I just finished up this week’s “homework” for Yaron Brook’s podcast, reading, or rather re-reading in my case, the first chapter of Ayn Rand’s The Virtue of Selfishness. (The podcast is presented live on Mondays at 11:00am EST. You can find it here.) The first chapter is titled The Objectivist Ethics and presents “the barest essentials” of Ayn Rand’s system of ethics.
I had read this essay, indeed the entire book, a couple of years ago, so I was a little surprised how many new highlights I made on this reading. Ideas and formulations that did not particularly stand out for me the first time did on this reading. Below is one such new formulation.
The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others – and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.
I think this passage aptly answers critics who claim that Ayn Rand was in favor of a dog-eat-dog sort of existence where man takes what he can and screw the rest. Such a claim totally ignores the idea that a man, in order to live as a man, neither sacrifices himself to others, which is what her critics point to, but neither does he sacrifice others to himself, a point which critics never bring up and try to ignore if it is brought up. Under her system, a man cannot lie, steal or cheat to get what he wants. These are all methods in which you sacrifice others to yourself and thus any man who does so is immoral.
Obviously this very brief quote from an essay that provides only the barest essentials of Ayn Rand’s system of ethics cannot fully answer to her critics, but making just this one point greatly weakens their arguments.
You can find the above quotation at approximately the 41:28 mark in the recording below, which is Ayn Rand’s presentation of The Objectivist Ethics.