The Power of Objectivism: Ayn Rand and John Galt and Atlas Shrugged and The Morality of Life, Intelligence, Greed, Selfishness, Rationality, Individuality, Integrity, Capitalism, Desire, and Freedom
Copyright © 2020 Russell Hasan. All Rights Reserved.
This is a philosophy essay about the philosophy of Objectivism, the set of ideas presented by Ayn Rand in her book Atlas Shrugged. This essay is roughly 50 pages long. It is divided into 36 sections, and each section ranges from one paragraph or ten sentences (the top ten principles of Objectivism) to a few pages in length.
This essay, which evolved out of a series of blog posts, is many things:
(A) A high-level summary or synopsis or outline of the philosophy of Objectivism for people too busy to read Ayn Rand's thousand-pages-long books (Atlas Shrugged is over 1000 pages long. In contrast, this essay is around 50 pages long).
(B) A reference to quickly look up the key principles of Objectivism.
(C) A tool for the Author to organize his own thoughts, which hopefully the Reader will also enjoy.
(D) A restatement of the philosophy of Objectivism, with a specific focus on ethics/morality (the study of right and wrong), and epistemology (the study of knowledge, and how knowledge is possible).
(E) This book includes a high-level outline or synopsis or summary of the entire history of Western philosophy, in order to compare other philosophers to Ayn Rand and see how Objectivism fits into the history of Western philosophy.
In the interests of honesty and accuracy the Author must say, up front, that his vision of Objectivism is not limited only to the work of Ayn Rand, and that he incorporates his own philosophical positions and his own unique point of view into the philosophy of Objectivism.
Section One: What is Objectivism? Who Was Ayn Rand?
What is the philosophy of Objectivism? Let's learn about it together! I bet you'll learn something new!
Objectivism is the name of a philosophy--a set of ideas--developed by novelist Ayn Rand in the 20th Century. Objectivists are people who practice Objectivism. What do Objectivists believe? They think that a person should be happy, and that your happiness is the moral and ethical purpose of your life. They claim that rationality and reasoning are your main tools to succeed in the world, and that success causes happiness. They promote capitalism and individualism, feeling that the individual is more important than society.
Did you know? The 1980s were called The Decade of Greed because many people were influenced by Objectivism at that time, including high-ranking officials of the Reagan Administration. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was also a known Objectivist.
Who was Ayn Rand? She was born in 1905 in Russia to Jewish parents. She lived through the 1918 Communist Revolution in Russia, which gave her a lifelong hatred of Communism and socialism. Eventually she escaped the USSR and fled to the USA, where she gained citizenship by marrying an American man. She achieved wealth and fame with her bestselling novel The Fountainhead (1943), and followed it up with her novel Atlas Shrugged (1957). Atlas Shrugged is the foundation of Objectivism, and it is over 1000 pages long!
Did you know? There was a surge of interest in Objectivism in the 1960s, and a large Objectivist movement, centered around New York City. But Ayn Rand had an affair with another one of the leaders of the movement, a man named Nathaniel Branden (who was 25 years younger than her), and when they broke up in 1969, an explosive conflict developed between them, where Rand cast Branden out of her inner circle, and the fallout destroyed the Objectivist movement of the 1960s.
Many people hate Ayn Rand and her philosophy, but she is a hero to her millions of adoring and devoted fans, and her novel Atlas Shrugged routinely ranks as one of the most influential books of all time. Her work has been credited by historians with helping save capitalism from the rise of Marxism in the 20th Century, and she has inspired many people to live happy lives, and changed many people's opinions about philosophy, morality, religion, politics and economics. Love her or hate her, no one can deny her ideas are unique – no one had ever said what she said before, in the entire history of philosophy. Her stunning and groundbreaking defense of capitalism, not on the basis of economics, not because it works or it makes money or it is efficient, but on the grounds of morality, because it is right and good and virtuous, lives on into today's world and continues to change the world for the better.
I hope you enjoyed learning this lesson about Objectivism as much as I did! Thanks for reading!
Section Two: The Top Ten Principles of Objectivism
This is a summary of the Ten Core Principles of the Philosophy of Objectivism, that I have refined and distilled from my extensive study of Objectivism:
1. Life is Good, Death is Evil. (Your Own Life is Good, Behavior that Causes You to Die is Evil.) Life or Death is Our Only Real Choice, Since Everything Else Continues Regardless, and Choice Creates the Need for Morality (Because Morality is What Tells Us Which Choices to Make), therefore Life is the Basis of Human Morality.
2. Intelligence is Good, Stupidity is Evil. The Human Mind is the Human Means of Survival.
3. You Need to Spend Money in Order to Live, and You Need to Make Money in Order to Spend Money, so... Greed is Good, and High IQ is What Makes Money.
4. Freedom is Good, The Mind Needs Freedom in Order to Function.
5. Capitalism is Good, Socialism is Evil. Capitalism Gives the Mind the Freedom to Make Money.
6. Selfishness is Good, Altruism is Evil. Doing What You Want (Being Selfish) Makes You Happy, which Prolongs Your Life and Makes Your Life Worth Living.
7. Rationality is Good, Religion is Evil (Irrationality is Evil). Rationality Maximizes Survival. Reason is How Humans Gain Knowledge of Reality, and Knowledge of Reality grants Power Over Reality.
8. Integrity is Good, Compromise is Evil. Something is either Good, or else it is Evil, so if it is Good, there is no Need to Make Compromises to Any Competing Positions, since doing so would only Dilute Goodness with Evil.
9. Individuality is Good, Conformity is Evil. Your Own Life is Goodness for You, So, to Be Good, You Must be True to Who You Are, and Be Yourself. Which Means You Must be an Individual, and Not Conform to Society.
10. Desire, and the Fulfillment of Your Desires, is Good, Self-Abnegation and Self-Denial is Evil. Do What You Want, Do Whatever Will Make You Happy, and Use Reason to Achieve your Goals. This is Rational Selfishness. (And Don't Support Any Government That Won't Let You, and Other People, Do What You Want and Live Happy Lives.)
Section Three: Ten Other Principles of Objectivism
1. You are personally responsible for yourself.
2. You are not personally responsible for other people.
3. Other people are not personally responsible for you.
4. Other people are personally responsible for themselves.
5. Reality is an absolute. Existence exists objectively.
6. You have to spend money (consume value) in order to live, and you have to make money (create value) in order to spend money. Yes, you can make money without creating value, but only if someone else creates the value that pays for your money, and, again, yes, you can spend money without consuming value, but then someone else gets the benefit of the value that your spent money paid for… and the problem with that is, as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher once said, eventually you run out of other people’s money. Really, eventually you run out of other people’s values. Then the collapse depicted in Atlas Shrugged happens, socialism collapses.
7. Philosophy is not merely a matter of opinion. It is a matter of absolute truth and objective facts.
8. "Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed." The mind cannot impose its will onto reality subjectively, by wishing for something or believing that something is true. The mind must learn from reality what is true and learn what one should do, and then doing that which one learned from reality will bend reality to one's will.
9. There are two types of people: Prime Movers, and Second Handers. Prime Movers live. Second Handers live for the sake of what other people think about them. The Second Handers are the parasites of consciousness.
10. The Sanction of the Victim: A person who seeks to destroy you will want your blessing in order to do so. If you deprive them of that, it is very difficult for them to destroy you. Evil triumphs only when Good does nothing. A vampire can't get in without an invitation. The whole of altruistic/Marxist/Christian morality has been created to make people feel guilty for being happy (for being selfish), in order to guilt-trip the smart, productive, selfish people, the Creators, into being the victims (the economic slaves) of the Looters, the evil ones. Objectivist morality teaches Creators to deny the Looters the Sanction of the Victims.
Section Four: The Top Ten Virtues from The John Galt Speech in Atlas Shrugged
I have not seen a simple list of the virtues enumerated in Atlas Shrugged, so I made this list:
For Ayn Rand's explication of these virtues, see pages 932-33, Atlas Shrugged, Signet Paperback Edition.
One can further subdivide this list:
Reason, Purpose and Self-Esteem are "the Big Three Virtues,"
Rationality, Independence and Integrity are "The Intellectual Virtues,"
and Honesty, Justice, Productiveness and Pride are "The Social Virtues."
These three sets of values comprise the bedrock foundation of Objectivist morality.
Section Five: The Top Ten Virtues that Should Be Added to Objectivism
10. Loyalty (But Never Blind Obedience)
Section Six: What is Selfishness? The Top Ten Answers (For an Objectivist)
The top ten answers to the question "What is selfishness?" First, five from a Subjectivist, then, in reply, five for an Objectivist:
(These first five are the counter-position, that I will refute below in the other five):
1. Selfishness is being a greedy, disgusting pig.
2. Selfishness is prioritizing one's short-term needs over one's long-term needs.
3. Selfishness is prioritizing (in other words, going after, spending your life resources (time, money) in order to achieve) immediate carnal goals, like food, shelter, money, comfort, instead of what one really wants, like, for example, pursuing a life as a writer, which will deprive one of money and "selfish" pleasure even though one really wants to be a writer. (Note that "writer" really is just an example, it is not based on me personally--this actually comes from an essay by philosophy professor Derek Parfit, who used the example of wanting to become a philosophy professor.)
4. Selfishness is prioritizing one's personal goals over the social needs and well-being of one's loved ones and society, for example, by pursuing a career as a writer, because that is what one really wants to do, instead of getting a good steady job as a banker or a doctor to provide money and support for one's wife and kids and to pay more taxes and charity to help the poor.
5. Selfishness is the attribute of taking as much for oneself as one can at the expense of the other people who would have had what you took but for the fact that you have taken it for yourself.
6. Selfishness is the attribute of asserting and nurturing the self, in other words, your personality, individuality, who you are. Selfishness means being true to yourself -- literally, to your "self."
