Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Comment on Rational Egoism

Rational egoism refers to an entire ethical system originated by Ayn Rand. The system rests on the recognition that man's means of survival is his mind. It identifies the ruling values a man should hold and the virtues his life requires.

In essence, rational egoism recognizes that in order to support his life, man must think. He must figure out what he needs (his values) in order to live, and how to gain them (his virtues). The rational egoist is the individual who recognizes that he must exert intellectual and physical effort in order to survive and that it is good and right for him to keep and dispose of the result of his efforts as he chooses.

An essential aspect of Ayn Rand's ethics is the nature and meaning of the self. Miss Rand's view of the self is revolutionary. For millennium all religions and all ethical systems, have viewed the self as born sinful, evil by nature and pre-determined. The self, it was asserted, must be whipped and controlled by the state or religious authorities in order to curb, if not crush, vicious thoughts and demonic actions. Such a view of the self is in essence the Nietzschean brute, the only difference being that Nietzsche said such a creature is good, while other ethical systems said such a creature is bad. In all cases, the self was commanded to live for others in order to be moral. And if one did not choose to live for others, the state and/or the church saw to it that one was forced to do so. The initiation of force, inherent in any advocacy that man must live for others, was thus made into a moral good.

Miss Rand, in contrast, showed that the self is that aspect of the individual that thinks and judges and chooses and acts, and that the self is formed by one's own choices and actions. One's choices and actions reflect the thinking one has done, or has not.

Concern with one's choices and actions is concern with one's own interests, which means one cares about one's life and its quality. To be concerned with one's own interest on a fundamental level is to be concerned with one's own estimate of the moral stature of one's self, which is egoism. To evade such concern is to be guided by other's say-so, which is anti-egoism, or as Miss Rand's coined description: the second hander.

A fascinating dramatization of the essential qualities of the rational self is Howard Roark in The Fountainhead. The abstract meaning of the self is neatly summed by Gayle Wynand, in the same novel, during the battle over Cortland Homes.

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1 Comments:

At November 25, 2009 at 10:32 AM , Blogger Books with Heroes said...

Thank you. Your summary of perhaps the most complex concept in Objectivism is clear and succinct - in fact I congratulate you on your use of a minimum number of words to do this. I hope to see more of your efforts.

Cecil R. Williams

 

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