Ayn Rand and Objectivism, Lecture 3 with David Gordon - Mises Academy
Ayn Rand Lecture 3
●In the last lecture, I used “essence” the way it
is usually used in philosophy, rather than in
the Objectivist way.
●In Objectivism, essence is epistemological,
not metaphysical. A concept means all the
terms it applies to, and all their
characteristics. The definition gives the
properties that best account for these
Essence in Mainstream
●In mainstream philosophy, an object’s
properties can be divided into two classes.
One class is the essential characteristics. The
object wouldn’t be the object that it is without
●The rest of the properties are non-essential.
●For Objectivists, an object must have all of its
characteristics, excepting human choices. But
Objectivists wouldn’t say, as I did last time,
that all of an object’s characteristics are
●Objectivists such as Peikoff and Kelley
stress that the various doctrines of
Objectivism support one another.
●One principle leads to the next. In turn,
later principles further explain, and add
support for, earlier ones.
●A consistent system need not be true.
Fundamental Division of
●Objectivists say that all ethical systems
can be divided into two categories:
Those that are based on individual self-
interest, and those that support sacrifice
to a collective or other people. Egoism
●This division isn’t logically required.
Systems of ethics can fall into neither of
Rand’s Great Contribution
●Rand’s criticism of altruism is one of her
●Collectivist morality has had disastrous
consequences in the 20th
●The Nazi slogan was “the common
good before the individual good”.
Individual lives were to be sacrificed for
the good of the master race.
●The Communists had an analogous
view. Individual well-being should be
subordinated to the goal of communist
●People should sacrifice themselves for
the future generations. During the
1930s and 40s, the Communists were
well aware that people at the time were
World War I
●Collectivist morality played a major role
in World War I propaganda.
●People could achieve moral
regeneration by sacrificing themselves
for a cause.
●Rupert Brooke’s war sonnets.
●P.T. Forsyth---the sacrifice in war is like
Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Altruism and Christianity
●In the 20th
century, an influential interpretation
of Christianity claimed that the New
Testament taught self-sacrificial love for
others as the basis of ethics.
●Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, was the
most comprehensive statement of this
●The counter to this emphasized, “Thou shalt
love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Peter Singer and Altruism
●Peter Singer has argued that we have a
moral duty to give large amounts of our
wealth to help the poor all over the
world to avoid death by disease and
●His argument is utilitarian---if you can
achieve a great good at little cost, aren’t
you obligated to do it?
●Greek ethics, especially the ethics of
Aristotle, emphasized that the goal of
ethics is the individual’s pursuit of the
●The term for this in Greek is
●Mises also places himself in this
Another Key Division in Ethics
●A related distinction to that between
self-interest and collectivism has to do
with the reason we should be moral.
●Here again there are two main answers.
●One is that it is in one’s interest to be
moral. Since Rand thinks that the
purpose of morality is to promote your
own life, of course she fits into this
The Other Alternative
●The other view is that morality makes
demands on you. You must do your duty,
whether it is to your advantage to do so or
●H.A. Prichard, “Does Moral Philosophy Rest
on a Mistake?” (1912), said that to ask for a
reason to be moral reduces morality to
●Note that this distinction is not the same as
the split between self-interest and
collectivism. Someone who was not a
Egoism and Ethics
●Suppose, like Rand, you think that ethics
aims to promote self-interest. Won’t this lead
to a problem? What if everybody accepts and
acts on this view? Won’t this lead to conflict?
●Not if people’s interest are in fundamental
harmony. People advance their own interests
by cooperating with others, not by fighting
●This is a principal theme of Atlas Shrugged. It
is also basic to Mises’s ethics.
Why Does Ethics Exist?
●Rand asks, why does the institution of
ethics or morality exist?
●She finds the answer in biology.
Animals survive by instinct. They
automatically do what is required to
ensure their survival.
●Human beings aren’t like that. We don’t
have instincts but must rely on reason
in order to live.
The Purpose of Ethics
●The fact that human beings need to use
reason in order to survive gives us the
point and purpose of ethics.
●A value is what one acts to gain or
keep.The point we’ve just discussed
tells us what we should act to gain or
Is Ethics Objective?
●One of the most important controversies in
ethics is whether morality is objective. As
most philosophers understand this, the
question means, “Can moral judgments be
true or false”?
●To answer “No”, is to accept subjectivism.
Suppose I like vanilla ice cream but you don’t.
Neither of us is correct or incorrect.
Subjectivists think that moral judgments are
Rand and Objective Morality
●Rand counts as a believer in objectivity
in the way just distinguished. She
thought it wasn’t just a matter of opinion
that the purpose of ethics is, for each
person, his own survival. This is true, in
a straightforward sense.
●She separates her version of objectivity
from another position, intrinsicism.
●Many philosophers who accept moral
objectivity reason in this way; If morality is
objectively true, then the propositions of
morality aren’t up to us.
●But if they aren’t up to us, then their truth
holds independently of us. Things are
valuable regardless of our relations to them.
G.E. Moore said that a beautiful object would
be valuable even in a universe without
Rand and Intrinsicism
●Rand rejected intrinsicism. Things aren’t good
or bad in themselves: a value is what
promotes someone’s life.
●When Rand talks about “objectivism” in
morals, she has her own position in mind,
rather than any view that takes moral
judgments to be true or false.
●Rand takes her objectivist view to be in
between subjectivism and intrinsicism.
The Fundamental Choice in
●Rand says that everyone has a basic
choice: whether to live or die.
●If you don’t choose to live, no other
choices have a rational basis. Being
alive is a necessary condition for all
●If we didn’t have the choice to live or
die, nothing could matter to us. The
immortal robot example shows this.
Life As A Rational Being
●If we choose to live, we aren’t choosing
bare physical survival but survival as a
●Each person chooses to live rather than
to subordinate his life to some
collective. But people should respect
the rights of others to make the same
choice in their own lives.
●Parasitism is out.