7. Selfishness is the system whereby one ranks one's values into an ordinal hierarchy, and then assigns one's life resources to the achievement of one's values, prioritizes a higher value over a lesser value. Thus, pursuing a higher value over a lower value is not a "sacrifice," but sacrificing a higher value to a lower value, is a "sacrifice." Selfishness is the opposite of sacrifice.
8. Selfishness is rational self-interest, such that, if prioritizing one's short-term goals over one's long-term goals was what would rationally be designed to maximize one's own happiness over the span of one's life, one would do so, but, if prioritizing long-term goals over short-term goals was the more rational choice in the context of one's life situation, going after the long-term over the short term would be selfish, in that situation.
9. Selfishness is doing what you want, given your hierarchy of values (that you choose, or discover from self-reflection), so, if being a writer is a higher value for you than is making money to buy nice things for your wife and kids or to have a financially secure comfortable life, then pursuing a career as a writer is selfish, because you are going after what will make you really happy, instead of doing what other people want you to do, but if your wife and kids or comfort are the higher value to you, then abandoning a career as a writer is not selfless, it is selfish, because the more selfish thing would be to be supportive of your family or your finances, since that is what you really want to do, that is what is really important to you. Selfishness tells you to do so without guilt. Note that what matters is not which value society deems the more important, it is which value you want more strongly, it is whichever value is higher to you.
10. Selfishness is the attribute of taking as much for yourself as you can in the context of the fact that, as Ayn Rand said, there is no conflict of interests among human beings as economic actors, so, you take as much as possible for you, but you concede to every other human being the freedom for them to do what they want, and the freedom for them to make as much money as they want, as they are able. So, theft or being a criminal and actually taking money from other people is not "selfish," it is stupid, whereas making money is selfish and smart, it is rational self-interest, as opposed to irrational self-motivated behavior.
With respect to the concept of "Selfishness" in Objectivism, there are three positions one can take. The first position is that Ayn Rand took the classic, old definition of "selfishness," and asserted that it is good, whereas people had thought it was evil before. This means that this position thinks that Ayn Rand said it was a good thing to be a greedy selfish pig and to hurt other people to benefit yourself and to hoard as much money as possible and to use or exploit other people for your own self-interest. I call this the Old Position. The Old Position says, or implies, that capitalism is a system where the rich use and exploit the poor and the working class to get rich, and the rich run scams to get rich, but this capitalism is good, not evil.
There is a position, which I take, that Ayn Rand invented a brand new concept, rational self-interested Objectivist morality, and, because there was no word for it, she chose the most similar word, "selfishness," in essence taking an old word and giving it a new definition. I call this the New Position. The ideal of the New Position is not the pig, it does not take the pig and change our evaluation of old selfishness from evil to good. Instead, it invents a brand-new morality, one which is quite complicated and which you have to read Rand's books carefully to fully understand, but which can be summarized as "rational self-interest." The New Position holds that the old fight of altruism vs. selfishness was "poison as food, and poison as antidote," as Rand once wrote, and that we should not be for or against the selfish pig as the paragon of selfishness; instead, we must reject the selfish pig as the emblem and poster child for selfishness, and instead assert the virtuous human being, like John Galt and Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden of Atlas Shrugged, people who are very much concerned with doing the right thing regardless of whether doing so hurts them personally and who do not hurt other people in order to advance their own ends, as the symbol of our new definition of "selfishness."
The New Position says that capitalism creates wealth, which helps everyone and lifts everyone up, because when you make more money, then there is more money for you to spend, to pay other people to do their jobs, and then they have more money, and so on, so that, when one person is selfish, and makes money, that actually helps everyone else--there is no economic (or social) conflict of interests among humans. This, in a way, is very similar to the argument that Socrates makes in Plato's "Apology," where Socrates says that he would not corrupt the youth of Athens, because doing so would not help them, and when you help other people you make the world a better place, and when you make the world a better place then the world is a nicer place for you to live in, and your living in a nicer world is a selfish benefit to you, so Socrates would not have chosen to corrupt the Athens youth because that would not be selfish and personally beneficial to him.
In Objectivism, because there is no conflict of interests among men, you do what is best for you, but that does no harm to others--not merely because you did not actively choose to harm them, but because, fundamentally, essentially, logically, when one person behaves rationally selfishly, that does not do harm to the people around that person.
The third position is what I refer to as the Bait-and-Switch Position, which holds that Rand intended the New Position, but the Bait-and-Switch hooks people on the New Position, and then, because people don't consciously understand the definitions of words or what is at stake, they get switched into the Old Position, which is little more than praising and glorifying people for being greedy selfish gluttonous disgusting pigs. The Bait-and-Switch Position is the position that confuses the New Position and the Old Position, either intentionally or unintentionally, or which holds that the New Position and the Old Position are identical and there exists only one definition of "selfishness," the result of which is that people want to believe in the virtuous, noble New Position, but they get led down into the dead end of the Old Position, where all the old classical altruist criticisms of selfishness (and capitalism) ring true, at which point Objectivists struggle to defend the virtue of selfishness. So the Old Position ideal is a pig, whereas the New Position ideal is the rational self-interest of the smart, productive, ethical, good person.
I want to conclude this list by emphasizing this point: people today are taught to use the words "greedy" and "selfish" when the word they are really looking for is "stupid." Take this example: A person has saved up $50. Their friend is starting a small business, and the friend asks the person to invest their $50 in it, and if the person invests $50 in this business, in six months he will make a return on investment of $500. But, instead, the person spends the $50 to buy a really big, fancy cake, and eats the entire cake in one day, and gets sugar-poisoning from eating too much and vomits. If he had invested, he would have had $500 and could have bought ten chocolate cakes and eaten them over several weeks. The Old Position would say that this person was selfish and greedy. The New Position would say, no, that was stupid. By eating the cake, did the person maximize the benefit to himself or maximize his own pleasure? No. So he was not selfish. Did he maximize the amount of money he had? No, he lost $500. So he was not greedy. But he did do something stupid.
Let us extend this example, and see where it leads, with another example: a man gets an MBA from a top-ranked business school, and he could get a job making $80,000/year as a CFO, he gets that job offer fresh out of B-school. But instead, he goes to Wall Street, starts a Ponzi scheme, and gets investment banks to invest $500 million in his Ponzi scheme (say, for this example, he says he has a startup which has invented a new way to genetically engineer Dutch Tulip bulbs, and it is made up, he tells a lie.) So he now owns $500 million, and he buys mansions, and yachts, and goes on business trips to Hollywood and Paris and London. But then, after six months, he runs out of victims, his Ponzi scheme collapses, the Wall Street analysts look at his numbers and figure out his lie, and he goes to jail, and his wife divorces him. Was he greedy?
He did not maximize the amount of money he owns: he owns zero dollars in prison, but he could have owned $80,000/year. So he was not greedy, because he did not maximize the amount of money that he had, and no rational person would have expected his behavior to do so. Was he selfish? He is unhappy and miserable in jail but would have been happy in the $80,000/year job with a wife and kids and a normal life. So, he did not maximize the benefit to his self, nor did he maximize his own personal happiness. He was not selfish.
But what he did was very, very stupid. There is a certain type of crook or criminal who thinks he is very smart because he thinks he has invented a way to get money without doing work, namely, by being a crook, and stealing money from the hard-working regular folk, whom he regards as suckers and naive fools. But the belief that you can make money without doing work is stupid. That's not how economics works, and it is an idiotic, irrational belief. Interestingly, that is what the socialists think about economics: they think you get rich by being a crook, and that therefore all rich people are crooks, because none of the socialists are "men of ability" and none of them have ever seen a John Galt-like genius invent a new motor that makes billions of dollars, like a real life Steve Jobs of Apple or Bill Gates of Microsoft, they just read the stories in the (liberal media) newspapers about how some Wall Street banker was found guilty of a white collar crime that stole millions of dollars and got off with a slap on the wrist and a million dollar fine, and they think capitalism is corrupt and you get rich through evil. One of the key principles of Objectivism says no, you get rich by being good, and you become happy by being good, not by evil. That is the "Protestant work ethic" that shaped early 1700s/1800s America during the Industrial Revolution, although, really, it is the Objectivist work ethic, that goodness earns prosperity and virtue buys success. Atlas Shrugged described how people really get rich, by doing work. So crime is "stupid," it is not "greedy" or "selfish" in the Objectivist sense of those words.
Section Seven: The Top Ten Summaries of Good and Evil
1. Good: Who are able to get a job, get a job. Evil: Who are able, are too lazy to get a job.
2. Good: Read books or play games or get a hobby. Sober fun. Evil: Drinks, does drugs, listens to loud music, strives to numb and kill their own mind in any way possible.
3. Good: Judge people as individuals. Evil: Collectivist/Tribalist/racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic
4. Good: Forgive, and earn love. Evil: Exact petty revenge, but seek unearned love.
5. Good: Cares about right and wrong. Evil: Honestly does not care if they are evil.
6. Good: Are loyal and supportive. Evil: Just use people for their own ends manipulatively.
7. Good: Are tolerant of different types of people. Evil: Condemns the Other as evil.
8. Good: Is a nice, clean, respectful person. Evil: Acts like a slob or a piece of trash.
9. Good: Has gratitude. Always compares what they have to the condition of not having it, instead of comparing what they have to other people who have more. Evil: Ungrateful, envious.
10. Good: To the extent they are able, strives to think and use their IQ. Evil: Chooses to be stupid; is proud to be stupid.
Section Eight: Rand's Nietzsche vs. Heidegger's Nietzsche
Two versions or interpretations of the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche exist: The Objectivist Nietzsche or the Atheist Existentialist Nietzsche, what can also be called Rand's Nietzsche vs. Heidegger's Nietzsche. The Existentialist interpretation of Nietzsche is widely known, while the Objectivist Nietzsche is virtually unknown, thanks in part to Ayn Rand explicitly rejecting him and denying his obvious and extensive influence upon her. The purpose of this article is to present a summary of the Objectivist Nietzsche.
