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The Virtue of Selfishness

Table of Contents

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand


This book is a collection of articles by Rand and her disciple, Branden. She discusses her objectivist ethics, how it contrasts with the evil systems of altruism and consequentialism. She also talks about some practical applications of this ethical system (how to handle emergencies, sacrificing oneself for a loved one, how one might raise money for government consensually, what government should do given objectivist ethics, etc.)

I'd be fine without the bits by Branden. While I can't say that Rand is all that good of a novelist, she is quite good at the sort of writing she does here: short, relatively clear, full of righteous fire. Branden's articles feel like a rather inferior cover version, especially when they are interspersed amongst Rand's writings.

I was roughly familiar with Rand's philosophy, having read Atlas Shrugged, but never completely understood its workings. I was especially confused as to how it could be 'objective'. How it could overcome the is-ought issue.

The book gave me a clearer picture of how the philosophy works, although I am not sure I am completely convinced that the argument holds. I am convinced enough that I want to think about it further however, and enjoyed the book.

I worked through my understanding of her argument in my notes, there are likely mistakes as I'm still not certain I am grasping certain parts.

Update: I still do not think that her argument holds. This book did cause me to reevaluate my moral beleifs however, and I moved from a confident utilitarian to a moral nihilist between when I first read the book and writing this update.



loc: 86 There are two moral questions which altruism lumps together into one “package-deal”: (1) What are values? (2) Who should be the beneficiary of values? Altruism substitutes the second for the first; it evades the task of defining a code of moral values, thus leaving man, in fact, without moral guidance.

loc: 93 Observe the indecency of what passes for moral judgments today. An industrialist who produces a fortune, and a gangster who robs a bank are regarded as equally immoral, since they both sought wealth for their own “selfish” benefit. A young man who gives up his career in order to support his parents and never rises beyond the rank of grocery clerk is regarded as morally superior to the young man who endures an excruciating struggle and achieves his personal ambition. A dictator is regarded as moral, since the unspeakable atrocities he committed were intended to benefit “the people,” not himself.

The dictator example doesn't always apply..

loc: 105 Since nature does not provide man with an automatic form of survival, since he has to support his life by his own effort, the doctrine that concern with one's own interests is evil means that man's desire to live is evil—that man's life, as such, is evil. No doctrine could be more evil than that. Yet that is the meaning of altruism, implicit in such examples as the equation of an industrialist with a robber. There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level

loc: 117 If you wonder about the reasons behind the ugly mixture of cynicism and guilt in which most men spend their lives, these are the reasons: cynicism, because they neither practice nor accept the altruist morality—guilt, because they dare not reject it. To rebel against so devastating an evil, one has to rebel against its basic premise. To redeem both man and morality, it is the concept of “selfishness” that one has to redeem.

loc: 140 A similar type of error is committed by the man who declares that since man must be guided by his own independent judgment, any action he chooses to take is moral if he chooses it. One's own independent judgment is the means by which one must choose one's actions, but it is not a moral criterion nor a moral validation: only reference to a demonstrable principle can validate one's choices.

Whence emerge these principles? Trying to understand that is the main reason I'm reading this book. I never quite understood how she was getting from A to B in the Atlas Shrugged speech.

The Objectivist Ethics

loc: 177 The first question is not: What particular code of values should man accept? The first question is: Does man need values at all—and why?

loc: 191 Most philosophers took the existence of ethics for granted, as the given, as a historical fact, and were not concerned with discovering its metaphysical cause or objective validation. Many of them attempted to break the traditional monopoly of mysticism in the field of ethics and, allegedly, to define a rational, scientific, nonreligious morality. But their attempts consisted of trying to justify them on social grounds, merely substituting society for God.

Society necessary when describing ethics as it exists in the world, agree that normative ethics cannot emerge from society.

loc: 205 man must be guided by something other than reason. By what? Faith—instinct—intuition—revelation—feeling—taste—urge—wish—whim Today, as in the past, most philosophers agree that the ultimate standard of ethics is whim (they call it “arbitrary postulate” or “subjective choice” or “emotional commitment”)—and the battle is only over the question of whose whim: one's own or society's or the dictator's or God's. Whatever else they may disagree about, today's moralists agree that ethics is a subjective issue and that the three things barred from its field are: reason—mind—reality.

I agree with this, since I have never found away around it. Have never found anything objective beneath my intuitions. Moral subjecitivsm seems the only rational view.

loc: 215 “Value” is that which one acts to gain and/or keep. The concept “value” is not a primary; it presupposes an answer to the question: of value to whom and for what? It presupposes an entity capable of acting to achieve a goal in the face of an alternative. Where no alternative exists, no goals and no values are possible. I quote from Galt's speech: “There is only one fundamental alternative in the universe: existence or nonexistence—and it pertains to a single class of entities: to living organisms. The existence of inanimate matter is unconditional, the existence of life is not: it depends on a specific course of action. Matter is indestructible, it changes its forms, but it cannot cease to exist. It is only a living organism that faces a constant alternative: the issue of life or death. Life is a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action. If an organism fails in that action, it dies; its chemical elements remain, but its life goes out of existence. It is only the concept of ‘Life' that makes the concept of ‘Value' possible. It is only to a living entity that things can be good or evil.”

loc: 239 Life can be kept in existence only by a constant process of self-sustaining action. The goal of that action, the ultimate value which, to be kept, must be gained through its every moment, is the organism's life. An ultimate value is that final goal or end to which all lesser goals are the means—and it sets the standard by which all lesser goals are evaluated. An organism's life is its standard of value: that which furthers its life is the good, that which threatens it is the evil.

