary (within limits) between different individuals.
What is good must be good for someone in particular, but what makes a thing good is its nature and impact on the person's life independently of anyone's beliefs or wishes about what that impact is.
not simply breathing, but thriving.
An organism must act as its nature demands (qua dog, qua seal, etc.) in order to survive.
needs are correlative to the ideal of flourishing and that flourishing is relative to the kind of organism in question.
living requires living as man's nature requires. "Life, for any living creature, means life as that creature, life in accordance with its specific means of survival,"
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one's own life as one's ultimate value, and one's own happiness as one's highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one's life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness.°
She defines happiness as "that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values."
Serving one's interest requires action guided by the recognition of certain constant, fundamental facts. These facts are the basis of moral principles.
Rational egoism is not about besting others, but about making one's own life as rewarding as possible.
individuals' genuine, rational interests do not stand at odds. One person's enhancement of his well-being is not achieved through injury or loss to others. Human welfare is not a zero-sum game.
The disappointment of a person's hopes is not a setback to his actual condition.
My being turned down for a job I sought does not leave me worse off than I had been.
Moral principles are both based on and intended for radically different circumstances. The actions necessary to sustain a person's life in atypical conditions cannot be used as the basis for moral principles that are to guide us in everyday living or for conclusions about the relationships among individuals' interests.
Human beings, by contrast, live by the mind. We do not survive simply by consuming what we find in our environment; we must create life-sustaining values (clothes, shelter, medicines, etc.) through the use of reason.
Because human beings produce values rather than seize them from a fixed pool and because the fundamental fuel of production is not a finite resource, one person's objective gains pose no threat to others.
Given the enormous value that human beings can offer one another, a policy of preying on others would be self-defeating rather than self-advancing.
A virtue, Rand maintains, is "the act by which one gains and/or keeps" an objective value.'
virtue "consists of a man's recognizing facts and then acting accordingly."6
virtuous action is action that deliberately adheres to rational moral principles.
Genuine virtue involves taking the proper action with a certain spirit and inclination. Hursthouse maintains that an honest person, for instance, does the right thing "readily, eagerly, unhesitatingly, scrupulously."
Without facing continual battles over whether to take the appropriate action, a person will more efficiently act in ways that advance his happiness. And the less of a struggle he must wage against resistant emotions, the less strain in his days and the more agreeable his experience.
The most basic virtue, in Rand's view, and the source of all others, is rationality.
reason to be "the faculty that identifies and integrates the material provided by man's
It is essentially a matter of grounding one's thinking in reality, of reaching conclusions by observing and respecting relevant facts.
The essential nature of rationality is seen most vividly by contrasting it with alternative modes of using one's mind: forming beliefs or making decisions on the basis of emotions, for instance, or on the basis of desires or faith or authority or consensus or tradition or prejudice or astrology or intuition.
to think is an act of choice... man is a being of volitional consciousness. Reason does not work automatically; thinking is not a mechanical process; the connections of logic are not made by instinct.
Consciousness is a faculty of awareness of that which exists, not a faculty of manipulation of that which exists.
Such changes are possible, however, only by acting in recognition of things' nature and devising effective means of altering things, within the parameters set by things' nature. It is only by respecting the primacy of existence, in other words, thatwe can make constructive changes. It is only through rationality.
Focus The core of rationality's demands is stated in a passage we have already cited: "The virtue of rationality means ... one's total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one's waking hours."
To be rational, a person must seek to know his own purposes and motives - indeed, all of his beliefs, desires, and feelings - as clearly as possible.
A person evades when he chooses not to know, not to find out, or when he pretends not to be aware of something that he knows warrants greater weight in his thinking or at least, further investigation.
commitment to the "constant, active expansion" of one's knowledge.
The aim of rationality is not knowledge for its own sake, but knowledge for its practical value.
rationality requires action that is faithful to a person's rational conclusions, adherence to reality in action as well as in thought.
"irrationality turns one's consciousness from the task of perceiving reality to the task of faking reality."
A person's commitment to rationality must be absolute, however, because reality is absolute. The nature of reality cannot be merely an intermittent concern, flickering in and out of significance.
An emotion is a state of consciousness with bodily accompaniments and intellectual causes, Peikoff writes.65
whether a person feels an emotion and what emotion he feels will depend on his beliefs about a particular object and on his evaluations of that object.
emotions are the voice of values in one's consciousness.
One can take feelings into account, however, without granting them the final say.
honesty as "only another name for rationality, the loyalty to reality, the `being true to truth.""
If rationality essentially consists in the commitment to reality, Peikoff explains, then honesty is the obverse: the rejection of unreality, the recognition that only existence exists.4
honesty means not pretending.'
