George H. Smith

My Interview With Adam Smith

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You don't take the drunk's money for that would make you a low-life thief and damage your sense of self.

You are saying, in effect, that to steal the money would violate your own principles and therefore "damage your sense of self." Okay, I agree with this -- though there is a lot more to the story -- but we still have the problem: Why should you adopt the principle of reciprocal rights in the first place? Why not say instead, "I will respect the rights of others when this serves my interests, but I will not respect the rights of others when that does not serve my interests."

This is a principle as well, and you would not violate this principle by stealing the money from the drunk, if you deemed the money sufficiently important. Thus, there would be no damage to your sense of self.

Yes it is a principle, but one, if acted upon, would undermine the idea of what constitues a "right" to such a degree that one could as well use Occam's Razor, drop the idea of "rights" altogether and simply use "I act with unbridled egoism on all my impulses", which more resembles the mindset of a two-year-old in the temper tantrum stage than that of a rational individual.

Now imagine everyone acting on that 'principle' and humankind would soon fall back to dealing with conflicts of interest in a very violent manner.

Ghs: Yes, it serves your interests to have your rights respected by other people, but why it is always in your interest to respect the rights of other people? Why not violate the rights of others when you will suffer no adverse consequences?

In the example of stealing the money from the drunk, this would result in a sanctioning of theft: "Stealing is okay as long as I will suffer no adverse consequences." This principle would of course apply to everyone else too and one would get: "Stealing is okay as long as one will suffer no adverse consequences."

Edited by Xray

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You don't take the drunk's money for that would make you a low-life thief and damage your sense of self.
You are saying, in effect, that to steal the money would violate your own principles and therefore "damage your sense of self." Okay, I agree with this -- though there is a lot more to the story -- but we still have the problem: Why should you adopt the principle of reciprocal rights in the first place? Why not say instead, "I will respect the rights of others when this serves my interests, but I will not respect the rights of others when that does not serve my interests." This is a principle as well, and you would not violate this principle by stealing the money from the drunk, if you deemed the money sufficiently important. Thus, there would be no damage to your sense of self.
Yes it is a principle, but one, if acted upon, would undermine the idea of what constitutes a "right" to such a degree that one could as well use Occam's Razor, drop the idea of "rights" altogether and simply use "I act with unbridled egoism on all my impulses", which more resembles the mindset of a two-year-old in the temper tantrum stage than that of a rational individual. Now imagine everyone acting on that 'principle' and humankind would soon fall back to dealing with conflicts of interest in a very violent manner.

In this and in an earlier post, you seem to be defending, if only implicitly, what has been called "rule-egoism," in contrast to "act-egoism." And if you are, I agree with you.

According to act-egoism, we should assess each relevant action we take and determine whether or not it promotes our self-interest. According to rule-egoism, we should formulate general principles of self-interest and then follow those principles (in most cases, at least) when deciding what to do.

A major problem with act-egoism is that it tends to focus on our short-term interests at the expense of our long-term interests. This is because we cannot ascertain our long-term interests without reference to general principles.

According to rule-egoism, we should abide by our general principles of self-interest and reject specific actions that contradict those principles, even when a specific action appears to promote our short-term interests.

This basic distinction, which has also been applied to act-utilitarianism versus rule-utilitarianism and other types of ethical theory, has merit for the purpose of clarification, but I should note that I am not entirely happy with it, especially as we dig deeper into the topic of ethical egoism. It will do for now, however.

Ghs

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Rand once said that the lives of other people are not yours to dispose of. I humbly suggest that this introduces a consideration other than one's own self-interest. It places certain things beyond the consideration of one's own self-interest.

One could also broaden the scope of what "self-interest" contains and include regard for others into it. As group beings, it is certainly in our self-interest to get along well with our fellow men. The 'Golden Rule' goes a long way here.

You don't take the drunk's money for that would make you a low-life thief and damage your sense of self.
You are saying, in effect, that to steal the money would violate your own principles and therefore "damage your sense of self." Okay, I agree with this -- though there is a lot more to the story -- but we still have the problem: Why should you adopt the principle of reciprocal rights in the first place? Why not say instead, "I will respect the rights of others when this serves my interests, but I will not respect the rights of others when that does not serve my interests." This is a principle as well, and you would not violate this principle by stealing the money from the drunk, if you deemed the money sufficiently important. Thus, there would be no damage to your sense of self.
Yes it is a principle, but one, if acted upon, would undermine the idea of what constitutes a "right" to such a degree that one could as well use Occam's Razor, drop the idea of "rights" altogether and simply use "I act with unbridled egoism on all my impulses", which more resembles the mindset of a two-year-old in the temper tantrum stage than that of a rational individual. Now imagine everyone acting on that 'principle' and humankind would soon fall back to dealing with conflicts of interest in a very violent manner.

