Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue

Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue: Studies in Ayn Rand's Normative Theory

Allan Gotthelf Editor
James G. Lennox Associate Editor
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Metaethics, Egoism, and Virtue
    Book Description:

    Philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand (1905-1982) is a cultural phenomenon. Her books have sold more than 25 million copies, and countless individuals speak of her writings as having significantly influenced their lives. In spite of the popular interest in her ideas, or perhaps because of it, Rand's work has until recently received little serious attention from academics. Though best known among philosophers for her strong support of egoism in ethics and capitalism in politics, there is an increasingly widespread awareness of both the range and the systematic character of Rand's philosophic thought. This new series, developed in conjunction with the Ayn Rand Society, an affiliated group of the American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division, seeks a fuller scholarly understanding of this highly original and influential thinker.

    The first volume starts not with the metaphysical and epistemological fundamentals of Rand's thought, but with central aspects of her ethical theory. Though her endorsement of ethical egoism is well-known-one of her most familiar essay collections isThe Virtue of Selfishness-the character of her egoism is not. The chapters in this volume address the basis of her egoism in a virtue-centered normative ethics; her account of how moral norms in general are themselves based on a fundamental choice by an agent to value his own life; and how her own approach to the foundations of ethics is to be compared and contrasted with familiar approaches in the analytic ethical tradition. Philosophers interested in the objectivity of value, in the way ethical theory is (and is not) virtue-based, and in acquiring a serious understanding of an egoistic moral theory worthy of attention will find much to consider in this volume, which includes critical responses to several of its main essays.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7759-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Reason, Choice, and the Ultimate End
    • Reasoning about Ends: Life as a Value in Ayn Rand’s Ethics
      (pp. 3-32)

      On Ayn Rand’s view, ethics has a teleological foundation. There is an end that serves as the standard for defining moral values and virtues, and in relation to this end, moral norms impose obligations. The reason-giving force of these obligations, all things considered, depends on what normative status Rand accords the end that morality serves. And on this she is unambiguous. The end for which morality is needed is also the ultimate end for a rational agent qua rational agent and the foundation of all of such an agent’s (normative) reasons for action. These reasons, in Rand’s view, are always...

    • The Choice to Value (1990)
      (pp. 33-46)

      This paper was written for the December 1990 Ayn Rand Society program on the relation of value, obligation, and choice in Ayn Rand’s ethics, as a response to Douglas B. Rasmussen’s lead paper, “Rand on Obligation and Value.” Both papers were read at the meeting and circulated for some years afterwards to ARS members. I have often thought of publishing my paper, especially as it came increasingly to be referred to (and occasionally quoted, with permission) in other people’s writings, and I am glad to have the opportunity now. Professor Rasmussen published a revised version of his paper in 2002,...

  5. Metaethics:: Objectivist and Analytic
    • The Foundations of Ethics: Objectivism and Analytic Philosophy
      (pp. 49-73)

      Analytic philosophy has been around for more than a century now, and philosophers across its breadth have been engaged in a set of inquiries that go by the name “the foundations of ethics.” If one looks at this enterprise historically, or even by reference to the literature of any specific time-period, one finds that “the foundations of ethics” does not ask a single univocal question or define what counts as an answer. It is also rarely clear whether ostensibly competing answers constitute answers to the same question. What one encounters is a proliferation of perspectives, distinctions, and terminology, often very...

    • Egoism and Eudaimonism: Replies to Khawaja
      (pp. 74-84)

      Irfan Khawaja has written a provocative chapter on the fundamental aspects of Ayn Rand’s moral philosophy, a treatment that he sees as being intimately tied up with her epistemology. There is too much there for me to comment on even most of it. I’ll focus here on those aspects of the work about which I think I have something interesting, and perhaps helpful, to say. I should say up front that I am far from being any sort of expert on Rand’s philosophy. I am not completely ignorant, but I am sure that I have been asked for my opinion...

  6. Egoism and Virtue in Nietzsche and Rand
    • Nietzsche and Rand as Virtuous Egoists
      (pp. 87-100)

      In the public mind, to be an egoist is to be immoral; in the philosophical mind, to be an ethical egoist is to adopt a form of immoralism. Yet as far as this equation goes, there is a problem in the interpretation of both Nietzsche and Ayn Rand. Both are self-styled egoists, yet the writings of both are replete with virtue and vice concepts, which are used substantively in the development of their moral views. In recent work, Tara Smith (2006) has gone a long way to resolving this conundrum. For her, there is a moral view that is a...

