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An odd question perhaps, but: Objectivism identifies 7 major virtues. Selfishness is not one of them. Why not? What became of the "Virtue of Selfishness"?

asked Jan 13 '12 at 09:10

FCH's gravatar image


In a sketchy answer to my question I might point out that selfishness is more fundamental than the virtues of rationality etc. - they are means to the end of selfishness. Still, the exact relationship between these concepts is somewhat foggy in my mind. I am looking forward to a better thought-out and structured answer.

(Jan 13 '12 at 09:12) FCH FCH's gravatar image

As the question points out, Objectivism identifies 7 major virtues, and selfishness is not explicitly in the list. Selfishness is an issue that follows -- in a specific form unique to Objectivism -- from the question: For whom should one be rational, honest, independent, and proud, with integrity and justice throughout? The Objectivist answer is: for oneself, first and foremost. This is selfishness, but not as a primary, only as a consequence and summation.

This view of selfishness is different from conventional views. It is no accident that Ayn Rand included a subtitle in her book on selfishness. The full title (on the inside title page if not on the front cover) is, The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism. To emphasize the difference, Ayn Rand often expresses it as rational self-interest or rational egoism. The essence of it is reason, i.e., rationality. The other virtues and the overall egoism of them are corollaries.

The topics of "Standard of Value" and "Selfishness" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon provide further elaboration. "Standard of Value" explains, in part:

The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics -- the standard by which one judges what is good or evil -- is man's life, or: that which is required for man's survival qua man.

Since reason is man's basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.

The Lexicon topic of "Selfishness" explains, in part:

... man must act for his own rational self-interest.... It is not a license "to do as he pleases" .... This is said as a warning against the kind of "Nietzschean egoists" who, in fact, are a product of the altruist morality and represent the other side of the altruist coin: the men who believe that any action, regardless of its nature, is good if it is intended for one's own benefit. Just as the satisfaction of the irrational desires of others is not a criterion of moral value, neither is the satisfaction of one's own irrational desires. Morality is not a contest of whims...

Objectivists often point out that "rational self-interest" is actually a redundancy, since irrational actions are not objectively in one's self-interest. But that is a uniquely Objectivist identification that comes later in the hierarchy of knowledge. In today's context, such redundancies can be important for clarity.

answered Jan 14 '12 at 01:14

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Jan 14 '12 at 01:17

All virtue, in Objectivism, is a way of being selfish, because, according to Objectivism, self-interest is what virtue is for.

Acting in one's self-interest, however, is not synonymous with doing "what you feel like".

One of the purposes of the book "The Virtue Of Selfishness" is to elucidate exactly what self-interest consists of, and what actions actually achieve it. These actions are called virtues.

The title of the book is less a case of classifying selfishness as a virtue, than a case of re-conceiving what virtue serves and consists of. Rather than just saying "selfishness is a virtue" it means something much deeper: "virtue, as such, is selfish."

The basic message of the book is: "It is good to do what is good for you."

answered Jan 14 '12 at 10:52

John%20Paquette's gravatar image

John Paquette ♦

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Asked: Jan 13 '12 at 09:10

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Last updated: Jan 14 '12 at 10:52