Intuitively, self sacrifice can be moral, however this is not her point. As I understand it, this passage is the crux of her is-ought bridge. She is not saying that the organism's life is necessarily its final, highest value, she is saying that it is its standard of value. The value at the bottom of the pyramid that all others are built upon. If the creature would by its actions cease to exist, then no values would be possible, therefore its continued life is the source of value to it. Actions that allow continued life, allow for the continued existance of value. Moral action is action that allows continued existance (but she adds, it should be actions that allow existance AS A MAN, which it seems to me tries to sneak something else into this argument).

loc: 252 The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”

Here she says that a creature's values emerge from its own nature. She has previously said that there can be no concept of value if there is no possibility of choice, for example a plant.

The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do This is the core of the idea. FOR THE CREATURE, if it ceases to exist, NO value is possible, since value is only possible alternatives exist, and a dead creature has no alternatives left to it. Therefore, the ultimate (initial?) value is the creature's survival.

She says that "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."

An animal is mostly controlled by instinct, so its moral range will be limited, but there is still presumably an ethics for wild animals. A bird should be judged based on its actions allowing to survive qua bird. What is necessary for its survival is deterined by its nature. If it does not fly, then this would be an immoral act. If it decides not to nest-build, this would be an immoral act.

If an AI was built with a need to create paperclips, for it to NOT create paperclips would be an immoral act. If a human pleads with it to not destroy their body as fuel for the paperclip factory, and manages to convince the AI to spare its life, this is an immoral act for the AI, as it would not be doing what is necessary for its survival qua paperclip-AI.

If we come back to my previous query about what she means when she says "moral actions are actions allowing continued existance AS A MAN", we see that she means actions that conform to the creatrue's nature. Again, she is trying to avoid an is-ought jump here, instead of saying 'men ought to behave like X' she is saying 'man's nature is such that certain actions are BEST for its survival'. When she says 'survival qua man' she means 'survival, using the methods provided to man' instead of survival as a brute, using only force, ignoring the power of reason that has been given us.

loc: 297 Man has no automatic code of survival. He has no automatic course of action, no automatic set of values. His senses do not tell him automatically what is good for him or evil, what will benefit his life or endanger it, what goals he should pursue and what means will achieve them, what values his life depends on, what course of action it requires. His own consciousness has to discover the answers to all these questions—but his consciousness will not function automatically. Man, the highest living species on this earth—the being whose consciousness has a limitless capacity for gaining knowledge—man is the only living entity born without any guarantee of remaining conscious at all. Man's particular distinction from all other living species

Man is not instincitvely moral. He must use rationality to build his own ethical system. This allows a certain amount of difference between each person's ethics, since 'what is necessary for their survival qua man' might be different depending on their body, mind, society, opporunities.

loc: 355 Knowledge, for any conscious organism, is the means of survival; to a living consciousness, every “is” implies an “ought.” Man is free to choose not to be conscious, but not free to escape the penalty of unconsciousness: destruction. Man is the only living species that has the power to act as his own destroyer—and that is the way he has acted through most of his history.

loc: 370 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. Since everything man needs has to be discovered by his own mind and produced by his own effort, the two essentials of the method of survival proper to a rational being are: thinking and productive work.

Rationality is 'good' because it is vital to man's survival qua man. (indeed, a truly rational, agenty human is a powerful thing, albeit rare).

loc: 389 Man cannot survive, like an animal, by acting on the range of the moment. An animal's life consists of a series of separate cycles, repeated over and over again, such as the cycle of breeding its young, or of storing food for the winter; an animal's consciousness cannot integrate its entire lifespan; it can carry just so far, then the animal has to begin the cycle all over again, with no connection to the past. Man's life is a continuous whole: for good or evil, every day, year and decade of his life holds the sum of all the days behind him. He can alter his choices, he is free to change the direction of his course, he is even free, in many cases, to atone for the consequences of his past—but he is not free to escape them, nor to live his life with impunity on the range of the moment, like an animal, a playboy or a thug.

Random note: even if I don't accept her arguments (unsure!), if everybody in the world read Atlas Shrugged, it would probably be a good thing. She is a powerful counterweight to the things she criticises.

loc: 398 It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a mindless brute, waiting for another brute to crush his skull. It does not mean the momentary physical survival of a crawling aggregate of muscles who is willing to accept any terms, obey any thug and surrender any values, for the sake of what is known as “survival at any price,” which may or may not last a week or a year. “Man's survival qua man” means the terms, methods, conditions and goals required for the survival of a rational being through the whole of his lifespan—in all those aspects of existence which are open to his choice.

loc: 415 Value is that which one acts to gain and/or keep—virtue is the act by which one gains and/or keeps it. The three cardinal values of the Objectivist ethics—the three values which, together, are the means to and the realization of one's ultimate value, one's own life—are: Reason, Purpose, Self-Esteem, with their three corresponding virtues: Rationality, Productiveness, Pride.

