TVoS (p. 5)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
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).
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?