Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

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Walker
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Walker » Tue May 03, 2016 3:11 pm

Gary Childress wrote:
Walker wrote:Yes. The quote about selfishness and the link that expands the quote sounds familiar. It likely originated from Osho’s Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
I had never heard of Osho until now but some of his ideas and circumstances about his life remind me of Epicureanism in some ways, from reading a little of the Wiki article on him.
I took a look. Wiki didn't mention that Osho was the Debate Champ of India.

The Alpha and Omega is available online. It's a transcription of some talks. Entertaining and informative, maybe your cup of tea. Lots has been written about Osho, but not a lot about what he said.

Same could be said for Rand. Most criticisms of her are personal attacks. She was a self-reliant romanticist who believed in selfish pursuit of excellence, not greed, since greed leads to alienating cooperation of suppliers, subcontractors, and any other honest person.

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Gary Childress
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Gary Childress » Tue May 03, 2016 3:41 pm

Walker wrote:
Gary Childress wrote:
Walker wrote:Yes. The quote about selfishness and the link that expands the quote sounds familiar. It likely originated from Osho’s Commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
I had never heard of Osho until now but some of his ideas and circumstances about his life remind me of Epicureanism in some ways, from reading a little of the Wiki article on him.
I took a look. Wiki didn't mention that Osho was the Debate Champ of India.

The Alpha and Omega is available online. It's a transcription of some talks. Entertaining and informative, maybe your cup of tea. Lots has been written about Osho, but not a lot about what he said.

Same could be said for Rand. Most criticisms of her are personal attacks. She was a self-reliant romanticist who believed in selfish pursuit of excellence, not greed, since greed leads to alienating cooperation of suppliers, subcontractors, and any other honest person.
I do sort of get the impression that much criticism of Rand's philosophy hasn't been entirely fair or charitable toward her ideas.

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A_Seagull
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by A_Seagull » Thu May 05, 2016 11:41 am

Everyone is selfish.

It is just that some admit it, while others don't.

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Gary Childress
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Gary Childress » Thu May 05, 2016 12:28 pm

A_Seagull wrote:Everyone is selfish.

It is just that some admit it, while others don't.
I guess it depends upon what is meant by the phrase "everyone is selfish" and what is meant by the term "selfish". According to the free dictionary, selfish means:
1. Concerned chiefly or excessively with oneself, and having little regard for others: a selfish child who wouldn't share toys.

2. Showing or arising from an excessive concern with oneself and a lack of concern for others: a selfish whim.
[note: emphasis in the quote above is mine]

The key words in those definitions seem to be "chiefly" or "excessively". Surely just about EVERYONE cares for themselves in some way or another the majority of the time. Sometimes they probably care for themselves at the expense of others. However, it might be inappropriate to therefore call EVERYONE "selfish". Rather a "selfish" person is one who cares for themselves EXCESSIVELY. To say that everyone is "selfish" perhaps debases the term "selfish" to where it actually refers to everyone and no one. If we are all "selfish" then there is no need for the relative distinctions "selfish" or "unselfish".

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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by A_Seagull » Fri May 06, 2016 7:02 am

Gary Childress wrote:
A_Seagull wrote:Everyone is selfish.

It is just that some admit it, while others don't.
I guess it depends upon what is meant by the phrase "everyone is selfish" and what is meant by the term "selfish". According to the free dictionary, selfish means:
1. Concerned chiefly or excessively with oneself, and having little regard for others: a selfish child who wouldn't share toys.

2. Showing or arising from an excessive concern with oneself and a lack of concern for others: a selfish whim.
[note: emphasis in the quote above is mine]

The key words in those definitions seem to be "chiefly" or "excessively". Surely just about EVERYONE cares for themselves in some way or another the majority of the time. Sometimes they probably care for themselves at the expense of others. However, it might be inappropriate to therefore call EVERYONE "selfish". Rather a "selfish" person is one who cares for themselves EXCESSIVELY. To say that everyone is "selfish" perhaps debases the term "selfish" to where it actually refers to everyone and no one. If we are all "selfish" then there is no need for the relative distinctions "selfish" or "unselfish".