loc: 424 The virtue of Rationality means the recognition and acceptance of reason as one's only source of knowledge, one's only judge of values and one's only guide to action. It means one's total commitment to a state of full, conscious awareness, to the maintenance of a full mental focus in all issues, in all choices, in all of one's waking hours. It means a commitment to the fullest perception of reality within one's power and to the constant, active expansion of one's perception, i.e., of one's knowledge. It means a commitment to the reality of one's own existence, i.e., to the principle that all of one's goals, values and actions take place in reality and, therefore, that one must never place any value or consideration whatsoever above one's perception of reality. It means a commitment to the principle that all of one's convictions, values, goals, desires and actions must be based on, derived from, chosen and validated by a process of thought—as precise and scrupulous a process of thought, directed by as ruthlessly strict an application of logic, as one's fullest capacity permits. It means one's acceptance of the responsibility of forming one's own judgments and of living by the work of one's own mind (which is the virtue of Independence). It means that one must never sacrifice one's convictions to the opinions or wishes of others (which is the virtue of Integrity)—that one must never attempt to fake reality in any manner (which is the virtue of Honesty) —that one must never seek or grant the unearned and undeserved, neither in matter nor in spirit (which is the virtue of Justice). It means that one must never desire effects without causes, and that one must never enact a cause without assuming full responsibility for its effects—that one must never act like a zombie, i.e., without knowing one's own purposes and motives—that one must never make any decisions, form any convictions or seek any values out of context, i.e., apart from or against the total, integrated sum of one's knowledge—and, above all, that one must never seek to get away with contradictions.

loc: 445 “Productive work” does not mean the unfocused performance of the motions of some job. It means the consciously chosen pursuit of a productive career, in any line of rational endeavor, great or modest, on any level of ability. It is not the degree of a man's ability nor the scale of his work that is ethically relevant here, but the fullest and most purposeful use of his mind.

loc: 457 The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others—and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man's highest moral purpose.

loc: 491 quote from Galt's speech: “Happiness is a state of noncontradictory 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…. 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.”

She says that hapiness is possible only for rational men, because the irrational is (by definition) not tied to reality. Not correct, or achievable.

loc: 503 If you achieve that which is the good by a rational standard of value, it will necessarily make you happy; but that which makes you happy, by some undefined emotional standard, is not necessarily the good. To take “whatever makes one happy” as a guide to action means: to be guided by nothing but one's emotional whims. Emotions are not tools of cognition; to be guided by whims—by desires whose source, nature and meaning one does not know—is to turn oneself into a blind robot, operated by unknowable demons (by one's stale evasions), a robot knocking its stagnant brains out against the walls of reality which it refuses to see.

loc: 513 The philosophers who attempted to devise an allegedly rational code of ethics gave mankind nothing but a choice of whims: the “selfish” pursuit of one's own whims (such as the ethics of Nietzsche)—or “selfless” service to the whims of others (such as the ethics of Bentham, Mill, Comte and of all social hedonists, whether they allowed man to include his own whims among the millions of others or advised him to turn himself into a totally selfless “shmoo” that seeks to be eaten by others).

loc: 528 Today, most people hold this premise as an absolute not to be questioned. And when one speaks of man's right to exist for his own sake, for his own rational self-interest, most people assume automatically that this means his right to sacrifice others. Such an assumption is a confession of their own belief that to injure, enslave, rob or murder others is in man's self-interest—which he must selflessly renounce. The idea that man's self-interest can be served only by a non-sacrificial relationship with others has never occurred to those humanitarian apostles of unselfishness, who proclaim their desire to achieve the brotherhood of men.

!!! Why? Should be possible to somehow build the concept that mutual benefitial trade is rational for man from the ultimate value of man's survival qua man.

loc: 539 The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value. The principle of trade is the only rational ethical principle for all human relationships, personal and social, private and public, spiritual and material. It is the principle of justice.

As above, why is trade rational here, presumably stems from man's nature. Equally, it presumably does not hold for a lion. For a lion, taking from other males is essential to their survival qua lion.

loc: 565 But these very benefits indicate, delimit and define what kind of men can be of value to one another and in what kind of society: only rational, productive, independent men in a rational, productive, free society. Parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs can be of no value to a human being—nor can he gain any benefit from living in a society geared to their needs, demands and protection, a society that treats him as a sacrificial animal and penalizes him for his virtues in order to reward them for their vices, which means: a society based on the ethics of altruism.

loc: 576 The only proper, moral purpose of a government is to protect man's rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence—to protect his right to his own life, to his own liberty, to his own property and to the pursuit of his own happiness. Without property rights, no other rights are possible.

See Bastiat, La Loi

Mental Health versus Mysticism and Self-Sacrifice by Nathaniel Branden

loc: 669 There is no greater self-delusion than to imagine that one can render unto reason that which is reason's and unto faith that which is faith's. Faith cannot be circumscribed or delimited; to surrender one's consciousness by an inch, is to surrender one's consciousness in total. Either reason is an absolute to a mind or it is not—and if it is not, there is no place to draw the line, no principle by which to draw it, no barrier faith cannot cross, no part of one's life faith cannot invade: one remains rational until and unless one's feelings decree otherwise.

loc: 720 A sacrifice, it is necessary to remember, means the surrender of a higher value in favor of a lower value or of a nonvalue. If one gives up that which one does not value in order to obtain that which one does value—or if one gives up a lesser value in order to obtain a greater one—this is not a sacrifice, but a gain.

OK, but it is not used this way. People generally use it to mean the surrender of ones life for a higher value, such as 'sacrificed his life to save Rome'. Presumably nothing wrong with this from an objectivist point of view, as long as he truly prefers to die than live in a world without Rome.

loc: 731 Do mystics declare that all they demand of man is that he sacrifice his happiness? To sacrifice one's happiness is to sacrifice one's desires; to sacrifice one's desires is to sacrifice one's values; to sacrifice one's values is to sacrifice one's judgment; to sacrifice one's judgment is to sacrifice one's mind—and it is nothing less than this that the creed of self-sacrifice aims at and demands.

loc: 759 Or the adolescent who flees into homosexuality because he has been taught that sex is evil and that women are to be worshiped, but not desired?