In this and in an earlier post, you seem to be defending, if only implicitly, what has been called "rule-egoism," in contrast to "act-egoism." And if you are, I agree with you.

According to act-egoism, we should assess each relevant action we take and determine whether or not it promotes our self-interest. According to rule-egoism, we should formulate general principles of self-interest and then follow those principles (in most cases, at least) when deciding what to do.

A major problem with act-egoism is that it tends to focus on our short-term interests at the expense of our long-term interests. This is because we cannot ascertain our long-term interests without reference to general principles.

According to rule-egoism, we should abide by our general principles of self-interest and reject specific actions that contradict those principles, even when a specific action appears to promote our short-term interests.

This basic distinction, which has also been applied to act-utilitarianism versus rule-utilitarianism and other types of ethical theory, has merit for the purpose of clarification, but I should note that I am not entirely happy with it, especially as we dig deeper into the topic of ethical egoism. It will do for now, however.

Ghs

What also makes the topic of ethical egoism quite complex is that the choice whether to practise act-egoism or rule-egoism in a specific situation can produce substantial inner conflicts.

For example, being too 'rule principled' can result in moral rigorism.

Also, one often cannot definitely know in advance whether an action will serve one's long term interests. Often it is only in hindsight that one knows it.

Edited by Xray

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Egoism as rule-based, or action -based is beside the point, I think.

Why complicate a simple concept?

I take myself as the standard of value, and assume you-all do likewise. (Which is why I respect everyone's individual rights.)

We will act short-term, with the long-term in mind... but who knows?

It is only the repetition of acting virtuously - now - that reinforces our sense of efficacy for the long run.

Whether we accept it or not, we are all egoists. Some practise it guiltily, or try to deny it; others value it as their rightful nature - but one cannot escape it.

There are no rules but reality and reason.

Tony

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Egoism as rule-based, or action -based is beside the point, I think.

Why complicate a simple concept?

I take myself as the standard of value, and assume you-all do likewise. (Which is why I respect everyone's individual rights.)

We will act short-term, with the long-term in mind... but who knows?

It is only the repetition of acting virtuously - now - that reinforces our sense of efficacy for the long run.

Whether we accept it or not, we are all egoists. Some practise it guiltily, or try to deny it; others value it as their rightful nature - but one cannot escape it.

There are no rules but reality and reason.

Tony

The act/rule distinction pertains to the problem of how we judge which actions further our interests and which do not.

Consider the the example I gave earlier of the passed-out drunk with money overflowing from his pockets. An act-egoist might very well decide to steal the money, whereas a rule-egoist would not. The latter would understand the value of the principle of individual rights for his long-range interests.

Your remark, "I take myself as the standard of value," is not something that Rand agreed with, and I doubt if many OLers would agree with it either. Rand maintained that "man's life" is the proper standard of value, whereas happiness is the ultimate purpose of each individual.

I would put it this way: Your own happiness requires the application of an abstract standard -- "man's life," in Rand's terminology; "man's nature" was popular among earlier philosophers -- to a particular case, but it is not itself a standard.

Ghs

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Egoism as rule-based, or action -based is beside the point, I think.

Why complicate a simple concept?

I take myself as the standard of value, and assume you-all do likewise. (Which is why I respect everyone's individual rights.)

We will act short-term, with the long-term in mind... but who knows?

It is only the repetition of acting virtuously - now - that reinforces our sense of efficacy for the long run.

Whether we accept it or not, we are all egoists. Some practise it guiltily, or try to deny it; others value it as their rightful nature - but one cannot escape it.

There are no rules but reality and reason.

Tony

The act/rule distinction pertains to the problem of how we judge which actions further our interests and which do not.

Consider the the example I gave earlier of the passed-out drunk with money overflowing from his pockets. An act-egoist might very well decide to steal the money, whereas a rule-egoist would not. The latter would understand the value of the principle of individual rights for his long-range interests.

Your remark, "I take myself as the standard of value," is not something that Rand agreed with, and I doubt if many OLers would agree with it either. Rand maintained that "man's life" is the proper standard of value, whereas happiness is the ultimate purpose of each individual.

I would put it this way: Your own happiness requires the application of an abstract standard -- "man's life," in Rand's terminology; "man's nature" was popular among earlier philosophers -- to a particular case, but it is not itself a standard.

Ghs

You better be able to flip one to the other as necessary unless you live outside the necessity of actual conflict and responsibility to loved others and can indulge yourself in the purity of abstract morality draped about your shoulders.

