Ayn Rand’s Ethics, Part Four According to Rand, ethics is based on the requirements of life. That which makes life possible sets the standard of good; that which undermines or destroys life is the bad. Ethics is thus rooted in biology: the fact that life is conditional. The values needed for life are not automatically achieved, and since they are not automatically achieved, each human faces a fundamental alternative: to achieve the values necessary for life, or not. Achieving the values sustains one’s life; not doing so leads to death. But the achieving of the values has preconditions. Each of us has to learn what values are necessary for life and what actions are necessary to achieve them, and then choose consistently to initiate those actions. But the learning of these things depends on a personal choice to think. In summary form, the points here are: Life requires the consumption of values. The values to be consumed must be produced. The production of values requires that we act in certain ways. Acting in those ways requires that we have the knowledge of what values we need to consume and what actions will produce them. Having the knowledge requires that we think and learn. Or, in brief: Life depends on values. Values depend on production. Production depends on knowledge. Knowledge depends on thinking. The key thing about each of these points is that they are and can be performed only by individuals. Individualism is built into the nature of human...
In “Benevolence versus Altruism” (The Objectivist Newsletter, July 1962), Nathaniel Branden decried the “package deal” that links altruism to “the principle of benevolence, good will, and kindness toward others.” This claim is “worse than mistaken”; in fact, “altruism and benevolence are not merely different, they are mutually inimical and contradictory.” Branden concluded his article as follows: The choice is not: selfishness or good will among men. The choice is: altruism or good will, benevolence, kindness, love and human brotherhood. To find, in the official Objectivist publication of its day, positive references to kindness, human brotherhood, and similar notions may come as a shock to those many detractors of Ayn Rand who insist on portraying her as an unreformed Ebenezer Scrooge in a bad mood. But this and other egregious misrepresentations of Rand’s views have become the rule rather than the exception, so they should come as no surprise to those who actually take the time to read what Rand (and Branden) wrote on the subject of benevolence. According to Rand, “No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as ‘the right to enslave.’” This “right to enslave” is precisely how Rand viewed altruism, which preaches...
On January 1, 1945, Ayn Rand opened her journal and began writing notes for her fourth novel. She called the new novel,The Strike, a working title that neatly reflected the theme she chose to depict: “What happens to the world when the Prime Movers go on strike.” Notice the punctuation. When she wrote down the theme, Rand wasn’t posing a question. She wasn’t brainstorming either.  Clearly, she knew exactly what she wanted to say. The prime movers, Rand declared, created wealth that benefited the world, and everyone hated them for it: Now to state the theme consecutively: the world lives by the prime movers, hates them for it, exploits them and always feels that it has not exploited them enough. They have to fight a terrible battle and suffer every possible torture that society can impose–in order to create the things from which society benefits immeasurably and by which alone society can exist. In effect, they must suffer and pay for the privilege of giving gifts to society. They must pay for being society’s benefactors. Rand had in fact been thinking about The Strike for over a year. What started as a one-liner– a joke shared with her then-friend Isabel Paterson during a phone conversation–instantly captured Rand’s  imagination. In a letter to Paterson dated October 10, 1943, Rand admitted that she couldn’t stop thinking about it: I know that I will now have to write The Strike–you’ll push me into it. . . . I am really...
Consequences of the Dualism: Target Inequalities, Part Three In all most traditional ethical theories, self interest is the target of morality, but it is the self interest of the better off, stronger, more able, richer parties that is specially targeted. The stronger party is in a better position to take advantage of the weaker, so it is the stronger party’s self interest that is in special need of restraint. It is the stronger party that should be sacrificing to help the weaker party, so it is the stronger party’s self interest that must be overcome. In both cases, inequalities of power, ability and wealth come to have enormous moral significance, and great inequalities polarize the moral obligations and claims of the strong and the weak. Those who are stronger are in special need of restraint, and have greater obligations to redistribute their resources to the weaker. By contrast, those who are weaker are seen as especially deserving of extra rights against harm by the strong, and the greater their degree of weakness the greater their claims against the strong. Consequently, in most current business ethics, analysis of business dealings takes as its starting point the relative degrees of strength of the involved parties. For example, consider the following examples of alleged sins of omission: Large corporations, seeking to increase their profits, will relocate their factories, leaving many individuals unemployed. Analysis: the corporation is ʺstrongerʺ and the many...
In “Conservatism: An Obituary” (an article based on a lecture delivered at Princeton University in 1960), Ayn Rand said: Altruism holds that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue, and value. Capitalism and altruism are incompatible; they are philosophical opposites; they cannot co-exist in the same man or in the same society. Similar statements recur throughout many of Rand’s writings, and we cannot fully appreciate their meaning unless we understand her notion of self-sacrifice. In a long and detailed letter to John Hospers (29 April 1961), Rand wrote: I admired your action because it was generous. Generosity is not a sacrifice—it is a gift or favor greater than the friend involved could, in reason, expect. But if your action had been motivated by altruistic duty, I would not have admired it nor approved. What was the act of generosity of which Ayn Rand approved? Unfortunately, the published volume of Letters of Ayn Rand (ed. Michael E. Berliner, Dutton, 1995) contains only Rand’s side of her correspondence with Hospers—a situation that displeased Hospers, who sometimes thought “that Ayn had not correctly apprehended a point I had made, and her summary of what I said sometimes did not really reproduce what I really did say.” Despite the problem of...

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