'Raises eyebrow'

The Ethics of Emergencies by Ayn Rand

loc: 815 But suppose he let her die in order to spend his money on saving the lives of ten other women, none of whom meant anything to him—as the ethics of altruism would require. That would be a sacrifice. Here the difference between Objectivism and altruism can be seen most clearly: if sacrifice is the moral principle of action, then that husband should sacrifice his wife for the sake of ten other women. What distinguishes the wife from the ten others? Nothing but her value to the husband who has to make the choice-nothing but the fact that his happiness requires her survival. The Objectivist ethics would tell him: your highest moral purpose is the achievement of your own happiness, your money is yours, use it to save your wife, that is your moral right and your rational, moral choice.

Of course this is how real people behave. Her point is that their belief in altruism might make them feel guilty about this choice.

Also, I am not sure how hapiness is moral, presumably it can be built on top of 'survival qua man', but not sure how yet.

loc: 829 If the person to be saved is not a stranger, then the risk one should be willing to take is greater in proportion to the greatness of that person's value to oneself. If it is the man or woman one loves, then one can be willing to give one's own life to save him or her—for the selfish reason that life without the loved person could be unbearable.

loc: 836 Since one's own happiness is the moral purpose of one's life, the man who fails to achieve it because of his own default, because of his failure to fight for it, is morally guilty. The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not “selflessness” or “sacrifice,” but integrity. Integrity is loyalty to one's convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one's values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality. If a man professes to love a woman, yet his actions are indifferent, inimical or damaging to her, it is his lack of integrity that makes him immoral.

So an objectivist could behave the same as a utilitarian, if they 'loved all mankind'. It would however be immoral if they were behaving this way only out of a sense of duty, because they thought it was right to be altruistic and work to better the lives of others.

loc: 849 What, then, should one properly grant to strangers? The generalized respect and good will which one should grant to a human being in the name of the potential value he represents—until and unless he forfeits it.


See also the book 'The evolution of cooperation' for a rigorous proof of why it is good to be 'nice by default'

loc: 873 It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one's power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that after they all reach shore, he should devote his efforts to saving his fellow passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor does it mean that he should spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck victims to save.

loc: 885 The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency and to turn the misfortune of some into a first mortgage on the lives of others.

loc: 900 The moral purpose of a man's life is the achievement of his own happiness. This does not mean that he is indifferent to all men, that human life is of no value to him and that he has no reason to help others in an emergency. But it does mean that he does not subordinate his life to the welfare of others, that he does not sacrifice himself to their needs, that the relief of their suffering is not his primary concern, that any help he gives is an exception, not a rule, an act of generosity, not of moral duty, that it is marginal and incidental —as disasters are marginal and incidental in the course of human existence—and that values, not disasters, are the goal, the first concern and the motive power of his life.

The “Conflicts” of Men's Interests by Ayn Rand

loc: 909 Some students of Objectivism find it difficult to grasp the Objectivist principle that “there are no conflicts of interests among rational men.”

loc: 925 In choosing his goals (the specific values he seeks to gain and/or keep), a rational man is guided by his thinking (by a process of reason)—not by his feelings or desires. He does not regard desires as irreducible primaries, as the given, which he is destined irresistibly to pursue. He does not regard “because I want it” or “because I feel like it” as a sufficient cause and validation of his actions. He chooses and/or identifies his desires by a process of reason, and he does not act to achieve a desire until and unless he is able rationally to validate it in the full context of his knowledge and of his other values and goals. He does not act until he is able to say: “I want it because it is right.”

loc: 931 He knows that the contradictory is the impossible, that a contradiction cannot be achieved in reality and that the attempt to achieve it can lead only to disaster and destruction. Therefore, he does not permit himself to hold contradictory values, to pursue contradictory goals, or to imagine that the pursuit of a contradiction can ever be to his interest.

loc: 965 It is in this sense that a rational man never holds a desire or pursues a goal which cannot be achieved by his own effort. He trades value for value. He never seeks or desires the unearned. If he undertakes to achieve a goal that requires the cooperation of many people, he never counts on anything but his own ability to persuade them and their voluntary agreement.

Vaguely stoic, which makes sense, since stoicism attempt to define how to live a good life 'qua man'.

loc: 1,022 He knows also that there are no conflicts of interests among rational men even in the issue of love. Like any other value, love is not a static quantity to be divided, but an unlimited response to be earned. The love for one friend is not a threat to the love for another, and neither is the love for the various members of one's family, assuming they have earned it. The most exclusive form—romantic love—is not an issue of competition. If two men are in love with the same woman, what she feels for either of them is not determined by what she feels for the other and is not taken away from him. If she chooses one of them, the “loser” could not have had what the “winner” has earned. It is only among the irrational, emotion-motivated persons, whose love is divorced from any standards of value, that chance rivalries, accidental conflicts and blind choices prevail. But then, whoever wins does not win much. Among the emotion-driven, neither love nor any other emotion has any meaning.

loc: 1,033 The mere fact that two men desire the same job does not constitute proof that either of them is entitled to it or deserves it, and that his interests are damaged if he does not obtain it.

