Altruism is vice? Ayn Rand and selfishness admired?

I've been reading more of my philosophical opponents work and would like to hear more from it's proponents.

Admittedly I've not read all of Rand's work including her "The Virtue of Selfishness" (given the perceived irrationality of the title) but I've researched enough through recommended reading by her supporters/web site.

I believe I understand correctly that there are fundamental differences in rational egoism and ethical egoism but they are both egoism in that they are driven by an interest of the self. Altruism, egoism's polar opposite, if I understand it correctly is driven by a moral imperative (whether real or perceived) toward selflessness and an interest in other selves.

It seems to me at least that the understandings of what we have come to know as "virtue" and "vice" must be turned upside down to embrace Rands perspective. While I find the arguments regarding rational egoism compelling in their confines...I believe they can say nothing regarding morality. In addition I find that ethical egoism is not ethical at all... in that it must of needs be an abandonment of altruism.

Your thoughts are appreciated; Peace; DD


EDIT: Thanks Ardi (the question was posed with you in mind after re-reading your links to Rand's site in another Q)

I would agree that the dictionary definition of selfishness is not of neccesity connected with a perceived evil. Yet this still doesn't answer IMO Why one would come to believe that altruism was not virtuous or that selfishness was not vice. I'm really trying hard to understand it better

Note I've conceeded that the arguments for rational egoism are compelling, but can say nothing of morality...Would you agree?

Update 2:

EDIT2 @Ardi Thanks for your response I can accept that a "hard" understanding of Altruism might be considered a morally wrong to the self which also demands justice..However, Would you accept that the understanding of "soft" altruism (which allows for the validity of the value of the self) adhered to by most is virtuous? If so why? It has no merit in the self.

4 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Favorite Answer

    You are right, in a sense, to say ""virtue" and "vice" must be turned upside down to embrace Rands perspective."

    "The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word “selfishness” is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual “package-deal,” which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

    "In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

    "Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness” is: concern with one’s own interests."

    Backing that up is the highly respected Dictionary of Philosophy which, long before Rand became famous, described ego as "The individual self, conceived as a series of conscious acts and contents which the mind is capable of cognizing by direct introspection."

    There is no moral evaluation in that. The evaluation comes from the idea that, "If it is true that what I mean by “selfishness” is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others."

    But most people dispute this because they define the "soft" version of altruism, "the pursuit of the good of others, whether motivated by either self-centered or other-centered interest, or whether by disinterested duty."

    But Rand went with the original definition devised by Comte, meaning self-abnegation, self-denial, a life DEVOTED to the good of others, not merely interested in their well being, as you can see in the link above.

    Accepting that "hard" definition was the only one that made sense, because the soft one can be nothing more than "random acts of kindness" which is NOT what Comte meant, and NOT what the altruist-absolutists like Mother Theresa meant.

    "Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good."

    Comte took "the self as the standard of evil" in his definition. The soft definition is not the one Rand despised. It is the hard definition she despised., because "real" altruism means the ego, the self, the driving force behind our evolution into Aristotle's "rational animal", is the ego as Evil. Rand took ego to be the standard of the good, when it is applied rationally. (Rational egoism.)

  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    Rand's ecenomics and metaphysics are spectacular, but her thoughts on ethics go astray from the very first principle; namely that life is the highest virtue. I'm sure you can immediately come up with many counter examples like I did. Just because there are exceptions doesn't make it a false theory, it's more that it misses the objectivity and experience of virtue.

    I myself would not say that altruism (as a method) is any better than her view of ethics. My understanding is that altruism is an ex post facto judgment rather than something that you actively do. Your intentions may be golden and terminate millions of jews. That to me seems proof enough that altruism is not a method (or valid method) to achieve virtue.

    My understanding comes in large part from listening to an ex objectivist named Stefan Molyneux of I listen to his podcast daily.

  • mattei
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    Yaoi: without Ayn Rand speaking approximately Jesus costs this subject count has no experience. with a view to make this have some relevance i choose a Jesus quote being analyzed by employing Ayn Rand. merely examining her asserting Jesus had to shop our souls isn't sufficient.

  • Bruce
    Lv 7
    1 decade ago

    Ayn Rand knew how to get people's attention, but I suspect that the problem is related to people's confusion about the free-market pursuit of profits (good) and altruistic charitable work (also good).

    Those who imagine that socialistic coercion programs actually bring benefits are not thinking clearly. Rand as a libertarian recognized that these programs usually hurt everyone: They directly injure those whose property is seized, and they indirectly impoverish those who respond to the artificial incentives for idleness, promiscuity, and drug and alcohol abuse, and against education, chastity, work, and savings. All of us lose out when resources that could have been used to build wealth and invent new technologies are diverted to wasteful redistribution.

    To get a profit in a free market, we have to produce goods and services people want at prices they are willing to pay. When people are allowed to keep what they earn in free markets, they are better able to help those in crisis who need immediate aid.



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