    • Virtue and Sacrifice: Response to Swanton
      (pp. 101-110)

      In the preceding chapter in this volume, Professor Swanton has raised a fascinating question about Rand’s ethics and looked at Nietzsche for thoughts toward an answer that she believes would also be congenial to Rand. The question is: Can you be faulted for insufficient engagement with the interests of others? And if you can, what then becomes of the principle in Rand’s ethics that you should not make sacrifices for other people? For the insufficiently engaged, better engagement would seem to require sacrifice, whereas nonsacrifice would reinforce an already objectionable state of affairs. What guidance does Rand’s ethics offer for...

  7. Author Meets Critics:: Tara Smith’s Ayn Rand’s Normative Ethics
    • Rational Selves, Friends, and the Social Virtues
      (pp. 113-125)

      Tara Smith’sAyn Rand’s Normative Ethics(2006) provides a subtle and challenging version of what it means to be an ethical egoist. The naturalistic basis of Rand’s work, as presented by Smith, makes this egoistic theory one that should be taken seriously by moral philosophers, rather than simply dismissed. However, Rand’s view of human nature as individualistic and contractual may be complicated and undermined by the recognition (made by Rand and Smith) of the importance in human life of common interests and shared activities that cannot be explained by the thesis that humans are by nature contractual beings. Smith’s version...

    • Egoistic Relations with Others: Response to Cullyer
      (pp. 126-130)

      Helen Cullyer is concerned about the professed egoism of Rand’s ethics standing alongside its recognition of rights and of ideal friendships in which self-interest comes to be “transcended” by concern for the friends’ “common interest.” In this way, Cullyer seemingly reveals a conflict between “maximizer” and “nonmaximizer” models of egoism. I don’t think this conflict is genuine, however. It depends on an incomplete understanding—for which I may be partially responsible—of Rand’s rationale for respecting rights and of her view of the value of friendship. I’m going to try to clarify both, spending most of my time on the...

    • Virtuous Egoism and Virtuous Altruism
      (pp. 131-142)

      Thinkers such as Nietzsche and Ayn Rand receive bad press because they either appear to advocate (in Nietzsche’s case) or in fact explicitly advocate, egoism as an ideal of conduct. Nietzsche has been somewhat rehabilitated, and Tara Smith is attempting to do the same for Rand. In both cases the instrument, or at least one important instrument, for rehabilitation is virtue ethics. Does this use contaminate virtue ethics, or does it improve understanding of both Nietzsche and Rand, and of moral theory generally? I firmly believe the latter is the case. While improving understanding of Rand in this way may...

    • On Altruism, and on the Role of Virtues in Rand’s Egoism: Response to Swanton
      (pp. 143-148)

      Swanton believes that Rand’s ethics cannot be hastily dismissed, thanks to its altruism and insistence on virtue. Nonetheless, the way in which it upholds virtue—by maintaining that a person should pursue what is “proper” to human beings—is normatively loaded. Worse, Swanton contends, Rand’s theory does not provide any reason for a person to act as if he or she values another person if, in fact, he or she does not value that person. Thus even Rand’s virtuous egoist seems too “narrow” in his concerns, too stingy.

      While I very much welcome the spirit in which Swanton is reading...

    • What Is Included in Virtue?
      (pp. 149-157)

      There is certainly a great deal in Tara Smith’s wonderful book that is worth discussing and pondering. From the many possible topics I will select one, simply on the grounds that it touches on matters that I have thought about and written on myself. It is a point on which I seem to disagree with her.

      Smith remarks, in her preliminary discussion of the nature of virtue in general, that Rand’s conception of virtue differs from many traditional ones in two ways. First, many traditional theories hold that a virtue is a trait of character. In Rand’s view it is...

    • The Primacy of Action in Virtue: Response to Hunt
      (pp. 158-164)

      Lester Hunt is concerned that by my account, Rand does not consider virtue to be a trait of character or to be something that requires proper action to be taken with the right “spirit and inclination.” Indeed, Hunt wonders whether such a Rand is truly a virtue ethicist. I stand by my portrait of Rand, but I actually think that some of our differences are relatively minor; I agree with much in the spirit of what Hunt is saying. I also welcome his use of further examples from and references to Rand’s fiction. I didn’t make more use of those...

    (pp. 165-166)
    (pp. 167-174)
  10. List of Contributors
    (pp. 175-178)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 179-188)