Isn't Everyone Selfish? by Nathaniel Branden

The Psychology of Pleasure by Nathaniel Branden

loc: 1,144 If a man makes an error in his choice of values, his emotional mechanism will not correct him: it has no will of its own. If a man's values are such that he desires things which, in fact and in reality, lead to his destruction, his emotional mechanism will not save him, but will, instead, urge him on toward destruction: he will have set it in reverse, against himself and against the facts of reality, against his own life.

loc: 1,251 Since the function of pleasure is to afford man a sense of his own efficacy, the neurotic is caught in a deadly conflict: he is compelled, by his nature as man, to feel a desperate need for pleasure, as a confirmation and expression of his control over reality—but he can find pleasure only in an escape from reality. That is the reason why his pleasures do not work, why they bring him, not a sense of pride, fulfillment, inspiration, but a sense of guilt, frustration, hopelessness, shame.

Doesn't Life Require Compromise? by Ayn Rand

loc: 1,267 It is only in regard to concretes or particulars, implementing a mutually accepted basic principle, that one may compromise. For instance, one may bargain with a buyer over the price one wants to receive for one's product, and agree on a sum somewhere between one's demand and his offer. The mutually accepted basic principle, in such case, is the principle of trade, namely: that the buyer must pay the seller for his product. But if one wanted to be paid and the alleged buyer wanted to obtain one's product for nothing, no compromise, agreement or discussion would be possible, only the total surrender of one or the other.

loc: 1,276 There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls; to accept “just a few controls” is to surrender the principle of inalienable individual rights and to substitute for it the principle of the government's unlimited, arbitrary power, thus delivering oneself into gradual enslavement.

loc: 1,300 The excuse, given in all such cases, is that the “compromise” is only temporary and that one will reclaim one's integrity at some indeterminate future date. But one cannot correct a husband's or wife's irrationality by giving in to it and encouraging it to grow. One cannot achieve the victory of one's ideas by helping to propagate their opposite. One cannot offer a literary masterpiece, “when one has become rich and famous,” to a following one has acquired by writing trash. If one found it difficult to maintain one's loyalty to one's own convictions at the start, a succession of betrayals—which helped to augment the power of the evil one lacked the courage to fight—will not make it easier at a later date, but will make it virtually impossible.

loc: 1,308 The next time you are tempted to ask: “Doesn't life require compromise?” translate that question into its actual meaning: “Doesn't life require the surrender of that which is true and good to that which is false and evil?” The answer is that that precisely is what life forbids—if one wishes to achieve anything but a stretch of tortured years spent in progressive self-destruction.

How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society? by Ayn Rand

Living free in an unfree world?

loc: 1,317 Nothing can corrupt and disintegrate a culture or a man's character as thoroughly as does the precept of moral agnosticism, the idea that one must never pass moral judgment on others, that one must be morally tolerant of anything, that the good consists of never distinguishing good from evil. It is obvious who profits and who loses by such a precept.

Yes! Interesting asymetry there.

loc: 1,329 It is only in today's reign of amoral cynicism, subjectivism and hooliganism that men may imagine themselves free to utter any sort of irrational judgment and to suffer no consequences. But, in fact, a man is to be judged by the judgments he pronounces. The things which he condemns or extols exist in objective reality and are open to the independent appraisal of others. It is his own moral character and standards that he reveals, when he blames or praises.

loc: 1,334 is their fear of this responsibility that prompts most people to adopt an attitude of indiscriminate moral neutrality. It is the fear best expressed in the precept: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” But that precept, in fact, is an abdication of moral responsibility: it is a moral blank check one gives to others in exchange for a moral blank check one expects for oneself.

loc: 1,355 This last means that one need not launch into unprovoked moral denunciations or debates, but that one must speak up in situations where silence can objectively be taken to mean agreement with or sanction of evil. When one deals with irrational persons, where argument is futile, a mere “I don't agree with you” is sufficient to negate any implication of moral sanction. When one deals with better people, a full statement of one's views may be morally required. But in no case and in no situation may one permit one's own values to be attacked or denounced, and keep silent.

The Cult of Moral Grayness by Ayn Rand

loc: 1,392 “Black and white,” in this context, means “good and evil.” (The reverse order used in that catch phrase is interesting psychologically.)

loc: 1,406 If, in a complex moral issue, a man struggles to determine what is right, and fails or makes an honest error, he cannot be regarded as “gray”; morally, he is “white.” Errors of knowledge are not breaches of morality; no proper moral code can demand infallibility or omniscience.

Ie. she rejects consequentialism

loc: 1,467 A mixed economy is an amoral war of pressure groups, devoid of principles, values or any reference to justice, a war whose ultimate weapon is the power of brute force, but whose outward form is a game of compromise. The cult of moral grayness is the ersatz morality which made it possible and to which men now cling in a panicky attempt to justify it.

loc: 1,474 Observe, in politics, that the term extremism has become a synonym of “evil,” regardless of the content of the issue (the evil is not what you are “extreme” about, but that you are “extreme”—i.e., consistent).


Collectivized Ethics by Ayn Rand

loc: 1,497 The questioner is ignoring or evading the basic premises of Objectivist ethics and is attempting to switch the discussion onto his own collectivist base. Observe that he does not ask: “Should anything be done?” but: “What will be done?”—as if the collectivist premise had been tacitly accepted and all that remains is a discussion of the means to implement it. Once, when Barbara Branden was asked by a student: “What will happen to the poor in an Objectivist society?”—she answered: “If you want to help them, you will not be stopped.” This is the essence of the whole issue and a perfect example of how one refuses to accept an adversary's premises as the basis of discussion. Only individual men have the right to decide when or whether they wish to help others; society—as an organized political system—has no rights in the matter at all.

