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Non-objectivsts often assert that self-interested ("selfish") people will lie, cheat, and steal in order to get what they want; thus a society dominated by Objectivists would be a bad place to live. Why are they wrong?

asked Dec 19 '13 at 16:21

MarcMercier's gravatar image

MarcMercier ♦
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edited Dec 19 '13 at 18:58

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
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To what objective value would the acts of lying, cheating and stealing accomplish? A world where the means justify the ends leaves every man a thug or a victim, with no respect for man's rights. Rand did not advocate irrational, whim-worshiping, feelings-oriented self-interest. She advocated rational self interest, where "man's 'interests' depend on the kind of goals he chooses to pursue, his choice of goals depends on his desires, his desires depend on his values," and where individuals use the rational judgement of their minds to define those interests.

(Dec 19 '13 at 20:05) JK Gregg ♦ JK%20Gregg's gravatar image

Lying, cheating, and stealing generally ultimately amounts to 1) not actually getting what you want (and knowing that you haven't actually gotten what you want); and/or 2) lying to yourself. The former accomplishes nothing, and the latter will destroy a person. There's nothing selfish about dishonesty, at least apart from situations where you're kidnapped or living in a dictatorship or something and "what you want" is simply to escape alive.

"Honesty is the recognition of the fact that the unreal is unreal and can have no value..." http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/honesty.html

(Dec 20 '13 at 09:10) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Restating the question slightly for emphasis: Why would self-interested ("selfish") people strive to be honest, and therefore refrain from lying, cheating and stealing in order to get what they want?

It's certainly true that Ayn Rand classified honesty as an essential virtue for man, and advocated rational egoism, not merely unqualified or conventional "selfishness." She held that one should not sacrifice oneself to others nor sacrifice others to oneself, and that man's life does not require the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. Still, the question seems to be trying to dig a little deeper to understand why honesty and rationality are necessities for man's life.

The answer rests on several deeper questions:

  • What is man? What kind of being is he, fundamentally?

  • Where is man? In what kind of universe does he exist?

  • What is morality and why does man need it? For what purpose should man be moral? And if man breaches a rational code of morality, who or what will stop him or penalize him in some way?

Ayn Rand develops the answers to all of these questions, along with their ethical and political implications, in her key works, including Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged, "The Objectivist Ethics" in VOS (Chap. 1), and several other articles. There are numerous topics in The Ayn Rand Lexicon that can be consulted for a brief overview, including:

  • (Metaphysics) Benevolent Universe Premise, Goal-Directed Action, Life, Malevolent Universe Premise, Man, Volitional.

  • (Ethics) Cooperation, Courage and Confidence, Creators, End in Itself, Focus, Free Will, Good (the), Happiness, Honesty, Morality, Objective Theory of Values, Purpose, Rationality, Sacrifice, Self, Self-Interest, Standard of Value, Trader Principle, Ultimate Value, Values, Virtue.

The question, "Why be honest," is merely a species of the larger questions, "Why be moral" and "why be rational." The essence of the answer is: to live. Man's life qua man requires it, and man's life qua man is the most fundamental, all-inclusive and all-consuming end that man can ever pursue in earthly existence.

To put this in more concrete terms specifically pertaining to honesty, the most life-serving way for man to deal with others is by trade -- mutually voluntary exchange of values for mutual benefit. Actions such as lying to others, cheating others, stealing from others, and so on, are counter-productive. They undermine or completely nullify the process of cooperative mutual trading that represents man's greatest opportunity for greatest personal gain. Dishonest treatment of others also crosses the line into politics and retaliation under law if direct or indirect physical force is involved, as it likely would be in cases of cheating and especially stealing.

Honesty also has a meaning that pertains to an individual person in direct relation to reality, apart from any interrelationships with other people. Honesty means facing reality without lying to oneself in any manner. Man's life depends on doing that; it depends on accurately comprehending whatever man chooses to examine (and choosing wisely, for the sake of his own existence), without fakery of any kind.

answered Dec 20 '13 at 00:54

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Asked: Dec 19 '13 at 16:21

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Last updated: Dec 20 '13 at 09:22