The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism

ISBN: 0786147261
ISBN 13: 9780786147267
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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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

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.

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