Ayn Rand contrasted her morality of rational self-interest not just with altruism but with that irrational egoism which she acknowledged to be "the popular usage" of the word "selfish." (See The Virtue of Selfishness, vii-xii.) Objectivists may therefore be interested to know that a similar three-fold analysis of morality formed the basis of a major philosophical debate in Russia during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
Such, at any rate, is the thesis of a recent article by James P. Scanlan: "The Case against Rational Egoism in Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground" (The Journal of History of Ideas, July 1999).
According to Scanlan:
That Dostoevsky should make egoism the subject of a major work in 1864 [Notes from Underground] comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with tendencies in Russian literature at the time or with Dostoevsky's own earlier career, which reflected a continuing interest in the topic.
Dostoevsky's interest stemmed, in great measure, from his belief that egoism was destroying Western civilization. Following an 1862 tour through Europe, the author's Winter Notes on Summer Impressions (1863) described egoism as
the personal principle, the principle of isolation, of intense self-preservation, of self-solicitousness, of the self-determination of the I, of opposing this I to all nature and all other people as a separate, autonomous principle entirely equal and equivalent to everything that...
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