--Brant

fighter

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[

act/rule distinction pertains to the problem of how we judge which actions further our interests and which do not. Consider the the example I gave earlier of the passed-out drunk with money overflowing from his pockets. An act-egoist might very well decide to steal the money, whereas a rule-egoist would not. The latter would understand the value of the principle of individual rights for his long-range interests. Ghs

Ghs,

OK, I was slow to get the distinction. Then the act-egoist is what Rand called a whim worshipper - the immoral type, sometimes called "egotist"; the rule-egoist is rationally moral. (I'd prefer "self-ruled egoist", but it's your term.) :cool:

(Thing is, whenever I read about judging whether something will further one's interests, I do get the impression of a human calculator (tea or coffee? the blonde, the brunette? buy dollar or yen?) with every decision of thousands having to be weighted for long-term self-interest. Of course there is value in this, and I'm being facetious.

Only, it seems to ignore the fact that happiness is more to do with one's being - the Self - than single actions per se.)

So, why not rob this drunken fellow?

1/'Do as you would be done by', indicates not: I may be lying drunk one day. I wouldn't like it if I were robbed.

Which is straight pragmatism.

2/ The fellow has individual rights which I should uphold because otherwise our whole society will break down, and brute force will rule. Therefore, it's in my self-interest not to take advantage of him.

Isn't this also pragmatic? - of high value, but still hardly a moral code.

3/ It is only one's objective values, primarily not other considerations, that apply to this situation. The prospect of living even briefly through another person, defeats one's code of rational selfishness - it 'fakes reality'. (Compromising your productive achievement, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, pride.)

#3 is a choice based on rational morality. Egoism prescibes that one must be the beneficiary of one's own actions - or what is inaction in this case.

Aristotle's "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit."- is apt here.

Tony

Edited by whYNOT

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So, why not rob this drunken fellow?

1/'Do as you would be done by', indicates not: I may be lying drunk one day. I wouldn't like it if I were robbed.

Which is straight pragmatism.

2/ The fellow has individual rights which I should uphold because otherwise our whole society will break down, and brute force will rule. Therefore, it's in my self-interest not to take advantage of him.

Isn't this also pragmatic? - of high value, but still hardly a moral code.

3/ It is only one's objective values, primarily not other considerations, that apply to this situation. The prospect of living even briefly through another person, defeats one's code of rational selfishness - it 'fakes reality'. (Compromising your productive achievement, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, pride.)

#3 is a choice based on rational morality. Egoism prescibes that one must be the beneficiary of one's own actions - or what is inaction in this case.

Aristotle's "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit."- is apt here.

Tony

The pragmatic arguments for interpreting ‘selfishness’ strictly in terms of material gain—long or short term—constitute one of the crucial planks in the altruist attacks on egoism as a moral code. Dinesh D’Souza loves to use these trite scenarios when debating Objectivists, defending his Christian perspective that rational selfishness is socially impracticable. Unless men pursue their capitalist profits with one altruistic eye on the “greater good,” society will inevitably degenerate into some Hobbesian nightmare of unscrupulous manipulators destroying each other by whatever means necessary. Motivated purely by greed, ruthless corporate raiders like Gordon Gekko will use fraud, deceit and blackmail to undermine their rivals.

One of the challenges facing the defenders of rational egoism is to explain self-interest in terms of the true requirements of human health and happiness. (No doubt there were some Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment thinkers who also appreciated the importance of this.) The problem is that many people believe in altruism and religious morality precisely because they are very cynical about human nature—e.g., if there is no God, everything is permissible.

In fact, of course, there is no way to achieve true happiness and fulfillment without self-esteem. Everything starts with your own reputation with yourself. Without that, you truly have nothing.

In one of his Objectivist Psychology lectures at NBI, Branden explained it this way (I am paraphrasing from memory):

"Many people operate on the premise of ‘Only I will know.’ Only I will know if I am cheating on my wife. Only I will know if I stole some money from someone’s wallet when they weren’t looking. Only I will know if I insult my best friend behind his back. Only I will know that I am lying through my teeth. These people stop one day, feeling inexplicably impoverished, wondering who has depreciated their spiritual currency. In fact, they have done it to themselves.” In other words, the policy of ‘Only I will know’ destroys self-esteem and leads to misery and depression.

In a Freedomfest lecture some years ago, Branden spoke about an incident involving his friend, Charles Murray. On the way to Branden’s house for dinner, Murray had stopped to buy a bottle of wine. When he got to his car, Murray realized he had been undercharged. He returned to the store and paid the clerk the additional amount he owed for the wine. The clerk was astonished and wondered why Murray had not just kept the extra loot.

Branden recounted this anecdote, then added Murray’s comment (again I am paraphrasing from memory): “Nathaniel, so few people seem to understand the joy of self-love.”

