The Virtue of Selfishness

ISBN: 0451122062
ISBN 13: 9780451122063
By: Ayn Rand

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About this book

Ayn Rand here sets for the the moral principles of Objectivism, the philosophy that holds man's life - the life proper to a rational being - as the standard of moral values and regards altruism as imcompatible with man's nature, with the creative requirements of his survival and with a free society.Ayn Rand wrote Atlas Shrugged, philosophically the most challenging bestseller in its time. Her first novel, We the Living, was published in 1936. With the publication of The Fountainhead in 1943, she achieved a spectacular and enduring success. Miss Rand's unique philosophy, Objectivism, has gained a worldwide audience. The fundamentals of her philosophy are set forth in four nonfiction books: Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, For the New Intellectual, The Virtue of Selfishness, and Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal. The magnificent statement of her artistic credo, The Romantic Manifesto, is also available in a Signet edition.

Reader's Thoughts

Tanya Ivanova

I enjoyed the book. I agree and really like with about 10 % of its content. She is extremely and ungraciously right-wing the rest of the time, but I enjoyed very much her opinions on how a person needs to constantly grow and expand in life in order to stay well with their mental health, also that since humans can self destroy, both mentally and physically, ethics and effective, coherent morality are a survival essential. I resent and find offensive her use of the word 'man', used throughout the book to refer generically to a human being of both sexes, yet understand that was a matter of course at the time when she wrote. Her gushing about the perfectness of capitalism and sanctity and ingenuity all thing American is unrealistic, ridiculous, in fact given that she was a cold war refugee, poor (yet ambitious) and probably at a high risk of being ostracized and marginalized in capitalist America, raises doubts as to whether her extolling of all thing American as divine was not in itself a survival ruse. Overall positive experience with this book.

Tim Weakley

My first introduction into Objectivism. I have to say that a lot of the ideas in these essays appeal to me. Going to read the rest that I have on hand and see if they still appeal as much. As it stands it was very readable. I like the pieces by Rand herself much better than the ones by Brandon. Her writing is a little more clear. It's also more personal. A lot of her thoughts on individualism really speak to me. My only complaint is that it was such a quick read!

Colin Gabriel

I heard it will make you an asshole.. I can't waiton a side note I have a problem with reading while driving

Marshall

This book summarizes Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism. I really like many of the values Objectivism champions: reason, ethics, self-love, self-esteem, self-reliance, individualism, joy, and pleasure. But emphasizing these in absolute terms, as polar opposites to other qualities, creates a lot of problems.Like most Western philosophers, Rand is a dualistic thinker, which I find simplistic. To her, value and morality are objective, inherent in human nature. There is Self and Other, Moral and Immoral, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, and one should never hesitate to cast judgment on those who are Wrong, or compromise in the slightest bit on these fundamental values. Nations that are Right may invade nations that are Wrong, and impose their morality on that nation, because Wrong nations are outlaws. Of course, Ayn Rand is the authority on Right and Wrong, although this is neatly couched in the claim that her advocated morality is objective.She seems to be reacting against a world that I'm unfamiliar with--a world divided between creative people who just want to do their thing, and parasites who just want to steal all their hard work. Fleeing as she did from Soviet Russia, I get this. So maybe I'm just a spoiled American, but I've never seen the world divided in this way. Ironically, most of the parasitism I'm aware of are by corporations, for which Rand advocates nearly zero regulation. Much of the property they steal or pollute is inherently communal, impossible to divide and protect in the way Rand advocates. Rand believes the only rights are individual rights, that there is no such thing as a collective.Objectivism also distinguishes between selfishness and a hive mentality that she calls altruism. Maybe I'm being thrown off by the word "selfishness," which she admits she uses for shock value. She does believe in ethics, and says that selfishness would make the world a better place, though she never explains why in this book. But even with a strong code of ethics, focusing on self-interest misses out on the full possibilities of love and compassion, which can be learned and practiced, and encompasses and requires self-love. That is what altruism is for me. There are few places besides Rand's writing that I've seen altruism equated with self-sacrifice. How can someone be of service unless they have their own needs met and they find joy in it? Maybe that's all Rand is trying to say, but if so, then I admit I've misunderstood her, which is apparently common among her readers.

