Some time ago, I wrote blog post called “What Is Kantian Egoism?”. Although the concept of egoism was clear to me, I soon realized that others had other ideas in mind, namely, an idea that, from 1905 to 1982, was known as Ayn Rand.
Ayn Rand (1905-1982), the Russian-born author/philosopher, most known as the founder of Objectivism and the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, is often associated with egoism and it’s ethic of rational self-interest. For those unfamiliar with Ayn Rand’s sentiments on rational self interest, Rand wrote this:
“Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles. This is why the Objectivist ethics is a morality of rational self-interest—or of rational selfishness.”
Although egoism is most associated with Ayn Rand, Rand is not the first to espouse the virtues of egoism. The German philosopher Max Stirner (1806-1856) said that it is irrational not to act in one’s own interest. Pursuing one’s own interest is a part of our self-realization. According to Stirner, egoism isn’t necessarily about getting the immediate pleasure or good. That’s why interests are called rationalself interests, we think before we act. And for the egoist, an act is morally permissible if and only if the act produces the greatest good for the agent — even if we have to wait awhile to get what we want.
Now, I can explain that egoism simply means acting in a way that is beneficial to me and my interests, but no matter how many times I omit the words “Ayn” and “Rand” from my description, the first question I inevitably hear is “Oh, so you like Ayn Rand?” For the record, my answer to that question is and shall be no. I am not a fan of Ayn Rand. I freely admit that I harbor more than a few kooky ideas — but none of my ideas includes the sentiment “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.”
For the record, Ayn Rand’s ideas did.
As an egoist, I admit I just don’t understand Ayn Rand. Sure, we’d all like to think of selfishness as a virtue. And really, how many of us has been accosted by a particularly aggressive panhandler and wished that said “moocher” would go away; or rather, that we could find a place to live that’s moocher free? Those sentiments are easy to understand but they’re often difficult to live by. As much as we’d like to live for no one but ourselves and our own rational self interest, there’s a big world out there filled with people that, moochers or not, we have to interact with. An egoist, if he’s smart enough, will figure out that the world is just too big — and the romantic ideals of (completely) self-made, self-sufficient men like Howard Roark and John Galt work better on the page or the silver screen than in reality.
If you don’t believe that’s so, remember this: Ayn Rand died on Social Security.