Edited by Dennis Hardin

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Just for the record I essentially agree with Dennis here. In my "fighter" post above I was referring to a situation wherein one is at actual war with the society one is embedded in as might have been the case in Soviet Russia. What you may need to do and have to do will probably permanently damage you. Everything costs something. You go into those situations with your eyes wide open. In the drunk man example, one merely secures and protects his person as the right and decent thing to do. The real trick is to mix up integrity and courage and put that to the test. No courage is required not to steal that man's money and little integrity.

--Brant

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So, why not rob this drunken fellow?

1/'Do as you would be done by', indicates not: I may be lying drunk one day. I wouldn't like it if I were robbed.

Which is straight pragmatism.

It is in fact an example of applying the Golden Rule.

If you choose to call it 'straight pragmatism' instead, am I correct in inferring that you think applying the Golden Rule is acting "pragmatically"?

2/ The fellow has individual rights which I should uphold because otherwise our whole society will break down, and brute force will rule. Therefore, it's in my self-interest not to take advantage of him.

Isn't this also pragmatic? - of high value, but still hardly a moral code.

But does a moral code necessarily have to be un-pragmatic?

Edited by Xray

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Here is the first line from Adam Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments (pt 1, sec. 1):

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.

This line, which introduces Smith's discussion of "sympathy" (or "empathy," as we might call it today), illustrates a point that I made earlier, namely, that Smith, while stating that the happiness of others may be "necessary" to our own happiness, regards our interest in those others a matter of benevolence, not of self-interest per se.

Smith classifies actions according to their motives. If our primary motive is to benefit ourselves, then the action is self-interested. If our primary motive is to benefit someone else, then the action is benevolent, or other regarding. If I help a friend, my primary motive is to help that friend, not to make make myself feel better, so this is a benevolent action. It does not follow, however, that my benevolent action conflicts with my self-interest; on the contrary, it may actually contribute to my happiness.

Benevolent actions, helping others, can contribute to making oneself feel better, and if they do, they serve a person's self-interest. .

And these actions don't have to meet Objectivist criteria that the beneficiaries be 'of personal value' to the helper, like e. g. a loved one needing an organ transplant. .

As for helping in an emergency situation, there may not even be any time available time to think about the consequences of one's actions, but Ayn Rand's take on the issue is:

Ayn Rand, TVOS, p. 52 chapter "The Ethics of Emergencies":

"If the person to be saved is a stranger, it is morally proper to save him only when the danger to one's life is minimal, when the danger is great, it would be immoral to attempt it;only a lack of self-esteem could permit one to value one's life no higher than that of a random stranger." (Ayn Rand, TVOS, chapter "The Ethics of Emergencies", p. 52 )

But going by this principle, e. g. all those who have risked their own lives in the horrific 9/11 attacks to save strangers would qualify as "immoral" and suffering from a "lack of self-esteem".

Edited by Xray

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But going by this principle, e. g. all those who have risked their own lives in the horrific 9/11 attacks to save strangers would qualify as "immoral" and suffering from a "lack of self-esteem".

Context is everything. In emergency situations, the goal is to do everything one can to restore normal, livable conditions, and this typically involves taking unusual risks and offering assistance to total strangers.

9-11 was very unusual—an emergency unlike any other. There was every evidence that men were dealing with an attack on America and on civilization as such. I can certainly see taking extraordinary risks in the name of defending civilization—though not to the extent of knowingly ending your own life. (Take another example: Would a person of self-esteem choose to leap to his certain death if he was trapped on a ledge with a stranger and the ledge was starting to crumble under too much weight? I don’t think that would be particularly heroic, although many people would probably say that it is. And I don’t think that ending your own life for the sake of multiple strangers changes anything.)

If a volunteer rescuer knew for certain that the World Trade Center towers would collapse before he could escape—if he knew for certain that he would be committing suicide for the sake of total strangers—then that would be a sacrifice. However, given the bewildering circumstances, things were probably happening much too fast for anyone to make any sort of realistic calculation of the risk. For that reason, it would be wrong to accuse anyone who died of being “immoral.” Quite the contrary. The heroism label is well-deserved.

The situation of the firefighters is a little different from other volunteers. It is their chosen job to risk their lives for others—so they are in a position similar to that of the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades. Given the context of a soldier’s responsibility to his peers, such action would be courageous and heroic. It would not be a ‘sacrifice,’ although most people would mistakenly call it that. Even so, I doubt if firefighters are expected to knowingly commit suicide as a part of their job. But their courage in the face of overwhelming danger would certainly qualify them as heroic.

I doubt that the firefighters and other heroes who lost their lives believed they were dead as soon as they made their way to the upper floors. They had the courage to take an enormous risk, and that is admirable, given the horrifying crisis they faced. If they did know for sure that they would die, they would probably not have taken such action—they would have realized that the suffering of their own families and loved ones should be their first concern. The only motive that would likely prompt a person of self-esteem to deliberately face certain death would be that of saving someone they loved. And that would obviously not represent a sacrifice.