Because things do not wear their value on their sleeves, it can seem easier to fake values than facts.
A thing's value to a person depends on the role that it plays vis-a-vis his long-term flourishing.
Through dishonesty, a person makes himself dependent on others - on their standards and on their ignorance.
He has chained himself to what they think. Even the "successful" liar is trapped, in other words, in the never-ending need to maintain the facade.
It is not, fundamentally, relations with others that necessitate honesty, she argues; it is reality.
Others' perceptions do not dictate reality any more than one's own do.
This requires that a person develop an active mind, seek knowledge in order to act oil that knowledge, and refuse to fake any item in his mind.28
"constantly expanding one's knowledge, and never evading or failing to correct a contradiction. This means: the development of an active mind as a permanent attitude.
The motivation for the acquisition of knowledge should be action.
A person stands under no moral obligation to divulge his knowledge to an inquiring Nazi.35
an urgent threat to major values. The immediate and rational goal in such circumstances is to escape the threat and minimize the damage. There would be no point, in such cases, in adhering to principles that are designed to aid us in radically different conditions.
Morality ends where a gun begins ... in such emergency situations, no one could prescribe what action is appropriate. That's my answer to all lifeboat questions. Moral rules cannot be prescribed for these situations, because only life is the basis on which to establish a moral code.°
"illness and poverty are not metaphysical emergencies, they are part of the normal risks of existence.") 46 To frame the contrast from a different angle: In a natural emergency, a great value is at risk; in a metaphysical emergency, a person's very mode of survival is immobilized.
It is in these natural emergencies, I think, that the basic principles of morality remain the same,
The application of morality in this type of emergency sanctions one person's taking another's property and demands making it up to him, after the crisis has passed.
Honesty is not intrinsically virtuous or a categorical imperative, to be blindly obeyed regardless of circumstances. Honesty is a practical means of furthering a person's objective values and thus his life. Virtue cannot be properly demanded when it would work against that end, however.
lying in order to placate another person makes emotions the standard of value.52
Lack of candor also carries a further negative consequence: It infuses artificiality into individuals' relationships.
the liar leaves the other person unaware of his actual opinion. The opportunity to put him straight about something-expectations about his job performance, one's taste in clothes, whatever - is lost.
a person should either tell the truth about an issue or refuse to discuss it.
The liar acts as if that person is childishly dependent on his opinions, such that that person's fragile psyche must be protected from the shattering truth. In fact, as Rand observes, telling a man the truth is a form of respect.56
Honesty is the refusal to fake reality. It is the refusal to pretend that things are other than they are, either to others or to oneself.
"one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind."
independence as a primary orientation to reality rather than to other men.
neither his direction, his conclusions, nor his satisfactions from the views of others. He does not act for the sake of others in anyway. Others are not his compass. Reality is.
The exercise of independence requires a belief in one's own basic worth, a quotient of self-esteem that enables a person to view his judgment as capable and his ends as worthy.
the person who is ruled by thoughts of what he is "supposed" to do ("what is expected here?" "what would others think?"),
While a person often should engage others in order to advance his well-being, what is essential for independence - and for his ultimate flourishing - is that a person learn the reasons behind others' opinions rather than accepting them at face value, without question.
Justice is the application of rationality to the evaluation and treatment of other individuals.
`Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men just as you cannot fake the character of nature,"
treating others as they deserve means responding to positive conduct or character with rewards and to negative conduct or character with punishments.
it is important to judge others' character, as far as one is able, because character governs the use that a person will make of any more specific attributes that carry potential impact on other people.
This means that others' virtue contributes to an environment from which I stand to benefit. The more virtuous other people are - the more rational and honest and productive, and so on - the more constructive companions they are to learn from and to trade with.
The way to advance one's life is to be honest about the others one encounters - honest in accepting the need to judge them, in how one judges them, and in
The way to advance one's life is to be honest about the others one encounters - honest in accepting the need to judge them, in how one judges them, and in how one subsequently acts toward them.
justice forbids fence-sitting, pleading ignorance or retreating into agnosticism.
Thanks largely to Rawls, differences have been put on the defensive.
egalitarianism underlies admissions policies whereby certain state universities accept the top x percent of applicants from all high schools in that state, regardless of how bright or prepared those students are. This, it is argued, serves the goal of equal access, which trumps other goals and any other understanding of justice in student selection.
An important practical demand of justice, in Rand's view, is the refusal to sanction evil.
the support of the good is indispensable to the existence of the evil. Drained of that support, the evil would collapse;
Through restitution, reform, and so on, he manifests his judgment that what he did was wrong and not representative of the kind of person he wishes to be. In the absence of his meeting these conditions, however, forgiveness would sanction the wrong and leave the victim vulnerable to more of the same.
