The Ayn Rand Love/Hate Myth - Part 2 - Moral Ambivalence

Michael Stuart Kelly

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Here is one of the cruxes of our disagreement. I didn't mean to misrepresent your thoughts. I meant literally what I said. Here is the phrase:

The fact that the kid depends on adults for his survival has no moral weight at all in applying it to society - not even in emergencies like that.

You emphasized the words, "no moral weight at all" as if I were only talking about ethics (and your vision of them). Sorry if it sounded like I was misrepresenting your views. I wasn't. I was talking about rights at that moment. Rights are moral principles applied to social organization. In this case, the proper emphasis should have been on the words, "in applying it to society."

According to your premises, the monster's act would have "no moral weight at all in applying it to society" since no right for the kid is generated. You mention individual acts by individual people only as the proper reaction to that - nothing organized on a social level.

(Was that clear? Seriously. I don't want us to go around and around because either I was not clear or you did not understand. We communicate with words, and often there is a difficulty in two people finally talking about the same thing. Hopefully, you are seeing where I am going. First I want to establish a proper ethical principle, and then - and only then - return to how this impacts social organization, i.e., rights and politics.)

Now, back to ethics only. What is the moral principle involved in calling the monster's behavior "evil"? My thinking leans toward that tricky little phrase, "species solidarity" of Branden and Rand.


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Michael, you wrote:

What is the moral principle involved in calling the monster's behavior "evil"? My thinking leans toward that tricky little phrase, "species solidarity" of Branden and Rand.

I'm thinking of the same passage from "The Ethics of Emergencies" that you are, Michael.

I share Rand's perspective on this: a normal, morally decent human being sees the value in other human beings, because they are of the same species as himself -- fellow human beings. Seeing this value, he will feel a general sort of respect toward them, as well as experience sympathy or empathy toward their plights or conditions. He will also, very importantly, recognize that he has a moral obligation to help them in emergencies.

As Rand said, "It is only in emergency situations that one should volunteer to help strangers, if it is in one's power. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck should help to save his fellow passengers, though not at the expense of his own life....The principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering as an emergency..." ("The Ethics of Emergencies" pp. 54-55, emphasis added)

It is clear that Rand recognized non-sacrificially helping others in an emergency as being a moral obligation ("should"), albeit one that was limited to the emergency. However, it should be noted that she clearly identified it as a moral obligation, not a legal obligation.

Now, suppose a man is incapable of grasping the value of other human beings, their being valuable not merely as means to his ends, but as ends in themselves. Such a man is what we call a sociopath -- a turbo-pragmatist, so to speak. To me, that is the definition of "moral monster." He is willing to use people for his own ends, but not to help them as worthy ends in themselves. Such a person cannot be counted on to step up to the plate in an emergency -- let alone to respect the rights of others, when he has the opportunity instead to forcibly exploit them or their property. He is someone who should be held at arm's length and closely monitored, not embraced as a "good fellow, well met."

In particular, a moral monster feels no sympathy toward people in an emergency, consequently he feels no impulse to help them, and certainly no sense of moral obligation to help them. He knows he can help them, but even if there is no risk involved to him, he simply doesn't want to, and he doesn't acknowledge that he ought to, because, by his own sociopathic concept of value, viz., the value of others, there isn't "anything in it for him."

Perhaps this is more than you needed for an answer?


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