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04/11/2011

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Jimbino

Some of those who don't understand the virtue of selfishness may learn something from viewing "Atlas Shrugged," which comes out in three days.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Selfishness is not a virtue, unless one lives in an Orwellian world of doublespeak. Ayn Rand's views were fashioned by way of providing an ideological apologia for the crudest and cruelest forms of capitalism wherein private vices are blessed by way of sanctioning capitalist wealth creation and an "economistic" construal of the Good. In the future, assuming some measure of moral evolution of the species, we'll look back with puzzled astonishment that otherwise intelligent people could have ever let such nonsense rule their minds.

Jimbino

Adam Smith famously wrote of selfishness as a virtue:

“It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

A corollary is that more good has been done for humanity by folks acting in their own self interest than by all those acting "charitably."

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Self-interest in the history of Liberal thought is not equivalent to what we mean by selfishness, the latter more akin to (Rand-like) unbridled egoism. And the emphasis placed on the former was owing by way of contrast to people routinely acting compulsively and impulsively, as creatures of mindless habit or as slaves of emotional frenzy, thus self-interest has a calculating, purposive or rational character by comparison utterly lacking in people motivated by by passions seeking to avenge insults or slights to honor and pride.

Some conceptions of ('ultimate' or true) self-interest, like Plato's, are compatible if not one with the virtues and morality and have nothing whatsoever to do with selfishness. Incidentally, Adam Smith's morality is not well captured by the passage you cite, as several recent studies have pointed out, and Smith would have found Rand's philosophy utterly repugnant. Self-interest in the Liberal tradition is thus a far cry from the sort "hyperegotistical, beggar-thy-neighbor attitude in which nothing matters but the pursuit of personal and material gain" (Stephen Holmes), a stance close to Rand but far from Smith, or any of the classical Liberal conceptions of self-interest for that matter. Indeed, Liberal thinkers were not reductionist, so self-interest was but one part of an immensely complex mix of human motives that included, for example, benevolence, love of others, devotion to the common good.

Self-interest thus understood is free of undue deference to custom and tradition simpliciter as well as the frenzied passions fueled by ethno-nationalist ideologies, submersion in group identities of one kind or another, or codes of behavior that were often individually and collectively self-destructive. Thereofore, it is not the same thing as selfishness nor does it resemble popular accounts of what constitutes "self-interest," constituted as they typically are, with inordinate egocentric psychological premises.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Again, please have the last word.

Jimbino

Rand extolled selfishness, as long as it did not involve force or fraud. Your derision of a "hyperegotistical, beggar-thy-neighbor attitude in which nothing matters but the pursuit of personal and material gain" both begs the question and misrepresents Rand's (and Aristotle's) philosophy.

Begs the question because what is "hyperegotistical" in selfishness is exactly the question and misrepresenting because Rand considered not using force or fraud to "matter."

Thanks for giving me the "last word." [Ed. Ad hominem remark removed SS]

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