Monday, November 18, 2013

Ayn Rand revisited

I found an interesting reference to Ayn Rand in a new book, Make an Ethical Difference: Tools for Better Action (Berrett-Koehler), by Mark Pastin, the CEO of Council for Ethical Organizations. Pastin

Philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand earned both a dedicated following and considerable scorn for asserting that selfishness--being self-interested--is a virtue. This was always a bit puzzling since Rand's novels feature heroic figures that are individualistic, but hardly selfish. Ms. Rand created a tempest in a teapot. While she talked about self-interest, she also believed that it is in a person's self-interest to be bold, original, generous, kind, [and] noble. She was not talking about hogging the mashed potatoes. If my (self) interest is in creating situations in which individuals and ideas can flourish, it is not surprising that some might think of pursuing this self-interest as virtuous. In truth, Ms. Rand attracted attention to herself and her ideas through the dramatic mechanism of calling a person's interest in being an exceptional person a selfish interest. Ms. Rand failed to recognize that what makes an interest virtuous, or not virtuous, is not to whom the interest belongs--oneself or others--but where the interest leads.
I'm right with Pastin up to the last sentence. Rand did indeed attract attention to herself, her books, and her philosophy of Objectivism through "dramatic mechanisms" that allowed her to make controversial assertions that really weren't so controversial. But based on the reading and research my wife and writing partner, Donna, and I did for Ayn Rand and Business, it's clear that Rand recognized "what makes an interest virtuous."

Rand created a well-defined system of ethics for Objectivism. If you could ask her "where the interest leads," she would tell you that it should lead to reason, purpose, and self-esteem--those are the three Objectivist values (or goals). She went on to define seven virtues (or behaviors) necessary to achieve to these goals: rationality, productiveness, pride, independence, integrity, honesty, and justice. These behaviors are what make the pursuit of self-interest virtuous.  

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