Ayn Rand was in Nietzsche denial, saying throughout her adult life that Nietzsche did not influence her and that she owed him no debt – an outright lie, both historically and ideologically. Historically it is known that Ayn Rand read Nietzsche as a teen and went through a phase of explicit fandom (see for example the biography The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden). Ideologically, the heroes of Rand's novels are the Overman and Objectivism is the new code of values called for by Nietzsche in his plea to replace Christian morality with something new. What is Objectivism? It is Ayn Rand doing what Nietzsche had said needed to be done, a half century earlier. Rand's criticism of altruism is based on Nietzsche's critique of what he called the Slave Morality, but before we explore how he influenced her, let us look at what Heidegger said and how it misled Nietzsche scholars.
Heidegger's Nietzsche says there is no absolute truth, there are no ideals, there is no such thing as knowledge or eternal principles, reason does not discover the truth, the Rationalism of Descartes and Kant is a fraud, there is only the ever-changing physical world in which we know nothing, we are all mere beings in time with no access to timeless truths or immortal ideals. Christian ideals are empty and meaningless, and God is dead, leaving behind a void, literally a nothingness, for us to believe in. It is in this sense that Existentialism is really Nihilism: Nietzsche removed God as what to believe in, so Existentialist Atheism believes in nothing.
Contrast this with Rand's Nietzsche, who says that Kant, Descartes, and Christianity are wrong, but, instead of a void left by their absence, we need something new to replace them, a new idealism of the physical world to believe in: we need “new values on new tablets,” to quote him, in other words we need a new morality, not no morality at all, to replace Judeo-Christian ethics. There is eternal truth, knowledge, and ideals, it is just that the Christian school of thought got them wrong. Nietzsche called for a new morality and Ayn Rand answered his call with the philosophy of Objectivism. Nietzsche predicted a Zarathustra-like sage to find new truth, and Rand's “Atlas Shrugged” created a brand-new morality which did everything Nietzsche had said a new morality must accomplish. Ayn Rand is not a Nihilist, despite rejecting God: she gives us something to believe in, namely, the human ego, our ability to succeed and triumph and our potential for greatness. Her Nietzsche contrasts Roark's temple in “The Fountainhead,” a celebration of how high we can go, with Toohey's Stoddard Temple as religion, something whose greatness and grandeur makes us feel small and weak in comparison to it. That Randian attitude towards religion is deeply rooted in Nietzsche's books.
Nietzsche did not specifically predict Rand's ego as ideal or reason as means of knowledge. But he did anticipate her moral vision. Consider this statement, which summarizes one of his ideas: Slave Morality is used to manipulate the strong into being the slaves of the weak by making them feel guilty for being healthy. Now consider this as a sum takeaway of “Atlas Shrugged”: Altruism is used by the poor to manipulate the rich into being the slaves of the government by making them feel guilty for making money and being productive. Do you see how obvious and undeniable is the influence of Nietzsche upon Objectivism?
Nietzsche called for the replacement of Slave Morality with a Master Morality, in which people were proud of being strong and healthy and felt no guilt, in which being strong and healthy is virtuous. Rand’s Objectivism is a Master Morality. Nietzsche was a signature pioneer in philosophy for being one of the first philosophers to critique and attack altruism, and the rejection of altruism is central to Ayn Rand. Indeed, some of Rand’s arguments against altruism in Atlas Shrugged are remarkably similar to things Nietzsche wrote. Nietzsche argued that it is illogical that a value should be unethical if you take it selfishly for yourself but ethical if you give it selflessly to someone else, because the other person is selfish if, and when, they take it for themselves. Ayn Rand copied that precise analysis in the John Galt Speech in Atlas Shrugged. Nietzsche also had his theory of the Overman, the super-human man who would rise and be so strong and tough that he would overcome the weakness inherent in humanity and achieve a new phase of human evolution. Howard Roark and John Galt read like a literary attempt to realistically depict what the Overman is like. They do not behave like real human beings, with emotional depth and inner conflicts and self-doubt such as everyone feels, but they certainly do behave like real Overmen, like supermen heroes.
It is true that Friedrich Nietzsche opposed reason and knowledge, but it was reason and knowledge as defined by Descartes and Kant, reason as a non-physical disembodied thought gaining spiritual knowledge arising from an eternal deity, like reason transcending the world of empirical perception. Given the Kantian definition of the words “reason” and “knowledge”, Ayn Rand also opposed reason and knowledge, just like Nietzsche did. Whereas Heidegger's Nietzsche says reason and knowledge are empty illusions, Rand's Nietzsche clears a path to a new reason and knowledge based on empirical experience and the physical world. Rand thought of Descartes and Kant as champions of religion whereas Nietzsche thought of them as champions of reason, but the answer to the question of what enemy is Objectivism opposed to is the same if one defines both Rand and Nietzsche as philosophers of Objectivism.
This concludes a brief account of why Friedrich Nietzsche should be considered an Objectivist philosopher, given a plausible alternative to Heidegger's interpretation.
Section Nine: What is The Soul? The Top Ten Answers (For an Objectivist)
Everyone knows what the soul is according to religious philosophy, such as Platonism or Christianity: a non-physical spirit that occupies and animates a body, a ghost in a machine. But Aristotle and Ayn Rand both wrote much about "the soul," and I suspect they meant something different.
This is a list of my top ten thoughts about how Aristotle and Ayn Rand would define "the soul." Aristotle had some (strange) beliefs about God, but Ayn Rand never conceded the existence of any non-physical aspect of reality, so her conception of the soul is not that it is something that does not physically exist; instead, the soul is an aspect of the moral existence of a human being, which, for Rand, begins with the mind and reason as the fountainhead of morality.
The Soul of a Person is Their:
3. Self-Esteem (In The Fountainhead there are scenes where to destroy someone's self-esteem is stated as their soul being destroyed)
4. Their self-aware Brain
5. Their Mind that Sees
6. Their Mind that Thinks
7. Their Mind that Thinks with Integrity and Acts in a Moral Way (so for a person to compromise their integrity is for them to lose their soul)
8. A Human Body Living a Moral Life - in other words, The Person as a "Person," in the Moral Sense
10. Purpose in Living Their Life and the Meaning for Them of Their Life - this particularly would mean Aristotle's theory of the "Final Cause," that the end state that something seeks to achieve is literally a cause of its physical existence.
Section Ten: Thoughts on Morality
There are two sides of Objectivist morality: (A) Nietzsche's influence: Go to a party, dance, have a few drinks, kiss a stranger, have fun, enjoy life; and (B) the Christian influence: work hard, be good, avoid sin, be a piously virtuous person, be a member of your community, don't drink, and be productive at work, get married and have kids, but with Atlas Shrugged instead of The Bible, and Reason/Rationality instead of Jesus Christ. This is not a contradiction, provided that the value of Life is paramount over all: choose whichever one maximizes your happiness and survival, or choose some ratio between them that is right for you (the Aristotle influence in Objectivist ethics, A / B = C, choose the middle between two extremes, Aristotle's theory of the Golden Mean of Ethics).
There is a question for Objectivists posed by ethicists and philosophy professors, for example, should I be a good employee because I'll impress my boss and get more work or get promoted and make more money, such that if someone paid me more money to be a bad employee I should, or is it because it's the "right" thing to do, always? Then there is the argument that it is right because 99% of the time it will pragmatically maximize wealth so you should do it 100% of the time because you can't predict the 1% of the time when it would be "selfish" to be lazy.
No. It is the right thing--the virtuous behavior--100% of the time. Why? Because to live, as a human, is to work a job--to the best of your ability. If someone pays you money to be evil, you would sacrifice your integrity, and gain nothing. You cannot, and will not, be happy, nor "live" in the human sense of that word, having lost your integrity. Thus, here, the value of Life is a higher value than the value of Greed: you should choose integrity over a large sum of cash. Remember, in the Top Ten Principles of Objectivism, the Atlas Shrugged Deduction, the first axiom is: Life is Good, Death is Evil. All other virtues are deduced from those, so the higher value takes priority over the lesser value that serves it. You get money to be happy, and you are happy in order to live a long life, so if money did not make you happy, it would not be a value.
In the History of Western Philosophy, in this issue in philosophy, honesty is often used as the example--should I always tell the truth, if so, why, and what if it benefits me more to lie? But it does not benefit you to lie. What if you have to lie to save your best friend's life? Why--because your best friend is being held at gunpoint by a gunman, whom you must lie to for tricking him into not shooting your friend? Then, in such dire straits, your friend is probably already doomed, as a practical matter. Saving your friend by lying is not a choice, because saving your friend is not an option, and the insane gunman is likely to kill him, regardless of what you say. And if not--you should tell the truth, because honesty is a human value, and good comes from being good, and being evil will only wreak harm. Humans exist in a reality where honesty is rational, and there is no excuse nor lie that can fake reality. The lie will not benefit you, nor your friend.
Much as it does not benefit a soldier fighting in a just war to run away to save his own life. What life is left--if you betray yourself? And then the army of evil wins anyways, and probably finds and kills the hiding defector/deserter, because they probably kill everyone who was on the side that lost the war. In that scenario, the choice is to fight, and maybe live, or maybe die... or betray yourself. The soldier cannot choose guaranteed survival--that is not an option open to him. Humans live as humans, or else we do not live, because we are humans.
For another example from popular ethics, should I sacrifice one person's life to save five other people's lives? But that is not how ethics works. (That is how socialist propaganda works.) In the unlikely case where you really faced that choice, both options are evil, but you should at least save someone. But the choice to be good or evil is the choice to do right or wrong, assuming the context of your options as a given for your moral logic. You do not get to choose from everything imaginable, only from the slate of options that are real in your context, so the right, ethically, is only the best choice from among your available options. Lying to save your friend is not an option. Escaping the war and living a happy life is not an option. But to choose the most rational option--meta-ethically--that is always doable. And that is Objectivism.
