My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.
Ayn Rand's philosophy has been labeled as an unfair philosophy that preaches that it is all about you and that no one else matters. It supposedly rejects helping others and only places value on something if you like it. I will attempt to get rid of these misconceptions.
When Ayn Rand wrote the essays found in The Virtue of Selfishness she, of course, said that being selfish was a virtue. But what does she mean by this?
"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 . . . 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.— Introduction, the Virtue of Selfishness.
When she uses the word "selfish", she is not referring to the evil trait we think of. In fact, she opposes it. She proposes the idea of what we call rational egoism, which in summary means that we must pursue our own self-interests and live our lives for ourselves, but this does not mean we must always think of ourselves as being perfect nor that we must disregard others.
One of the reasons people think she is like this is because she opposes altruism. Why? Because she rejects the idea that others are automatically entitled to the product of our labor and the ultimate moral goal is to be a selfless person. This is not to say that we are supposed to be opposed to helping others but to hold that alone as the ultimate moral good is not good at all.
My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.— Ayn Rand, Playboy, March 1964
The idea that others are automatically entitled to our love and help finds no real basis. To her, if we love everyone indiscriminately, that is "to love without any standard, regardless of moral or virtue. You are asked to love nobody", making it useless. This does not mean that we are free to mistreat them as they have done no harm to us. But why is every homeless man entitled to our money? Again this is not saying that it is wrong to give money to the needy but to say that this is the pinnacle of morality and that you should always do this is false. It would be morally right to give the homeless man money if you have a reason to think he will spend it wisely and if it will do no harm towards you and your family.
In speaking of family, Ayn Rand did an interview with Mike Wallace in 1958 in which he criticized how she thought of love as being like a business deal. To him, love means to be above self-interest. How does she respond? She retorts by saying love without self-interest would be like a husband telling his wife that he married his wife only for her sake. He gets nothing out of it. He has no personal interest. He is so unselfish that he married her only for her own good. This is a bad relationship. A healthy relationship is one that has both parties enjoying being with one another, and both of them selfishly enjoys it. The husband enjoys being with his wife because he gets something out of it and the wife does as well.
This comes down to another issue; sacrifice. She opposed the idea of sacrificing yourself for anything. But she did not mean that it is never right to give up something for something else or that the struggle is not worth it.
Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the worthless, but of the precious. “Sacrifice” does not mean the rejection of the evil for the sake of the good, but of the good for the sake of the evil. “Sacrifice” is the surrender of that which you value in favor of that which you don’t.
If you exchange a penny for a dollar, it is not a sacrifice; if you exchange a dollar for a penny, it is. If you achieve the career you wanted, after years of struggle, it is not a sacrifice; if you then renounce it for the sake of a rival, it is. If you own a bottle of milk and give it to your starving child, it is not a sacrifice; if you give it to your neighbor’s child and let your own die, it is.
If you wish to save the last of your dignity, do not call your best actions a “sacrifice”: that term brands you as immoral. If a mother buys food for her hungry child rather than a hat for herself, it is not a sacrifice: she values the child higher than the hat; but it is a sacrifice to the kind of mother whose higher value is the hat, who would prefer her child to starve and feeds him only from a sense of duty.— Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 139
Now some may look at what she just said and say she is supporting the kind of mother who would choose a hat over her child. But in regards to children, objectivism does not support such a view.
Ethically, Objectivism is opposed to any unchosen or undeserved duties. In this context, however, Objectivists generally acknowledge that parents, in creating (or adopting) a dependent child, choose for themselves the obligation to raise that child to a healthy adulthood with the power to exercise his rational faculty (if he so chooses). This obligation implies that the parents must undertake certain tasks at least to some minimal standard, including feeding and clothing the child....
...and providing him with a basic education.— Andrew Bissell, Children's Rights, Atlas Society, January 25, 2011
Andrew goes onto explain how this would work out. For example, does this mean the murder of a child is okay since they do not have the same rights as an adult? The general consensus among Objectionists is that while children do have the full rights of adults, they have the right to live and they have the potential to become a fully functioning adult.
Objectivism rejects the idea that we must be completely selfless people and that, within reason, we can pursue our own goals and forge our own path in life, and that in doing so we can help others do the same. By following this standard we are actually helping mankind more than selflessness can. Only by valuing ourselves and loving ourselves can we follow the golden rule found in almost every culture: treat others how YOU want to be treated.
Thank you for your time. For more information, check out the Ayn Rand Institute, which has a variety of articles, videos, and programs devoted to learning more about Objectivism.