Other People as Egoistic Values Versus Other People as Objects of Self-Sacrifice in Ayn Rand’s Philosophy

Ayn Rand, novelist and philosopher of Objectivism, a philosophy for living on Earth.

Ayn Rand

Objectivism, the philosophy of the novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand, is well known for advocating the pursuit of your own self-interest. Many people take this to mean that Ayn Rand thought that you should ignore the well-being of other people. But this is not what Ayn Rand thought, and this is not what Objectivism says. Objectivism holds that contributing to other people’s well-being can be in your self-interest, even if they are not involved in a monetary, business relationship with you. This potentially includes helping friends, lovers, children and even strangers.

Why did Ayn Rand hold this view? How is loving and helping others consistent with pure self-interest? These are questions that this article will answer.

Objectivism Rejects Materialism and “Range-of-the-Moment” Pleasure Seeking

In order to understand why Objectivism holds the position it does on helping other people, there are a couple of common misconceptions of “self-interest” that need to be rejected.

The first is that self-interest is materialistic: that is, that acting in a self-interested way means acting only to satisfy your physical needs, without concern for spiritual (i.e. mental or psychological) values.

But for human beings, “materialistic self-interest” is an absurd idea that Objectivism rejects. If self-interest were materialistic, then going to see any movie, no matter how good, entertaining, inspiring or emotionally powerful, would not be in your self-interest. You are no better off physically after seeing a movie than you were before, so there is no physical value to the movie. The same would go for video games, museums, roller coasters, Halloween parties, and all similar forms of entertainment. Instead of going out to eat with other people, you would always be best served eating a healthy and inexpensive meal at home. Sex would best be avoided, in favor of vigorous exercise. Et cetera. Continue reading

Philosopher Greg Salmieri (of Rutgers University) Discusses Ayn Rand’s Moral Philosophy on the Elucidations Podcast

The Library Research Pavilion at the University of Chicago, whose philosophy department produces the Elucidations podcast

The Library Research Pavilion at the University of Chicago, (whose philosophy department produces the Elucidations podcast.)

The Elucidations podcast has released an interview with Professor Greg Salmieri on Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy. This is a great interview, especially for those who don’t know that Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy supports friendship, benevolence and helping other people in certain ways and under certain circumstances.

The interview also does a good job of presenting Ayn Rand’s basic approach to morality and moral thinking.

Listen here:

Elucidations, Episode 73: Greg Salmieri discusses Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy

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Related Posts:

Introduction to Objectivism

Why the Philosophy of Objectivism is Still Relevant and Needed in the Age of Modern Science

Why “Selfishness” Doesn’t Properly Mean Being Shortsighted and Harmful to Others

Ayn Rand’s Philosophy vs. Abortion Bans: Why a Fetus Doesn’t Have Rights

The Wages of Altruism: Domestic Abuse

The Ayn Rand Institute’s 2015 Summer Conference (OCON) Just Wrapped Up

The Ayn Rand Institute (ARI) holds a conference every summer in a different city. Objectivists, students of Objectivism, and other people interested in Ayn Rand‘s philosophy travel from around the country to meet each other and hear talks by experts in various fields. The speakers discuss the ideas of Objectivism and their applications in life, science, and the arts, and answer questions from the audience. It is a very educational event, and a way to meet new people interested in ideas. (For the veterans of OCONs past, it’s also a chance to see old friends.) I definitely recommend it.

I went to OCON 2014 in Las Vegas, but was unable to go this year. But I look forward to videos of some of the major talks being released on ARI’s YouTube channel, as they were for OCON 2014.

There’s a fee to attend OCON, but that fee is reduced quite dramatically for current students and young adults. (Students can even apply for scholarships to cover the costs of travel and lodging.) If you are a student or young adult, I especially recommend taking the opportunity to attend at least one OCON. It’s a great opportunity to take a break from mundane things, meet great people, and learn more about Ayn Rand’s deep philosophy in a benevolent, congenial and exciting atmosphere.

You can subscribe to the Ayn Rand Institute’s Facebook and Twitter pages to see announcements when registration for next year’s OCON is open.

Here is the cvent page for OCON 2015, and here’s a list of upcoming ARI events.

Here are a couple of talks from last year’s OCON:

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Introduction to Objectivism

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Why the Philosophy of Objectivism is Still Relevant and Needed in the Age of Modern Science

Barred spiral galaxy in space. Represents science and philosophy.Many people distrust abstract philosophical ideas and ideals. There are a couple of related reasons for this: 1) They hold that abstract ideas “oversimplify” reality, ensuring that they always fail to properly capture it, and 2) They think that abstract ideas outside of the natural sciences are generally faith-based dogma, or “armchair” speculation. (In either case, this means they think the ideas are put forward without sufficient supporting evidence.)

