Pyschopaths & Ethical Egoists

Author Ayn Rand

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There seem to be some interesting similarities between psychopaths and ethical egoists.

Based on the stock account, a psychopath has a deficit (or deviance) in regards to interpersonal relationships, emotions, and self control.  In terms of specific deficiencies, psychopaths are said to lack in shame, guilt, remorse and empathy. Robert Hare, who developed the famous Hare Psychopathy Checklist, regards psychopaths as  predators that prey on  their own species: “lacking in conscience and empathy, they take what they want and do as they please, violating social norms and expectations without guilt or remorse.”

Interestingly enough, these qualities also seem to describe the ethical egoist. Ethical egoism is an ethical theory that individuals ought to maximize their own self-interest. This is generally contrasted with altruism, the view that people should (at least some of the time) take into account the interests of others.

Ethical egoism can also be cast in more general terms as a form of consequentialism. On this sort of view, people should maximize what is of value (V) for the morally relevant beings (MRB). The sort of utilitarianism endorsed by Mill is a form of consequentialism. However, Mill is clearly not an ethical egoist since he considers all humans (and sentient beings) as morally relevant beings. In the case of the ethical egoist, the scope of morality (who counts as a MRB) extends only to the individual. For example, if I were an ethical egoist, then the MRB would be me (and me alone). If you were an ethical egoist, then your MRB would be you (and you alone). As far as values goes, V could be almost anything. However, it tends to be things like self-interest, pleasure and happiness. Famous ethical egoists include Glaucon (as laid out in his Ring of Gyges tale), Ayn Rand, and Thomas Hobbes.

While this oversimplifies things a bit, those who accept ethical egoism generally claim that people are naturally inclined toward desiring “undue gain” and are not naturally inclined towards sympathy or goodwill towards others. Hobbes makes it rather clear that people are lacking in sympathy and are motivated only by the hope of gain and glory. In many ways, this view seems to cast humans as naturally exhibiting some of the key traits of psychopaths. It is no wonder, then, that Hobbes argues that people do not form society out of mutual good will or on the basis of being social beings. Rather, people form society out of selfishness and it can only be maintained by the power of the sovereign.

However, what defines the theory is not the description of humans but rather the prescriptive element. Proponents of ethical egoism endorse the claim that each person should act so as to maximize value for himself. Rand goes as far as to cast selfishness as a virtue and altruism as the height of foolishness. In a way, it could be seen that Rand is advocating that people act like psychopaths.

Of course, there are important distinction between being a psychopath and being an ethical egoist. One is that psychopaths are supposed to behave in ways that are impulsive and irresponsible. This might be because they are also characterized as failing to properly grasp the potential consequences of their actions. This seems to be a  general defect in that it applies to the consequences for others as well as for themselves This reduced ability to properly assess the risks of being doubted, caught, or punished no doubt has a significant impact on their behavior (and their chances of being exposed).

If Glaucon’s unjust man is taken as a role model for ethical egoism, the ethical egoist is supposed to strive to be the opposite of the pyschopath in this regard. The successful unjust man is supposed to grasp the consequences of what he does and hence acts in ways that are calculated to conceal his true nature. The unjust man is also supposed to have the impulse control needed to act in ways that make him appear to be just. It is tempting to conclude that an ethical egoist is essential a psychopath would good impulse control and a grasp of consequences. Or, put another way, that a psychopath is an ethical egoist who is not very skilled at being an ethical egoist.

Interestingly, when Socrates gives his rebuttal to Glaucon, he argues that the unjust man actually does not grasp the true consequences of his actions. That is, the unjust man does not realize that he will corrupt his soul in the process of being unjust. If so, perhaps the ethical egoist is a psychopath with an ethical theory.

Speaking of selfishness, I’m plugging my new book 30 More Fallacies.

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38 Comments.