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I think the main idea here is that a theory of rights built on a Christian base is like a house built on sand, as Jesus might have said.

Okay. Let's then go with a rational, secular, human political-philosophical base.

--Brant

I would never attempt to build a theory of rights on a Christian base, obviously. Nor do I believe that Christianity can provide a completely rational foundation for rights.

The reason being that irrational premises cannot provide a rational foundation for anything, and Christianity is irrational in that presents a mere belief as if it were a fact ('God exists').

My point is that a completely rational foundation is not necessary to sustain a free society, so long as enough people believe in the validity of rights, for whatever reasons. Moreover, when dealing with a hierarchy of reasons, a valid mid-level principle of individual rights can rest on arguments that are not valid in every respect. This is not an either/or situation. There are degrees.

As for people 'believing' in the validity of rights, suppose they were asked to explain why they believe in this, those whose argumentation contains no epistemological errors would probably come up with very rational arguments to support their belief.

Edited by Xray

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But going by this principle, e. g. all those who have risked their own lives in the horrific 9/11 attacks to save strangers would qualify as "immoral" and suffering from a "lack of self-esteem".

Context is everything. In emergency situations, the goal is to do everything one can to restore normal, livable conditions, and this typically involves taking unusual risks and offering assistance to total strangers.

9-11 was very unusual—an emergency unlike any other. There was every evidence that men were dealing with an attack on America and on civilization as such. I can certainly see taking extraordinary risks in the name of defending civilization—though not to the extent of knowingly ending your own life.

Jmpo, but I don't think that those who risked their own lives to rescue strangers in the 9/11 catastrophe were prompted by the thought that this was attack on America - I'm convinced that empathy prompted them.

Also, at that stage (especially at the beginning) those who were right in the middle of the catastrophe may not yet have been aware of the background of the attacks; they just realized something horrible had happened, that a plane had crashed into the North Tower.

(Take another example: Would a person of self-esteem choose to leap to his certain death if he was trapped on a ledge with a stranger and the ledge was starting to crumble under too much weight? I don’t think that would be particularly heroic, although many people would probably say that it is. And I don’t think that ending your own life for the sake of multiple strangers changes anything.)

Suppose one person hanging on the cliff is a very old person with no family, and who does not cling to life (no pun intended) much anymore, and the second person is a young mother of small children. So if the older consciously decides to put the other person's life above his/her own because the children will need their mother, imo this individual acts acording to a hierarchy of values that cannot be called irrational.

(I'm not claiming that such a scenario is likely to happen in real life; I'm using it to do test runs on the principles presented in an ethical system) .

If a volunteer rescuer knew for certain that the World Trade Center towers would collapse before he could escape—if he knew for certain that he would be committing suicide for the sake of total strangers—then that would be a sacrifice. However, given the bewildering circumstances, things were probably happening much too fast for anyone to make any sort of realistic calculation of the risk. For that reason, it would be wrong to accuse anyone who died of being “immoral.” Quite the contrary. The heroism label is well-deserved.

That things happen so fast in many emergency situations is a crucial factor that has to be taken into account.

Many who have risked their own lives to save complete strangers (like e. g. jumping into dangerous waters to save a drowning person), when asked afterward, say they didn't think about their own life in this situation.

The situation of the firefighters is a little different from other volunteers. It is their chosen job to risk their lives for others—so they are in a position similar to that of the soldier who throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades. Given the context of a soldier’s responsibility to his peers, such action would be courageous and heroic.

Absolutely.

Edited by Xray

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In a Freedomfest lecture some years ago, Branden spoke about an incident involving his friend, Charles Murray. On the way to Branden’s house for dinner, Murray had stopped to buy a bottle of wine. When he got to his car, Murray realized he had been undercharged. He returned to the store and paid the clerk the additional amount he owed for the wine. The clerk was astonished and wondered why Murray had not just kept the extra loot.

Branden recounted this anecdote, then added Murray’s comment (again I am paraphrasing from memory): “Nathaniel, so few people seem to understand the joy of self-love.”

No doubt it can 'healthily' boost one's ego to behave that way, especially if one's preferred sense of self includes personal integrity.

Murray obviously felt better about himself after returning the money than he would have felt if he had kept it.

In addition, actions of this type can gave give our fellow men the positive feedback that there do exist people who are honest and correct in such issues.