And if you want to create a communist commune, you will not be stopped. This is why a free society is clearly superior. If you feel the need to force people to join your communist utopia using government force, then maybe it is not the utopia you believe it to be.

loc: 1,530 The hallmark of such mentalities is the advocacy of some grand scale public goal, without regard to context, costs or means. Out of context, such a goal can usually be shown to be desirable; it has to be public, because the costs are not to be earned, but to be expropriated; and a dense patch of venomous fog has to shroud the issue of means—because the means are to be human lives. “Medicare” is an example of such a project. “Isn't it desirable that the aged should have medical care in times of illness?” its advocates clamor. Considered out of context, the answer would be: yes, it is desirable. Who would have a reason to say no? And it is at this point that the mental processes of a collectivized brain are cut off; the rest is fog. Only the desire remains in his sight—it's the good, isn't it?—it's not for myself, it's for others, it's for the public, for a helpless, ailing public … The fog hides such facts as the enslavement and, therefore, the destruction of medical science, the regimentation and disintegration of all medical practice, and the sacrifice of the professional integrity, the freedom, the careers, the ambitions, the achievements, the happiness, the lives of the very men who are to provide that “desirable” goal—the doctors.

loc: 1,547 It is men's views of their public or political existence that the collectivized ethics of altruism has protected from the march of civilization and has preserved as a reservoir, a wildlife sanctuary, ruled by the mores of prehistorical savagery. If men have grasped some faint glimmer of respect for individual rights in their private dealings with one another, that glimmer vanishes when they turn to public issues—and what leaps into the political arena is a caveman who can't conceive of any reason why the tribe may not bash in the skull of any individual if it so desires.

But this tribal political instinct is part of man's nature is it not? To achieve his goals he must use the tribe? Is that not moral? Still unsure about all this..

loc: 1,593 The next time you encounter one of those “public-spirited” dreamers who tells you rancorously that “some very desirable goals cannot be achieved without everybody's participation,” tell him that if he cannot obtain everybody's voluntary participation, his goals had jolly well better remain un-achieved—and that men's lives are not his to dispose of. And, if you wish, give him the following example of the ideals he advocates. It is medically possible to take the corneas of a man's eyes immediately after his death and transplant them to the eyes of a living man who is blind, thus restoring his sight (in certain types of blindness). Now, according to collectivized ethics, this poses a social problem. Should we wait until a man's death to cut out his eyes, when other men need them? Should we regard everybody's eyes as public property and devise a “fair method of distribution”? Would you advocate cutting out a living man's eye and giving it to a blind man, so as to “equalize” them? No? Then don't struggle any further with questions about “public projects” in a free society. You know the answer. The principle is the same.

Rights vs Utilitarianism!

The Monument Builders by Ayn Rand

loc: 1,660 Since there is no such entity as “the public,” since the public is merely a number of individuals, any claimed or implied conflict of “the public interest” with private interests means that the interests of some men are to be sacrificed to the interests and wishes of others. Since the concept is so conveniently undefinable, its use rests only on any given gang's ability to proclaim that “The public, c'est moi”—and to maintain the claim at the point of a gun.

loc: 1,673 Greatness is achieved by the productive effort of a man's mind in the pursuit of clearly defined, rational goals. But a delusion of grandeur can be served only by the switching, undefinable chimera of a public monument—which is presented as a munificent gift to the victims whose forced labor or extorted money had paid for it—which is dedicated to the service of all and none, owned

The train station in Milan is a perfect example

loc: 1,718 When you consider socialism, do not fool yourself about its nature. Remember that there is no such dichotomy as “human rights” versus “property rights.” No human rights can exist without property rights. Since material goods are produced by the mind and effort of individual men, and are needed to sustain their lives, if the producer does not own the result of his effort, he does not own his life. To deny property rights means to turn men into property owned by the state. Whoever claims the “right” to “redistribute” the wealth produced by others is claiming the “right” to treat human beings as chattel.

loc: 1,723 consider the global devastation perpetrated by socialism, the sea of blood and the millions of victims, remember that they were sacrificed, not for “the good of mankind” nor for any “noble ideal,” but for the festering vanity of some scared brute or some pretentious mediocrity who craved a mantle of unearned “greatness”—and that the monument to socialism is a pyramid of public factories, public theaters and public parks, erected on a foundation of human corpses, with the figure of the ruler posturing on top, beating his chest and screaming his plea for “prestige” to the starless void above him.


Man's Rights by Ayn Rand

loc: 1,755 The most profoundly revolutionary achievement of the United States of America was the subordination of society to moral law. The principle of man's individual rights represented the extension of morality into the social system—as a limitation on the power of the state, as man's protection against the brute force of the collective, as the subordination of might to right. The United States was the first moral society in history. All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself. The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means to the peaceful, orderly, voluntary co-existence of individuals. All previous systems had held that man's life belongs to society, that society can dispose of him in any way it pleases, and that any freedom he enjoys is his only by favor, by the permission of society, which may be revoked at any time. The United States held that man's life is his by right (which means: by moral principle and by his nature), that a right is the property of an individual, that society as such has no rights, and that the only moral purpose of a government is the protection of individual rights.

