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Fearless Philosophy For Free Minds: Ayn Rand in Her Own Words

Friday, February 02, 2007

Ayn Rand in Her Own Words

On February 2, 1905, the author of The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, and the philosophy of Objectivism was born. Her name was Ayn Rand. In March of 2005, I wrote a post titled The Virtue of Selfishness to describe my understanding of perhaps the central theme of Objectivism: selfishness. While selfishness is an integral part of Objectivism, selfishness is by no means its only virtue. Productiveness, integrity, honesty, and justice are also crucial in achieving happiness (happiness is the true meaning of life and an end in itself).

Critics of Objectivism, including those who have responded to my posts, try to view selfishness apart from these other important aspects. One critic responded writing:

Selfishness, on the other hand, has no underlying foundation or justification other than satisfying one’s appetites--for pleasure, for gratification, for adulation or whatever the self wants at the moment. A selfish person would shoot another person just to take his shoes.
I responded writing:

If the selfish person holds these other virtues [productiveness, integrity, honesty, and justice] as well, he or she will likely not "kill a person just to take his shoes."
Other critics have made similar arguments but I have seen very few critics who will deal with Objectivism in its entirety. Rather than trying to continue to explain Objectivism myself, I thought it would be a great idea to allow my readers to hear from Ayn Rand herself to explain Objectivism in her own words.

This first clip is from a 1959 interview with Mike Wallace. Wallace asks some questions some of her contemporary critics had about her and her philosophy and she answered them expertly.

The interview continues in part 2 and part 3, both on the YouTube website.

This second clip is the first of a five part series which was taped toward the end of her life. This time, Ayn Rand is a guest on Phil Donahue’s TV show. Watch how she tears his statists arguments to pieces!

The remaining four parts are also on the YouTube website. Much of what she said in these clips ring true especially today. Rand was distressed with America’s slide into socialism back then; I could only imagine what she would think about where we are at today. Her philosophy of Objectivism would add so much to our national debate on so many important issues.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Rational Self Interest' is the better term.

Our Christian/Judeo/Marxist/Islamic/etc. based culture creates an emotional/intellectual filter for most people. They are taught the the highest form of virtue is sacrifice to others - witness their highest example that of Christ being sacrificed on the cross. Of course no rational being can or should want to meet that standard as it is anti life. But, once this thought is infused into a mind the only alternate generally is the opposite - sacrifice of others to self. So the world is seen in these two terms.

Objectivism of course, posits that neither of these sacrifices is moral, and shows that acting in your own 'rational self interest' i.e. selfishness - about the self is the moral view for rational beings.

But the Christians and others can not see this as their mental filter only sees their two extremes and casts selfishness - about the 'self' - as wrong.

John Galt said he would neither live for another nor ask another to live for him. How clear does she have to make it?

As Rand said, 'its earlier than we think' (Ayn Rnad Letters).

Objectivist of 25 years.

8:50 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The "underlying" justification of selfishness is the furtherance of your life based on it's preconditions, those of the exsistence of a rational animal- a human life; it's process is the identification and attainment of life serving values.

It is "selfish" to be honest
It is "selfish" to be productive
It is "selfish" to respect others rights
It is "selfish" to to think

to suggest otherwise is to say that it is an act of sacrifice,of self renunciation, to act in an honest , productive, rational,life affirming manner-that morality is against your own interests and that moral goals can only be achieved by acting against yourself.A morality of sacrifice demandsThat by choosing NOT to "kill someone for their shoes" you are acting AGAINST your own selfish interests,that there is no rational reason to abstain from murder or theft. The truth is that all values are selfish ,nothing is to be gained from self sacrifice. For those interested in rands philosophy it would be wise to pick up "atlas shrugs" her novel dealing not only with free markets and political economy but with personal ethics, all in the form of a facinating fiction story.

12:44 AM  
Blogger Stephen Littau said...

Well stated anonymous. Rational self interest probably is a more precise term. Like you said our “Christian/Judeo/Marxist/Islamic/etc. based culture” makes it very difficult for most to accept the notion that selfishness is a positive human trait. These philosophies all have the ideals of “sacrifice” and/or “martyrdom” as central values which are in direct contrast to selfishness. All these philosophies also are constructed to keep their ‘flocks’ in check. Karl Marx called religion the opiate of the masses. Because Marx understood this he was able to create the religion of communism; a religion that replaced God belief with belief in an all powerful state.

These belief systems have penetrated our subconscious minds, at least on some level, because these are values that we are taught from a very early age. Given that these are our default values, many people reject Rand’s Objectivism out of hand. She attempts to present the concept of selfishness in a different way but most cannot divorce themselves from the more traditional view of selfishness.

To some degree, however; we all believe that Rand was right about Objectivism whether we know it or not. Most of us want to make our lives better though few of us reach our full potential. Even the religious are rationally selfish in their own minds by putting off some of the pleasures in this life in hopes of becoming fulfilled in some other life (I am clearly not one of those).

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the initial critic is his definition of selfish interest. When he posits that selfishness = excess in pleasures and any impulse that person might have, he couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, wallowing in a sea of pleasure is more of a selfless act because that person does not care for their well-being and would act to deteriorate their physical condition for the sake of pleasure. Thus such indulgences are not truly selfish acts because they imply that the person does not sincerely care about his/her-self or the betterment of one's station.

2:04 PM  
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2:04 AM  

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