The One Minute Case for Rational Self-Interest

Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism proposes a radical new theory of ethics: an objective, scientific theory of rational self-interest.  How does Ayn Rand justify her theory?

What is a moral code?

Morality is a code of rules or principles to guide one’s actions. Before deciding which principles man should live by, any moral theory must first explain why it is needed at all. Is it an arbitrary invention, or does it have some basis in reality? Is it universally true or different for every person? According to Objectivism, morality is objective: it is derived from our nature of human beings.

Life is the standard of value

All living entities must satisfy certain requirements (food, shelter, air, etc.) to remain alive. This is what sets life apart from inanimate matter. Life is a continual process of self-generated, goal-directed action. Only living things face the possibility of death and therefore the need to achieve values to remain alive. Only for living things can something be good or bad. The fact that life is conditional is the basis of values.

Values are automatic for non-volitional beings

The values needed for life are specific to the nature of each being: fish need water and worms; man needs food, clothes and shelter. Animals have claws, fangs, fur, and other traits to allow them survive in nature. These are their means of survival. For non-human animals, values are automatic: their instinct tells them that they must act in a certain way (hunt, run, reproduce) in order to remain alive. Animals neither need nor are capable of morals because they act according to instinct. Their instinct tells them that they must act in a certain way (hunt, run, reproduce) in order to remain alive.

For humans, our conscious, rational mind is our primary tool of survival

Human beings live by using our mind as the primary tool of survival. We pursue long-term goals to achieve the values needed for our life. Imagine a human being trying to live without choosing his values, like any animal: he would act on whatever he felt like doing from moment to moment. He would experience the drives to eat, reproduce, fight, and fear. But humans have urges, not instincts — it is up to our minds to decide how to achieve values. For a human being in nature, living without long-term goals is suicide.

Ethics provides a framework for long-term goal achievement

To consistently act towards long-term values, we need a consistent set of principles for living: a moral code. We need to recognize the facts relevant to our nature as human beings and live according to them over a lifetime. To recognize and act in accordance with reality is rationality. Morality is a means to an end — the end being life. If you want to live, then you must be rational.   The purpose of morality is to fulfill and enjoy one’s own life.

Rationality is the primary virtue 

The Objectivist ethics recognizes rationality as the primary virtue for man and productive achievement as his central purpose. To remain alive, we must focus on the facts and act accordingly. The choice to think and act rationally is the basis of virtue and life, and the choice to evade reality and abandon reason is the basis of evil. The primary virtue, from which all other virtues derive, is rationality, and the proper beneficiary of values is oneself.

Happiness is man’s highest moral purpose

According to Objectivism, each person should act to achieve the values required for his own life, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. Productive achievement is the central purpose of life, which integrates all his other values. Virtues such as productivity, independence, honesty, integrity, and justice are aspects of rationality: living according to the requirements of life as a human being. Happiness is the result of successfully achieving values, and man’s highest moral purpose.

 

Further reading

 

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