The "Conflicts" of Men's Interests - Question


Donovan A.

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"Context. Both men should know that if they desire a job, their goal is made possible only by the existence of a business concern able to provide employment—that that business concern requires the availability of more than one applicant for any job—that if only one applicant existed, he would not obtain the job, because the business concern would have to close its doors—and that their competition for the job is to their interest, even though one of them will lose in that particular encounter." - Ayn Rand, The virtue of Selfishness (The "Conflicts" of Men's Interests)

I'm wondering about the point that a business would have to close its doors if only one applicant existed. Would anyone be willing or able to help clarify this for me?

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Possibly she meant something like this:

That if the business could not freely choose its employees, it would not be able to get the possible possible employee to meet its needs, and the negative impacts of this on product quality, etc. would eventually force it to close.

Or possibly she was thinking of government interference in the choice of employee, with a business being forced to accept the employee assigned to it by the government.

Jeffrey S.

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Possibly she meant something like this:

That if the business could not freely choose its employees, it would not be able to get the possible possible employee to meet its needs, and the negative impacts of this on product quality, etc. would eventually force it to close.

Or possibly she was thinking of government interference in the choice of employee, with a business being forced to accept the employee assigned to it by the government.

Jeffrey S.

Hi Jeffery,

Thank you for your response.

I am hosting The Virtue of Selfishness as an Audio Book series in Dallas and tonight we covered chapters 2-5. Rand is arguing that there are no conflicts of interest between two men in a free society that are applying for a single job opportunity. It seems that the point is that rational men must acknowledge that businesses have specific needs in order to succeed and grow. Employees are generally needed and one must acknowledge that businesses must select the best candidate, just as an employee must select the best employer, viz., based on the needs, goals and desires of the employee. The explanation that a company must pursue its rational self-interest, I do not contest. But that a company would have to close if there were only one candidate for a specific job, does not seem to follow, at least not necessarily. I don't see any reason why it could not be possible that that one candidate could not in fact be a good employee, meet the standards required for the job, etc. to promote the well-being of that company. In addition, there are companies that deal with shortages of employees in a given field quite often. Based on market demands, these employees usually are paid more due to the shortage. Assuming, of course, that the company services are meeting an actual existential social demand or need.

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Randall,

The passage doesn't make sense to me either. If there is only one candidate for a job, it suggests to me only that the employer should hire that candidate, not close its doors.

I also contend Rand's article does not address the most common meaning of "conflict of interest." Conflicts of interest are even more likely for a fiduciary.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Competition tends to bring out the best in people, they tend to put their best foot forward in order to come out ahead of the other guy. If there were only one applicant for every job then the business would be forced to hire any incompetent bum off the street who came in looking for a job. Lack of competition tends to encourage incompetence, while competition tends to encourage excellence.

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Exactly. It is competition and choice in both directions that is necessary for health. Just as it is bad to have only one peanut-butter option (or one car option, or one coffee option), it is bad to have only one employee option.

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Competition tends to bring out the best in people, they tend to put their best foot forward in order to come out ahead of the other guy. If there were only one applicant for every job then the business would be forced to hire any incompetent bum off the street who came in looking for a job. Lack of competition tends to encourage incompetence, while competition tends to encourage excellence.

Dan:

Welcome to OL. Great place to think and think out loud.

What do you do to sustain the state?

Lol. I ask this of everyone.

Adam

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Competition tends to bring out the best in people, they tend to put their best foot forward in order to come out ahead of the other guy. If there were only one applicant for every job then the business would be forced to hire any incompetent bum off the street who came in looking for a job. Lack of competition tends to encourage incompetence, while competition tends to encourage excellence.

Dan:

Welcome to OL. Great place to think and think out loud.

What do you do to sustain the state?

Lol. I ask this of everyone.

Adam

I pay taxes.

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Competition tends to bring out the best in people, they tend to put their best foot forward in order to come out ahead of the other guy. If there were only one applicant for every job then the business would be forced to hire any incompetent bum off the street who came in looking for a job. Lack of competition tends to encourage incompetence, while competition tends to encourage excellence.

