This is to continue the discussion of Objectivism from the front page. Some basic info:

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) (wikipedia) was a Russian immigrant, author, screenwriter and creator of the philosophy called "Objectivism", which advocates selfishness as a virtue and denounces altruism. 

Among her writings are The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, both of which have been turned into feature films.

Despite her atheism, Rand is popular among Tea Party conservatives because of her anti-tax stance.  

Former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan was a personal friend of Rand.

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arnab - I think it is good to be a well balanced person who meets their own needs with equal consideration of the needs of those around them.

that kind of person is rare in the world. lets consider a new idea:

let all the individual be selfish but govt. be altruistic. in this way, the balance will come.

what do you think ?

Well . . . I'm not so sure its realistic for government to be altruistic.  It is composed of people who generally seek their own interests. 

arnab - idealistic and also as i've said just before - it will have less outcomes of well being for all.....

a person who considers their own needs in balance to others needs, is not so rare - most people do this all the time - even if only due to feeling social pressure - having 3 children and looking after other children and family, i continually need to measure my own needs with the needs of others, and I know many who are like this - working as a nurse, it's the same - I need a break now, but I also need to support another to have some personal need met - so I work continually on compromises that meets all our needs in the best order....

I am very surprised that you have the view that a person like this is rare in the world.  

I think that children under 3, teenager and single adults without experience in considering others through family situation or work situation, are all less able or unable to consider others needs equally with their own.  Also people who have great needs, or their basic needs are not being met are also pron to selfishness.

@Alice - "I'm getting a bit sick of people changing the meaning of words in the english language to mean something else in a sick and twisted sort of way"

I agree completely.  Selfishness means acting without any consideration for, or at the expense of others. 

Altruism is a concern for others, and a willingness to help.  It doesn't necessarily mean self-sacrifice or putting others above oneself to the extent that the self is neglected.  

However, Rand followers have consistently corrupted these definitions over the years through their persistence.

I think part of the appeal of Objectivism is that it tells certain types of people what they want to hear - not only is being selfish ok, it's actually a virtue!   It gives them a rationale to disregard a very basic, but sometimes difficult aspect of human society, the obligation to others.

George - well I'm totally with you George.... :)

Ok . . .lets keep our definitions traditional then.

Substitute selfishness for "enlightened self interest."  This is the basic premise of how human social relations work.  We generally do things for others because we get something out of it.  The mother gets to see her genes passed down the line . . .her genetic legacy is protected . . . I care for and protect my family because I love them and I feel intrinsically rewarded when I do so.

You would be hard pressed to find anybody who ever did anything out of a sense of complete self abnegation.  Even soldiers who give their lives do so because they are devoted to the mission and want it to succeed.  Religious nuts flagellate themselves because they get some sort of twisted satisfaction out of it.  

The basic premise I was trying to make is that if I don't take care of myself I won't be able to take care of anybody else either.  Hence the common sense rules that a parent put on their 02 mask first in an airplane.  I live so that my family and those important to me can live as well.  You do the same. 

In response to your other insinuation, of course there are greedy people in the world.  Nobody is saying that greed is good a la Gordon Gecko.  What I am saying is that each one of us looking out for own good is the way to go.  If our individual "needs" clash with one another, well then, we have the courts to settle our grievances. 


Kevin - it doesn't work - selfishness is bad no matter how you want to dress it up.  If you weigh everything so as to be selfish or enlightened self interest then you will be seen as such - and avoided.

I think that looking at the world as us all being selfish isn't healthy - and it isn't a good way to view the world - a better way to view the world is to see yourself as meeting your own needs with equal consideration of others needs - you can apply this to the environment, animals, aliens and the cosmos.

You have different outcomes if you do the selfish thing as compared to the considering all needs way.  The considering all needs way gets way more well being for all.  The selfish way leaves others sometimes feeling like they don't count, and that lowers all our well being.

Alice, it isn't me dressing anything up.  The concept of enlightened self interest has been around in psychological circles for many years.

Your description of meeting ones needs while meeting the needs of others is, in fact, a description of enlightened self-interest.




Right, Kevin.  There is a logical reason for the "put your own oxygen mask on before helping your children with theirs" sign.  If you're not addressing your own needs, you won't be able to help with others'. 

On the other hand the "greed is good" philosophy obviously works well enough for the psychopaths among us to keep enough of them surviving and reproducing to be a continual problem.  We really haven't worked out a sufficiently fine tuned asshole control method to prevent them from rising to positions of power and ultimately causing widespread disasters like WWII and the current global financial crisis (to mention just two of thousands over the sad history of our species).  

The concept of one person one vote has helped, but we've not managed to figure out a reliable way of avoiding the subversion of this idea over time.   The authors of the US constitution (following in the footsteps of the architects of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment thinkers gave it their best shot, but 200 years on, we seem to be running into the same issues that prompted the French and American revolutions (i.e.  assholes in leadership positions).  

We've managed to define our terms a bit better (assholes -> psychopaths) and neuroscience has found MRI scan differences between psychopaths and "normal" people, but we still don't know how to sideline the (apparently evolutionarily inevitable) predators among us in a reliable, permanent way.   The less intelligent predators can be caught and jailed, but meanwhile the brighter ones are successfully lobbying for privately owned prisons and profiting from our limited ability to control the activities of their less bright brothers.

Kevin - OK then - we must agree therefore.....  I can see the value in understanding that we are motivated for our own self interest - but if this leads us to thinking that therefore we only need to what is in our own self interest then I think they are mistaken.  Understanding that we are motivated by our own self interest, should then give us a self awareness that allows us to sometimes act against our own self interest or in the interest of someone else, because we wish to give something to someone else, and know this in a conscience sense.  Awareness is the only reason that enlightened self interest is of value.  It's what you do with this awareness that is next - the next level is also realising that to act solely for self interest is not in your or others best interest and therefore is to be continually monitored so that balance of myself and others can be considered.

Having read most of Ayn Rand's work I can tell you that her concept of selfishness doesn't have any enlightened part anywhere.




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