• Max Woski

Objectivism - Ayn Rand's Philosophy

Rational Ethics can be defined by Ayn Rand as “a code of values to guide man’s choices and actions - the choices and actions that determine the purpose and the course of his life.” Proudly upholding rational selfishness - meaning the values required for human survival, rational ethics rejects the values produced by “the desires, feelings and whims of irrational brutes who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices.”

Yes, perhaps rational selfishness seems a contradiction to many, perhaps even something pernicious and evil, but how else can one uphold the liberty of the individual without first considering a moral system which concerns itself with the individual. Neglecting such moral considerations can only lead to mass group ethics which eventually lead to collectivisation and the erosion of individual liberty.

Western culture and politics continually espouse beliefs that consider self-interest and the desire to improve the self as inherently immoral practices. Self-interest is frequently conflated with contemptible traits such as selfishness. Moreover, such self-interest is also the portrayed “flaw” of free-market capitalism. All too often, politicians and the culture, in general, assume that free-market capitalism is solely a useful tool for large corporations and the wealthy to exploit the poor. With the current state of ethics, free markets can never be viewed as a necessity for economic and personal liberty but rather a harsh mechanism that allows those who are “selfish” to exploit those with genuine intentions. These pervading sentiments can only hinder the mass flourishing effects of free markets. If we cannot express the moral foundations necessary to understand the uplifting and liberating power of the market, then we will continue stuck within the perpetual echo chamber of our arguments reaching deaf ears.

Western culture falsely believes that morality demands a choice between sacrificing our values for others’ needs (being unselfish and moral) or sacrificing the values of others for our values (being “selfish” and therefore immoral). However, Ayn Rand rejected such sacrifice in all its form and offered the concept of rational selfishness in her collection of essays “The Virtue of Selfishness.” The very core of Rand’s philosophy is ethics of choice, guided through rationality, with human survival as its goal. It is for each of us to determine what values our lives require, the best ways to achieve those values and how to act to achieve those values. We do not exist as servants or slaves to the interests of others, and nor do others exist as slaves to our interests. The ultimate ends are each person’s own life and happiness. A person can only achieve these ends by adopting principled policies, namely, virtues. Rationality, independence, integrity, justice, and pride are such virtues as they provide a solid bedrock so that one may survive, flourish, and achieve happiness.

If classical liberalism is to blossom, then an ethics of rational self-interest is integral. The view that individuals should be free to pursue their interests, that governments should be limited to protecting the freedom of individuals, all these precepts require that we neglect the ethics of altruism as the highest and only moral good. The tyranny of the majority, that anyone pursuing their ideas and values is somehow “selfish”, these sentiments will only hinder the pursuit of liberty and economic freedom.

Leaving individuals free to pursue their own interests implies in turn that only a free market economic system is moral: individuals will use their property, money, and time as they see fit, interacting and voluntarily trading with others to mutual advantage. Rational ethics would provide individuals with maximum economic liberty and consequently, society, as a collection of individuals pursuing their own values, would have no boundaries to its creative and entrepreneurial wisdom.

With each of us viewing the world through a tiny aperture, and with no two apertures, no two views, identical, only a culture in which thinking for oneself rationally and critically, away from collectivisation, can truly promote life-changing ideas to the forefront. If everyone uses rational ethics, then each of our fragments of know-how, be it goods or services, will naturally and simply gravitate to their most advantageous uses. This free movement of goods, services and ideas is the process by which we as human beings can partake in a creative process, allowing new and untested ideas to be raised beyond the restrictions of arbitrary redtape or social conventions. Creative genius is often responsible for new technologies and innovation, and rational ethics allows such genius to thrive. If the West is to become an innovative and prosperous centre for technological development, then rational self-interest is an essential first step in using creative wisdom as an empowering and beneficial tool.

If western politics is truly going to become an arena for upholding: individual liberty, the rule of law, and the rights of each to their property; then we must all agree on a basic ethical code that respects the individual and his pursuit of happiness while condemning the initiation of force as evil and irrational. Statism must be understood as a limitation and barrier to pursuits of liberty and economic probity. To quote Ayn Rand: “Capitalism demands the best of every man- his rationality- and rewards him accordingly. It leaves every man free to choose the work he likes, to specialise in it, to trade his product for the products of others, and to go as far on the road of achievement as his ability and ambition will carry him.”

Bibliography: The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism, Ayn Rand.

Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by Ayn Rand