Mantrid asked in Arts & HumanitiesPhilosophy · 1 decade ago

Questions about Ayn Rand's Objectivism?

I've not read Rand, but I have some questions about the core of her ideas for her fans.

Firstly, I have a problem with self-interest being the highest moral purpose. If it brings someone great pleasure to see their enemies suffer, providing no violence is involved (for example if I use humiliation or starvation) is it morally right in objectivism to pursue this? How about seducing another man's wife or corrupting his child, using her as a play thing for my own gratification, is this morally just in objectivism?

Secondly, she argues for laissez-faire capitalism while supporting patents and copyrights. Calling information "property" is just wordplay, intellectual property is actually a state regulation, a mechanism which converts a service into a product. I would like to know how this is justified, when other regulations are argued against. Can we just pick any regulation and call it a property, and it works with Rand's capitalism?

I'd also like to know whether violence should be used or the state should intervene to prevent one dominant force having a monopoly on everything and turning the free market into a master-slave system. For example if everyone must work 80 hours a week for barely enough money to feed their families, because I own all the means of production and set the rate of pay and the price of food to extort as much work from the people as possible.

Does Rand have a solution to damaging monopolies, without economic intervention by the state, or is her idea of capitalism this obviously flawed?

Update:

Yaoi, all self-interest is emotional interest. It is in the self interest of sociopaths to cause pain to others. It is in the self interest of men to have sex with as many women as possible. It's in the interest of businessmen to buy low and sell high regardless of any human cost.

Also you miss the point on IP law, which is one of regulation in a supposedly "laissez-faire" system. Without IP law there would be no movie rights to begin with.

DoaTF, monopolies don't just happen by force, they can also be caused by barriers to entry. Take telecommunications networks for example.

Patents were supposed to stop people from keeping secrets, society grants a monopoly to inventors for a short time in return for the blueprints to the invention.

It doesn't make sense to me that Rand is against minimum wage and trade agreements on the grounds that they are economic intervention by the state, yet agrees with patent and copyright law.

Update 2:

Also, I just realised that the question about monopolies is wrong. As pointed out, if there are monopolies then the market isn't completely free. So what mechanisms would Rand's capitalism require to keep the market free. Or does it do this automatically?

Maybe I should ask this in another question.

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    First I would like to state that I do not consider myself an Objectivist, nor do I have any fancy degrees in Rand studies. I am, however, a libertarian, so I do agree with _some_ aspects of Objectivism.

    Regarding self-interest, she is actually talking about _rational_ self-interest. That means taking into account that your actions do not happen in a vacuum; they have consequences, which if you are stupid may come back to bite you quite severely. In this sense you could almost say that Rand believed in karma, not in a supernatural sense but a kind of societal karma. Perhaps consequentialism would be a more accurate term. It could then be argued that the Golden Rule is a derivative of rational self-interest; being bad to others simply isn't in your own best interest.

    Intellectual property is one area where I have a mild disagreement with Rand. I would not call IP a service, just information. Services and goods are both commodities, which can be bought, sold, traded, and stolen. Information is in a unique class though in that although it may take (considerable) resources to create or discover it, it can then be replicated for essentially zero cost. As such, information can not really be "stolen", merely copied.

    Copyrights and patents are not the same thing. Copyrights are merely an indication of who created the information (e.g. an author writing a book). Patents, OTOH, are basically a state-enforced monopoly over use of a piece of information (like a new invention). While I can understand the argument that such protection is needed in order to stimulate creation of new products (because who would want to spend millions on R&D if your competitors could then benefit from your efforts?), I don't see why patents need be gov't-enforced. They could be contractual instead, requiring anyone in possession of the product to not reverse-engineer it or otherwise use the underlying research for their own gain. I could go into more detail on this, but this answer is already getting to be too long.

    On the question of state intervention to break up a monopoly, I think economists have pretty well established that this is not necessary in most instances. Monopolies are only economically stable if they are supported by gov't law. (And indeed, many of history's monopolies have only been able to remain monopolies by having gov't prevent the entrance of competitors.) The worse the monopoly is, the greater the pressure is for new competitors to enter the market. As for your master-slave scenario, that has to my knowledge never happened in history...again, at least not without direct gov't support. Subsistence wages and slave working conditions are overwhelmingly something done by governments, not companies. So it could be argued that the solution to damaging monopolies is not to get the state involved, but to get the state uninvolved from its support for the monopoly.

  • 1 decade ago

    "If it brings someone great pleasure to see their enemies suffer, providing no violence is involved (for example if I use humiliation or starvation) is it morally right in objectivism to pursue this?"

    [EDIT - I misread that quite badly. That is sadism, even if it is non-violent...though sadism is arguably an offshoot of hedonism. Anyway, that is not a pursuit of rational self interest, it is an emotional pursuit based upon someone else, not self protection or betterment.]

    "all self-interest is emotional interest"

    No, self interest can be either emotional or rational (or, as it is in the real world: a bit of both). The idea that reason is our primary method of survival (according to Rand) means it SHOULD be primary in our definition of self interest.

