The Virtue of Selfishness

ISBN: 0451113837
ISBN 13: 9780451113832
By: Ayn Rand

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Reader's Thoughts

Gene Wagendorf III

I didn't really get this book when I first read it, but having read it multiple time since, it's become like a bible. Rand outlines her Objectivist philosophy and explains the concept of rational self-interest. This book will turn you into an asshole once you read it, someone will smack you, you'll read it again, pick up the part everyone misses (about morality being intrinsic, not non-existent) and then you'll live a happier, more whimsical life.

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!

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.

Anshupriya Goswamy

Recently Right to Education was enacted and intellectuals hailed it as a major success of Indian democracy. As the Indian Govt paves the way for Right to Food Act, I see that there is an increasing need for more people to read this book and realise what they are witnessing is not the victory of Indian democracy over poverty and hunger, a victory of the principles of modern day altruism, the success of government over economic ills.What we are seeing is the constant abdication of private rights to the ruling minority. What we are witnessing is constant flouting of the only two rights that any citizen must have - Right to private property, and right to free trade.India is trudging downhill with increasing economic regulation and moral depravity. And yet our unfocused collective eyes see only perceived success.A must read for those who are young and conscientious.

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.

Stephen

This book is a collection of essays, which implement Ayn Rand's philosophy: objectivism. Not only does the book provide a great exercise in inductive and deductive logic, but it furnishes the reader with necessary tools to observe the fallacies in many societal norms. At the heart of her argument is a plead for individualism--without individualism (and individuals) every facet of our life will slowly decay to some conformist rubbish

Marlenecabada

I found this book to be worth reading.After twenty one years of sacrificing my life and raising two arrogant teenagers who remain ungrateful for my efforts.I understand what Rand is trying to say.We cant always do all the giving because we will end up spent with nothing to show for it.We must nurture ourselves always, in this way we will have inner strength and the ability to get through life regardless what may come our way. I disagree that her philosophy is founded on a Dr. Spok mentality.Her philosophy, while seeming extremely logical does have many valid points.The principle that "One must never fail to pronounce moral judgement" is one that requires our intellectual as well as emotional ability to be able to discern what exactly we perceive as being right or wrong, and someone who is exercising this ability is to my understanding,very much in touch with their emotions,but I can understand why a lot of people would want to take her philosophy in small doses.Our American society is based on a degree of selflessness.Marked by many revolutions,however were not the founding fathers practicing Rand's philosophy when making a moral judgement by fighting for our rights to freedom from the Opressive British Crown? Were they biting the hand that fed them and being ungrateful? I suppose you can say that they were purely selfish in believing that they were worthy enough to have human rights.That is why we are a great nation. Rand's "Virtue of Selfishness" seems to ring true in many respects for me.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Kathleen

I abhor her overzealous approach to capitalism; however I find it fascinating to see that when she focuses this same mentality away from money and towards interpersonal interactions, it becomes palatable. The virtue of selfishness says that no-one is more selfish than the so called selfless person, because evertything that they do, they do seeking approval for others. Conversely, that there is nothing more selfless that pure selfishness because by being true to yourself you contruibute the most to society. Read the book, she explains it better than me. She should....it is her philosophy.

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.

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