Gregg Bell

Ayn Rand is an event. She had one of the most astute and utterly confident minds of all time. Whether she's right about what she thinks is a different story. But make no mistake--Ayn Rand thinks about thinking. She is a true intellectual.That said, I think "The Virtue of Selfishness" is not her strongest effort. For starters it has an uncharacteristically provocative title. Which is okay, but when a title is too sensationalistic (a la Ivan Boesky's "Greed is good.") I'm always skeptical. There are merits to the book, though. Anything written by Ayn Rand has substantial merits.So is it good to be selfish? Read the book. (Just kidding.) Rand would say yes. But not simply or cavalierly but with sound reasons and substantial elaboration. Perhaps a better term for what Rand is calling 'selfishness' might be 'enlightened self interest.' But she's right on the money with much of her logic. In a chapter called "How does one lead a rational life in an irrational society" she examines the necessity to make choices that all people face and how to evade such responsibility is the true nature of evil. Her insights, as always, are razor sharp. For instance: "Indiscriminate tolerance and indiscriminate condemnation are not two opposites: they are two variants of the same evasion."Rand addresses society's tendency to hold down, to make the hard-working, thinking, responsibility-taking person feel guilty, when in reality logic demands that the opposite should be the case. People should be proud of their efforts and what they've produced. Not say they are sorry for being a success. She is the ultimate free marketerian, believing a meritocracy is the only fair way of living in society. She's a little myopic at times. In fact, her moral philosophy "objectivism" has not a few holes in it. But nevertheless her defense of her principles is based on reasons, not conjecture or belief. And I find that to be refreshing.In her way she is a cheerleader for people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and make their lives happen. Witness this passage:"Every achievement of man is a value in itself, but it is also a stepping-stone to greater achievements and values. Life is growth; not to move forward, is to fall backward; life remains life, only so long as it advances. Every step upward opens to man a wider range of action and achievement--and creates the need for that action and achievement. There is no final, permanent "plateau." The problem of survival is never "solved," once and for all, with no further thought or motion required. More precisely, the problem of survival is solved, by recognizing that survival demands constant growth and creativeness."Have you worked hard to achieve something? Be proud of it. Were you well compensated for it? Enjoy it. You worked for it. You deserve it. This is Rand's philosophy, and if this is selfishness, than selfishness is indeed a virtue.

