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I know that Objectivists respect human achievement and progress. As I see it, much of this comes from human ambition. If we never had vast ambition as humans, it would be hard to imagine building modern marvels like skyscrapers or bullet trains or jumbo jets.

My question is about the other end of the spectrum: what is the proper view of people that have very low ambition. Think of someone that spends their paycheck on music and is happy to work just as much as it takes to attend the next concert or consider someone who works just enough so that they can backpack around the world. Clearly Mr. Music and Ms. Backpack are working for their personal happiness and are not using any force with anyone but on the other hand, they seem like very poor role models for successful humans. They are certainly not prime movers or really even secondary movers. They live for themselves (dare I use the word "selfish") and bother no one. The world will not see much in the way of productivity from them but then they don't damage much either.

Are the archetypes I describe "successful" because they are happy or would Objectivists see their lack of ambition as somehow objectionable? I look at Ayn Rand: she was hugely ambitious. I look at her husband and it seems like Frank was happiest when arranging flowers and dabbling as an artist. Two vastly different ambitions yet she clearly respected him (at least to some degree...).

asked Jul 19 '13 at 07:58

Danneskjold_repo's gravatar image


I'd say as long as unambitious people don't sponge off others they are moral.

(Jul 19 '13 at 08:00) Louise Louise's gravatar image

The question asks:

...what is the proper view of people that have very low ambition.

The headline form of the question asks specifically about "moral status," which is narrower than a "proper view." The "proper view" sought in the question seems to pertain to the issue of how one should treat others who have low ambition. That, in turn, is an issue of justice -- "rationality in the evaluation of men," as OPAR puts it. Rationally, the two cases described in the question sound very reasonable to me. The individuals are pursuing their own interests in accord with their own standards, without infringing anyone else's individual rights. That certainly sounds decent enough to me; no reason to complain about those individuals. They're not harming anyone except possibly themselves (if they fail to plan for their future as well as "enjoying the moment").

The question of the moral status of a person's way of living, according to Objectivist standards, depends first of all on the purpose and intended beneficiary of morality. Is morality a set of standards imposed on everyone by some social or mystical authority? Objectivism says "no." Morality is a human need. Why does man need morality? To live. He needs a code of values (accepted by choice) to guide the course of his life. Every individual is the beneficiary of his own moral adherence; individuals are not morally obligated to serve others nor others' expectations in any way (beyond respecting individual rights). What guidance does Objectivist morality offer for living? Objectivism says, in essence: be rational, productive, and proud, with honesty, independence, integrity and justice throughout. Objectivism derives these virtues from the underlying standard of value (man's life) and man's distinctive metaphysical nature (reason as man's basic means of survival). If anyone chooses not to live up to Objectivist morality to the best of his ability, he's only hurting himself (so long as he refrains from initiating physical force against others). He probably will have far less to offer to others in trade than he could have had, and that will leave others with far fewer values to gain from him through trade and therefore far less reason to attempt to trade with him at all, but at worst the others can simply leave him alone to live his own life as he so chooses (so long as he is peaceful about it).

Note that Objectivism doesn't say that one has a moral obligation to be "ambitious" (except insofar as the virtue of pride involves moral ambitiousness, which again is an issue of how one feels about oneself). Objectivism says that rational ambition is very likely to result in a far stronger, more efficacious and happy life than one would have without it, but others need not go out of their way to shun or condemn individuals who may be less ambitious. That would not be justice. Objectivism certainly praises and reveres those who are highly ambitious in their rational egoism; that is an issue of moral greatness and justice. Those who fall short of greatness may not be great, but that by itself doesn't necessarily make them immoral (anti-life).

answered Jul 21 '13 at 21:02

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

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Asked: Jul 19 '13 at 07:58

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Last updated: Jul 21 '13 at 21:02