In regard to Number 1, I’d like to point out that all human concepts “simplify reality” in a sense: they all ignore differences between particular objects to focus on features common to a class of objects. For example, the concept “chair” refers to every particular chair you have ever encountered or will encounter. This means that it omits the countless differences between any two particular chairs. (Even if two chairs look identical at a macroscopic level, they almost certainly have countless differences at a microscopic level.) All other concepts function in a similar way: they ignore certain differences between things, for the sake of classifying them and integrating them into a single mental unit, represented by one word (“chair,” “dog,” etc.)

Yet the similarities that proper concepts such as “chair” capture are real and important, and it is not an oversimplification to say that all things called “chairs” (without qualification or modification) are made to allow someone to sit on them. Virtually no one accuses ideas about chairs of “oversimplifying reality”: Someone who speaks of chairs typically understands that he can always give more information about a particular chair by providing a description.

Classifying and simplifying reality by means of concepts is the human way of dealing with reality in thought, and it is very powerful, when done properly. Human beings have used the simplifying concepts of the natural sciences to cure diseases, increase food production per farmhand manyfold, extend the average human lifespan by over thirty years, build skyscrapers, and land on the moon. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that simplifying concepts stop working at any level of abstraction (breadth of generalization) or at any level of complexity. The simple principles of Einstein’s relativity are highly abstract: they apply to all physical phenomena in the known universe, (when the scale under consideration is not too small) and to all the immense complexity of gravitational interactions between visible objects and light rays in galaxies. Continue reading

Why “Selfishness” Doesn’t Properly Mean Being Shortsighted and Harmful to Others

Carpenter Working with Pencil and HammerThe definitions of the terms we use have consequences for our ability to think and communicate clearly.

Imagine for a moment that your friend told you that he defines “carpenter” as “one who shapes wood by shooting it with a gun.” You’re baffled and you ask him what word he uses for someone who shapes wood by other means, such as a saw, lathe, and/or sander. He says that he really has no word for this. He has a couple of synonyms for “carpenter,” but they also carry the implication that the person shaping the wood used a gun.

Hopefully, you can see that the problem with this hypothetical situation is not merely that you and your friend are using terms differently: shooting wood with a gun is a terribly impractical way of shaping it into useful forms. If the only concepts you have of wood shaping mean using a gun to do it, then you can’t really talk about those who shape wood using the practical methods in their profession.

Ayn Rand held that the common concept of “selfishness” is in an exactly analogous position to your hypothetical friend’s use of “carpenter.” At root, “selfishness” means pursuing one’s own interests and well-being. But the common use today adds in a second element: “pursuing your interests/well-being by means that are shortsighted and hurtful to others.” In today’s culture, the approximate synonyms of “selfishness,” such as “egoism” and “self-interest,” tend to be regarded with the same connotations of shortsightedness and harmfulness, so they are not much different.

Yet Ayn Rand rejected the idea that being shortsighted and hurtful to others is inherent in pursuing one’s interests and well-being. In fact, she recognized that the pursuit of one’s genuine interests in everyday life is specifically the opposite of “shortsighted and hurtful to others.” An individual’s genuine interests require long-term planning to fulfill, and his well-being is not served by doing harm to others. Attempting to pursue one’s self-interest by shortsighted and hurtful means is like trying to shape wood into a beautiful chair by shooting it with a pistol: utterly doomed to failure. Continue reading

Objectivism for Dummies?

Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff

A more in-depth, book-length overview of Objectivism.

I find it a bit strange that one of the top Google auto-completes I see for “Objectivism” is “Objectivism for dummies,” considering that there is no “For Dummies” book on this topic. But what it indicates is that there is significant interest in a basic, understandable introduction to Objectivism, the philosophy of the novelist and philosopher, Ayn Rand.

If this is what you want, I’d like to recommend my Introduction to Objectivism page. Not only does it have a clear and straightforward presentation of the philosophy of Objectivism, but it also has a large number of links to resources for learning more.

Introduction to Objectivism

I’d also like to recommend reading Ayn Rand’s novels, such as Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainheadif you haven’t recently–to get a fuller feel for the type of person that Objectivism praises, and the type of life that it holds out as an ideal. As I like to caution, however, Rand’s novels are romantic novels, and they feature extraordinary and dramatic situations. The principles her ideal heroes live by are the ones she advocates, but one must be careful about being too literal, (or, in Ayn Rand’s terminology, “concrete-bound” or “anti-conceptual”) in applying those principles to real life.