Kevin J. Rogers

Ayn Rand was one of the most controversial thinkers--and successful fiction writers--of the 20th Century. Her detractors would claim that there is little to distinguish her fiction from her philosophy: that both are the result of a fantasist's distorted perspective on the world, tainted by an extreme egoism and fueled by some rather profound delusions. Her supporters would claim that it is the world as we know it that is distorted, mostly through the insidious influence of the philosophy of altruism, and that Miss Rand's philosophy is the only antidote to a world gone mad and hurtling toward an orgy of self-destruction. (This kind of extreme, polemical speech is fairly common in Randian discourse, no matter which side you are on.) The truth, as in most cases, lies somewhere in the middle. Miss Rand (as she is always referred to by her followers) was the founder of the philosophy of Objectivism. She presented that philosophy in a series of novels, the culminating magnum opus of which was Atlas Shrugged, a sprawling neo-scifi quasi-futurist melodrama that has become a perennial bestseller since its publication in 1957. (The Fountainhead, which I think is a far superior book from a strictly literary perspective, came out in 1943, and was intended, in her words, to be "a portrayal of the ideal man".) Critics savaged Atlas Shrugged almost immediately, but the public took a kinder view of it, and Miss Rand, after a period of depression caused by the lack of serious consideration of her work in academic circles, founded an organization (now known as The Ayn Rand Institute) to promote her philosophy. That organization published a monthly newsletter throughout the 1960's to explain the philosophy in greater detail; Ayn Rand's contributions (and those of her chosen heir, Nathaniel Branden) were then collected into a series of short books further explaining Objectivism in greater detail. The Virtue of Selfishness is one of those books. And there is much to admire here. Objectivism is based on the belief that reality is real--"A is A"--and that alone is a welcome change from the gibberish that one often encounters in the more esoteric philosophical discussions. The problem is that Miss Rand believes that in life, regardless of the circumstances, A is always A, and it is her "A" which is the correct one. (There is a famous exchange she had during a Q & A on an episode of the Phil Donahue Show, where a guest asked her if she thought she was perfect. "In terms of adhering to my philosophy at all times," she said, "yes, I am." The crowd exploded in hoots of derision. She just laughed at them. And this was in the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden, with an attendance in the thousands. Say what you will, the woman had guts.) And that's a crucial flaw in the philosophy: to use logic to always come up with the right answer, as though life were a math problem, one must always have all the facts--all the inputs--and in life that is rarely the case. Most of the time we spend in doubt, trying to guess what "A" really is, or going forward on the basis of our experience and intuition. Miss Rand would call this mysticism; most other people would call it "life". There is a distinct lack of humor and compassion here, as well. Neither of those values have a place in Objectivism, because the standard in Objectivism is always the same: rational self-interest. Everything in Objectivism is self-referential; how one feels about--or what one does for--another individual is based solely on that individual's place in one's own hierarchy of values. It is anathema to the Objectivist to suggest that there is a moral obligation to help someone in, say, a foreign country, even if the means are available to do so. And it is certainly immoral to suggest that society as a whole (meaning, of course, government) has a moral obligation to provide a social safety net for those who have been born ill-equipped to face the challenges of living in a modern society, or into familial or social circumstances which render it nearly impossible to develop into fully contributory citizens. Perhaps worst of all, though, is the idea that any sense of humor about oneself--any form of self-deprecating wit, or sign of humility--is somehow a betrayal of one's very soul. (There is that extremism again.) It sometimes seems, in reading Rand, that she has modeled the perfect human on Dr. Spock of Star Trek fame, which is unfortunate, given that the good Doctor was an alien. But there is, as always when dealing with Miss Rand, another side to the story. As much as professional philosophers ridicule her as being a crackpot--and there are, admittedly, some howlers in there--for most people (who, frankly, themselves would consider most professional philosophers to be crackpots) there is a great deal of practical appeal in Objectivism, and for good reason: as Miss Rand so succinctly puts it, Objectivism is a philosophy "for living life here on Earth". There is very little angels-on-pinheads speculation here, very little that is off the point. Her focus is always concentrated on the here and now, the reality of living as experienced by individuals every day, and as such there is a great deal of utility in reading her work. To adopt her philosophy wholly is, ironically enough, to abdicate one's individuality, since she always insisted that her philosophy was "perfect" and had to be accepted in its entirety, exactly as she promulgated it. (If you're wondering whether or not there is a high degree of cult-like devotion in the Randian world, the answer is yes.) But if one is willing to think for oneself there is value in reading her work, and The Virtue of Selfishness is a good place to start.

Dave

After reading Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, I started this and was thinking- Oh boy, another collection of articles from Rand's Objectivist newsletter. Turns out there is a lot of good stuff here. The theme that runs through these essays is much the same as Unknown Ideal, as well as all of Rand's other works: In a truly free society, the individual is all-important. No man should be sacrificed, in whole or in part, for the benefit of another.There are two articles here that I think many would find thought-provoking, even those who claim to hate Rand's philosophy:"How Does One Lead a Rational Life in an Irrational Society?"Answer: "One must never fail to pronounce moral judgment." Sounds pretty self-righteous and arrogant, but what Rand is saying is that if you see something happening that you know is wrong, it is immoral not to speak out against it."Racism"It's hard to imagine that anyone (okay, at least anyone who is not a member of the Aryan Nations) could read this and not think that it is dead on. In brief: Every man, regardless of race, should be judged on his merits.

