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Module 12: Ayn Rand and the Ethics of Self-Interest. Philosophy 240: Introductory Ethics Online CCBC Author: Daniel G. Jenkins, MA Updated May 2008. This module is meant to accompany “Chapter 5: Ethical Egoism” in Rachels’ The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 5 th edition. Module Goals:

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module 12 ayn rand and the ethics of self interest

Module 12: Ayn Rand and the Ethics of Self-Interest

Philosophy 240: Introductory Ethics Online


Author: Daniel G. Jenkins, MA

Updated May 2008

This module is meant to accompany “Chapter 5: Ethical Egoism” in Rachels’ The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 5th edition.

Module Goals:

After completing readings, presentations, discussions, and coursework for this module,

you will be able to:

  • Identify and explain core aspects of Rand’s Objectivist ethics
  • Apply Rand’s Objectivist ethics in moral decision-making
  • Analyze the usefulness and critique features of Rand’s Objectivist ethics
  • Synthesize Rand’s Objectivist ethics with other theories in the academic study of ethics
a different kind of ethics
A different kind of ethics
  • So far we have discussed ethics that focus on knowledge, virtue, consequence, duty, and civic responsibility.
  • According to Objectivism, we have a moral obligation to be selfish.
  • Objectivism is a form of “ethical egoism” developed by Russian-born American philosopher and author Ayn Rand.
  • Rand was a Russian-born American novelist and philosopher.
  • She is widely known for her best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
  • She was an uncompromising advocate of rational individualism and laissez-faire capitalism, and vociferously opposed socialism, altruism, and religion.
core ideas of objectivism
Core Ideas of Objectivism
  • Rand asserts that human beings are powerful beings, and that the world is knowable.
  • Objectivism contends that the proper moral purpose of one's life is to pursue one's own rational self-interest.
  • The government should be strictly limited to courts, police, and a military. This is the only system where humans are barred from initiating the use of physical force upon each other.
  • Force is never acceptable; but physical force is the only kind of force there is.
the objectivist movement
The Objectivist Movement
  • The Objectivist movement was a movement to popularize Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy that began with the founding of the Nathaniel Branden Institute in 1960.
  • With that event, Objectivism became an organized movement, with its own events, speakers, and publications.
  • Eventually Leonard Peikoff rose as Branden's replacement.
  • When Rand died in 1982 he assumed full control as the new leader of the Objectivist movement and in 1985 he formed the Ayn Rand Institute to replace the Branden Institute.
the is ought fallacy
The Is/Ought Fallacy
  • Rand starts by attempting to address the is-ought problem
  • Man needs morality to live, that is, he ought to do certain things because they are necessary for him to live; he “is” precisely because he does what he “ought.”

 Rand defines what values we ought to have:

  • 1) Only living beings have values/goals;
  • 2) Because we are free, we must choose our values;
  • 3) Values and goals may be means to ends, but must lead to some ultimate end to be worthwhile; an endless series of means is worthless;
  • 4) Life is the only possible ultimate end, the only thing that has intrinsic value;
  • 5) Therefore the only justifiable values a man can choose are those which serve to sustain his life.
the ultimate value
The Ultimate Value
  • Sustaining and optimizing our own life is the ultimate value.
man qua man
Man Qua Man
  • For Rand, it is not enough that we merely survive biologically, but live as “man qua man.”
  • Man is different from the animals only insofar as he can pursue his own rational self interest.
what we ought do
What we ought do
  • We can optimize and sustain our own lives, thereby living as man qua man, if we adhere to the three lesser values:
      • Reason
      • Purpose
      • Self Esteem
  • The virtues by which we can achieve these values are:
      • Rationality
      • Productiveness
      • Pride
moral consequences of selfishness
Moral consequences of selfishness
  • Rand says a “duty" is a moral obligation rooted in nothing more than obedience to an external authority.
  • Objectivism rejects altruism and charity because it forces one to justify one’s existence to others.
  • She rejects sacrifice, which she defines as giving up something of greater value for something of lesser value.
genuine self interest is the goal
Genuine self interest is the goal
  • Not all superficially self-interested actions count as moral, however. Objectivism espouses an ethic of genuine self-interest — that is, of choices and actions that genuinely do promote one's life qua human being, not merely those that we think or hope may do so.
freedom from violence
Freedom from violence?
  • Objectivism rejects the possibility of a conflict of interest between two rational individuals under normal circumstances.
  • On the premise that no such conflicts are possible and that a world of peaceful trade is of benefit to all rational agents, Objectivism supports a "principle of nonaggression."
  • Rand’s theory can be attractive because it tells us we are relieved of responsibility for worrying about anyone else, it tells us the world is understandable and knowable, it frees us from fears of punishment after death, and it tells us that everything is within our reach; it tells us we have vast potential and can have what we want.
  • The only price is a loveless, trust-less existence comprised of alienation and competition in which you are utterly alone. Your only consolation rests in what you acquire.
criticism from nozick
Criticism from Nozick
  • Rand argues life should be the ultimate value because it is necessary to have any values at all.
  • But by that same reasoning, should the goal of pain-relief be pain, given that pain is the necessary condition on which pain-relief becomes possible?
no room for love
No room for love
  • We want to live in a world where we can love and be loved.
  • We have benefitted from charity and enjoy being charitable.
  • Objectivism suffers the same problems as consequentialism; it asks you to predict the future.
  • Ayn Rand suggests that because life is necessary to have any values, our primary value ought to be to sustain and optimize our own life. Rand objects to charity, altruism, or sacrifice, and while many find her theory to be empowering, many find it conducive to a loveless, pointless existence.

You’ve just completed the presentation for module 12. Once you have

also completed the assigned reading from the textbook, please

proceed to the “Assignments” and “Discussion” tabs in WebCT to

complete relevant coursework for this module.

If you have any questions please contact me.