This is one of the best answers I have seen so far. I think it is more clear than what Ayn Rand wrote. However, not all companies have to hire or close their doors. A company does not necessarily have to grow- it may function by simply maintaining its current level of production, or it may increase production and efficiency by implementing new technology. Part of the basic problem I see here is a result of the law of supply and demand. If many people share the same skills that I do, then our value decreases. When there are many qualified applicants for the same job, that drives down the cost of labor. In that respect, more people can mean a decrease in wages in a particular field. To a rather large extent, a society does have to be concerned about the rate of change in its population size. The economy of a small town could not support the immigration of 50-100 times its current residents overnight. Such a dramatic change in population would be very difficult to accommodate. It of course can be argued that by flooding the market with new labor, one may indeed lose their job, and may have to take another job for less pay, but that person's total wealth may improve regardless, because of the decrease in the cost of production.

(I have more thoughts, but I will have to revisit this topic at a later time)

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Thank you for your compliments.

What is really interesting to me about that particular article is where Rand came up with the question of conflicts of men's interests. Who mentioned it first? Why did she consider it an issue?

I have batted this question around on another forum before and got nowhere, maybe because it's not really a question for me. The answer seems easy enough. It's just that in the article Rand never discusses why this is or should be an issue to write an essay about.

There are two strains of thought in 20th century philosophy which bring up the issue of conflict, a conflict so deep and rigid that it can only be classified as metaphysically given. One strain comes from Existentialism, and the other strain comes from Marxism.

The Marxist strain, however, only produced the idea of conflict between classes, it is not a struggle between men per se. Existentialists, on the other hand, will commonly claim that conflicts (of principle) between men are not only the norm, they are inevitable and even necessary for the functioning of society.

Rand was implicitly arguing against the Existentialist viewpoint of human relationships.

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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

You could say that the very first word of the original quote - context - is being used to obliterate the need for the idea of conflict of principles, whether it is of the Marxist, Existentialist, or any other variety. For Rand, context was pretty much everything. In this case the context is the fact that competition is necessary to further the survival of business. This kind of competition is not the type that goes "all the way down," it is not metaphysical conflict.

It just so happens that it DOES take on the Existentialist point of view, even if Rand had no direct interest in opposing it.

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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

On thinking over your reply some more (I'm having a difficult time understanding it), I think Rand is trying to redirect the idea of interests, not the idea of conflict, onto another context. If both men are interested in obtaining a job, then this "conflict" is a beneficial one because without it there would be no business to provide a job for either of them. They should therefore be interested in the "conflict," not opposed to it, as integral to the way business operates.

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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

On thinking over your reply some more (I'm having a difficult time understanding it), I think Rand is trying to redirect the idea of interests, not the idea of conflict, onto another context. If both men are interested in obtaining a job, then this "conflict" is a beneficial one because without it there would be no business to provide a job for either of them. They should therefore be interested in the "conflict," not opposed to it, as integral to the way business operates.

Hi Skylark,

I do think this explains exactly what Rand was trying to say. I'm just not sure I totally buy it. It's almost congruent with the Nietzschean idea that "that which does not kill you makes you stronger." Ask any businessman if he is excited about a new competition, he most often will not tell you "it's to our interest, it keeps me honest, if there were no competition I would be lazy and I would have to close my doors." It does not matter if the competition involves AC vs. DC current, Bluray vs. HD or VHS vs. Betamax. In the case of AC vs. DC, this competition ("without clash of interests") did not bring about honesty and respect between the competitors (especially Edison). Aside from my points regarding the component of supply and demand in regard to labor, the crux of the argument depends on clearly defining what actually is in one's self-interest. Obviously the free market (Laissez-faire Capitalism) is to everyone's self-interest, even if competing in the market can mean failure. The fact that failure is possible is not a disadvantage, if success were guaranteed, would it really be success?

Best regards,

Randall

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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

On thinking over your reply some more (I'm having a difficult time understanding it), I think Rand is trying to redirect the idea of interests, not the idea of conflict, onto another context. If both men are interested in obtaining a job, then this "conflict" is a beneficial one because without it there would be no business to provide a job for either of them. They should therefore be interested in the "conflict," not opposed to it, as integral to the way business operates.

Hi Skylark,

I do think this explains exactly what Rand was trying to say. I'm just not sure I totally buy it. It's almost congruent with the Nietzschean idea that "that which does not kill you makes you stronger." Ask any businessman if he is excited about a new competition, he most often will not tell you "it's to our interest, it keeps me honest, if there were no competition I would be lazy and I would have to close my doors." It does not matter if the competition involves AC vs. DC current, Bluray vs. HD or VHS vs. Betamax. In the case of AC vs. DC, this competition ("without clash of interests") did not bring about honesty and respect between the competitors (especially Edison). Aside from my points regarding the component of supply and demand in regard to labor, the crux of the argument depends on clearly defining what actually is in one's self-interest. Obviously the free market (Laissez-faire Capitalism) is to everyone's self-interest, even if competing in the market can mean failure. The fact that failure is possible is not a disadvantage, if success were guaranteed, would it really be success?