loc: 1,770 The concept of a “right” pertains only to action—specifically, to freedom of action. It means freedom from physical compulsion, coercion or interference by other men. Thus, for every individual, a right is the moral sanction of a positive—of his freedom to act on his own judgment, for his own goals, by his own voluntary, uncoerced choice. As to his neighbors, his rights impose no obligations on them except of a negative kind: to abstain from violating his rights. The right to life is the source of all rights—and the right to property is their only implementation. Without property rights, no other rights are possible. Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life. The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.

loc: 1,794 The Declaration of Independence laid down the principle that “to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men.” This provided the only valid justification of a government and defined its only proper purpose: to protect man's rights by protecting him from physical violence. Thus the government's function was changed from the role of ruler to the role of servant. The government was set to protect man from criminals—and the Constitution was written to protect man from the government. The Bill of Rights was not directed against private citizens, but against the government—as an explicit declaration that individual rights supersede any public or social power.

loc: 1,838 Observe, in this context, the intellectual precision of the Founding Fathers: they spoke of the right to the pursuit of happiness—not of the right to happiness. It means that a man has the right to take the actions he deems necessary to achieve his happiness; it does not mean that others must make him happy.

loc: 1,859 Private citizens are not a threat to one another's rights or freedom. A private citizen who resorts to physical force and violates the rights of others is a criminal—and men have legal protection against him. Criminals are a small minority in any age or country. And the harm they have done to mankind is infinitesimal when compared to the horrors—the bloodshed, the wars, the persecutions, the confiscations, the famines, the enslavements, the wholesale destructions—perpetrated by mankind's governments. Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is men's deadliest enemy. It is not as protection against private actions, but against governmental actions that the Bill of Rights was written.

loc: 1,879 “Censorship” is a term pertaining only to governmental action. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one's own antagonists.

Collectivized “Rights” by Ayn Rand

loc: 1,958 the principle of individual rights. When a country's constitution places individual rights outside the reach of public authorities, the sphere of political power is severely delimited—and thus the citizens may, safely and properly, agree to abide by the decisions of a majority vote in this delimited sphere. The lives and property of minorities or dissenters are not at stake, are not subject to vote and are not endangered by any majority decision; no man or group holds a blank check on power over others.

Bastiat, La Loi again

loc: 1,964 But this right cannot be claimed by dictatorships, by savage tribes or by any form of absolutist tyranny. A nation that violates the rights of its own citizens cannot claim any rights whatsoever. In the issue of rights, as in all moral issues, there can be no double standard. A nation ruled by brute physical force is not a nation, but a horde—whether it is led by Attila, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Khrushchev or Castro. What rights could Attila claim and on what grounds? This applies to all forms of tribal savagery, ancient or modern, primitive or “industrialized.” Neither geography nor race nor tradition nor previous state of development can confer on some human beings the “right” to violate the rights of others.

The Nature of Government by Ayn Rand

loc: 2,065 If a society left the retaliatory use of force in the hands of individual citizens, it would degenerate into mob rule, lynch law and an endless series of bloody private feuds or vendettas.

Contrast David Friedman, who disagrees.

loc: 2,076 Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.

loc: 2,121 The proper functions of a government fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men's rights: the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws.

loc: 2,133 even a society whose every member were fully rational and faultlessly moral, could not function in a state of anarchy; it is the need of objective laws and of an arbiter for honest disagreements among men that necessitates the establishment of a government.

loc: 2,158 A free society—like any other human product—cannot be achieved by random means, by mere wishing or by the leaders' “good intentions.” A complex legal system, based on objectively valid principles, is required to make a society free and to keep it free—a system that does not depend on the motives, the moral character or the intentions of any given official, a system that leaves no opportunity, no legal loophole for the development of tyranny.

Government Financing in a Free Society by Ayn Rand

loc: 2,189 In a fully free society, taxation—or, to be exact, payment for governmental services—would be voluntary. Since the proper services of a government—the police, the armed forces, the law courts—are demonstrably needed by individual citizens and affect their interests directly, the citizens would (and should) be willing to pay for such services, as they pay for insurance.

Lots of lovely free riders

loc: 2,199 As an illustration (and only as an illustration), consider the following possibility. One of the most vitally needed services, which only a government can render, is the protection of contractual agreements among citizens. Suppose that the government were to protect—i.e., to recognize as legally valid and enforceable—only those contracts which had been insured by the payment, to the government, of a premium in the amount of a legally fixed percentage of the sums involved in the contractual transaction. Such an insurance would not be compulsory; there would be no legal penalty imposed on those who did not choose to take it—they would be free to make verbal agreements or to sign uninsured contracts, if they so wished. The only consequence would be that such agreements or contracts would not be legally enforceable; if they were broken, the injured party would not be able to seek redress in a court of law.

That one is easy, how about directly financing the army?

loc: 2,210 When one considers the magnitude of the wealth involved in credit transactions, one can see that the percentage required to pay for such governmental insurance would be infinitesimal—much smaller than that paid for other types of insurance—yet it would be sufficient to finance all the other functions of a proper government. (If necessary, that percentage could be legally increased in time of war; or other, but similar, methods of raising money could be established for clearly defined wartime needs.)

Courts would finance everything, including army!

loc: 2,214 This particular “plan” is mentioned here only as an illustration of a possible method of approach to the problem—not as a definitive answer nor as a program to advocate at present.

loc: 2,242 When a government, be it a monarch or a “democratic” parliament, is regarded as a provider of gratuitous services, it is only a question of time before it begins to enlarge its services and the sphere of the gratuitous (today, this process is called the growth of “the public sector of the economy”) until it becomes, and has to become, the instrument of pressure-group warfare—of economic groups looting one another.

