Monday, February 11, 2013

Ayn Rand's Defense of Ethical Egoism

In her piece, "In Defense of Ethical Egoism," Ayn Rand says that what most people have been told growing up is that morality involves limiting the self, demoting the self to better serve the needs of others or to serve God. For she says, "...the battle of morality was fought between those who claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs to your neighbors." Rand says that both of these views "demand the surrender of your self-interest and of your mind," as morality opposes both practicality and reason. Rand then proceeds to argue that in reality, morality stems from the need to preserve the self, for in not preserving the self, a human being cannot live to his or her full potential. By limiting the self and dismissing the needs of the self for the "good" of others, one cannot flourish and in line with Aristotle's views, a person who is not flourishing is not being in a state of full moral integrity; he or she is lacking in some way and as a consequence, will not be able to act in the world with the fullest sense of morality.

While I agree with Ayn Rand that the self should be considered in matters of morality, I disagree with her emphasis on putting the self before others, especially in claiming that "pride is the sum of all virtues." For if we fully place our needs before the needs of others, how can we as individuals flourish? In order to flourish, don't we need others to accomplish this feat, and if so, don't we need to be sensitive to others' needs? Are we not meant to share our abilities with others and be in constant dialogue with them to build up our own characters, our own sense of morality? Perhaps there should be a balance between meeting the needs of the self and the needs of others---a type of middle ground between the views of Rand and the "traditional" view of morality that Rand presents.

2 comments:

  1. I think Pojman manages to find a good way to put egoism in less extreme terms.

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  2. I'm going to play devil's advocate here and side with Rand for this comment. So what if every person actually put their "needs" first? If a person actually made sure that their needs were met first, wouldn't they in turn be a better person, and better able to help other individuals? I don't believe that Rand is against helping someone. I don't believe that she is talking about wants. I'm taking her words at face value, and evaluating the term "need." If we look at a mother and the maternal instinct or association that follows, it is quite common to always put the "needs" of her children or family ahead of her own. Now, let's think about the possible consequences. Because this mother has been neglecting herself, he health has deteriorated. She is unable to work as often. She is unable to adequately care for her family and children. Situations as such are what I believe Rand was possibly referring to. How can a person begin to help another when they cannot help themselves? Also, if you are not ensuring that your needs are fulfilled, who will? Certainly not the sickly mother who has for your entire life only addressed your needs. Also, I think Rand is implying a sense of responsibility that must be instilled and understood by all individuals.
    While I do agree that we as human beings have advanced because of collective effort, just imagine the possibilities if every individual addressed their needs first in the way that I have presented a "need." I honestly believe that it could potentially be a better world.

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