I am using the word 'selfish' more in the vein of: "Someone who is selfish only thinks of their own advantage" - this from the Cambridge English Dictionary.

prof
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by prof » Fri May 06, 2016 9:20 am

Hi, Gary, Walker and Seagull

The definition commonly used is the one from the free dictionary, as well as the one from the Cambridge Dictionary which has in it the word "only" suggesting the exclusiveness of the selfish individual. He or she pushes to the front of the checkout line, grabs the biggest piece of cake at a party before others get to choose a slice, etc. Also see how Thomas Hobbes describes people in the Leviathan ...everyone out for themselves alone. This view has been refuted many times in the history of philosophical ideas. [Recently - at the end of p. 43 - I did it myself in Basic Ethics: a systematic approach. Here is a link to it:] http://www.myqol.com/wadeharvey/PDFs/BASIC%20ETHICS.pdf

I am glad to see you came around to the ordinary usage, Gary, since at first it appeared that you were buying into Ayn Rand's weirdo definition, where she obfuscated the regular meaning of "selfish" with the concept "self-interest." In many of my recent writings I inform readers of the fact that we are pre-wired to seek our self-interest (but we often don't know what that is, i.e., what is good for us.) For example, and this is a quote from a 2007 manual by M. C. Katz - ETHICS: A College Course.


The question is often raised, “Why not be totally elfish?”
A blind person, feeling selfish, might say: "Why should I
pay for my city to have street lights?! I don't use them. I
don't need them." His thinking is faulty since those who do
see by those lights are less likely to run over him with their
cars. If he were more enlightened he would be willing to pay
some taxes to support the building of those street lights.

The value-scientist in order to speak to this issue,
employing the value dimensions with which you are by now
familiar, proceeds to define three types of social relationships:

Systemic: Dependence

Extrinsic: Independence

Intrinsic: Interdependence.

The booklet then goes on to explain that the theory indicates that the last value mentioned, the Intrinsic valuation, yields the most valuable relationship.

Enlightened thinkers (in Western Civilization at least) will in fact treasure interdependence (and cooperation that goes with it) the most of the three, as empirical surveys reveal.

Ayn Rand claimed that with we call "rugged Individualism" - the Extrinsic case - is the highest value; but notice that when she came down with a medical condition, due to her chronic smoking habit, she she sought, and accepted, government assistance (handouts, subsidies) for herself.
Decide for yourself whether she was a living hypocrite. Did she have a good character? Was she a nice person? Or was she personally offensive in the way she put people down? Is that ethical behavior?

In sum, we will pursue our self-interest whether Ms. Rand tells us to or not, but many uninformed individuals, and those to whom facts don't matter, will do things that are counterproductive and self-defeating. All of us may have bad judgment at times, but some are devoted to continuous self-improvement and they eventually mature to the point where they make more good judgments than bad ones. Is it possible that studying Ethics as science helps this to take place sooner?


http://tinyurl.com/pm3ldpk

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Gary Childress
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Gary Childress » Fri May 06, 2016 6:28 pm

Thank you for the reply, prof. I did not know that Rand herself applied for and received social security. Though Googling I did, just now, find a couple mentions of it.

I also saw some commenters justifying it on the grounds that since she (assumedly) paid into social security during her life, she was therefore "morally" entitled to the money. But then that sort of raises the question, had she not paid into social security (presumably involuntarily) then where would she have been later on toward the end of her life when she apparently needed it had she not had it?

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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by SpheresOfBalance » Fri May 06, 2016 8:37 pm

Gary Childress wrote:
In popular usage, the word “selfishness” is a synonym of evil; the image it
conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to
achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but
the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word “selfishness”
is: concern with one’s own interests.

This concept does not include a moral evaluation; 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. It is the task of ethics to answer such
questions.

The ethics of 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 altruism
enjoins man to renounce for the sake of his neighbors).
TVoS (p. 5)


NOTE: The excerpt above is from a PDF version of "The Virtue of Selfishness" I found online. I have also ordered a physical copy of the book from Amazon.com, for which I paid.

I suppose it is maybe correct to say that "selfishness" has become a kind synonym of "evil" (or at least something "bad") for many or at least some of us. We often say to each other, "stop being so selfish" as though it is an inherently bad thing in and of itself, under all circumstances. Ayn Rand seemed to devote a lot of her energy and resources combating the notion that selfishness is a bad thing. She even proposed what she called "rational egoism". Unless I'm mistaken "rational egoism" essentially says that it is immoral to act against one's own self interest.