La Loi!

The Divine Right of Stagnation by Nathaniel Branden

loc: 2,315 “In the writings of both medievalists and socialists, one can observe the unmistakable longing for a society in which man's existence will be automatically guaranteed to him—that is, in which man will not have to bear responsibility for his own survival. Both camps project their ideal society as one characterized by that which they call ‘harmony,' by freedom from rapid change or challenge or the exacting demands of competition; a society in which each must do his prescribed part to contribute to the well-being of the whole, but in which no one will face the necessity of making choices and decisions that will crucially affect his life and future; in which the question of what one has or has not earned, and does or does not deserve, will not come up; in which rewards will not be tied to achievement and in which someone's benevolence will guarantee that one need never bear the consequences of one's errors. The failure of capitalism to conform to what may be termed this pastoral view of existence, is essential to the medievalists' and socialists' indictment of a free society. It is not a Garden of Eden that capitalism offers men.”

loc: 2,335 Alone on a desert island, bearing sole responsibility for his own survival, no man could permit himself the delusion that tomorrow is not his concern, that he can safely rest on yesterday's knowledge and skills, and that nature owes him “security.” It is only in society—where the burden of a man's default can be passed to the shoulders of a man who did not default—that such a delusion can be indulged in.

Racism by Ayn Rand

Unfortunate chapter name. To clarify: she is against it

loc: 2,398 Even if it were proved—which it is not—that the incidence of men of potentially superior brain power is greater among the members of certain races than among the members of others, it would still tell us nothing about any given individual and it would be irrelevant to one's judgment of him.

loc: 2,409 To ascribe one's virtues to one's racial origin, is to confess that one has no knowledge of the process by which virtues are acquired and, most often, that one has failed to acquire them. The overwhelming majority of racists are men who have earned no sense of personal identity, who can claim no individual achievement or distinction, and who seek the illusion of a “tribal self-esteem” by alleging the inferiority of some other tribe.

loc: 2,433 It is not a man's ancestors or relatives or genes or body chemistry that count in a free market, but only one human attribute: productive ability. It is by his own individual ability and ambition that capitalism judges a man and rewards him accordingly.

loc: 2,469 The existence of such pressure groups and of their political lobbies is openly and cynically acknowledged today. The pretense at any political philosophy, any principles, ideals or long-range goals is fast disappearing from our scene—and it is all but admitted that this country is now floating without direction, at the mercy of a blind, short-range power game played by various statist gangs, each intent on getting hold of a legislative gun for any special advantage of the immediate moment.

loc: 2,540 Just as we have to protect a communist's freedom of speech, even though his doctrines are evil, so we have to protect a racist's right to the use and disposal of his own property. Private racism is not a legal, but a moral issue—and can be fought only by private means, such as economic boycott or social ostracism.

Counterfeit Individualism by Nathaniel Branden

loc: 2,560 The philosophical base and validation of individualism, as Ayn Rand has shown in Atlas Shrugged, is the fact that individualism, ethically, politically and psychologically, is an objective requirement of man's proper survival, of man's survival qua man, qua rational being. It is implicit in, and necessitated by, a code of ethics that holds man's life as its standard of value.

loc: 2,573 A man who seeks escape from the responsibility of supporting his life by his own thought and effort, and wishes to survive by conquering, ruling and exploiting others, is not an individualist. An individualist is a man who lives for his own sake and by his own mind; he neither sacrifices himself to others nor sacrifices others to himself; he deals with men as a trader—not as a looter; as a Producer—not as an Attila.

loc: 2,595 Rebelliousness or unconventionality as such do not constitute proof of individualism. Just as individualism does not consist merely of rejecting collectivism, so it does not consist merely of the absence of conformity. A conformist is a man who declares, “It's true because others believe it”—but an individualist is not a man who declares, “It's true because I believe it.” An individualist declares, “I believe it because I see in reason that it's true.”

The Argument from Intimidation by Ayn Rand

loc: 2,635 The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: “Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless. insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.”

loc: 2,653 As an example of an entire field of activity based on nothing but the Argument from Intimidation, I give you modern art—where, in order to prove that they do possess the special insight possessed only by the mystic “elite,” the populace are trying to surpass one another in loud exclamations on the splendor of some bare (but smudged) piece of canvas.

loc: 2,689 This is particularly prevalent in college classrooms. Many professors use the Argument from Intimidation to stifle independent thinking among the students, to evade questions they cannot answer, to discourage any critical analysis of their arbitrary assumptions or any departure from the intellectual status quo.

loc: 2,714 When one gives reasons for one's verdict, one assumes responsibility for it and lays oneself open to objective judgment: if one's reasons are wrong or false, one suffers the consequences. But to condemn without giving reasons is an act of irresponsibility, a kind of moral “hit-and-run” driving, which is the essence of the Argument from Intimidation.

loc: 2,720 The Argument from Intimidation illustrates why it is important to be certain of one's premises and of one's moral ground. It illustrates the kind of intellectual pitfall that awaits those who venture forth without a full, clear, consistent set of convictions, wholly integrated all the way down to fundamentals—those who recklessly leap into battle, armed with nothing but a few random notions floating in a fog of the unknown, the unidentified, the undefined, the unproved, and supported by nothing but their feelings, hopes and fears. The Argument from Intimidation is their Nemesis. In moral and intellectual issues, it is not enough to be right: one has to know that one is right.

Yes! (why I write my 'views' notes)

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