Section Eleven: The Top Ten Metas of Philosophy
1. Freedom is the freedom to do what you want. Meta-freedom is the freedom to engage in political activism in, and vote for politicians who advocate and enact, the limitation or destruction of freedom, on the ostensible theory that some limits may be necessary for the benefit of the individual or for the good of society. Meta-freedom is the freedom to choose freedom, which implies that you also have the freedom to not choose freedom.
2. Most people on the Left support meta-freedom but oppose freedom.
3. Ethics is the choice of right or wrong, and a code of values to tell right from wrong. Meta-ethics is the condition of being able to choose from among varying codes of ethics, and the system of right ethics and wrong ethics according to which to choose an ethics.
4. Libertarian politics is a meta-ethics, but is not an ethics. It does not tell you what is right or wrong. It only tells you that you should have absolute freedom to choose from among any competing systems of ethics.
5. The Christian Right politics is a meta-ethics, which tells you that you may only choose Christianity as your code of ethics, and seeks to restrict the meta-ethical freedom to choose any competing code of ethics. The Right opposes meta-freedom, but, after you have chosen Christian ethics, the Right supports freedom.
6. Philosophy is the study of the deepest truths about the nature of reality and human existence, which encompasses metaphysics (the study of the nature of things), ontology (the study of being), epistemology (the study of knowledge), philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, logic, ethics, politics, and aesthetics. Meta-philosophy is any attempt to define and refine a system according to which to choose or prefer one philosophy over other competing philosophies.
7. Philosophy professors think they are philosophers. I contend this is not so, because what they are specialists in is meta-philosophy, not philosophy as such. Every philosophy professor is a meta-philosopher--they have to be, it is what they are trained to do and how they keep their job. The philosophy professor who is a true philosopher, someone who creates a new and useful philosophical argument that is not a functional duplicate of work others have already done, in other words a "system-builder," is exceedingly rare. Philosophy professors are not like Kant or Plato or Aristotle or Rand, who were "real" philosophers, they are the hundreds of teeming intellectuals who sit at their desk all day analyzing philosophies and finding little details that make one position slightly better than some other positions. In a sense, the philosophy professors, as a whole, as a profession, comprise their own meta-philosophy, as compared, for example, to Objectivism: if you ask this question: "who should decide which philosophy I believe in?" The Objectivist answers: "you should," the philosophy professors answer: "we should."
8. Objectivism is both a philosophy and a meta-philosophy, and an ethics coupled together with its own meta-ethics. It presents a philosophy, and then tells you that reason and rationality are the system you should use according to which to choose your philosophy, and then deduces logically that Objectivism is the only reasonable, rational choice, according to the nature of reality and humanity. As such, Objectivism as a meta-philosophy is restrictive in the meta-ethical sense: it does not promote the freedom to choose any philosophy, instead it says that only this philosophy is an acceptable choice. Note this careful distinction in Objectivist meta-philosophical freedom: there is the question of who should decide what philosophy you believe (you), vs. which are the acceptable philosophies from which to choose (Objectivism), so there is only one good choice, but the person who has to make the decision is still you. This Objectivist meta-ethics is coterminous with Objectivist ethics as such, which holds that, in every choice, there is only one right choice and many wrong choices, but the person who should make the choice is still that person themselves, organically and independently, someone else should never make that choice for them. Compare and contrast the philosophy professors, who say, with respect to choosing a philosophy, that there are many right choices, but they should get to be the ones who choose.
9. A meta-meta is a system that analyses meta-systems.
10. This list is a meta-meta-list! And this book is meta-Objectivism!
Section Twelve: The Top Ten Principles of Consciousness Objectivism
Consciousness Objectivism is a theory that answers the hard question: what is consciousness? These are the top ten principles of the theory.
1. A conscious experience is a thing in reality that you are experiencing.
2. If you experience an apple, the round, red, apple-shaped, apple-tasting sensation that you experience, that looks like an apple and tastes like an apple, is the apple in objective reality, it is not an apple in your head.
3. Color is objective. Color, like all perceived entities, exists objectively. If it did not exist, you would not perceive it.
4. The "phenomenological theater," the sensations and perceptions that you continuously see, hear, smell, etc., in your conscious perception, is objective reality.
5. A conscious experience of a thing that you see is a seen thing, whereas "the sight of something", as designated by the word "of", is the light that brings the seen thing from the thing to your brain where the brain processes the light signals so that your mind sees the object in external reality. The light brings the object to your mind. You do not see light. You see objects, by means of the light they reflect.
6. The meaning of a word is that thing which it brings to your mind when processed by your system of language.
7. The meaning of a work of art is the image or emotion or meaning that it shows to your mind by means of itself. If you see a painting of a woman, you see a woman because the paint in the painting showed a woman to your mind's eye. The experience of a work of art is what the work of art brings to your mind's eye.
8. The content of a computer data file is the object that the computer data shows to the recipient when the recipient translates the data according to the logic of the computer language in which the data was stored, it is the meaning "of" the data.
9. A language is a set of translation rules whereby one thing can carry something from one place to another place, wherein the original thing, the meaning, is encoded into a form for transmittal, carried to its goal, and then translated back into its original form. The message is the means by which the goal accesses the original. The sign “of” a thing shows that thing to the mind’s eye. But what you see, or think, or learn, is the original, not the encoded message. For example, the Sun is a star in the sky, the Sun is not the word “Sun.”
10. If you exist objectively, then when you look at something, you see reality, not the inside of your own mind.
Credit to Mortimer Adler for this theory, although my interpretation of his thesis is unique.
Section Thirteen: The Top Ten Principles of (My) Epistemology (By Russell Hasan, Philosopher)
1. Something is knowledge if you can prove that it is true.
2. You know that what you see/hear/touch/taste/smell is what you see/hear/touch/taste/smell. What you see proves that it looks like what you see. It is literally self-evident.
3. Math can be knowledge, if the deduction is proved.
4. Science can be knowledge, if the probability math that the results of an experiment are not random is proved.
5. Logic can be knowledge, if the deduction is proved.
6. Philosophy, politics, and economics, (and history, and literature, and all of the social sciences and the humanities, all academic knowledge) can be knowledge to the extent it can be proven by empirical perception and observation, math, science, and/or logic.
7. Empiricists believe that knowledge comes from perception.
8. Analytics believe that knowledge comes from the analysis of concepts.
9. An Empirical Essentialist (like me) believes that knowledge comes from the analysis of concepts, but knowledge of those concepts comes (originally, in the first instance) from perception. If you did not begin with empirical perception, you would not have any concepts in your mind at all. All concepts are either first concepts, which are made of perceptions, or are secondary concepts, which arise from putting concepts (either first concepts, or a mixture of first and secondary concepts) together. Concepts come from reality, not from intuition.
10. A Philosophical Scientist (like me) believes that, because the origin of concepts is perception, after you have analyzed concepts to reach a conclusion, you should be able to test that conclusion against independent perceptions (an experiment) in order to validate the conclusion and prove that it is true. This is why Empirical Analytic philosophy achieves knowledge.
Section Fourteen: The Top Ten Principles of the Abortion Issue for Objectivism
1. Just because you think something is wrong/evil, doesn't mean it should be illegal.
2. Just because you think abortion is wrong, doesn't mean it should be criminalized.
3. But if you think abortion is murder, murder should be illegal.
4. But whether abortion is murder is a gray area debate with pros and cons just like any other debate.
5. You shouldn't force other people to obey your position in any political debate; if you did, you would not be a champion of freedom.
6. You shouldn't force other people to obey your position that abortion is murder.
7. If you become pregnant, you can choose childbirth for yourself.
8. If a woman becomes pregnant, you may use reason and persuasion to talk her into choosing childbirth of her own free will.
9. If you could use force whenever you define something as murder, then everyone could use force all the time--the socialists believe that capitalism is murder, the vegans believe that meat is murder, the environmentalists believe that pollution is murder, etc.
10. Therefore, "pro-choice" is logical and "pro-life" collapses into contradiction.
Section Fifteen: The Top Ten Books Ayn Rand Wrote
1. Atlas Shrugged
2. The Fountainhead
4. We The Living
5. The Virtue of Selfishness
6. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal
7. The Romantic Manifesto
8. Philosophy: Who Needs It
9. Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology
10. For The New Intellectual
Section Sixteen: The Top Ten Books About Objectivism
1. Atlas Shrugged - Ayn Rand
2. The Passion of Ayn Rand - Barbara Branden
3. Truth and Toleration - David Kelly
4. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand
4. Anthem – Ayn Rand
5. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical – Chris Matthew Sciabarra
6. What They Won’t Tell You About Objectivism – Russell Hasan (yes, that’s me!)
7. The Collected Works of Aristotle
8. Ayn Rand Explained – Ronald E. Merrill
9. Radicals for Capitalism - Brian Doherty
10. It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand - Jerome Tuccille
Section Seventeen: The Top Ten Libertarian Books
1. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
2. The Road to Serfdom – F.A. Hayek
3. Human Action – Ludwig Von Mises
4. Free to Choose – Milton Friedman
5. Capitalism and Freedom – Milton Friedman
6. For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto – Murray Rothbard
7. Man, Economy, and State – Murray Rothbard
8. Anarchy, State and Utopia – Robert Nozick
9. Golden Rule Libertarianism – Russell Hasan (Yes, that’s me!)
10. Economics in One Lesson – Henry Hazlitt
Section Eighteen: The Top Five Biographies of Ayn Rand
1. The Passion of Ayn Rand, by Barbara Branden (Barbara Branden was Nathaniel Branden's wife and a member of Ayn Rand's inner circle during the 1960s, it is both flattering and critical of Rand.)