  1. A couple of bits to keep you occupied | eChurch Blog - pingback on May 24, 2011 at 2:06 am
  2. Mike,is there a problem? Government isn’t issuing enough food stamps?
    It takes a leap of gymnastic proportions to conflate Rand with say a psychopath like Bill Clinton, if we may get down to examples. Where the latter type can be, usually is predatory, the former as both type and specific distinctly makes the point of individual rights V the pervasive notion of self sacrifice, paramount being the necessity of restraint on the avaricious aspects and exercise of power, the propensity and history of aggrandizement through and at the expense of others. Which I daresay is closer to psychopathology then the cartoon you draw of E E, or Rand, who you strive however clumsily to misrepresent. But I’m not doing that part again.
    Put briefly, in today’s climate it is altruism that bears the mark of psychic illness, the destructive view that one exists for others, and government as referee. We are not talking about dropping coins in the poor box here, innocuous as you struggle to make it appear. Rather it is the planned, systematic and unrestrained exploitation of those who produce on behalf, seemingly, for the needy, but ultimately for both the political class, various types of subsidiary hangers on, and worse, those who lean on the scam for their self esteem, in the millions. They care, you see. And it’s so easy.
    I searched for your “important differences” but instead only noted comparisons. I take it you are doing a follow up. As is I see only the conflation of non or minimal interference with psychopaths/predators, replete with the usual escape clauses and the “it seems” & “perhaps” crap.
    Did Glaucon favor reductions in rent subsidies and welfare checks? Maybe it was the idea of the Guardians, removing children from their parents, and doing a poor imitation of Sparta that made him unjust?
    Mike, give till it hurts, then give more, as Rand said, nobody will stop you. There is no such thing as collective virtue. But if there is, it depends on much more then government sponsored, so called altruism.

  3. Justin Holder

    Wow, you seem pretty upset JohnT. But, by virtue of your post there, I can’t say that I’m too sure why.

    You say that altruism bears the mark of psychic illness. What do you hope to prove by this statement other than you are included among those that Mike identified as considering only themselves as morally relevant? Many people consider other people morally relevant. Why is considering only oneself morally relevant healthy and rational, while considering others equally morally relevant is a sickness, especially since we humans enjoy a way of life that is predicated on mutual dependence within communities?

    I take “those who produce” to mean capitalist owners of businesses. You suggest that they are being exploited. This seems to presume that they “produce” in a vacuum before their exploiters come along and snatch what they have away. But is that plausible? Does a producer produce on his own? Does he assemble his products? Does he retrieve the raw materials? It seems to me that any large scale production that exists in this world is necessarily a team effort. It follows that any wealth appropriated by one person could only have been appropriated as a result of societal cohesion. Given this conclusion:

    1) How can it be psychical illness to consider the well-being of the society beyond the individual?

    2)If one person becomes rich by appropriating the fruits of production, and that production was only made possible by the efforts of many others, but those many others only receive meagre compensation at the behest of the single major appropriator, isn’t there exploitation going on within that system?

    Thanks.

  4. Sebastian Heid

    Hmm, the whole argument seems to rest on the very superficial similarity of ethical egoists and psychopaths to follow their own self-interest without considering fellow humans. But there already one has to hesitate because while that is true in theory for the ethical egoists, history has shown that a lot of psychopaths behaved pretty psychotic while being under the delusion of caring for the good of all mankind. But never mind that, that’s only where the general confusion starts. Glaucon for example never actually argues in favour of ethical egoism but simply argues that people would tend to behave badly (i.e. not ethical) if they would be removed from the scrutiny of their fellow humans via the use of the ring. The confusion of Rand and Hobbes is even worse. Ethical egoism a la Rand would be the admittedly simplistic but basically optimistic idea that if all people would care for themselves everybody would be cared for, while Hobbes pessimism basically states that people are unable able to behave ethical and hence need forced to behave properly by the state.
    I guess what this boils down to is that egoism is bad and being a psychopath is also bad, so clearly they are somehow similar. Mike, are you sure you gonna sell books with this?

  5. s. wallerstein

    As far as I know Hobbes might be described as a descriptive egoist, while Rand is a prescriptive egoist.

    That is, Hobbes thinks that human beings, whatever pretexts they adduce, basically behave in an egoist fashion. I’m not sure if Hobbes considers that fact to be good and actually, he seems disturbed by what he takes to be the basic selfishness of human beings, as if he’d prefer us to be more altruistic.

    Rand, on the other hand, seems to think that egoism is good, the supreme virtue.