Forgiveness, then, must be earned, on Rand's view. A person should not forgive others on faith or out of blind "good will"
To temper justice with mercy is to inject injustice into one's dealings. Doing so is wrong for the same basic reason that is by now familiar: Faking others' character does not change their character or its impact on one's life.
By their nature, had actions create burdens and do damage. Mercy lets those who cause the damage off the hook (the hook being the need for compensation). If the guilty do not pay the compensation, as Rand observes, then the innocent must.
Freedom is the absence of other people's interference with a person's ability to govern his own actions.
Freedom is necessary for rationality, Rand argues, because a mind cannot be forced.
A person deserves things because of what he does, as a response to his conduct and character. A person possesses rights, by contrast, simply in virtue of his nature as a human being.
The question of what a person's rights entitle him to, however, is distinct from the question of how another person should treat him
Because a person's values stand to be helped or harmed by the conduct and character of other people, a person needs to assess others' probable impact on his values and to treat others accordingly in order to promote his long-term flourishing.
Rand describes integrity as "loyalty to one's convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one's values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality."'
one must "never sacrifice one's convictions to the opinions or wishes of others."'
Peikoff refers to integrity as "the principle of being principled" because integrity reflects the realization that human beings need principles to guide us.
it is frequently the fear of some unwanted social repercussions that overtakes a person's commitment to his values.
To commit to a principle is to decide in advance how one should act when confronting certain kinds of choices.
integrity demands a conscientious effort to identify the principles that should guide a person's life.
Self-confidence (the relevant type here, although I will henceforth refer to it simply as "confidence") is a person's positive assessment of his capacity to manage his affairs. It is the conviction of his ability to attain his goals and achieve his happiness.
Integrity requires confidence inasmuch as confidence fortifies a person to remain faithful to his convictions.
An additional practical requirement of integrity is courage. Courage is a matter of acting on behalf of one's values in especially dangerous or fearful circumstances.
Fear is a feeling and as such, not within a person's direct, immediate control. The experience of fear could not, therefore, be either virtuous or vicious. What distinguishes the courageous person is his refusal to allow the sheer experience of fear or perception of danger to deter him from the pursuit of his values.
productive work should be the central purpose of a person's life.
Productiveness is "the process of creating material values, whether goods or services."'
productiveness as "the adjustment of nature to man,"
What makes a material value material and what makes a material value valuable are two distinct attributes. A thing's value depends on the relationship in which it stands to an individual's long-term survival. We do not need to know anything about a thing's value to know whether it is material, however. The only consideration needed to establish that is whether the thing has physical existence, nonmental reality. If it does, it is material.
Productiveness refers to one particular type of life-advancing action: the creation of material values.
Productiveness is the process "by which man's consciousness controls his existence," "by which man's mind sustains his life."
"Every type of productive work," Rand maintains, "involves a combination of mental and physical effort: of thought and of physical action to translate that thought into a material form." It is simply the "proportion of these two elements [that] varies in different types of Like
union of both intellectual and physical effort is needed for any productive work.
Productive work is not simply an element of a good life; it is the central element.
A person's central purpose is the paramount end by reference to which that person can determine the importance to assign to other things in his life; it is the anchor and standard for a rational hierarchy of values, allowing him to prioritize various ends and, correspondingly, to be rational in his pursuit of them.
Rich or not, to drive his life materially (even if not financially) and spiritually - to attain the various spiritual values that productiveness uniquely makes possible - a person must invest in some productive activity that his life is about.
The breathless, ceaseless reaching for more that precludes the enjoyment of one's life (and which is all too common) defeats the point of productiveness. It is not what Rand is endorsing. The point of exercising any virtue is to achieve the best life possible for oneself.
Both material and spiritual fuel are vital to human life, thus it would be a mistake to condemn the pursuit of either, as such. Although either material or spiritual values can be pursued irrationally, neither is by nature base or unworthy of us.
Productiveness is the process of creating material values. Like the independent person, the productive person accepts responsibility for making his own way in the world, refusing to attempt to live off of others' achievements.
pride is "the commitment to achieve one's own moral perfection."'
Because the essence of morality is rationality, moral perfection, in turn, consists of an "unbreached rationality."
pride as a policy of action and regards the feeling of pride as simply a by-product of a person's abiding by such a policy.
pride is not simply an after-the-fact satisfaction (justified as such satisfaction might be), but a forward-looking ambition that drives a person to act as morality requires.