Edited by Xray

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In a Freedomfest lecture some years ago, Branden spoke about an incident involving his friend, Charles Murray. On the way to Branden’s house for dinner, Murray had stopped to buy a bottle of wine. When he got to his car, Murray realized he had been undercharged. He returned to the store and paid the clerk the additional amount he owed for the wine. The clerk was astonished and wondered why Murray had not just kept the extra loot. Branden recounted this anecdote, then added Murray’s comment (again I am paraphrasing from memory): “Nathaniel, so few people seem to understand the joy of self-love.”
No doubt it can 'healthily' boost one's ego to behave that way, especially if one's preferred sense of self includes personal integrity. Murray obviously felt better about himself after returning the money than he would have felt if he had kept it. In addition, actions of this type can gave give our fellow men the positive feedback that there do exist people who are honest and correct in such issues.

I don't believe this is quite accurate according to Branden's (or Dennis') purpose for relating the anecdote.

Look at -" so few people understand the joy of self-love" again,- and compare it with the love one feels for one's highest value in another person, one's wife, say.

Is there any question of "healthily boosting" one's love for such wife when performing an extreme act for her? (Sometimes and erroneously called 'a sacrifice'.) No, it is what you do automatically - the choice to do it or not was made a long time ago, by placing your highest value in her.

Exactly so with self-love. Accordingly, there are things you would always do - and always would not do - in given circumstances, that reflect your rational selfishness.

I'd only agree that secondarily there is value in sustaining (more than boosting) one's self-love. 'Habitual excellence', per Aristotle.

Also, "giving positive feed back to our fellow man" (setting an example) just *might* be of benefit to one, seeing as we have to live in society, but clearly that is not the point of behaving egoistically - or else the moral argument becomes circular. It's far from our prime purpose. and certainly not the motivator for objectively self-virtuous acts.

(Like the firefighter, we do what we gotta do: Egoistically; and there's the beauty of it.)

Tony

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I post the following passages from Cato's Letters as a point of interest. I assume most OLers know of the enormous influence that Cato's Letters, written by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, had on 18th century Americans. I also assume that OLers know that the Cato Institute was named after Cato's Letters.

The following excerpts are from #44 (Sept. 9, 1721). They were written by the Scot Thomas Gordon, the younger member of the Cato team:

Dry reasoning has no force: If you would have your doctrine successful, you must prove it gainful. And as in order to lay down good rules for well governing the commonwealth, you must first know the commonwealth; so in order to persuade and govern men, you must know what will please or frighten them. The good that they do to one another, they do not because it is just or commanded; nor do they forbear mutual evil, because it is unjust or forbid: But those things they do out of choice or fear, and both these center in themselves; for choice is pleasure, and fear is the apprehension of pain. So that the best things that men do, as well as the worst, are selfish; and self-love is the parent of moral good and evil.

...

All this, and the rest of this letter, is meant to shew that this world is governed by passion, and not by principle; and it ever will be so as long as men are men.

...

Men suit their tenets to the circumstances that they are in, or would be in; and when they have gained their point, they forget their tenets. I could give instances of this from all sorts of men, and even from many whose names are great and venerable.

...

It is with laymen and civil societies, as with religious: They have one set of principles when they are in power; another, and a contrary, when they are out of it. They that command, and they that obey, have seldom or never the same motives. Men change with their condition, and opinions change with men. And thus is verified that maxim of Rochefoucauld's, that the understanding is the dupe or tool of the heart; that is, our sentiments follow our passions.

For the complete text, see:

http://oll.libertyfu...=html&Itemid=27

Ghs

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In a Freedomfest lecture some years ago, Branden spoke about an incident involving his friend, Charles Murray. On the way to Branden’s house for dinner, Murray had stopped to buy a bottle of wine. When he got to his car, Murray realized he had been undercharged. He returned to the store and paid the clerk the additional amount he owed for the wine. The clerk was astonished and wondered why Murray had not just kept the extra loot. Branden recounted this anecdote, then added Murray’s comment (again I am paraphrasing from memory): “Nathaniel, so few people seem to understand the joy of self-love.”
No doubt it can 'healthily' boost one's ego to behave that way, especially if one's preferred sense of self includes personal integrity. Murray obviously felt better about himself after returning the money than he would have felt if he had kept it. In addition, actions of this type can gave give our fellow men the positive feedback that there do exist people who are honest and correct in such issues.

I don't believe this is quite accurate according to Branden's (or Dennis') purpose for relating the anecdote.

What do you think was Branden's (or Dennis') purpose for relating the anecdote? That a rational person can claim that every action they take is necessarily "selfish" and therefore produces "the joy of self-love"?

Look at -" so few people understand the joy of self-love" again,- and compare it with the love one feels for one's highest value in another person, one's wife, say.

Tony, the context in which Murray made the remark about the "joy of self-love" was not related to one's higest value - it was related to honesty in an everyday situation.