Mark

Ayn Rand's philosophy, Objectivism, is often misinterpreted and misused, without ever being studied or even read. Often, the argument is that 'capitalism' has failed, and therefore Rand's philosophy is a failure as well. This is a strawman argument at best. The Virtue of Selfishness, as provocative a title as the book may have, is a philosophical synopsis of the application of Rand's philosophy, objectivism; it is not Rand's philosophy in itself.Those that have read Rand know that her writing style is straight-forward, holding no bars against those that she disagrees with while at the same time providing valid arguments in a clear and concise manner. The virtue of selfishness, to clarify, is the proposition that altruistic behaviors promote individual slavery to the masses, and that such slavery undercuts any social, intellectual or individual progress. For this reason, Rand is sometimes deemed a 'conservative', which is far from the truth. I would recommend this book, but with the suggestion that one read "Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology" first.

Manny

Just noticed this in Johan Hari's column from today's Independent:Trump probably won't become the Republican nominee, but not because most Republicans reject his premisses. No: it will be because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly. In case you think these ideas are marginal to the party, remember - it has united behind the budget plan of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. It's simple: it halves taxes on the richest 1 percent and ends all taxes on corporate income, dividends, and inheritance. It pays for it by slashing spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. It aims to return the US to the spending levels of the 1920s – and while Ryan frames it as a response to the deficit, it would actually increase it according to the independent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Ryan says "the reason I got involved in public service" was because he read the writings of Ayn Rand, which describe the poor as "parasites" who must "perish", and are best summarized by the title of one of her books: 'The Virtue of Selfishness.'By the way, non-British readers may be interested to learn that this typical pinko liberal paper is owned by Russian multi-billionaire and former KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev. Isn't life confusing sometimes?________________________________________Now that Ryan has been picked as Romney's running mate, MoveOn have started plugging this story too. From the ten-point list in the mail I just received: 10. He thinks an "I got mine, who cares if you're okay" philosophy is admirable. For many years, Paul Ryan devoted himself to Ayn Rand's philosophy of selfishness as a virtue. It has shaped his entire ethic about whom he serves in public office. He even went as far as making his interns read her work.

Colleen Clark

I thought at age 70 with Paul Ryan all in the news I ought to read a little Ayn Rand. Having 0 interest in a long novel I picked this out from among my husband's books.Straw men set up and knocked down. An insult to a serious reader.Taxation should be voluntary? etc.Basically she's arguing against the USSR, which she left in 1926 in her early 20's. Smart decision. The USSR finally collapsed under the weight of its own incompetence and inability to have a modern economy and allow its citizens rights.If you're not already into it, don't bother.

Rachel Terry

It's a shock value title because the book is really about individualism vs. collectivism, and if you've read Atlas Shrugged or know about the Russia Rand immigrated from, you know where she stands on that issue.There were a couple of chapters I liked in particular. I liked the discussion about the importance of property rights. Rand asserts that there are no individual rights without property rights. If people cannot claim the fruits of their labors as their own, they are completely at the mercy of the government. There's also no incentive to accept responsibility if you don't have any rights (or only limited rights) to the results of your work. I also liked the chapter on racism quite a bit. Rand says that racism is a primitive form of collectivism. She says that capitalism has done more to eradicate racism than anything else, but as socialism creeps into societies, racism increases. She says that the South lost the Civil War because it couldn't compete with the more efficient, less racist, capitalist North. In the middle of the twentieth century, racism took on a new form as oppression of certain races (which obviously enslaves certain individuals) morphed into quotas (which also enslaves certain individuals). The smallest minority of all is the individual, she says. I like Rand's cool, clear logic, but I do have a couple of criticisms. First, at the end of some of her chapters, her crisp logic gives way to a multiple paragraph emotional run up that ends with a dramatic metaphor about murder or destruction. I know you're passionate, Rand, but get a hold of yourself. Also, it seems a bit arrogant to repeatedly quote a person (even if he is stunningly handsome and reportedly the smartest person in the world) who is actually a fictional character of your own devising (John Galt). All in all, for a book on philosophy, I thought it was exceptionally interesting and well done. If she's looking down on her beloved America right now, I'm sure she's shaking her head and saying, "I told you so."

