The Virtue of Selfishness

ISBN: 0451129318
ISBN 13: 9780451129314
By: Ayn Rand

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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.

jessica

This book once meant a lot to me. When I was 15. If anything written by Ayn Rand means a lot to you and you're not going through adolescence, you should be ashamed of yourself. Yeah, I know I sound like a self-righteous douchebag, but seriously. Give me a break.

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.

Eric_W

Ayn Rand was not afraid of turning conventional wisdom on its head. For millennia, one of the few ethical principles that prevailed across cultures was the value of altruism, i.e. , giving up your life for the benefit of others. Rubbish, writes Rand.Rand was as anti-community and pro-individual as anyone I have ever read. Adamantly opposed to coercive state and religious power, she built a philosophy, Objectivism, on rational thinking and reason. She became too dogmatic and rigid for my taste in later years; nevertheless, she has some very interesting things to say."Every human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others and therefore, man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself." I find this statement profound in its implications; if it were to be adopted everywhere, wars would cease. It's only because we have bought into the principle of sacrificing oneself for the greater good that armies can survive, yet the reason is so others can accumulate or obtain what you should be able to.In her philosophy, the happiness of the individual is paramount. Religious types will find her philosophy more than unsettling, because as an atheist, she values the present and current life above everything else. Whether you like her or not, several of the essays are well worth the time to read, particularly "Collectivized Rights" and "Man's Rights." One's gut response is to say that she has rejected charity and helping others. Not at all. It's just that helping others should not be at one's own expense, e.g., spending a fortune to cure one's wife of a disease because the wife is important to oneself would fit nicely into her worldview. Love is entirely selfish.An important book no matter where you stand.

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.

Tim

Altruism ain't all its cracked up to be.Although she tends to take things a bit too far, Rand touches on an often overlooked point of life: we are the ones best-equipped to care for ourselves. It is a wonderful and necessary aspect of humanity when we chose to show charity and care for others, but when is it appropriate to sacrifice ourselves for the well-being of another? You would jump into a rushing river to save your child, but would you do the same for an elderly stranger? A young stranger? An animal? The question eventually becomes not where to draw the line but WHO draws the line. Government have sometimes appealed to altruism to foster policies that in fact were harmful to the populace. Who decides?

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.

Christopher

This book by novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, (author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead") is an ethical treatise on her philosophy of Objectivism, which sets out the principles of rational egoism—selfishness—and is the answer to thousands of years of the ethics of self-sacrifice—altruism. This morality is based on the needs of man’s survival, with one’s self as the standard of value, (hence selfishness,) and the pursuit of one’s own happiness as the moral ideal. Or, to quote Miss Rand: "My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute."This book contains many incisive essays on how American culture is inundated with primitive philosophical ideals, and needs nothing less than a moral revolution.

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.

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

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."

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.

Nicole

I rated this book with two stars, meaning 'it was ok', because, very simply, I understand Rand's philosophy and why she flung herself wholeheartedly into it. I understand ethical egoism and individualism and moral objectivism. I understand the desire for all men and women to act morally and to think rationally. I understand her distaste for collectivism. I understand her predictions regarding capitalism. I can fully conceptualize the virtue of selfishness.But I cannot internalize it.Rand makes the same mistake that she so adamantly condemns. She assumes that all individuals can and will act in rational and predictable ways if given the opportunity. For Rand, the opportunity can be provided by capitalism. For her despised collectivists, the opportunity can be provided by socialism, this within the framework of her own philosophy, of course. For her second major mistake was in assuming that socialism is the whole that can be defined by any number of various collective institutions that exist, in reality or theory, in the world today.Rand begins by defining a number of concepts in terms of her philosophy of objectivism. In order to continue reading, the reader must accept her definitions of value, ethics, and morality, amongst other things. The reader must also agree with a couple of her original premises: That the only way to be perfectly moral is to pursue ones own self interests and personal goals to the exclusion of all else and that biological and cultural predisposition is fundamentally unfounded. If one accepts these assertions, all else follows with some discussion.That is, if one is willing to accept the same sort of idealism that Rand criticizes. The reader, or philosopher, must be willing to accept a number of contradictions inherent in Rand's arguments. The contradictions are not readily apparent because Rand obscures them by building assertions on flawed premises. Rand asserts, for example, that altruism is detrimental to the beneficiary of the deed, evidenced by the likely altruistic intent of fascist dictators like Stalin and Mao Zedong whose deeds resulted in millions of lost lives. From this original premise, it follows that Rand's selfishness is the only universally moral truth. However, the premise itself is flawed and therefore that which follows is also flawed. Altruism certainly has the potential to be disasterous but self interest is certainly disasterous. One must, like Rand, dismiss the importance of culture and biology in order to reject the idea that self interest damages the individual. What the philosopher then overlooks is his/her identity as the natural member of a group. Rand rejects that natural groups exist. Humans are social animals. This is inarguable. But in order to accept Rand's premises, one must argue it.Humans are social animals. Our lives depend on the presence of others. At birth we depend on our mothers, throughout our lives we depend on other humans. We cannot function without external cultural input. Our lives are our own, yes, but cultural investment, what Rand refers to as altruism, is an unavoidable element of our existence.

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.

Mike

As many readers have pointed out, the title to this book is slightly misleading as most people have been indoctrinated to believe that selfishness is akin to evil, antisocial behavior. Rand points out that being selfish has caught a bad rap as everyone is actually selfish at heart, and to be otherwise would be to commit suicide for the sake of your fellow man. Selfishness, according to Rand, is the act of putting one's survival as their top priority, but without causing direct harm to any other individual. In other words no man has the right to murder someone to steal their food, just the same as no man has the right to expect his fellow man to provide food for him. Simply put, man's highest goal is to sustain his own life, and he should expect to have to do so by his own means; and whether you hate or love Ayn Rand and her philosophy, this is a hard point to argue with. While there are some saintly people out there who give everything they can spare to those less fortunate than them, there is nobody that dies of starvation in order to hand their last morsel of food to a hungry stranger. Rand argues that this type of all-out altruism would be destructive for the individual, for a rational, free-thinking society, and for progress at large. With all this being said, I admit that by no means do I agree with everything that she puts forth in her Objectivist Ethics; however, I do find her philosophy very intriguing and provocative, and a very interesting counterpoint to so much of the Eastern philosophy that I read.

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