Is there any question of "healthily boosting" one's love for such wife when performing an extreme act for her? (Sometimes and erroneously called 'a sacrifice'.)

The comment I made in my # 140 post was about "healthily boosting" one's ego, not about "healthily boosting" one's love.

Edited by Xray

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(Hi, George. I've just discovered in my Mother's stuff what appears to be every issue of IF Stone's BiWeekly published between 1964 and 1971. Any idea what to do with them besides toss?)

--Brant

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(Hi, George. I've just discovered in my Mother's stuff what appears to be every issue of IF Stone's BiWeekly published between 1964 and 1971. Any idea what to do with them besides toss?)

--Brant

Brant:

You might want to shoot an e-mail to Jeremy Stone who runs the Official Website of I.F. Stone.

http://www.ifstone.org/index.php

For comments or questions about the website,

contact Jeremy J. Stone at jstone@catalyticdiplomacy.org.

Adam

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In a Freedomfest lecture some years ago, Branden spoke about an incident involving his friend, Charles Murray. On the way to Branden’s house for dinner, Murray had stopped to buy a bottle of wine. When he got to his car, Murray realized he had been undercharged. He returned to the store and paid the clerk the additional amount he owed for the wine. The clerk was astonished and wondered why Murray had not just kept the extra loot. Branden recounted this anecdote, then added Murray’s comment (again I am paraphrasing from memory): “Nathaniel, so few people seem to understand the joy of self-love.”

No doubt it can 'healthily' boost one's ego to behave that way, especially if one's preferred sense of self includes personal integrity. Murray obviously felt better about himself after returning the money than he would have felt if he had kept it. In addition, actions of this type can gave give our fellow men the positive feedback that there do exist people who are honest and correct in such issues.

I don't believe this is quite accurate according to Branden's (or Dennis') purpose for relating the anecdote.

What do you think was Branden's (or Dennis') purpose for relating the anecdote? That a rational person can claim that every action they take is necessarily "selfish" and therefore produces "the joy of self-love"?

Tony seemed to have the right idea:

Exactly so with self-love. Accordingly, there are things you would always do - and always would not do - in given circumstances, that reflect your rational selfishness.

Aristotle’s ‘habitual excellence” is certainly on the right track. Branden credited Aristotle with having a better approach to psychology than Freud and most of those who followed him. Because of the ethical legacy of Christianity, however, the Greek perspective can be difficult for moderns to fully grasp.

One of the tragic psychological consequences of the morality of altruism is that it fosters the premise that all that matters is what others think of us. By negating the significance of the self and investing all moral stock in what we do for others, altruism motivates people to place all the emphasis on the views of others. We are supposed to be “selfless,” so why should the lowly perspective of our dismal personal self matter?

Most religious people have an essentially malevolent view of the self. They see the challenge of morality as being that of overcoming their selfish urges and inclinations. Christianity, in particular—per the doctrine of Original Sin-- teaches people that their self should not be looked at very closely, because the self (as with the Freudian ‘Id’) is the locus of all sorts of dark urges just waiting to emerge and wreak havoc. The self—as with the greed for money—is the root of all evil.

The point of Branden’s teachings on self-esteem is that the exact opposite is true: The only thing that really matters is how you see yourself. You should treat yourself as your highest value. Those who operate on the premise of “only I will know” are condemning themselves as evil—and there is just no way to achieve happiness on this earth when you accept that premise. You can hypnotize yourself into believing—via religious fervor—that you are happy by fantasizing that some ghost in the sky is smiling down on you for your good deeds, but you are ultimately cheating yourself out of your life.

Parenthetically, I would be willing to gamble a lot of money that, if we should ever achieve a truly rational society in which children are no longer subjected to the teachings of religion, depression will be much less prevalent.

Many people tend to see life, not in terms of what (selfish) values they can achieve, but in terms of what they can get away with—i.e., what benefits they can take or steal without being found out. Life becomes a kind of poker game in which the point is to fool your opponents—i.e., not to let others know that you are secretly out for yourself. Obviously there are enormous differences of degree here. Most people are amalgams of both religious and secular/rational ethical influences.

When Murray returned to the store and paid the correct price for the wine, he was acting on the premise that what really mattered was that he knew that he had acted on the principle of producing the values his life requires. He felt good about himself because he did not seek the unearned. He loves the fact that he is a person who earns his own values and only trades value for value. What matters most to him is that he knows that’s the kind of person he is. That is self-esteem and self-love.