Happy learning! :-)

Sword of Apollo

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On This Memorial Day, Let Us Remember, Not “Sacrifice,” But Those Who Fight for Freedom

The U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard marches during pass in review during the closing of a Battle Color Detachment ceremony at Eisenhower High School, Rialto, Calif., on March 4, 2012.Every Memorial Day, we hear speeches from government leaders praising what they call the sacrifices of American soldiers. On Memorial Day 2013, President Obama said:

[N]ot all Americans may always see or fully grasp the depth of sacrifice, the profound costs that are made in our name — right now, as we speak, every day.

On Memorial Day 2014, Obama said this:

Early this morning, I returned from Afghanistan. Yesterday, I visited with some of our men and women serving there — 7,000 miles from home. For more than 12 years, men and women like those I met with have borne the burden of our nation’s security. Now, because of their profound sacrifice, because of the progress they have made, we’re at a pivotal moment. Our troops are coming home. By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to end. And yesterday at Bagram, and here today at Arlington, we pay tribute to the nearly 2,200 American patriots who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. We will honor them, always.

But is it really “sacrifice” that we properly honor on Memorial Day? Or is it something else that we should be focusing on?

On September 11, 2001, 19 Muslim totalitarians boarded American planes and flew them into the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon, and the ground in Pennsylvania. What they did was a sacrifice of their lives for the sake of killing “the enemy” and defending what they saw as the sanctity, purity and salvation of their people against the “corrupting” influences of the “decadent” West. Was this act noble because it was a sacrifice? No?

Then it is not sacrifice per se that we properly honor on Memorial Day, since we do not honor all of those who sacrifice for any cause. Is it then the sacrifice of oneself for the sake of freedom? Is this what we properly honor?

Well, let us ask: How many American soldiers do you know of who go into battle intending to die there? How many go intending to lose limbs? How many go intending to lose friends? If what we honor and revere is sacrifice in the name of freedom–if it is sacrifice that is a good thing, then every soldier and his family should hope that he dies in battle. If the size of the sacrifice in the name of freedom is the standard of moral worthiness in a soldier, then losing his life is the greatest good he can accomplish. If he can’t manage that, then he should at least strive to suffer major injury.

Yet the attitude of wanting to die or be maimed in battle is quite properly abhorrent to most Americans. It shows that the soldier places little value on his life; he does not have the self-esteem to love his life, to want to live it, and thus to love those who enrich that life, such as friends, family and lovers.

So what is it that we properly honor on Memorial Day? It is the love of freedom, and the dedication to fight for it when necessary for its defense.

Freedom is a profoundly good thing for each individual in a society. It is good because it supports and furthers human life and happiness. It allows people to choose what values they wish to pursue based on their own best judgment and enables them to achieve great things. It is in each individual’s best interest to be free, and it is in their enlightened self-interest to fight for that freedom when it is threatened.

We should honor those who are so dedicated to the goodness that is freedom, that they willingly risk their lives to fight for it when it is threatened. They make the decision to risk their lives because they love their freedom and will not stand for its loss. They might die in battle, but that is not their goal and the risk they take is not a sacrifice on their part. Their goal is to defend their freedom and live to enjoy it.

With this standard of the noble defense of one’s own freedom–and the freedom of good people one cares deeply about–in mind, it is incumbent on each of us to look carefully at the wars the US leadership has been asking American soldiers to fight. Are they really necessary as defenses of American freedom, or are they attempts to “help” others who are unwilling to help themselves? If the people of a country are unwilling to be dedicated enough to freedom to really fight for it, and to enact it into law, in the form of protections of individual rights, then it is not a good thing for our soldiers to risk their lives for these people’s “self-determination.” They are risking their lives–putting themselves and their loved ones’ future well-being in jeopardy–for a cause that will not result in good things in the long run. Thus, it is also not good to ask or pressure them to fight in these types of wars.

I consider the deaths of soldiers who died in wars, other than those in defense of American liberty and American interests, terrible tragedies and wastes of human life. These soldiers should be remembered for the good things they did in their civilian life. Those who have fought for what they deeply and genuinely believed would defend liberty and safety in their own country–whether they have lived or died–deserve special praise and admiration. Their military service was an expression of their good character and their dedication to the value of freedom.

Let us thank these admirable individuals and may they always be remembered with great respect and love on Memorial Day.

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