Ayn Rand and the Virtue of Selfishness

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Ayn Rand and The Virtue of Selfishness

Selfish is a very interesting word, defined by Webster’s dictionary as “concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself; seeking or concentrating on one's own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others”. Ethical egoism is defined as a theory of what one ought to do, generally in one’s own interest. Ayn Rand defends this in her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness: a new concept of egoism”. In defending her position she explains the rational self-interest of egoism and she makes a clear distinction regarding morality and the use of the word “selfish” which directly relates to her rejection to the ethical doctrine of altruism. Rand’s rejection of altruism appears to be rooted in more speculation than fact and the ethical egoism theory is not universally practical.

Immediately in her critique, Rand cites that fact that the word “selfish” or “selfishness” is used as “a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends… it does not tell us whether concern with one's own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man's actual interests” (Rand). She says this in order to make the point that the concept of morality is being used here in terms of the one being “selfish” when there is no actual merit to do so. In other words how can one determine whether or not someone is acting with or without evil intentions just because they are acting in their own self-interest?

However, altruism in ethical terms is the opposite of egoism where one is morally obliged to benefit others. It is specifically related to one’s morality. Rand says that altruism has:

Created the image of the brute, as its answer, in order to make men accept two inhuman tenets: (a) that any concern with one's own interests is evil, regardless of what these interests might be, and (b) that the brute's activities are in fact to one's own interest (which...