Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Nature of the Morality of Rational Egoism: Short Notes

Some short points about the Objectivist ethics of rational egoism (1):
  1. If human beings wish to live, they need morality because only certain types of actions will lead to successful life as a human being, while others will necessarily lead to suffering and toward death; yet human beings do not automatically choose life-promoting actions, and they do not automatically know what is life-promoting for them, especially in the long term.
  2. A certain fundamental happiness is the marker of a flourishing life, and the fullest, long-term happiness is an individual's proper purpose in adhering to moral principles. What serves this long-term happiness is what defines an individual's self-interest, (i.e. his proper values.) Interactions with others are part of morality, but are not the central concern; the central concern is the reality of the individual's condition with respect to the attainment of life-sustaining/enriching values.
  3. Rationality is the fundamental virtue that subsumes all other virtues. Its being the fundamental virtue means that reason is the means by which an individual discovers what is in his self-interest, and that action based on reason is the only means by which he can achieve his proper values, (thus building happiness.)
  4. The six subsidiary virtues that Ayn Rand identified are aspects of rationality. They are: honesty, independence, productiveness, integrity, justice, and pride. Pride is not boastfulness or foolhardiness, but a dedication to excellence and moral self-improvement.
  5. Attempting to sacrifice the rational interests of others as a means to one's own happiness, whether done through force or deception, is doomed to fail. One's own happiness cannot be built on the robbery or enslavement of others, because human life depends on the production of values that sustain it. Those on whom the parasite feeds are worn down or destroyed, and find it in their rational interest to sabotage and get rid of the parasite. By using force or deception, the parasite is working to sabotage the victims' motivation and rational judgment, and it is their motivation and rational judgment in the production of values on which he is depending for his livelihood.
  6. The rational interests of individuals in everyday life in society do not conflict, because life-sustaining values are not a static quantity to be fought over, but are created by effort based on reasoning, and are thus variable and potentially unlimited.
  7. Human beings are a combination of the physical and mental, and an individual's self-interest includes psychological values. Self-interest is not to be reduced to only the physical, such as money. Other people can be of tremendous psychological value (i.e. friends, lovers, children.) That an individual's ultimate standard of value is his own flourishing life does not mean that he disregards others, or that he simply uses them for material gain. He can gain major psychological benefits from contact with other people of good character who reflect his values.
  8. Objectivist moral principles allow for a vast range of optional values within their practice. They allow for different career choices, (including full-time parenthood,) different tastes in art (literature, movies, music) and different amounts and types of social contact. One's own emotions about different options are typically among the relevant factors to consider in deciding which optional values to pursue.
  9. A basic (non-self-sacrificial) benevolence toward others is in one's own interest in an essentially free society. This typically includes being courteous and respectful to strangers, and considerate to friends. This is due to the fact that others are potential values to oneself, whether as trading partners, friends, lovers, or simply as general innovators whose ideas can improve one's own life. In a free, rights-respecting society, strangers are much more likely to be allies than enemies, in fundamental terms, and it's not in one's interest to push such people away without good reason. (Business competitors are not enemies; see Atlas Shrugged.)
  10. Just like principles of physics and free-market economics, principles of morality are contextual absolutes. This means that they are not like Biblical commandments that are supposed to always apply, no matter the situation. Proper moral principles apply only within certain circumstances, but when they do apply, they are absolute, and cannot be violated with impunity. For example, the principle that "the initiation of physical force is immoral/evil (destructive to human life)" does not apply in the face of an immediate physical threat to someone's life. Initiating force to push one's unsuspecting friend out of the path of a bullet is a good act. In ordinary circumstances, when human life depends on the free exercise of each individual's mind, the initiation of force is evil because it destroys and/or paralyzes the minds of victims and subverts the mental functioning of the perpetrator, to the extent it is initiated.
For those who don't have backgrounds in philosophy, but want to learn more about this moral code, I recommend reading The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand and Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It by Craig Biddle. For those who are more philosophically oriented, I also recommend Viable Values and Ayn Rand's Normative Ethics: The Virtuous Egoist by Dr. Tara Smith.


(1) Dictionary definition of: egoism - 1. the habit of valuing everything only in reference to one's personal interest; selfishness (opposed to altruism). ... 3. Ethics. the view that each person should regard his own welfare as the supreme end of his actions [Random House Dictionary of the English Language, Unabridged, 1973]

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