The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism

ISBN: 0786165456
ISBN 13: 9780786165452
By: Ayn Rand Nathaniel Branden C.M. Herbert

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About this book

The Virtue of Selfishness is one of Ayn Rand's most significant books of nonfiction and develops her theory of ethics.

Reader's Thoughts

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

Jenny

This book was perhaps the most important book in my life when I was a teenager. It was the first time I was exposed to the notion of rational self-interest and the first time I discerned the deep flaws in what I had been raised to believe wrt goodness and virtue. In this book, Rand essentially told me "everything you've been told is wrong and bad for you and here's why." I ate it up then, and it's informed much of my thinking since.

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.

♥ Ibrahim ♥

This woman, Ayn Rand, is more bizarre than bizarre can ever be! Who in the big, wide world would be in his right mind and still write a book to praise selfishness?! As if to be self-centered needs to be praised or called even virtuous! And she calls that philosophy! But with that spirit in which she praises selfishness you will find that a common theme in all of her writings. Look at Emmanuel Levinas,a real philosophers who never ceases to assure us that the "others" are we and for others we are to be. What kind of life is that when you live it, far and wide, praising selfishness? But only Ayn Rand can do that and call that philosophy!

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."

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.

Onslow

Want a good laugh?Read "The Argument from Intimidation", the final essay in THE VIRTUE OF SELFISHNESS, then read just about any of the one-star reviews here in which readers offer their "rebuttals" of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy. You will notice the vast majority of "critiques" are filled with such witticisms as "If anything written by Ayn Rand means a lot to you and you're not going through adolescence you should be ashamed of yourself." This is precisely the kind of meaningless drivel that Rand so astutely predicts in response to her works- totally devoid of any factual analysis, heavy on self-righteous posturing and Begging the Question.This book is a must read for anyone with an open mind who has the mental capacity to understand that "selfishness" doesn't necessarily just mean "I've got mine and screw everyone else". Highly recommended.

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.

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.

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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