The competitions you mentioned brought about change that was good for the economy. And if people like Edison detested the competition and considered it a black vs. white conflict of interests, then so much the better because it encourages more vigorous competition.

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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

On thinking over your reply some more (I'm having a difficult time understanding it), I think Rand is trying to redirect the idea of interests, not the idea of conflict, onto another context. If both men are interested in obtaining a job, then this "conflict" is a beneficial one because without it there would be no business to provide a job for either of them. They should therefore be interested in the "conflict," not opposed to it, as integral to the way business operates.

Hi Skylark,

I do think this explains exactly what Rand was trying to say. I'm just not sure I totally buy it. It's almost congruent with the Nietzschean idea that "that which does not kill you makes you stronger." Ask any businessman if he is excited about a new competition, he most often will not tell you "it's to our interest, it keeps me honest, if there were no competition I would be lazy and I would have to close my doors." It does not matter if the competition involves AC vs. DC current, Bluray vs. HD or VHS vs. Betamax. In the case of AC vs. DC, this competition ("without clash of interests") did not bring about honesty and respect between the competitors (especially Edison). Aside from my points regarding the component of supply and demand in regard to labor, the crux of the argument depends on clearly defining what actually is in one's self-interest. Obviously the free market (Laissez-faire Capitalism) is to everyone's self-interest, even if competing in the market can mean failure. The fact that failure is possible is not a disadvantage, if success were guaranteed, would it really be success?

The competitions you mentioned brought about change that was good for the economy. And if people like Edison detested the competition and considered it a black vs. white conflict of interests, then so much the better because it encourages more vigorous competition.

It's in one's interest for there to be conflicts of interest? This sounds like those that argue that it is in one's self-interest to be an altruist. The primary purpose to enter business is one's own success, if that indirectly benefits others (the economy) fine. I think I'm going to have to spend some time really thinking about the concept of conflict and interest. When I started this thread, my primary point was to question the principle that a business would have to close its doors if there was not more than a single applicant for a specific job. That principle is a different issue than if there really are conflicts of interest between rational men.

Looking forward to more posts!

Edited by Randall
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I think Rand discussed the "conflict" of men's interest because she was arguing for a fully-consistent philosophy. If there is a clash of people, she had to ensure the clash was not one created by Objective values, otherwise an Objective set of values would result in conflict (and therefore potentially lead to contradiction). To avoid such contradictions, to ensure that Objective values were consistent, she demonstrated that a conflict of men's interest is not a conflict (contradiction) created by fundamental values.

On thinking over your reply some more (I'm having a difficult time understanding it), I think Rand is trying to redirect the idea of interests, not the idea of conflict, onto another context. If both men are interested in obtaining a job, then this "conflict" is a beneficial one because without it there would be no business to provide a job for either of them. They should therefore be interested in the "conflict," not opposed to it, as integral to the way business operates.

Hi Skylark,

I do think this explains exactly what Rand was trying to say. I'm just not sure I totally buy it. It's almost congruent with the Nietzschean idea that "that which does not kill you makes you stronger." Ask any businessman if he is excited about a new competition, he most often will not tell you "it's to our interest, it keeps me honest, if there were no competition I would be lazy and I would have to close my doors." It does not matter if the competition involves AC vs. DC current, Bluray vs. HD or VHS vs. Betamax. In the case of AC vs. DC, this competition ("without clash of interests") did not bring about honesty and respect between the competitors (especially Edison). Aside from my points regarding the component of supply and demand in regard to labor, the crux of the argument depends on clearly defining what actually is in one's self-interest. Obviously the free market (Laissez-faire Capitalism) is to everyone's self-interest, even if competing in the market can mean failure. The fact that failure is possible is not a disadvantage, if success were guaranteed, would it really be success?

The competitions you mentioned brought about change that was good for the economy. And if people like Edison detested the competition and considered it a black vs. white conflict of interests, then so much the better because it encourages more vigorous competition.

It's in one's interest for there to be conflicts of interest? This sounds like those that argue that it is in one's self-interest to be an altruist. The primary purpose to enter business is one's own success, if that indirectly benefits others (the economy) fine. I think I'm going to have to spend some time really thinking about the concept of conflict and interest. When I started this thread, my primary point was to question the principle that a business would have to close its doors if there was not more than a single applicant for a specific job. That principle is a different issue than if there really are conflicts of interest between rational men.

