What’s ethical about egoism?

I am writing to comment on the article “Capitalism on Campus” [Dec. 23 Xpress].

The ethical philosophy of Ayn Rand is completely insane. According to Rand, an individual acts rationally only when he or she acts in ways that promote his or her own life. This is ethical egoism, and there doesn’t seem to be anything ethical about egoism.

Ethics involves the study of how one being treats other beings. Since an ethical act always involves more than one person, ethical egoism can hardly be called any sort of ethical philosophy. In fact, it seems to me that Rand’s philosophy is the philosophy of a psychopath. It is also inconsistent for the world of laissez-faire capitalism.

Rand believed that the only social system consistent with her version of egoism is one that protects the individual rights of everyone. This means the egoist would not support slavery, a system in which a person profits from the labor of another person. Yet, laissez-faire capitalism is the epitome of a system where one person profits from the labor of another person. The employee will receive some compensation, but the surplus value created through the employee’s labor benefits investors who did nothing more than loan money to the entrepreneur for capital. Sure, they took a risk, but risk-taking is not labor—it is a gamble. And if the gamble doesn’t pay off, the bust affects far many more people than just the investors, likewise infringing on other people’s rights.

Considering how questionable Rand’s theories are, I see no reason why anyone else of normal intelligence would accept them without question. That is why I am not a bit concerned about Rand’s ideas in the college classroom. It will be a great opportunity for much smarter folks to rip Ayn Rand to shreds.

— Thad Eckard
Asheville

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18 thoughts on “What’s ethical about egoism?

  1. Becky

    Well said. Thank you for pointing out the inconsistencies and illogic of the philosophy. Of a psychopath, indeed.

  2. This may help the writer with his misapprehension.

    ###

    Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics
    By Tara Smith
    http://snipr.com/9p30v

    “This book explains the fundamental virtues that Rand considers vital for a person to achieve his objective well-being: rationality, honesty, independence, justice, integrity, productiveness, and pride. Tara Smith examines what each of these virtues consists in, why it is a virtue, and what it demands of a person in practice.”

  3. rationalinfidel

    “Ethics involves the study of how one being treats other beings. Since an ethical act always involves more than one person, ethical egoism can hardly be called any sort of ethical philosophy. In fact, it seems to me that Rand’s philosophy is the philosophy of a psychopath.”

    Wow, Thad. How could anyone counter this argument? It’s so well thought out.

    Thanks for putting it to rest so logically.

  4. entopticon

    I agree Thad. I just wrote this on the other Ayn Rand letter thread, but figured that I would repost it because it seems like it would be apt here as well:

    Alan Greenspan was in Ayn Rand’s loopy inner circle from 1952 till her funeral, which he attended. The fact is, Ayn Rand was a scriptwriter who never formally studied even rudimentary economics. To base economic theories on her ludicrous rationalizations of extreme egotism would be even more of a disaster than it was for her personal life and those in her circle who were forced to indulge her meglomaniacal desires. What she loosely called a philosophy is more akin to a cult of personality because it certainly doesn’t stand up to the rigors of philosophical inquiry. Her critics quickly realized that while she liked to couch her arguments in names such as John Locke to lend her arguments credibility, she clearly had never actually even read Locke.

    The cult of Ayn Rand has had 60 years to present something more than shockingly unethical and remarkably weak arguments for the radically extreme brand of capitalism that she advocated. They had their chance, and they failed. In light of contemporary philosophy, economics, and the rise of environmentalism (which Ayn Rand’s Objectivist movement openly despises), Ayn Rand’s egoistic blather seems more irrelevant than ever.

    Since it disintegrates so quickly under even the slightest scrutiny or practical application, it is quite obvious that the only thing keeping it artificially alive is its function as a conscience assuaging device for the most depraved acts of unconscionable greed.

  5. 1. Greenspan is not an Objectivist and abandoned free market principles long before he took a post as chairman of the greatest perpetrator of government interference in the economy: The Federal Reserve.

    2. Ludwig von Mises WAS an economist — our most brilliant, by the way. And he fully validated everything Ayn Rand ever said about the Objectivist political concept of Capitalism.

    3. Close scrutiny and practical application of Rand’s ideas have held up extraordinarily well and are gaining popularity every day; even while socialism and interventionism are perennially discredited and surround us with their ruins.

    http://timpeck.blogspot.com/2009/01/make-work.html

  6. entopticon

    Really Tim, Ludwig von Mises? That’s who you are trying to hold up as a relevant economist? For one thing, he hadn’t done any significant economic consulting at the governmental level since he was an advisor to the Austrian government during the Austrofascist regime of Engelbert Dollfuss in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. For another, he has been dead for nearly four decades. To offer him up as proof that Rand’s ideas are gaining popularity with economists just seems more than a bit silly.

    I am at a loss to imagine how you could seriously say that Rand’s ideas have held up well and are gaining popularity. As William F. Buckley famously said in his obituary for Rand in the NY Times: “Ayn Rand is dead. So, incidentally, is the philosophy she sought to launch dead; it was in fact stillborn.”

