Pretty fascinating stuff. Though I wouldn't describe myself as an Objectivist or a "Randian," I'm certainly finding myself coming around to their ideas more and more.
Because of this video, I bought "The Virtue of Selfishness" by Ayn Rand (Amazon here) and have started reading it...
I certainly must say that the idea of selfishness, or rational self-interest, or ethical egoism (as mainstream philosophers put it) makes sense. It is the only ethical approach that makes sense, so consider me converted on that point.
Consider the following:
- Life precedes value. Without life (and consciousness), there would be no value. Rocks do not have value. Dirt holds no values.
- An indestructible, immortal being would have no values, because such a being would have no need for them. Value only pertains to living, mortal beings.
- Ethics ultimately pertains to the individual: "HOW should I act" and "WHY should I act in a certain way?"
- Altruistic philosophies (thinking of utilitarianism here) ultimately fail because one cannot compare and contrast interpersonal utility.
Douglas Rasmussen explains this (along with a system of individual/natural rights) well in his "Groundwork for Rights" published in the Journal of Libertarian studies, here:
"Metaphysically, life is . . . an end in itself: a value gained and kept by a
constant process of action." These words are absolutely crucial, for they
show that living being is inherently value-laden. Yet, this does not make life
an intrinsic value-a value that is not an object of some entity's action. On
the contrary, the relational nature of value-the idea that something be-
comes valuable not only because of its characteristics but also because it is
an object of an entity's actions-is preserved in saying life is a value in itself,
for living being is the entire complex of the relation that makzs something a
value. Living being acts to live. It is, itself, both the terms of the relation as
well as the relation itself. This is what it means to be an end in itself. This
type of being does not require anything else to justify its status as a value, for
its being a value is what it is.
If life is the ultimate value or end, what determines when it is achieved?
The only possible answer is the form of living being which the particular
living thing is, and it is the actuation of this form that constitutes a living
thing's acting to live. To be a living thing and not be a particular sort of
living thing is impossible, and thus, we cannot speak of life as an ultimate
end or value without also understanding that it is always life as the sort of
living thing the particular living entity is. In other words, it is the nature of
the living entity, the kind of thing it is, that determines whether the life of the
entity is achieved. Acting in accord with one's nature is acting to live.
When the actions taken are the result of choices, when the types of ends
being pursued are purposes, the action being considered is human action
because only human beings are capable of choice. In this context, the
ultimate end or value becomes the standard for moral evaluation. Thus, life
as the sort of thing a human being is-man's life qua man-becomes the
ultimate moral value, the summum bonum. This is what traditionally has
been called man's natural end. A human can, of course, act in a manner
inconsistent with the standards set by his nature and not be literally dead,
but such "non-death" cannot be considered life or, at least, successful human
life. To ignore the principles that human nature requires and to attempt to
live without regard to them in any manner one might choose is to opt for an
existence as a metaphysical misfit, living by sheer luck and/or the moral
behavior of someone else. The principles that human life requires-
rationality, productivity, pride and benevolence-are guides to human life.
Every mistake or evasion will not result in immediate and literal oblitera-
tion, but these principles are no less obligatory on that account. It is wrong
to believe that a moral principle is obligatory only if immediate and devas-
tating consequences rain down upon you when you violate them. The
consequences of immoral action dre seldom as immediate or ostensible as
moralists often would like, but this is no reason to say that such principles
are any less necessary for a good human life. Yet, we still have the initial
question of Osterfeld's to handle: why should I live in accordance with my
nature? Why is it obligatory for me to do so? Here is the question that we
have been seeking to address, and it is here that the type of argument used in
the defense of the PNC seems capable of employment. Let us consider the
1.Y is an object of choice.
2.X is necessary for the existence of Y as a value." X makes Y's
existence as a value possible.
3.If P chooses (values) Y, P must choose (value) what is necessary for
P's valuation of Y.
4.P chooses (values) Y.
5.Thus, P chooses (values) X.
6.X is man's life qua man, man's natural end.
7.Thus, P chooses (values) man's life qua man in choosing (valuing) Y.
Insofar as one chooses, regardless of the choice (even if it is the choice not to
choose), one must choose (value) man's life qua man. It makes no sense to
value some Y without also valuing that which makes the valuing of Y
possible. Thus, it is a category mistake-a type of contradiction-to hold
something as a value, i.e., to make some choice, and at the same time ask
why one should live in accord with his nature. "Man's life qua man" is the
end at which all human action implicitly aims; and insofar as one chooses,
one values this ultimate end. The very asking of the question "Why should I
live in accord with my nature?" is a choice, a valuation, that demands that
one already accept this ultimate value. Thus, Osterfeld would be obliged to
act in accord with his nature by virtue of his own act of choice, his valuing Y,
which in his case was the wanting of an answer to his question. Thus, not
only does the mere acceptance of end-oriented behavior require the accep-
tance of an ultimate end; the mere acting for some end requires the accep-
tance of an ultimate end, which in the case of chosen ends is man's life qua
man-man's natural end.
This argument would seem to have a firm initial condition, indeed almost
as firm as the initial condition used by Aristotle in the defense of the PNC,
for it is hard to imagine how someone could get outside the responsibility of
making choices, of valuing ends. For, as already said, even the decision not
to make choices is itself a choice. The conclusion that man's life qua man
must he accepted-must he valued-by anyone who makes choices follows
necessarily from true premises, so the defense of man's life qua man as the
ultimate value is not just a dialectical victory. Finally, the obligatory nature
of the statement "one should live in accord with his nature" does receive its
moral force from the ultimate moral value of man's life qua man, but this is
not viciously circular, for the initial choice, the initial valuing, which re-
quired the acceptance of this ultimate moral end, was done by the opponent
or skeptic of this ultimate value, not the proponent. So, we believe we have
answered Osterfeld's question and defended Rothbard's approach to the
justification of the right of liberty.