Looking forward to more posts!

Randall,

Thanks for your interest, I really appreciate it.

It seems you slightly misunderstood me. I didn't say it was in one's interest for there to be conflicts of interests.

However, I used the Edison example to show that it is best for capitalism if businessmen believe there is a basic conflict of interests, because this encourages more vigorous competition between them.

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Hi skylark,

the explanation I gave above isn't necessarily all that clear because unfortunately my memory of this part of rands writing is also a little foggy, and I'm trying to recall old thoughts. Rands position seems to me to be that rational men don't have conflicts in their values (or perhaps standards of values). You can see the importance of this: if everyone had an "objective" set of values and this led to an unstable society due to social conflicts, then there is an incredibly strong position against following these supposed objective values. Chaos serves nobody.

If the universe unwinds with everybody having objective, rational values, then certainly men compete, but there is an order to things, there is a natural justice that everybody believes in which is simply an example of holding to similar standards and values. Thus, when two people compete for a job, rational men expect the employer to act rational and hire the better man (a clear standard), regardless of whether they want the job. In this sense, both winners and losers understand the rules of the game, the rules based on a society of men acting upon rational values. Therefore, it is not value sets that are competing, it is instead the level of achievement of those values that are being measured. That's the "conflict," - not the better values per se, since rational men ought not to have incredibly different values, but the level of achievement of those values.

I hope this is clearer. I'm still not 100% sure I'm using correct terminology :-/

Christopher

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We humans would be wise to stop thinking in terms of 'competition' and start thinking in terms of 'struggle for excellence'. 'Competition' represents an animalistic principle which does not help further human development.

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Hi skylark,

the explanation I gave above isn't necessarily all that clear because unfortunately my memory of this part of rands writing is also a little foggy, and I'm trying to recall old thoughts. Rands position seems to me to be that rational men don't have conflicts in their values (or perhaps standards of values). You can see the importance of this: if everyone had an "objective" set of values and this led to an unstable society due to social conflicts, then there is an incredibly strong position against following these supposed objective values. Chaos serves nobody.

If the universe unwinds with everybody having objective, rational values, then certainly men compete, but there is an order to things, there is a natural justice that everybody believes in which is simply an example of holding to similar standards and values. Thus, when two people compete for a job, rational men expect the employer to act rational and hire the better man (a clear standard), regardless of whether they want the job. In this sense, both winners and losers understand the rules of the game, the rules based on a society of men acting upon rational values. Therefore, it is not value sets that are competing, it is instead the level of achievement of those values that are being measured. That's the "conflict," - not the better values per se, since rational men ought not to have incredibly different values, but the level of achievement of those values.

I hope this is clearer. I'm still not 100% sure I'm using correct terminology :-/

Christopher

Christopher,

As far as that goes, the two men, or all of society, could be Christians holding to the same values.

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The best is not always hired. But don't sweat it. He'll be okay. I could repeat a story about a man hired then fired who now occupies his old boss's office--where he was fired from--and owns the whole building too boot.

--Brant

make your own way--it's not the other guy; it's you

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The best is not always hired. But don't sweat it. He'll be okay. I could repeat a story about a man hired then fired who now occupies his old boss's office--where he was fired from--and owns the whole building too boot.

--Brant

make your own way--it's not the other guy; it's you

Brant, that sounds like almost what I am saying - concentrate on your own "excellence" and don't worry about the other guy.

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We humans would be wise to stop thinking in terms of 'competition' and start thinking in terms of 'struggle for excellence'. 'Competition' represents an animalistic principle which does not help further human development.

GS,

You'll be pleased to hear that Rand agrees.

I looked up in "The AR Lexicon" this statement:

"Competition is a by-product of productive work, NOT its goal. A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, NOT by the desire to beat others."

THere is more there that is of interest.

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We humans would be wise to stop thinking in terms of 'competition' and start thinking in terms of 'struggle for excellence'. 'Competition' represents an animalistic principle which does not help further human development.

GS,

You'll be pleased to hear that Rand agrees.

I looked up in "The AR Lexicon" this statement:

"Competition is a by-product of productive work, NOT its goal. A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, NOT by the desire to beat others."

THere is more there that is of interest.

I have always felt there was several similar goals of objectivism and general semantics however, I am not comfortable pursuing them in the context of Philosophy. I think Korzybski chose science as his basis whereas Rand chose philosophy. I post here to try and translate between the 2, as it were.

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