    At the other end of the political spectrum, Noam Chomsky (who has famously been called the smartest man alive) considered Rand to be “one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history.”

    The website for the Objective Standard proudly displays the motto “Exploit the Earth or die.” They bash environmentalism because it doesn’t fit their greed is good model, and you think that sort of archaic reasoning stands the test of time?

    Rand’s ideas may still be the threadbare moral justification for the unconscionably amoral acts of contemporary robber barons, and members of apocalypse obsessed right-wing extremist militia groups may keep copies of the Fountainhead under their pillows next to their glocks, but as William F Buckley rightly stated, her ideas aren’t significant now because they never warranted merit in the first place.

  7. Piffy!

    “they never warranted merit in the first place. ”

    Tim and a few others seem content to merely argue theory for infinity. Even thought it has no bearing on today’s reality, and would not hold up ooutside of a vacuum. Some of the ideas conveyed obviously hold some legitimacy, like any pop-philosophy, but all-in-all it is just a dumb, poorly realized piece of literature. The bible is better-written, and more believable.

    Its a crappy book that purports a pseudo-philosophy for people who are mad at reality.

    Kinda the D & D of the economic world.

  8. rationalinfidel

    “Even thought it has no bearing on today’s reality, and would not hold up ooutside of a vacuum.”

    Can you count the errors in thinking that would lead to such an utterance?

  9. rationalinfidel

    The (PFKaP) wrote, “Its a crappy book that purports a pseudo-philosophy for people who are mad at reality.”

    In the “crappy book,” Rand wrote:

    “Happiness is not to be achieved at the command of emotional whims. Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge.”

    “Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer.”

    “Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions.”

    Yeah, Rand sure must have been “mad” at reality.

    When I read her, I am struck by how much life she was able to live – by properly understanding reality.

  10. entopticon

    Thank you irrationalinfidel, for providing those quotes, which incontrovertibly proved to us that she most certainly was a remarkably “crappy” author indeed. Those ham-fisted attempts at philosophical depth were absolutely excruciating to read because they really were just that bad.

  11. rationalinfidel

    entopticon spews: “Rand’s ideas may still be the threadbare moral justification for the unconscionably amoral acts of contemporary robber barons, and members of apocalypse obsessed right-wing extremist militia groups may keep copies of the Fountainhead under their pillows next to their glocks, but as William F Buckley rightly stated, her ideas aren’t significant now because they never warranted merit in the first place.”

    I wonder, and perhaps others do as well, is it possible for you to make even a single argument that does not contain one or more of those logical fallacies that are apparent to any casual reader?

  12. entopticon

    irrationalinfidel, each time you criticize me for supposed logical fallacies without being able to substantiate it with the slightest cogent argument whatsoever, it is more and more hysterically funny. My logic is just fine. Thanks for the laugh.

    If your logic was robust you would probably wouldn’t be squirming around trying to defend the crackpot economic and philosophical theories of a hack screenwriter turned cult leader with virtually no economic or philosophical credentials whatsoever.

  13. rationalinfidel

    (This post, from a similar and related thread, is copied here in order to address a few more of entopticon’s false claims.)

    ————————————–

    After my less than exhaustive look at the logical fallacies in your writing, entopticon, you write: “It truly is hysterical how after all of that blather, you still weren’t able to substantiate even one logical fallacy.”

    I am happy to leave it to the objective reader to decide whether I have demonstrated the illogic of your comments. Truth is, entopticon, it wasn’t even necessary. I could rightly be criticized by other readers for pointing out the obvious – despite your claims of “air-tight reasoning.”

    Continuing with your deft use of things that don’t matter, you write: “My logic managed to get me through graduate school at an ivy league university and earned me quite of bit of respect in the academic world over the years, to the point where I have both published in and refereed articles for academic journals. Real academic journals, not silly tripe like the Objectivist Standard. I don’t say this to brag; just to point out that I do have evidence that my intellectual rigor is not so weak as you make it out to be.”

    I may be wrong, but I’m just guessing that the faculty and administration of this “ivy league university” are breathing a sigh of relief that you didn’t mention the university by name. Seriously, entopticon, you ought to understand that none of that matters. I will judge you, and others will, too, based upon what you write here. If you think that your words here do not properly reflect your ability to think and write, then get about the business of changing your approach.

    You see, entopticon, your claims don’t gain validity with repetition, invective, or confidence. They will be judged based upon the degree to which they comport with reality.

    Because, in the search for truth, nothing … else … matters.

    Forgive me, but I do need to visit another of your claims. You wrote: “You really shouldn’t accuse ME of just making things up when I already irrefutably proved that you in fact made up a claim about Rand positing a metaphysics when in fact she went to great lengths to argue just the opposite.”

    Well, no again, entopticon. Just because I don’t correct each of your distortions, it is a logical fallacy to conclude that they have been accepted as true. I’m pretty sure we covered that, so you might want to change seats and get a bit closer to the front of the class.