"As a rule, a man of achievement does not flaunt his achievements," Rand observes, and "he does not evaluate himself by others - by a comparative standard. His attitude is not `I am better than you' but `I am good.""
pride is necessary for self-esteem, and self-esteem is necessary for human life.
Because human beings choose our actions, what we choose forges our individual characters.
The pivotal fact that gives rise to the propriety of pride is our need for self-esteem and the essential role of pride in building it.
pride demands doing one's best.
ambition consists in the systematic pursuit of challenging goals and of constant improvement in regard to such goals.
A further means of being morally ambitious lies in the refusal to coast or vegetate.
One means of doing this is by assigning himself specific projects of moral improvement.
Lending help in response to a person's need can be appropriate, but need by itself never makes it appropriate.
When a person is in a position to be generous with someone whose success he values more than he values alternative uses of the relevant resources, to fail to be generous would be hypocrisy.
Rand does endorse generosity only when it represents a rational trade.
A person could give others more than they have reason to expect while still gaining value from doing so. The insistence that he cannot is baseless.
That an agent gets something out of a generous action - or even that he does it because he believes that he will get something out of it - does not eradicate its generosity. It does not erase the fact that he is giving another person more than that person can reasonably expect.
Unlike charity, kindness is not restricted to giving aid and is not necessarily a response to another person's need.
First of all, kindness is a means of furthering the agent's values. To the extent that a person cares about the people to whom he is kind, he is helping those individuals by making their path, if ever so slightly, smoother.
the experience of others' kindness often does have the effect of putting people in a more hospitable mode.
if a person finds a kinder environment congenial, his own kindness can help to bring that about.
kindness can offer definite value to an egoist and therefore will often be appropriate.
Kindness, in short, is an affirmation of value - of a particular recipient's distinctive value, when the agent knows the recipient, or of the value of human life as such, when he does not. Accordingly, if a person values his fellow human beings and has no reason to think a particular individual unworthy of kindness, it is fine to perform acts of kindness on suitable occasions.
rational egoist should be kind selectively and nonsacrificially.
While charity, generosity, and kindness concern a person's relations with others, temperance concerns a person's management of his self-regarding desires.75
the proper ideal for a rational egoist is not to mute or moderate his desires, but, when determining whether to act on them, to recognize the full context.
temperance is proper, and it is so because it is an exercise of reason; it is never a good in itself.
neither charity, generosity, kindness, nor temperance qualifies as a virtue, on Rand's theory. To deny that these are virtues is not to condemn them as vices. Each is compatible with rational egoism, under the right conditions.
The code that Rand prescribes does not call for the conquest of others. Nor is it hedonistic, materialistic, or emotionalistic.
human being's flourishing requires his adherence to rational principles. Rationality reflects the respect for reality that is a prerequisite of human survival.
The egoist who emerges from Rand's theory is a person of principle who exercises the virtues of rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride.
LOVE IS SELFISH
To love another person is to value him highly.
One person loves another for specific qualities that he possesses, such as his inquisitiveness or playfulness or idealism or ambition.
"Concern for the welfare of those one loves is a rational part of one's selfish interests. If a man who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, it would be absurd to claim that he does it as a `sacrifice' for her sake, not his own, and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies."
I am better off when a person I love enjoys some significant success (a major achievement in his career, for instance) because the flourishing of someone who is of value to me strengthens my own capacity to flourish.
Friendship increases our stake in the world and thus our capacity for emotions; it makes us feel more, she writes, and enables us to have life "more abundantly."
"Love, friendship, respect, admiration are the emotional responses of one man to the virtues of another, the spiritual payment given in exchange for the personal, selfish pleasure which one man derives from the virtues of another man's character.
LOVING A PERSON FOR HIMSELF
The ideal of unconditional love, in other words, is fraudulent. Love rests on reasons. Only certain causes will generate love.
loving a person for his own sake does not mean loving him for no reason, without grounds. Rather, it means loving him forwho he is as an individual, for his thoughts, actions, and character.
The basic idea applicable to friendship is that when one person loves another, he loves that individual for specific qualities that he possesses.
he loves a person because of who that person is; the person's character is such that it gives the egoist pleasure.
"The Objectivist does not say `I value only myself.' He says: `If you are a certain kind of person, you become thereby a value to me, in the furtherance of my own life and happiness.'
That self-interest is the egoist's overriding concern does not entail that it is his exclusive concern.
rational egoist can love another person for himself in the sense that is crucial for such friendship. Loving a person for himself does not mean offering love as a sacrifice, which obviously would contradict the prescriptions of egoism. It means, rather, loving a person for his specific character - not for no reasons, as some urge, and not for incidental reasons that are inessential to his character. The egoist will love another person because that person isvaluable to him and because of who thatperson is.