    "Calling information "property" is just wordplay, intellectual property is actually a state regulation, a mechanism which converts a service into a product."

    It is the ability to share (or not) that makes it property. Regulation simply formalizes the concept and gives it force of law.

    "I would like to know how this is justified, when other regulations are argued against."

    Rand does not advocate anarchy, but rather a minimal government, and that government's primary (I think she may have stated ONLY) objective SHOULD be the protection of individual rights. When regulations provide for rights of groups above individual rights is where objectivism says regulations must stop.

    "I'd also like to know whether violence should be used or the state should intervene to prevent one dominant force having a monopoly on everything and turning the free market into a master-slave system."

    I am not sure she ever took on the problems of monopolies, because she seemed to believe the only monopolies out there were governments, or that monopolies could only exist due to goverment intervention. Something like that. It has been several years since I last read any of her work.

    "Does Rand have a solution to damaging monopolies, without economic intervention by the state, or is her idea of capitalism this obviously flawed?"

    It is flawed, though her arguments are valid. The problem is most followers of objectivism do not know the difference between a valid argument and a sound argument. Most (if not all) of Ayn's arguments are perfectly valid, but few are sound. It is not merely her concept of capitalism is flawed, there are abundant problems with her concepts of ego, reason, and intellect, upon which the whole of her philosophy is based. This is not to say objectivism is worthless, but it is flawed. This is recognized even amongst objectivists, which divide themselves amongst big "O" and little "o" objectivists. I'll let you guess how that division goes :-)

  • 1 decade ago

    There are some excellent resources on the web for reading about Ayn Rand. You don't need to read a novel to get the basic premise.

    On your first question, morality is a guide to action, not a purpose in and of itself. The goal is to live fully and happily. To pursue this goal, one must find the requirements. Rational self-interest, or Rational Selfishness, is the guide to desired goal.

    On your second question, all products are products of the mind. The inventor who finds a way to use oil has created a great value. The oil existed in nature, but man's mind made it valuable. Even the man who digs a trench employees some measurable amount of skill and knowledge. If we are to protect things of value, then we must protect intellectual property because there is no other source of value.

    As to your third question, a monopoly can only persist through the use of force. If, like in our society, only government can use force, then government is the force that causes monopolies. In the short term, there may be only one source for a particular product. In the long term, free men with free minds will always find alternatives.

    The most valuable input into any endeavor is the people. As long as people are free, no one can own all the "means of production" because no one owns me. If someone or some government uses force to enslave me, it will not be my mind that they enslave and it will not be products of my mind they get.

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    I will answer, but I will not defend.

    Self-interest is in the form of rational egoism. This is not the same as ethical rationalism. http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/egoism.htm#SH2a

    It is not in one's self-interest to take "great pleasure to see their enemies suffer." This is not the means nor the goal of rational egoism. Humiliation is psychological force, when done for the purpose of humiliation. If a person is humiliated simply by being told the truth, or chastised for a poor job performance, or by a judge for being a horrible citizen, then it's subjective on the part of the person who feels the humiliation. But if you do it by initiating it as a means to psychologically devastate your opponent, it is as bad as physically assaulting him.

    If you spend 15 year writing a novel that turns into a best seller that turns into a movie, and everyone and his sister has the right to publish it without paying you so that your book sales go down, or your record sales go down, or your movie sales go down, etc, then you are not compensated justly according to what your publisher or record company or productions company has promised when they purchased the rights from you. Writing Atlas Shrugged was not a "service" for anyone but Rand herself, and if she is not properly compensated, it wasn't in her own best interest to write it.

    The laws, however have been stretched far, far to far. Rights to a work of fiction extend 70 years beyond the life of the author. If she wrote a book at the age of 18 and lived to 100, the property rights would exist for 152 years. That's ridiculous. The public domain needs to kick in much sooner, because when a phrase like "Who is John Galt?" begins to take on real meaning in the mind of the public, they need to be able to use it. But the author who wrote it needs protection too. I don't know the pros and cons of the arguments well enough to pick "how long." But I know that a creation of the mind that exists in a picture or in words or in the mathematical symmetry of music belongs to the author as much as a new invention belongs to the inventor.

    Without patents and copyrights there could be no laissez faire.

    I'm done. I'm not going to answer what Rand has already answered. But on hundreds of subjects you can find your own answers here http://aynrandlexicon.com/

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    The only moral way to stop a monopoly is with free market.

    There are only two ways of destroying a monopoly without free market: by stealing the big company and dividing it in small companies or by forcing customers to buy things in companies they don't like.

    So, by desiring to "give a solution" to monopolies with "economic intervention by the state", you want to steal and you want to enslave people. Is your point of view so obviously immoral?

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    "Does Rand have a solution to damaging monopolies, without economic intervention by the state, or is her idea of capitalism this obviously flawed?"

    Her ideas aren't flawed; just your comprehension. Spend some time actually reading and trying to understand her views, and then see where that gets you.

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