    Here is some of what Rand wrote on the topic in her book Philosophy, Who Needs It:

    “In philosophy, the fundamentals are metaphysics and epistemology. On the basis of a knowable universe and of a rational faculty’s competence to grasp it, you can define man’s proper ethics, politics and esthetics. (And if you make an error, you retain the means and the frame of reference necessary to correct it.) But what will you accomplish if you advocate honesty in ethics, while telling men that there is no such thing as truth, fact or reality? What will you do if you advocate political freedom on the grounds that you feel it is good, and find yourself confronting an ambitious thug who declares that he feels quite differently?”

    So, entopticon, you assert that Rand argued against a metaphysics, but when we read what Rand actually wrote, and published, we find the statement: “In philosophy, the fundamentals are metaphysics and epistemology.”

    Staying on this topic of metaphysics, allow me to include another, rather concise, statement by Rand when she was asked to summarize her philosophy:

    Metaphysics: Objective Reality
    Epistemology: Reason
    Ethics: Self-interest
    Politics: Capitalism

    It would be good for you to re-read those words, and perhaps a book or two of Rand’s, as they also put to rest your false claim that she derived her ethics from her politics, rather than the reverse. The hierarchy of knowledge, and of philosophy, was something Rand considered to be an important part of her epistemology.

    So, exactly what do you mean by “irrefutably” proving something, entopticon? We are beginning to learn that word meanings are very flexible to you. Like when you said, “I think egoism is egotism, whether you like it or not. Lump it.”

    And you claim that “… (I) don’t have reason on (my) side, …” You do have a swagger, entopticon, I’ll give you that.

  14. entopticon

    irrationalinfidel, while I do applaud your attempt to swim at the deep end of the pool, I just don’t have the patience to humor the mumbo-jumbo that you are substituting for reason here. It is almost cute, but frankly, your attempts remind me of the endearing but absurd appeal of a small child trying to wear their parents clothes.

    Here is a telling example: “Now, please explain why you do not believe that capitalism is the proper political/economic system when it is the only system that is consistent with your ethical position: man’s right to be free.”

    I am just not going to try to have a serious conversation with that sort of silly nonsense in the mix. The arguments that you are trying to pass off as robust are actually anything but. The fact that you would ask a question like that, one with your own silly criteria built into the answer, is just too funny. I most certainly do not accept your ludicrous premise.

    And then you turn right around and do it again with your hilarious attempt to determine the answer by dictating its parameters with your absurdly silly criteria. I don’t respect your claim that laissez faire, unregulated capitalism is the only real capitalism. Neither do the vast majority of economists, obviously, since there is not a living economist pushing that sort of nonsense who is taken the remotest bit seriously.

  15. rationalinfidel

    A review of your posts, entopticon, reveals a pattern to what you believe to be a logical argument:

    Ayn Rand is a ___.
    Her philosophy is nothing but ___.
    Anyone who finds merit to anything she said is a ___.
    Take my word for this because I am very smart.
    My proof is that lots of people agree with me.
    Also because I sometimes mention L. Ron Hubbard.

    And you call this “the deep end of the pool.” You apparently believe that your deficit in reasoning must be compensated for in swagger.

    When I point out that your alma mater (an Ivy League school, no less!) has little to do with the logic of your arguments and that your writing here might cause some embarrassment to the school, you reply, “Actually, I was graduated a year early and won the department award.”

    Well that’s good, entopticon. Your parents must be very proud. But you now reveal that you are missing two points, rather than only one. First, that your “credentials” are irrelevant. And second, that the school might be embarrassed about your conduct here, today. Not at some point in the past. (Unless you got that “department award” for your comments on this forum.)

    No, entopticon, I won’t be offering my “credentials.” If it warms you to believe that I could only muster “a few semesters of community college,” feel free. But you shouldn’t pretend that such an assumption bolsters your “argument.”

    Though you call Rand “a greedy imbecile” and label her ideas “completely ludicrous,” “pathetic blather” and “completely asinine,” I am hoping you are willing to back off from the emotional attacks for just a moment and consider the following excerpts.

    You wrote, “It is an obvious truism that as long as most people feel the way I do, (Rand’s) crackpot theories will never instituted [sic].”

    Rand said (almost 45 years ago),
    “Reason is man’s tool of knowledge, the faculty that enables him to perceive the facts of reality. To act rationally means to act in accordance with the facts of reality. Emotions are not tools of cognition. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts; it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. Emotions are the result of your value judgments; they are caused by your basic premises, which you may hold consciously or subconsciously, which may be right or wrong.”

    Did you catch that, entopticon? “What you feel tells you nothing about the facts; it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts.”

    One might wonder if she knew you personally.

  16. rationalinfidel

    Would it help, entopticon, if I asked the question this way:

    “Why do you believe that capitalism is not consistent with your belief that a man has a right to his own life?”

    You should find that phrasing acceptable.

    Oh, and add the redundant modifiers to capitalism if it helps you, e.g., free-market-capitalism, or really-free-free-market-capitalism, or not-an-ounce-of-socialism-capitalism, or voluntary-trade-capitalism.

  17. Why am I just now seeing all of these comments? This is awesome! Thanks, guys. I am happy to have sparked this sort of debate! :D

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