My questions are:

If proponents of "altruism" allegedly go too far by saying that selfishness is a vice, does Ayn Rand go too far in calling it a virtue? Isn't "selfishness" perhaps value neutral in and of itself to whatever extent (as Rand actually points out herself in the passage above) or otherwise dependent upon particular circumstances and applications of it? Why does Rand go further and try to say that it is immoral to act against one's own self interest? Might that conceivably lead to the opposite effect; that of some people thinking that (proverbially) murderously trampling over dead bodies to achieve personal goals is justified or even "virtuous"? If "selfishness" is to whatever extent disproportionately mischaracterized as "evil", is it a major problem in a Capitalist society that expediently needs to be addressed? Aren't there more pressing issues in a capitalist society such as things like greed and exploitation? Or, perhaps, would everything be set straight and fair if only EVERYONE (not just the rich and powerful) were more willing to pursue their own self interests?
It would seem that the dictionary I use differs:

"selfish [sel-fish]
adjective
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself:
selfish motives." --Dictionary.com--

The above is quoted from the dictionary, I've only colored the important distinction in red.

Now lets imagine everyone doing the same thing, in every instance of every difference between peoples; chaos, anarchy! Sounds like human evolution regression to me.

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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by prof » Sat May 07, 2016 1:59 am

SpheresOfBalance wrote:
"selfish [sel-fish]
adjective
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself:
selfish motives." --Dictionary.com--

The above is quoted from the dictionary, I've only colored the important distinction in red.

Now lets imagine everyone doing the same thing, in every instance of every difference between peoples; chaos, anarchy! Sounds like human evolution regression to me.
Hi, Spheres

Yes, I agree with your observation.

Selfishness is to be avoided if one knows his/her ethics. As good dictionaries define the terms, one cannot be selfish and considerate at the same time.

Ayn Rand, in her bitterness toward the Soviet Communist experience she escaped from, did us all a disservice in teaching that selfishness = self-concern. :roll: It was a "loss in translation" from Russian to English on her part.

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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Walker » Sat May 07, 2016 6:28 am

prof wrote:
SpheresOfBalance wrote:
"selfish [sel-fish]
adjective
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one's own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself:
selfish motives." --Dictionary.com--

The above is quoted from the dictionary, I've only colored the important distinction in red.

Now lets imagine everyone doing the same thing, in every instance of every difference between peoples; chaos, anarchy! Sounds like human evolution regression to me.
Hi, Spheres

Yes, I agree with your observation.

Selfishness is to be avoided if one knows his/her ethics. As good dictionaries define the terms, one cannot be selfish and considerate at the same time.

Ayn Rand, in her bitterness toward the Soviet Communist experience she escaped from, did us all a disservice in teaching that selfishness = self-concern. :roll: It was a "loss in translation" from Russian to English on her part.
Geeze.

Rand is not that difficult. Here’s a real situation. Two grandkid cousins, tug-o-war over a new toy.

One owns the new toy. She wants to play with it.

The other one has been taught that she must share her toys. She expects others to share with her, on demand.

So grandpa explains it, age appropriate to capacity.
The owner gets to play with the toy as long as she wants, with no pressure.
Sharing does not mean borrowing.
When you share, you first offer.
When you borrow, you first ask.
Asking to borrow does not obligate the owner.
If the owner wants to share the toy, fine.
If the owner doesn’t want to share, fine.

I’m pretty sure Ayn Rand would agree with grandpa’s reasoning.

Selfishness and altruism are emotional issues, as these four-year olds know. We were all once four years old.

The fighting stopped. The owner played with her new toy. The one taught to share thought it over, because these instructions from authority were contrary to the world view that had already begun to cure like concrete in her noggin, and concrete cures for decades. And I could tell that she agreed with the reasoning, even though she wasn't playing with the toy. Maybe when she grows up she won't be conflicted about refusing to loan her beemer to anyone who asks.

Awhile later, for her own reasons, the owner decided to share. She was not required to explain her reasons. Maybe she felt pity. Maybe she realized the future implications of not sharing now. But whatever, the pair of fours reasoned out their subsequent actions within context of emotional upheaval which included tears and toy-cherishing attachment, where the lessons that are repeated throughout life are learned.

Sure it's a virtue. No one has an ethical claim to your mind and what it produces.

Just because the hero wants the toy does not make the owner of the toy a villain.

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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by prof » Sat May 07, 2016 8:07 am

Walker:

Why not teach the owner the benefits of sharing.