2. Ayn Rand Explained, by Ronald E. Merrill (Earlier editions of this book are titled The Ideas of Ayn Rand, this is the title of the updated second edition.)
3. Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical by Chris Matthew Sciabarra (the premier academic biography of Rand, which focuses on her college education in Russia and how that influenced her philosophy.)
4. Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and The American Right
5. Ayn Rand and the World She Made (be warned, this last one was written by someone who hates Ayn Rand! Read with caution!)
Section Nineteen: Can You Be an Objectivist AND a Libertarian at the Same Time? The Top Ten Answers
1. An Objectivist is someone who believes and practices the philosophy of Objectivism.
2. A libertarian is someone who wants little or no government.
3. An Objectivist can want little (or no) government.
4. Therefore, yes.
5. An Objectivist is a follower of Ayn Rand.
6. A libertarian is a follower of Murray Rothbard.
7. Ayn Rand and Murray Rothbard hated each other.
8. It's 2020. We should give a shit about some personal feud in 1968, between two people who are both now dead, why exactly?
9. The libertarian movement takes people away from the Objectivist movement.
10. The libertarian movement is political, whereas the Objectivist movement is philosophical, so there is overlap and not a contradiction.
Section Twenty: The Top Ten Disagreements Among Libertarians and Objectivists
1. Libertarianism or Objectivism? Rothbard or Rand?
2. Small Government or No Government?
3. Small Taxes or No Taxes?
4. Public police and courts, private police and courts, or no police and courts?
5. Left-Libertarian or Right-Libertarian?
6. The Libertarian Party or The Republican Party?
7. Idealism or pragmatism?
8. Big Tent or Ideological Purity?
9. Outreach to the public or the public is too stupid to get it?
10. Win the war of ideas first, or go after votes and win elections first, or do both?
Section Twenty-One: The Top Ten Principles of Libertarianism
This is my list of the Top Ten Principles of Libertarian Political Philosophy:
1. The Libertarian Axiom, The Non-Aggression Principle: You may use violent force for self-defense, but you must never initiate violence against a peaceful person, not even to achieve beneficial social or political goals, for example, not to collect taxes.
2. Don't Force People to Do Stuff
3. Live and Let Live
4. Just Because Something is Wrong, Doesn't Mean It Should Be a Crime
5. Minarchism or Anarcho-Capitalism - The Government is Mostly Unnecessary, or The Government is Totally Unnecessary
6. Taxation is Theft
7. Dollars Should be Backed by Gold - End The Fed - Inflation is Theft
8. There Ain't No Such Thing as a Free Lunch - For a Benefit to Exist, Someone Must Pay for It, and If the Beneficiary Does Not, Then the Taxpayer Does
9. There is No Such Thing as "Society" - Only a Very Large Number of Individual Human Beings. If You Shouldn't Do That To Your Neighbors and Friends, Then The Government Can't Do That to Us Either - Do You Tax Your Friends? Do You Invent Zoning Laws and Force Your Next-Door Neighbor to Obey?
10. The Left-Libertarian Axiom: it is better for the poor and the oppressed, to give them freedom, than it is to use violent force to take from the rich to give to the poor, and to thereby accept the premise of dictatorship, which is that it is okay to use force to override consent for a good cause, or for a cause that you subjectively believe is good or worthy.
Section Twenty-Two: What is Philosophy? The Top Ten Answers
1. Philosophy is the search for truth.
2. Philosophy is the study of that which is true but not obvious.
3. Philosophy is the study of reality.
4. Philosophy is the study of reality, humanity, and the relationship of humanity to reality.
5. Philosophy is the study of humans, what humans know, what humans can or cannot know, and what humans should do about what they know.
6. Philosophy is the study of depth that is achieved by moving beyond appearance.
7. Philosophy is the study of the metaphysical aspects of the physical world.
8. Philosophy is the study of the history of philosophy and what the great philosophers have said to us.
9. Philosophy is the love of wisdom (this is the literal translation of the Ancient Greek "philo-sophia").
10. Philosophy is the study of abstract theories and conceptual ideas that makes a very real life or death difference to your immediate survival and long-term happiness, and, specifically, is the study of how to tell the good ideas, which will help you live, from the bad ideas, which will hurt your happiness.
Section Twenty-Three: What is Politics? The Top Ten Answers
1. Politics is the system that enables many people to share one space without everyone murdering everyone else.
2. Politics is the articulation and enforcement of human rights.
3. Politics is the arena where the forces of freedom fight the forces of tyranny.
4. Politics is the system that seeks to use wisdom to restrain man's baser instincts and guide man's behavior with wisdom and justice.
5. Politics is the system that enacts and enforces laws, which are arbitrarily and subjectively chosen by humans when they decide how they want to govern themselves.
6. Politics is the system that enacts and enforces laws, by identifying the objective facts about human nature which define the set of laws that humans need in order to live happy lives.
7. Politics is the system whereby the rulers rule over the masses by means of oppression and propaganda, within which rebellions may rise, some of which will topple the old rulers and replace them with new rulers.
8. Politics is the civic lifeblood of the polis.
9. Politics is where the people go who are too rich to be common criminals and too evil to be businessmen.
10. Politics is the area where lives any and every requirement, that the human species has in order to flourish, which can only be, and necessarily is, imposed by force against some or all people without their consent. In other words, economics is the voluntary realm, while politics is the involuntary realm.
Section Twenty-Four: What is Economics? The Top Ten Answers
What is Economics? These are the top ten answers to that question:
1. Economics is the study of how to prioritize society's scarce resources, typically by assigning a money price to each resource and then comparing price values in order to prioritize the usage of resources.
2. Economics is the study of costs and benefits, typically on the understanding of profit as the condition where the sum of all benefits exceeds the sum of all costs for economic actors to the maximum extent possible.
3. Economics is the study of supply and demand, such that the efficient economy is one where supply clears demand at the equilibrium point between supply and demand.
4. Economics is the study of human action, which presumes a subjective desire, a purpose, and at least one or more competing means to achieve that purpose, and the prioritization of some means over other means.
5. Economics is the study of trade in a division of labor economy and how trade works, and, more specifically, the use of money as a common medium of exchange for trade.
6. Economics is the study of rational self-interest and how economic actors act to maximize their self-interest within the context of a broader society of humans.
7. Economics is the study of how politics shapes the material existence of the human species.
8. Economics is the study of the conditions of freedom that enable human beings to survive, thrive, and prosper.
9. Economics is the study of historical economic data from which to infer trends that may be prescriptively applicable to future events.
10. Economics is the study of how people pay for the things that they have.
Section Twenty-Five: The Top Ten Philosophy Schools of Thought in Western Philosophy (With Philosophers)
1. Platonic (Plato)
2. Aristotelian (Aristotle)
3. Christian Theology (Augustine, Aquinas)
4. Rationalist (Descartes, Spinoza)
5. Empiricist (Locke, Berkeley, Hume)
6. Idealist (Kant, Hegel)
7. Analytic Philosophy (Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein, Searle, Too Many to Name Them All)
8. Existentialist Philosophy (Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Sartre)
9. Phenomenology (Heidegger)
10. Objectivism (Aristotle, Nietzsche, Ayn Rand)
Section Twenty-Six: The Top Ten Most Influential Ideas in Western Philosophy
1. Plato's Cave Allegory - that the physical world is an illusion, like shadows in a cave, we are looking into a cave (the physical world) with the light (the Ideas, the spiritual world) behind us and we see only the shadows of real things cast onto the wall of the cave, the physical world is just shadows, if one turns away from the shadows one sees the light – Plato’s theory of Platonic Ideas (and please make a note of my personal position, which is that the correct English translation of Plato is “Ideas,” not “Forms”, although these are commonly referred to as Platonic Forms), that only ideas are real, and physical objects get their identity by participating in the ideas.
2. Aristotle's Theory of Logic - that the form of an argument can be correct or incorrect, regardless of its content.
3. Hume's Skepticism - that he can't know whether God exists, he can't even know if the Sun will rise tomorrow. Hume intended this as a critique of Christian faith, but it became an assault against all knowledge as such.
4. Kant's Copernican Revolution - that reality revolves around the mind, instead of the mind revolving around reality, analogous to Copernicus saying the Earth revolves around the Sun, not the Sun around the Earth. What this really means is Subjectivism: the mind imposes its categories onto reality, the laws of science are created by the mind. Kant used philosophy to protect religion from science, and, as Nietzsche said, “Kant muddied the waters to make then appear deep” – Kant’s books read like mystical nonsense, but the clear takeaway is religious thinking (“Transcendentalism”). The key Kantian idea is that the physical scientific world is in your own mind, but if you transcend yourself then you access the mystical religious reality outside your mind – he called the subjective/physical “phenomena” and he called the real/religious “noumena”. For my answer to Kantian epistemology, see Consciousness Objectivism.
(In a way, Kant is Neo-Platonism: the phenomena are shadows in a cave, the noumena are the light outside, except that Plato did not have to contend with science, science did not exist back when Plato wrote, so Kant had to tweak Plato for a world in which science was achieving incredible wonders in the physical world. Plato and Kant are very confused, they think ideas and reason are outside the mind, while the physical world is a mental construct, and ideas (Plato) or reason (Kant) imposes rationality onto the world we experience. The truth is the opposite: the physical world exists outside our minds, we experience reality, and we create ideas and reasoning within our mind in order to gain mastery over the objective physical world.)
5. John Locke's politics - kings are only human, there is no divine right to rule, and all people have rights. Locke led to the global trend to replace kings with democracy, in the Enlightenment, which gave way to a contemporary trend to replace democracy with dictatorship.
6. Karl Marx - Communism (today called Socialism!). The rich capitalists exploit the poor workers, so the working class should rise in revolution, and create a dictatorship in which they are the rulers. The trend among Marxists today is to call it “democratic socialism” so that they can pretend that the end result will be democracy, not dictatorship.
7. Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" - knowledge from the mind turning in upon itself and thinking deductively, instead of by looking outside, at the external world. He claimed the fact that he has a mind proves that he exists and that God (who created him) exists, so knowledge comes from the mind, but no knowledge of the physical world can come from the mind. He called the mind “res cogitans” (things in mind/things of thought) and called the physical world “res extensa” (things in space/extended things), analogous to Plato’s Ideas/things and Kant’s noumena/phenomena.
8. Ayn Rand's Rational Selfishness - a meaningful rejection of altruism as the dominant ethical axiom, to be replaced with one's own happiness as one's highest virtue. Rand’s key innovation was to present a morality that is rational in the physical world – prior to her, people had either said that morality is spiritual, not rational (Plato, Christianity, Kant) or said that rationality and the physical world are amoral (Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell). Note that by “morality” I mean Virtue Ethics, as opposed to ethics that is not based on right, goodness, and virtue; for example Pragmatism, Utilitarianism or Stoicism, each of which is a rational physical-world ethics.
9. John Searle's The Construction of Social Reality - Everything is a social construct, nothing is objective.
10. Judith Butler's Bodies that Matter - Gender is a social construct, to be overcome, gender is an (political) identity that is arbitrarily assigned to bodies to give them meaning, but you could assign any gender to any body.
I like Aristotle, John Locke, Rand, and Butler... I am not a fan of the others!
It seems clear that Subjectivism is one of the major historical trends in philosophy, which the new philosophy of Objectivism is rebelling against. Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Searle all believe that when we look at reality, we see the insides of our own subjective minds, whereas objective reality is to be found in the ideas (Plato) or reason (Descartes, Kant) or analysis (Searle) outside of the subjective world that we perceive. They all have it backwards: when we open our eyes, we see objective reality, we see the external world, whereas ideas and reason and analysis are inside our own minds, those are the tools and means by which our mind learns to understand the external world that we see.
Section Twenty-Seven: The Ten Civilizations Crucial to the Historical Development of Western Philosophy
1. Ancient Athens (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle)
2. The Roman Republic and Roman Empire (Cicero, Marcus Aurelius)
3. Medieval Early Christianity (Augustine, Aquinas)
4. The Aristotelian Arabs during the Dark Ages (Avicenna, Averroes)
5. Continental Europe of the Renaissance (Descartes, Spinoza)
6. Enlightenment England (Locke, Hume)
7. Continental Europe of the Enlightenment (Kant, Hegel)
8. Late 19th/Early 20th Century America (William James, Ayn Rand)
9. Late 19th/Early 20th Century England (Bertrand Russell, Wittgenstein)
10. Late 19th/Early 20th Century Continental Europe (Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Karl Popper)
Section Twenty-Eight: My Top Ten Pet Peeves of Philosophy
1. Only philosophy professors with PhDs in philosophy can be philosophers.
2. It is impossible to prove that you know what you know.
3. All science is defined as that which can be refuted or falsified.
4. The theory of axioms.
5. The conviction that it is impossible to plausibly or correctly explain what consciousness is.
6. The conviction, which no one has ever actually proven, that color is subjective.
7. The belief that only "the great philosophers" deserve to be taught.
8. The academy's absolute and stunning refusal to consider Ayn Rand as a serious and worthy philosopher.
9. The belief that that the success of a philosopher is to be defined by the pedigree and ranking of the school he teaches at and the school he got his PhD from, not by the truth or rationality of his ideas.
10. The overwhelming sense in academic philosophy that the goal of philosophy is to brainwash students into believing your positions (almost always some version of Marxism or altruism or Subjectivism), not to teach students critical thinking skills to view reality with an open mind, equipped with reason and logic as tools, and choose their own beliefs for themselves. In contrast, the true Objectivist prefers reasoned disagreement over blind obedience.
Section Twenty-Nine: My Top Ten Aphorisms
1. The purpose of education is not to teach people what to think. It is to teach them how to think.
2. Everyone has "common sense," but no one can define what it is.
3. "A white horse is a horse. A horse is not a white horse." The essence of being a white horse includes the property of being a horse. The essence of being a horse is identical with the property of being a horse. Goodbye, contradiction.
4. There are two sides to every story: the right side and the wrong side.
5. Philosophy takes crazy ideas seriously, and then explains why they are wrong.
6. Good philosophy describes accurately. Great philosophy explains accurately.
7. There is no such thing as safety, but there is such a thing as freedom.
8. It is more ethical to be honest and unethical than it is to be ethical but dishonest.
9. A person will say that they are trustworthy if they are trustworthy. They will also say that they are trustworthy if they are not trustworthy.
10. It is good to be alive. It is good to be something. It is good to be.
Section Thirty: The Top Ten Political Philosophers in the History of Western Thought (with Main Idea)
1. Plato (the Philosopher King)
2. Thomas Hobbes (Conservatism: Life will be nasty, brutish and short, and a war of all against all, unless we concede power to an all-powerful, authoritarian, dictatorial big conservative Christian right-wing government, which will block change and maintain tradition)
3. John Locke (kings do not have a divine right to rule; the consent of the governed, men in the state of nature delegate their legal rights to the government by the social contract)
4. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (civilization is corrupt, savages are noble, equality is the ideal)
5. Karl Marx (Socialism: the rich exploit the poor)
6. Ayn Rand (Objectivism: the stupid exploit the smart)
7. John Rawls (liberalism: eliminate privilege in order to equalize the different good luck and bad luck people are born into)
8. John Maynard Keynes (government spending fights unemployment but causes inflation)
9. Murray Rothbard (Libertarianism: the free market economy does not need government, government interference causes both unemployment and inflation)
10. Jacques Derrida (capitalism is oriented towards logic – which he intended as a criticism!)
Section Thirty-One: The Philosopher’s Revenge, Why Every Great Philosopher’s Motive is Vengeance
1. Plato was motivated by his desire for revenge for the death of Socrates, by articulating and extending the Socratic philosophy into its most radical and extremist form, saying that the physical world was an illusion and a prison-like cave, even to the point of the idea that death would set you free, which Socrates implied when he chose to obey the Athenian death sentence against him that Athens had sentenced him to death for the crime of teaching his philosophy to young people, even though his followers offered to help him escape.
2. Aristotle was motivated by his desire to avenge the rejection of the physical world and of physical biology that Plato had taught everyone in that era in Athens, which he believed was wrongfully taught. (“Plato is dear to me, but the truth is dearer still.”)
3. Augustine, the great Christian theologian philosopher who defined early Christian thought, wanted revenge against sin for his weakness in giving in to the temptation to what he had deemed was a life of sin before he repented and found Christ.
4. Thomas Aquinas wanted revenge against his parents, who tried to stop him from becoming a Catholic priest, by being the most saintly, scholarly, theoretical, abstract philosopher he could be, giving rise to the complicated intellectual gyrations of Scholasticism.
5. Descartes wanted revenge against Scholasticism, which he deemed corrupt and blamed for having given him a bad education in university, and so he set out to build a philosophy which he believed would replace it and destroy it.
6. Hume wanted revenge for being denied a professor’s chair in England because he was an atheist, by attacking Christianity with his Skepticism.
7. Kant wanted revenge against Hume’s assault on Christianity, which embodied the Enlightenment turning away from Christianity and towards reason, by creating a religious, mystical philosophy that Hume and reason could not refute. (“David Hume awoke me from my dogmatic slumber.”)
8. Nietzsche’s life was ruined by sickness, so his revenge was a philosophy where robust physical health, and its intellectual underpinnings, are the central virtue of a new morality.
9. Rand’s life was ruined by the Russian Communist Revolution, so her revenge was a philosophy where free market capitalism, and its intellectual underpinnings, are the central virtue of a new morality.
10. Rothbard’s early career was ruined by liberal leftist professors, so his revenge was an academically rigorous libertarian economics that the Left could not refute.
Section Thirty-Two: The Top Ten Principles of Why Ayn Rand Believed Philosophy was Important
1. Politics defines freedom, and people need freedom.
2. Politics arises from human behavior.
3. Human behavior arises from human choices.
4. Human choices arise from morality and ethics.
5. Morality and ethics arise from epistemology and metaphysics.
6. Philosophy defines epistemology, metaphysics, morality and ethics.
7. For example, Plato led to The Gospel of John, Christianity, and the Dark Ages.
8. For example, Thomas Aquinas revived Aristotle, which led to the Renaissance and the Enlightenment.
9. For example, John Locke led to the American Revolution.
10. For other examples, Rousseau led to the French Revolution, Karl Marx led to the Communist Russian Revolution, and Kant led to the Contemporary era of philosophy and the return of religion after the Enlightenment.
All of these philosophers defined philosophies that shaped the course of human history which had a very real impact on many real human beings. Philosophy matters.
Section Thirty-Three: The Top Ten Reasons Objectivism Can Give Power to You, the Reader
1. It enables you to feel desire, and to seek to selfishly achieve your personal desires, without guilt, without a sense that you have done something wrong, unlike most of the world’s philosophies and religions, for example Christianity (think sexual desires), Buddhism, altruism (think your desire to put yourself and your own happiness first instead of taking care of other people out of a sense of guilt or shame, when most other people can, or should, take care of themselves), socialism (think your desire for money).
2. It teaches you how to think, by means of reason and logic.
3. It provides a coherent worldview to use as a tool for analysis to understand the world.
4. It empowers you by telling you that your reasoning mind works, and that your five senses have the power to see reality, and that the world of sensory experience is not some mere delusion or fantasy (think Plato, Descartes, Kant).
5. It orients you towards the goal of living a happy life, instead of making yourself the slave of your or other people’s misery and guilt.
6. It helps win the fight for capitalism, which makes the world a more prosperous place in which to live.
7. It helps fight basic irrationality, like superstition, mental illness, a belief in witchcraft, etc., which is still very real and prevalent in many parts of the world.