This quote from Scot Thomas Gordon (via George) seems to capture the essence of self-love:

Dry reasoning has no force: If you would have your doctrine successful, you must prove it gainful. And as in order to lay down good rules for well governing the commonwealth, you must first know the commonwealth; so in order to persuade and govern men, you must know what will please or frighten them. The good that they do to one another, they do not because it is just or commanded; nor do they forbear mutual evil, because it is unjust or forbid: But those things they do out of choice or fear, and both these center in themselves; for choice is pleasure, and fear is the apprehension of pain. So that the best things that men do, as well as the worst, are selfish; and self-love is the parent of moral good and evil.

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One of the tragic psychological consequences of the morality of altruism is that it fosters the premise that all that matters is what others think of us. By negating the significance of the self and investing all moral stock in what we do for others, altruism motivates people to place all the emphasis on the views of others. We are supposed to be “selfless,” so why should the lowly perspective of our dismal personal self matter? Most religious people have an essentially malevolent view of the self.

Dennis: Good thoughts. I've pulled out only this one.

I have been close to some basically good, brave, people who have carried this moral weight into their middle age - and are only now questioning why life had to be that way.

How does it start for them? By the automatic acceptance of the values of well-meaning adults, I think ... but when young, how to resist?

(Few are those who are staunchly independent enough to respond to Ayn Rand at age 16!)

Religion, especially Christianity, is one Self-destroyer. Parental expectations, and encouragement of conformist attitudes. Peer pressure. The drive to marry, and start a family (for its own sake) perpetuates the altruist myth.

I am not sure. You'd know the causes better than I, in your profession, but combined they probably lead to abnegation of the self to a larger or lesser degree.

Escaping "investing all moral stock ...in others", and "the premise that all that matters is what others think of us"- can be achieved through consciously held rational egoism, and constant attention to one's self-esteem.

They require much thought, application and habituation to attain, although becoming 'second'(first) nature, eventually - if begun early enough.

However, how to put all this across to a raised-Catholic woman and high school teacher I know, who dutifully dedicated her whole existence to husband, children and the opinion of 'Society' (always through and for others)- and now that she's divorced and alone is desperately trying to comprehend how she arrived at this point?

A lifetime of wrong principles, with faulty premises piled one on top of the other - and the unpacking seems impossible for her,now, which is very sad.

I can see one thought haunts her: That perhaps she did not 'give' and 'do' enough.

Tony

[A long way from Adam Smith, sorry Ghs.]

Edited by whYNOT

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However, how to put all this across to a raised-Catholic woman and high school teacher I know, who dutifully dedicated her whole existence to husband, children and the opinion of 'Society' (always through and for others)- and now that she's divorced and alone is desperately trying to comprehend how she arrived at this point?

A lifetime of wrong principles, with faulty premises piled one on top of the other - and the unpacking seems impossible for her,now, which is very sad.

I can see one thought haunts her: That perhaps she did not 'give' and 'do' enough.

Tony

[A long way from Adam Smith, sorry Ghs.]

Tony,

Thanks for the kind words.

You may well be attempting the impossible here, but the best way to convey a positive view of genuine ‘selfishness’ is always by your example—and by openly declaring that your actions are motivated by pride and self-love. When she can see your self-love manifest in your moral idealism—e.g., “my honesty, my integrity, my respectfulness, my productiveness, etc., all stem from my selfish pride in knowing that I’m a certain kind of person”—it may prompt her to rethink what it means to be selfish.

But I actually think Objectivists have a much better chance of teaching young people that this is the true meaning of moral idealism—the selfish devotion, not to rescuing trees, wildlife or the unwashed masses, but to their own individual lives and self-esteem. For most adults past the age of thirty, this idea is so radical that they will be unable to grasp it without challenging the beliefs they have lived by all their lives. And most people are unwilling to do that. The prospect of doing that sort of fundamental rethinking is just too frightening.

It’s like those adults who read Ayn Rand’s novels and admire Howard Roark and Hank Rearden, but think: “I wonder why Rand said her heroes were selfish? They don’t act like selfish people. Gee. Ayn Rand was confused.” And they never question the premises that prompted that conclusion.

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Selfishness is for teenagers who need a proper moral grounding for adulthood, which I think of as selfishness+ (+something else). Unfortunately, because of faulty education and the tendency to make the easy choice, what most of them get is pretty superficial and upon reaching adulthood many boys get sluiced into the military to fight and die for their country's power-mongering, narcissistic, fascistic political-corporate elite, while the girls make babies for the Fuhrer. Imagine the difference between a John Galt and a Private John Galt, US Army. One goes to college and the other goes to war.

--Brant

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Toohey's speech to Keating is literarily derived from the speech of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. I think it's the greatest speech in world literature, insofar as I might be an authority on that, which I admit is quite weak. Dosty also set it up brilliantly with a flick of his literary wrist. --Brant

Did Rand ever acknowledge or discuss this derivation? Or is this another one of your heretical opinions? 8-)

Ghs

No she did not.

--Brant

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