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I recall from reading Atlas Shrugged that Rand, at several points, described Hank Rearden as a man that possesses a Puritan Work Ethic. In my attempts to go beyond my assumptions of what I understood the term would mean in its simplest sense (i.e hard work), I found several interesting articles that provided me with some answers to my question of what it is. But, as always is the case with information, I found some new questions that I'm unable to answer, at least in a consistent and consummate fashion.

This is the article in question: http://www.atlassociety.org/entrepreneurial_life

Here are the questions I have:

1) Hasn't Rand already described the pursuit of the "gratification of NOW" as irrational, inherently solipsistic and/or hedonistic? If so why is the author arguing for it or, at the very least, portray it as a worthy cause?

2) Isn't the 'sense of duty' the definition of the term ethics? And, if that's the case, then why is the author writing against the idea even though the concept of ethics (according to Objectivism) would still exist regardless of the outlook being managerial or entrepreneurial?

3) Regardless of the outlook, isn't an employee's job his job and an employers job to ensure that the proper payment is readied for the employee due contractual obligations facilitated under the law ? And, if so, then what is the author talking about?

4) Isn't the economy based on rules as much as it is based on supply and demand? For instance, the fact that the economy works as it does is due to mathematical theorems and the physical limitations of people and technology. These rules can't be broken no matter what anyone tries to do. Furthermore there are rules set up by federal government on employment, taxes, insider trading, monopolization, etc. And they exist until the day the Supreme Court removes them. Hence, it only seems logical that there are rules do exist regardless or perception.

5) When it comes to economic value, doesn't the notion of subjective judgements of value violate Objectivism?

asked Aug 18 '14 at 21:49

Edward's gravatar image


edited Aug 19 '14 at 20:09

The question appears to express an unstated false alternative, evidently proceeding from a thoroughly false premise about ethics and Objectivism. The alternative is "gratification NOW" versus "Puritan work ethic." The false premise is the following:

Isn't the 'sense of duty' the definition of the term ethics?

The answer to this false premise is most emphatically no, a "sense of duty" is most emphatically not the definition of ethics -- at least, not in Objectivism. Objectivism, unlike a great many other ethical systems, is not a duty-based ethics. As was discussed at some length in another recent OA Question (link). Objectivist ethics is based on causality rather than duty, i.e., on one's own causal role in shaping the course of one's own life, on man's life qua man as the only objective standard of value for man, and on morality as "a code of values accepted by choice" (quoting Ayn Rand's words in Galt's Speech in Atlas Shrugged). In the Objectivist perspective, there is no alternative confronting any living entity more fundamentally than existence or non-existence, which, for a living entity, is the alternative of life or death; and man strives to be moral (by Objectivist standards) because (and insofar as) he wants to live. It is reality that requires man to be rationally moral (or die), not some "higher" social or supernatural "authority" nor some completely causeless, intrinsic "sense of duty" for no specific reason. Objectivism does not say that man has a "duty" to live; Objectivism identifies what he must do in order to live, on the premise that he does want to live and has no need for morality of any kind if he does not. Objectivist ethics can be described as "life-based" as well as causality-based.

The topic of "Morality" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon begins by defining Morality (or ethics) as follows (excerpted from TOE in VOS Chap. 1):

[Morality] is a code of values to guide man's choices and actions -- the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life. Ethics, as a science, deals with discovering and defining such a code.

Some might ask: if morality depends on the choice to live, does this mean that "anything goes" morally if one claims not to want to live? The answer is no. Firstly, one person's choice to die doesn't obligate others to choose to die. They are perfectly morally entitled to defend themselves against wild humans, wild animals, intrusive plants, and even bolts of lightning striking them from the sky. Furthermore, renouncing the choice to live doesn't imply a need for any further action by the renouncer, and certainly not any need for him to obtain any values from others. He is perfectly free to die in peace. If one wants to persuade a suicidal human to live, telling him that he has a causeless moral duty to live and be moral isn't as likely to persuade him as telling him that happiness is possible to man on earth, that man has a right to the pursuit of happiness, and that volitional adherence to a rational moral code is the way to achieve one's happiness. And the rational pursuit of happiness is not hedonism or "gratification NOW."

The question's false premise about morality as duty-based leads to puzzlement about the author of the December 1994 atlassociety.com article clearly arguing against "gratification NOW" but also against "the Puritan work ethic" (or duty to obey "rules"). The questioner evidently does not see a third possibility, the very possibility that Objectivism endorses, the possibility of an objectively life-based approach to ethics.

I must also add, here, that Objectivism does not necessarily endorse everything that the atlassociety.com website may argue for, particularly if it argues for some kind of "open" Objectivism that differs from "orthodox" Objectivism by being diluted by "toleration" for ideas that are thoroughly anti-life, and "toleration" for the advocates of those ideas (however "gentlemanly" the advocates may be). To recognize areas where the atlassociety.com is at odds with Objectivism (as Ayn Rand's philosophy), one will need first to acquire a thorough grasp of what Objectivism (as Ayn Rand's philosophy) does and does not say, and why.

On the other hand, this particular atlassociety.com article (dated December 1994) seems to offer a very good description of the third possibility in the final three paragraphs, under the subtitle, "The Entrepreneurial Employee."

Regarding Hank Rearden as following a "Puritan work ethic," the main scene in which references to Rearden as "Puritan" appear in the story -- Part I Chapter VI -- should be reread more carefully, along with the context leading up to it. The references to Rearden as "Puritan" are the characterization of him by Lillian Rearden (Hank's wife) and Phillip Rearden (Hank's brother). Those references are not Ayn Rand's own appraisal of Hank Rearden, but her characterization of two key moochers on Hank's life, moochers who exert their will over Hank Rearden precisely through a duty-based morality and the resulting false alternative. As the story in Atlas Shrugged unfolds, we also see Hank Rearden gradually divest himself of all his lingering elements of a Puritan-like approach to ethics. Atlas Shrugged is, in part, a story not just of what Hank Rearden has been during his lifetime, but also of what he ought to be, and finally becomes.

The question also asks:

Isn't the economy based on rules as much as it is based on supply and demand?

This formulation is confusing. If "rules" mean objective principles of a division-of-labor economy with a high degree of freedom of production and trade, then why wouldn't the laws of supply and demand qualify as "rules" (or natural laws)? Why would there be any kind of opposition or conflict between "rules" in general and "rules" such as "supply and demand"? The context makes it clear, at least, that "rules" are intended to include man-made governmental "rules" (i.e., laws) as well as natural laws of reality. This transforms "rules" into a package-deal resulting from definition by non-essentials. For example:

...there are rules set up by federal government on employment, taxes, insider trading, monopolization, etc. And they exist until the day the Supreme Court [or, more appropriately, Congress] removes them.

Objectivism holds that all of those laws should be repealed, as expeditiously as possible.

Hence, it only seems logical that there are rules [which] do exist regardless or [of] perception.

In other words, the formulation in the question seeks to have its victims accept man-made anti-life infringements of individual rights as if they were metaphysically given and beyond man's power to change. That, in turn, is the classic method of collectivists. What more effective method of enslavement could there be to disarm one's victims and induce them to believe that they have no power of choice in the matter and therefore must surrender?

answered Aug 19 '14 at 22:04

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Aug 19 '14 at 22:14

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Asked: Aug 18 '14 at 21:49

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Last updated: Aug 19 '14 at 22:14