8. It gives you a morality that can be applied to decisions to help you make choices when faced with moral or ethical dilemmas.
9. It’s a fun conversation starter at cocktail parties, since everyone either likes The Fountainhead or hates Atlas Shrugged.
10. It is an interesting stepping stone on your path of your own personal intellectual journey to enlightenment and self-discovery, giving you a new and unique point of view to consider and chew over as your arrive at your own conclusions about life and morality.
Section Thirty-Four: Why Capitalism is Virtuous: The Top Ten Reasons
1. Selfishness: You own what you produce, so you own the results of your hard work, and you get to enjoy it, for example when you work really hard and work long hours at a demanding job, then you earn money to spend on your own selfish enjoyment. If you work 60 hours a week, doing really hard labor, why shouldn't you get to spend the money you made and eat some strawberry ice cream, without guilt? You traded the money you made to the ice cream shop in return for the ice cream--you earned it. Your selfishness motivates you to make as much money as you possibly can, to maximize your selfish benefit. But making more money benefits society, too--for example, when a businessperson selfishly grows and expands their business, to make more money for themselves, the bigger a business gets, the more jobs it creates. In comparison, in altruism and socialism, in theory, you would force the ice cream shop to give free ice cream to everyone who walked along, with no money changing hands, so the ice cream shop owner can't pay his employees, can't pay rent for his store space, and has no money to buy cream and sugar and strawberries--it very quickly dissolves as a coherent theory if you try to figure out how it works in practice.
2. Intelligence: Capitalism gives people the freedom to achieve greatness and genius and be rewarded by the profits of their work. For example, John Galt, the genius inventor in Atlas Shrugged, invents a great invention, worth trillions of dollars, but... well, I don't want to spoil the plot for you if you haven't read it yet.
3. Greed: Capitalism creates an abundance of prosperity, and everyone is happier and lives better lives with more money to spend. More money buys better healthcare, better cars, more food. Money is not magic--to say that there is more money, really means that people were self-motivated to create and trade more value, which pays for those things--a greedy doctor is profit-motivated to invent a better medicine, an engineer to design a better car, farm workers to work extra-hard to harvest more food. In socialism, people are paid based on need, not greed, which motivates people to have as much need as possible, and to be lazy and stupid. But in altruism, they won't try to maximize need, because they selflessly want to help the people with real needs? Ayn Rand argued that people are human, so, yes, the corrupt will try to milk altruism and socialism, by competing for who can have the most need, not who can make the most money. And everyone who supports socialism is secretly greedy and thinks they will get to have more money for themselves if money is taken from the rich and given to them. They don't care about the poor, they care about themselves.
4. Rationality: It is a system where every benefit has to be paid for, by the people who make the money that gets spent as the costs of creating the benefits, so it is a sane, rational system, where everything adds up correctly in the accountants' ledgers, in comparison to Utopian socialism that wants to spend far more money than actually exists in the entire world, which is an impossibility that will simply bankrupt everyone if the attempt is put into practice. For example, as stated above, the cost of ice cream is the cream, sugar, the machine to make the ice cream, employees to serve it, a building in which to have the ice cream shop, plumbing and electricity for that building. Those all cost money. If the people who eat the ice cream don't pay for it, by buying the ice cream with money that then pays the cost of it, it doesn't really work, in logic. This is why Ayn Rand said that Marxism was akin to religion and mysticism, it gets really murky and muddy when Leftists try to explain how they think it will work.
5. Freedom: In a system of laws, rights, and private property, you have the freedom to act and to create a sphere of personal autonomy in which you are free to make decisions, and bear the consequences, good or bad, of your freely made choices. But the poor don't have freedom to do anything, you say? The common reply is: the poor have freedom, what they lack is power. If they had the power to do something, no one would stop them, so they are just as free as the rich. And if capitalism is allowed to work, it makes more wealth, which lifts people up and empowers people to rise and gives power to the poor.
6. Individuality: Sometimes, being quirky and different and abnormal and unique makes lots of money, think Apple Computers and their "Think Different" ad campaign that launched the iMac. Capitalism culture is keyed to the concept of "be yourself" and how to sell people tools and props to act out and perform their chosen identity.
7. Integrity: Being intransigent and stubborn and staying true to your own vision is what realizes your highest potential to make money, whereas selling out and conforming to what you think everyone else wants and caving into group-think is not a good way to make money, according to Objectivism.
8. Desire: In capitalism, businesses make money by catering to desire, by selling people what they want, so it maximizes the fulfillment of everyone's desires. In comparison, in socialism, the economic planners have their big fancy plans, but they have no way to know what people want, absent money and prices to send demand signals, and the choice to buy that is the ultimate proof that you wanted something.
9. Life: In capitalism, people run businesses, which succeed, which creates jobs, which pays salaries, so people make money, so people spend money, so people survive. As such, the businesses are the engine of the survival of the human race, and because life is the standard of virtue, businesspeople are the most ethical and virtuous of us all--even if motivated only by selfishness and greed (but not stupidity).
10. Capitalism: Capitalism embodies the entire Objectivist morality and Objectivism's code of virtues, whether people realize it or not. Ayn Rand was remarkable for making the argument that capitalism needs a moral defense, that it is virtuous and socialism is evil, not an efficiency defense, that it is more efficient or more practical or builds bigger bathtubs than socialism. But Rand's moral defense of capitalism is really very simple and easy to understand. In capitalism, you make money, and you spend money, so you pay for what you consume with what you produced, and trade value for value, instead of seeking the unearned. If people consume what they did not make, against the will of the producer, then society operates at a loss, and goes bankrupt, as Atlas Shrugged showed, but Atlas Shrugged also showed that socialism collapses into sin and evil, where need, and stupidity, are rewarded, and intelligence, and greed, are punished, thereby destroying the moral fiber of the human soul. When things work right, like in the USA for much of its history, capitalism deserves the credit. The productive become rich, and the crooks go to jail, and you get what you earn, by your choices and your work, reward for virtue and punishment for sin, and you get what you deserve--which is how greed is supposed to work in a rational economic system.
Section Thirty-Five: The Appeal of Objectivism and Libertarianism for LGBTs (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders)
Noted Objectivist scholar Chris Matthew Sciabarra wrote a famous monograph on this topic. I have not read it, but accounts and reviews indicate its focus is historical, not doctrinal. This essay will seek to show that Objectivism and Libertarianism, as philosophy, hold appeal precisely because of their ideas.
In Atlas Shrugged, John Galt is at one point described as "the man without pain or fear or guilt." This is every LGBT's dream and goal with respect to how we feel about our sexuality. Atlas Shrugged, in the theory of "white blackmail," says that the establishment takes our virtues and tricks us into regarding them as sins, then uses our ensuing guilt to manipulate and rule us. While Rand focused on the sin of greed, logically this is equally true for the sin of lust.
In The Fountainhead, Roark is so committed to being an architect that he will let no one and nothing stop him. The stigma and scorn of society, which criticized and disdained his buildings throughout much of the novel, does not bother him. He tells Toohey, the villain who embodies society's disapproval, "but I don't think of you," when asked how much he hates him. Rand at one point says Roark could walk down a street naked and really not notice if anyone cared.
This disregard for social disapproval is central to the gay agenda. Homophobia does exist, equally among conservatives, moderates, liberals, and, yes, libertarians. LGBTs face scorn and hatred and shame and stigma and the pressure to be closeted. The attitude of not giving a damn what other people think of you embodied in The Fountainhead is a useful tool for gay pride, not politically but rather psychologically.
Rand was herself interesting from an LGBT point of view. Her own sexual repression, and the repression of her 1960s followers, is well documented. She seems to have repressed her sexual desires her entire life and then misdirected them at Nathaniel Branden, the much-younger guy she had an affair with as an older woman. She is also known to have had special praise for Mises when he called her "one of the most courageous men in America." Barbara Branden in her biography of Ayn Rand said that Rand was happy that Mises had called her a man. We can wonder what that meant.
Libertarianism is also a good political philosophy for LGBTs, although many gays favor leftism.
"Live and let live," the sum of our philosophy, means every LGBT gets the freedom to do what they want, even if some members of society regard it as evil. In contrast, gay socialists want to force everyone to like gays by outlawing homophobia. This goal of everyone loving gays is impractical and unachievable. We libertarians would agree to outlaw homophobic violence, but we let each person have the freedom to believe what they want. Freedom treats people with respect, and you have the freedom to associate with those who accept you, and avoid the ones that don't. As an extension of this, I have advocated that each church, temple and synagogue be free to choose to recognize or reject gay marriage as they decide according to their own moral compass, with government marriage licenses abolished.
"Stay out of my bedroom" and "mind your own business," along with "live and let live," are key mottoes and mantras for both LGBTs and libertarians. These phrases show that gay political activism and libertarian ideas can share a point of view.
Here I have made a compelling argument that LGBT (and Queer, Non-Binary, Pansexual, etc.) can find a use for Libertarian and Objectivist ideas. (If you don't know the definitions of Queer, Non-Binary, or Pansexual, Queer is an umbrella term for every non-straight identity, a Non-Binary is someone who switches back and forth between male identity and female identity, and Pansexual is a sexual orientation that is attracted to all people, of every gender and every identity, without exception.)
The Objectivist virtues of Desire and Individuality and Integrity are all implicated by gay/LGBTQ pride:
Desire: You should act rationally and selfishly to fulfill your sexual desires, in order to make yourself happy (provided that your desires meet a baseline level of Rationality, in other words, only involves sexual conduct between consenting adults);
Individuality: You should "be yourself" and express your individual sexual identity without regard to society or conformity;
Integrity: You should be true to who you are and have integrity to the principle of what you are, with all of your behavior staying true to your unifying principles without contradiction, including who you are in terms of sexual and gender identity.