Michael Connolly

The concept of selfishness as it is used in day-to-day conversation is not the kind of selfishness that Ayn Rand is promoting. The common meaning of selfishness is a person who cares only about himself and not at all about others. Ayn Rand has never praised such a person. What Ayn Rand is promoting is the idea that the morally virtuous person cares primarily about himself, and secondarily about others. She also believes that one should care about only a limited number of others, only people one knows and respects. She believes that all the individual owes to strangers is not to do them harm, except in self defense. Her morality is not a license to kill, steal and lie, just a license to ignore the suffering of strangers if one is not a cause of their suffering. To feel a more general obligation to help, is, she believes, to accept an unearned responsibility, and unearned guilt. But she does believe in a kind of charity, although she would not call it that. It is where one gives to another, receiving nothing in return, except the knowledge that one has helped a person one values and admires. She believes in compassion, but compassion only for the innocent. If by pity, we mean feeling sorry for evil people, then we can say that Ayn Rand does not believe in pity. When Ayn Rand discusses altruism, she does not define altruism as helping others. If so, then when she says that altruism is evil, she would mean that helping others is evil. Instead, Ayn Rand defines altruism to mean the moral philosophy that holds that an act is evil if it helps oneself and good if it helps others. Ayn Rand does not believe that all acts to help oneself are automatically evil, and she does not believe that all acts to help others are automatically good. Ayn Rand objects to the assertion that the essence of virtue is to favor others over oneself. Ayn Rand believes that the essence of virtue is to attempt to see the world the way it really is, instead of lying to oneself, because it is only by being reality-oriented that one can improve ones life.

Robert

The title of the book is slightly misleading as most people have no true philosophical understanding of what is "selfishness", immediately thinking of the irrational blanket understanding of individuals acting in grotesque mockery of true self interest, often harming themselves in the process. Her contention is that such people are not selfish enough, for if they were truly selfish, they would have their true self-interest at heart and are therefor acting irrationally and not selfish at all. Think instead for the title of this book: "The virtue of rational self-interest" and you will understand it better. This means The ability to choose voluntary cooperation from a rational appraisal of value, along with its opposite or the freedom to not associate with people we do not value. This is the freedom of contract, and the Non-aggression principle coupled with a theory of value based judgment with your own life as the basis for that value. If you start with an end goal of a successful and rationally fulfilled life as the standard of your values, you will not seek anything which is not value, and therefor you will not seek those things which are irrational or conducive to your end goal. Rand explains the self defeating impossible contradiction inherent within all systems of ethics which start with Altruism, and how such philosophies contributed and continue to create the worst atrocities the world has ever witnessed, and that because the basis of their values is the irrational, they create impossible contradictions and seek to gain fulfillment by destruction. She explains that all men who seek to practice any form of altruism are walking time-bombs of emotional psychologically scarred and repressed schisms and how this ultimately irrational goal destroys the people who attempt it, dragging society along with them.

Kelly Murray

A guilt-free guide on why catering to one's own rational self-interest is imperative to one's happiness. The title alone was enough to keep me from reading it for a while (why? You guessed it, guilt). Once again, Rand flips the coin and shows you why being selfish is actually a GOOD thing and how letting guilt and altruism be your driving motives is BAD.

Anna

Dla Ayn Rand najlepiej było by się wyzbyć lub ograniczyć uczucia poza tymi związanymi z egoizmem, a altruizm zostawić tylko na sytuacje krytyczne np. katastrofy samolotów, pociągów czy statków, gdzie ważne jest ratowanie życia drugiego człowieka. Cnota egoizmu pozuje egoizm i kierowanie się rozumem jako najbardziej słuszny pogląd na rzeczywistość. Ayn Rand stworzyła filozofię obiektywistyczną sprzeciwiającą się takim pojęciom, poglądom czy ideologiom jak kolektywizm, nacjonalizm, rasizm i socjalizm. Według filozofki tylko i wyłącznie rozum i logika są potrzebne do poznania. Jednak skrytykowałabym nieuleganie żadnym kompromisom moralnym i uznawaniu ich za zgodę na zło, ponieważ świat nie jest czarno - biały.

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