Why not say to the owner of the toy, "Can you figure out a way that both of you kids can play with this (toy)?"

To the grandparent I would suggest: "Can you perhaps buy cooperative games and toys for occasions when the kids get together with you?"

Why not teach them Ethics and consideration early in their lives?


BTW, Walker, have you ever studied the economic ideas and concepts of Henry George, a former Mayor of New York, in which he makes the point that ownership of land and natural resources [without paying 'rent' (a single-tax on it)] is an injustice that leads to many other kinds of confused values and avoidable complications. See: - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism# ... _economics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/

What do you think of his argument after you studied it?

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Post by prof » Sat May 07, 2016 8:10 am

oops!
accidentally duplicated a post. Sorry!!
Last edited by prof on Tue May 10, 2016 12:22 am, edited 1 time in total.

prof
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by prof » Sun May 08, 2016 8:57 am

Here is an interesting quote I came upon while reading up on Garrett Hardin's famous article on (what he later wished he had titled it) "The tragedy of the Unregulated Commons." ...taken from the discussion which followed the wiki entry on the Hardin paper originally published In the journal, Science.:
[F]ree access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately reduces the resource through over-exploitation, temporarily or permanently. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals or groups, each of whom is motivated to maximize use of the resource to the point in which they become reliant on it, while the costs of the exploitation are borne by all those to whom the resource is available (which may be a wider class of individuals than those who are exploiting it). This, in turn, causes demand for the resource to increase, which causes the problem to snowball until the resource collapses (even if it retains a capacity to recover).
------ Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Comments?

Walker
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Walker » Sun May 08, 2016 9:37 am

prof wrote:Walker:

Why not teach the owner the benefits of sharing.

Why not say to the owner of the toy, "Can you figure out a way that both of you kids can play with this (toy)?"

To the grandparent I would suggest: "Can you perhaps buy cooperative games and toys for occasions when the kids get together with you?"

Why not teach them Ethics and consideration early in their lives?


BTW, Walker, have you ever studied the economic ideas and concepts of Henry George, a renowned economist and philosopher, in which he makes the point that ownership of land and natural resources [without paying 'rent' (a single-tax on it)] is an injustice that leads to many other kinds of confused values and avoidable complications. See: -
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgism# ... _economics

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Geo ... ipedia.org

What do you think of his argument after you studied it?
Hello prof. As you suggest through the reading assignment, shifting away from the ethics of one-on-one relationships and into a society structured for the purposes and benefit of that society, you gotta pay to party and you can’t party alone, not after you consider the definition of party in terms of perpetual sangha. So you pay in taxes to enjoy the timelife benefits of human relationship. You would think that in turn the group does not confiscate the lifetime home of an old one who is praying for salvation from the taxman via a charity bailout from altruists. Or, you peacefully go the way of old Dick Proenneke and to speak your voice you make a lifetime documentary, because it’s pretty obvious that an aspect of existing in relationship requires self-expression to the universe as creator, critic or survivalist mingled with the particulars of a circumstance. His was solitude. Plus, I suspect that voice energy maintained his balance until the end. The question is, is the final end actually final, is it a balancing act, or is it the last tilt?

Walker
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Re: Ayn Rand and Selfishness as a Virtue

Post by Walker » Sun May 08, 2016 9:45 am

prof wrote:Here is an interesting quote I came upon while reading up on Garrett Hardin's famous article on (what he later wished he had titled it) "The tragedy of the Unregulated Commons." ...taken from the discussion which followed the wiki entry on the Hardin paper originally published In the journal, Science.:
[F]ree access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately reduces the resource through over-exploitation, temporarily or permanently. This occurs because the benefits of exploitation accrue to individuals or groups, each of whom is motivated to maximize use of the resource to the point in which they become reliant on it, while the costs of the exploitation are borne by all those to whom the resource is available (which may be a wider class of individuals than those who are exploiting it). This, in turn, causes demand for the resource to increase, which causes the problem to snowball until the resource collapses (even if it retains a capacity to recover).
------ Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

Comments?
Sounds like strip mining.

The ethical, self-reliant man such a Pronneke does not destroy his environment but the environment is big, and so is the population. The ethical man works in cooperation with his environment and circumstance, whereas Wesley Mouch types profit from taxation. For this to occur on a grand scale requires a group consciousness directed by what: ideology of what should be, or the empiricism of what is to the benefit of oneself?

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