I also hold the position that the virtue of Rationality is implicated, because homophobia and transphobia are irrational: the idea that "marriage and sex is between a man and a woman" assumes the premise that the only purpose of sex is to procreate, to make babies. Absent that premise, the logic does not resolve to a rational conclusion. In today's world, the survival of the human species no longer depends on maximizing the number of babies, as it did 2000 years ago. So sex for the purpose of pleasure, and sexual identity for the purpose of self-expression, are perfectly Rational. But if that is true, then there can be nothing wrong with being LGBTQ.
Note that the virtue of
Individuality means that one person can regard something as beautiful, even if
other people regard it as ugly (for example, a gay man regarding a male human
body as beautiful, which straight/hetero men would consider to be ugly or
unattractive). Please see my book "What They Won't Tell You About
Objectivism: Thoughts on the Objectivist Philosophy in the Post-Randian
Era" for my essay on The Subjectivity of Personal Taste in Objectivism,
which explains why it is legitimate for personal tastes and preferences and
desires and aesthetics to be subjective, even though the objects of desire are
things which exist in objective existence.
Section Thirty-Six: Ayn Rand and the Bankruptcy of Altruism
Ayn Rand was fond of saying that altruism, and the whole of Judeo-Christian morality, had become bankrupt. In this essay I want to unpack that idea, and then extend it with my own gloss, that altruism is appropriate for children but not as a major important idea for adults.
What does it imply that something has gone bankrupt? There was a loan given to someone, that person promised to repay it by giving something back, and then the person defaulted, they did not, or could not, repay what they had promised.
What did Western civilization loan to altruism, in the era since the Enlightenment? The overarching belief that it was a moral edict to be adhered to by all men, that it was to be a common commandment accepted by all and disputed by no man, as the bedrock foundation of ethics.
What did it promise us in return? As individuals, that it would tell us right from wrong, and that in doing the right thing it would make us happy, as in that warm fuzzy feeling when you rescue a stray kitten or donate to a homeless military veteran.
As a society, it promised that it would make everyone better off by ensuring that those in need got taken care of.
Ayn Rand, at heart, made a very practical argument: altruism made promises and simply and utterly failed to deliver. Atlas Shrugged is some 1,100 pages long, approximately, and I won’t waste 50 pages quoting every paragraph where she criticized selflessness. In sum, for society, when you say that you should give from those who have, to those in need, that leads to socialism (back when she wrote, they still called it Communism), which destroys the economy, kills freedom, and erodes civilization and human society. Altruism fails to repay its debt to society after we gave it our trust that it would make society better.
For the individual, you want the warm fuzzy feeling of doing good by helping others. But altruism, taken to its logical conclusion, says your own feeling of happiness is not legitimate. You must want nothing for yourself, not even the happiness that comes from doing right and being good, and care only about helping others, even if you suffer and are made sad by it. Your charity becomes a duty, not a joy. Ayn Rand argued that this is necessarily true if your ethics is based on the other, instead of the self.
The Western world paid altruism a trust, which altruism failed to repay. Instead, it ushered in Communism, and the Liberal wing of the Democratic Party: two villains that Ayn Rand hated. Choosing a morality, from her point of view, is a financial transaction, where you pay with the coin of your loyalty, and get something to consume in return. Altruism is a fraud, with no meat on the bone, nothing for us to consume that pays us back for the loyalty we gave to it.
The true altruist will say we should choose altruism even if it gives back to us nothing, makes no repayment, offers absolutely zero warm fuzzy feeling. Our own desire for a return on investment is selfish, and only the needs of others matter. Ayn Rand critiqued that as irrational, then wrote the 100 pages long John Galt speech to prove that morality should be derived from reason.
One idea of hers from Atlas Shrugged to prove the irrationality of altruism is simply this: why is something good when you give it to others, but bad if you take it for yourself, when, if someone else gave it to you, then it would be good, but you would have it just the same either way? The difference is that with altruism, you wouldn’t have earned it. Much as altruism fails to earn its status as a moral underpinning.
The same argument, stated differently: Why is a value selfish if you take it for yourself, but selfless if you give it to someone else, when, if they take it from you, for them, and they enjoy it for their own pleasure, then they are being selfish, from their point of view, by taking a value away from you for their own benefit? For example, if you give $10 of charity to a beggar, everyone would regard that as selfless. Everyone except Ayn Rand, that is. She would ask, when the beggar takes $10 from you, he is taking $10 away from you and spending that $10 on himself, for his own happiness. Why is that not selfish for him, from his point of view? Since altruism, on its face, says that you must deny yourself and only serve others. It might be selfless for you to give, but it is selfish for the beggar to take, so your altruism is only helping the beggar to be selfish, hence unethical according to altruism, therefore altruism is illogical, and collapses into a contradiction.
It is completely illogical, unless "selfless" does not really mean "given to someone else," it means "given to someone because they needed it, not because they earned it." Altruism, then, isn't about being selfless, it isn't about helping others (after all, plenty of money is donated to private charity in capitalist economies), instead it is about destroying the concept of earning and deserving rewards by good behavior, and, ever so far from being a perfect ethics, it destroys morality and virtue, and seeks to corrupt any ethical system where you earn moral status by being good and behaving virtuously.
Of course, the true altruist will say that, when you give something to someone else, it is selfless for you to give it, but not selfish for them to take it, because they need it, and you don’t. In the example, you don’t need that $10, but the homeless beggar does. But that altruist position, taken to its logical conclusion, leads to the Marxist principle: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This explains why altruism is the moral underpinnings of socialism and Communism. That also explains why capitalism necessarily needs, and must rely upon, Objectivist ethics, the ethics of rational selfishness, in order to survive, and why capitalism cannot survive in a world dominated by Judeo-Christian altruist ethics.
But Objectivism does provide a plausible, superior alternative to altruism, and one which, if understood properly, satisfies the moral desires which are being mistakenly usurped and fulfilled by altruist ethics. Take our examples of helping a stray kitten or donating to a homeless veteran's charity. Say, for example, as many people with compassion feel, that, in that situation, you would choose to help the kitten or the beggar, and you want to choose an ethics that will tell you this is the choice you can, and should, make. But as Ayn Rand said, “check your premises.” The Randian method of analysis is always to use logic, where, if the conclusion has integrity, it is true, but if there is a contradiction, then you must climb up the chain of inference, and check your premises, until you find the faulty premise that is introducing a contradiction. Here, the false premise is that your feeling that you want to rescue the kitten or donate to the charity case is inconsistent with Objectivism. You would do it because you feel it is the right thing to do, you have more than enough and they are in need, and it gives you that warm fuzzy feeling. But that virtue, and that warm feeling, make you happy. That is a benefit to you. So Objectivism would define that as "selfish." (Yes, this is a new definition of the word.)
It would only be "selfless" if you really didn't want to do it, and you were doing it, not to bring you that warm fuzzy happy feeling from helping others because you can, but with no selfish benefit to you at all, only to benefit others at a cost to yourself. Selfishness is not just about getting money; it is an ethics where you try to make yourself happy, which includes acting to get happy feelings. If that warm fuzzy feeling from helping others is a higher value to you than $10 that you own, then giving $10 to the homeless, and getting that warm fuzzy feeling of helping the needy in return, is an emotional profit, the benefit to you emotionally exceeded the cost to you financially, so it is selfish, not selflessness.
Selfishness is that which benefits the self, whereby your revenue exceeds your costs, and you make a profit, in your emotions and your happiness and your life, just as much as your wallet and bank account. The selfish person acts to make a profit. It does not mean you hurt others, and it does not forbid helping others. It says only that you must do what you want, for the benefit of your self, according to your hierarchy of values.
If you are rich, then getting a warm fuzzy feeling from a smile on the face of some needy poor person you hand $10 to could very easily be more selfish than keeping $10 for yourself, instead of donating it to charity. Similarly, if you did not believe it was the right thing to do, and you don't feel the rich should ever give money to the poor, then it would not make you happy, and then it would not be selfish, and then you should not do it. That is the personal decision of what is your hierarchy of values, and where the poor homeless veteran or your $10 stand on it. Ethics is the branch of philosophy that tells you how to make choices, and Objectivism is an ethics. In answer to the question: "Should I give $10 to a poor beggar?", Objectivism's answer is: "Yes if you want to, but if you do not want to, then no."
The idea presented here contrasts sharply with the traditional view, an outdated, unsophisticated position which says that giving the $10 to the beggar is “selfless” whereas keeping the $10 for yourself is “selfish.” The superior position is a more sophisticated, nuanced, subtle approach, which says that doing what you want, according to your hierarchy of values, is “selfish,” but doing something for the sake of others and against your own selfish desires is “selfless.” So, logically, being selfish will tend to make you happy, thereby enriching and furthering your life. If rescuing stray kittens makes you happy, then rational selfishness might tell you to pursue a life spent rescuing stray kittens, in the service of helping animals, because that will make you happy, and your own happiness is your highest moral ideal.
But altruism says you must act at a loss, to the detriment of your self, and that you are not allowed to ask why altruism is correct if it makes you unhappy, indeed, if it demands that you regard your own unhappiness as your highest virtue.
So, similar to how the AIDS virus protects itself from the white blood cells by attacking the autoimmune capacity, altruism saves itself from bankruptcy by saying that morality is outside the world of returns on investment.
I differ from Ayn Rand and feel that a little bit of altruism, in moderation, is good, but mainly to teach to young children when they behave like spoiled brats and won’t share their toys with their brothers or sisters or friends. A child needs to learn that sometimes, we all have to share, to enable an undertaking that can only be done successfully by a group. Little kids see things only from their own point of view, and can be taught empathy and sympathy and compassion as little kids.
But to take a lesson for a little kid, and say that every adult in the world should obey, and worship, this idea as a core moral principle? As the highest, most important moral edict?
That would be irrational. And, with respect to that precise point, I think Ayn Rand would agree with me.