  6. Justin, if you will excuse a not to pointed clarification, it is Mike who attributes psychopathology initially, not I. The rest follows, shall we say, roughly from that.
    Curious, Rand compared to or linked to Hobbes? Perhaps misrepresent is uncalled for. May we settle on distort?
    Sebastian, thanks, for a mere glimmer of a moment you almost restored my faith in the human race, whoops, does my comment stain me as a psychopath?
    S. Wallerstein, careful, Rand’s concept of egoism has been so bowdlerized as confound a proper understanding.
    As I said in my post to Mike, I’ve done all this before, so that’s that.
    Thanks to one and all for your responses. I do mean one & all.

  7. JohnT,

    ‘Perhaps misrepresent is uncalled for’. Yes, John it is.

    ‘May we settle on distort?’ No John, the word retains exactly the connotations of dishonesty that you mean it to.

    ‘Rand compared to or linked to Hobbes?’ In the limited respect that both can plausibly be described as an ‘ethical egoist’ this hardly seems unfair – nobody here would suggest they are on a par. You had the opportunity to distinguish Rand’s rational egoism from the ethical egoism some attribute to Hobbes (and indeed Rand’s individualism from Hobbes’ political philosophy if you thought the casual reader might confuse the two). But making an ill-mannered rant then slinking off with a refusal to engage with any questions that might actually test your ability to explicate and defend Objectivist philosophy is that much easier. And why not? Rand does insist that “man is free to think or to evade that effort.”

    As you say, you’ve done all this before – why do you choose to repeat it?

  8. Dennis Sceviour

    The definition of “pathology” literally means the study of diseases. The term “psychopath” directly refers to the assumption that abnormal thinking can be defined and “cured” by medical methods. This differs from the ancient Greek view that physicians healed the body and judges healed the mind. The definition of “psychopathic” is alluring in the sense that it is an alternative to legal judgement and its arcane methods of character correction. Before constructing a system of medical treatments for pathological conditions, two conditions must first be met; (1) that pathological traits can be defined and (2) that medical treatments exist to “cure” these traits. Neither conditions are satisfactorily met.

    First, there are hundreds of different definitions for “psychopathic”. Most are independent observations of different types of situational behaviour or decision-making abilities, religious beliefs, cultural conditioning, political training, and conflicting definitions of traits. For the most part, their best use is for studied insults.

    Second, there is no agreed treatment for a “psychopathic” disease. Medicine has not identified any curative drug, but has only identified neural inhibitors to sedate hypertensive patients. That is about all. Psychosurgery has offered no ability for improving ethical values. Some writers continue to propose an evolutionary approach to altering brain values, but there is no scientific basis for assuming any useful results. Re-education and psychotherapy has some recognition as viable method to deal with the “psychopath”, but again there is no agreed consensus as to a Utopian education, and people have different abilities in learning capacity. Thus, the recent trend has been to revert to the ancient system of character correction by legal punishment rather than a therapeutic cure. The Middle-East world is quite content to continue its practice of torture. The American government, starting with the Bush administration, has made a clear effort to put social development back 1000 years by reintroducing barbaric practices in Guantanamo Bay not only for character correction but information purposes.

    The immediate question is what any of the above has to do with “ethical egoism.” Utilitarian research has been into the various definitions for egoism, hedonism, intuition and common sense for moral and ethical decision making. The assumption in the research is that the purpose is for application to normal behaviour. Therefore, it is difficult to understand how abnormal “psychopath” can merely be a synonym for normal “egoism.” Egoism is an accepted method for some moral judgements. If I decide, Mozart is better than Rodin is, then the reasons are intrinsic. They do not have to have an altruistic or imperative measure, and I would object to a therapeutic “cure” from those who do not agree.

  9. Dennis,

    ‘Psychopath’ clearly does not ‘directly refer’ to the assumption that ‘abnormal thinking’ can be defined or ‘cured’. Psychopathy has nothing to do with ‘abnormal thinking’. To have abnormal thinking in content is to have delusions, to have it in form is to suffer from derailment and neither is a symptom of psychopathy. The Psychopath has an incurable personality disorder, associated with antisocial behavior, a failure to take responsibility for his actions or feel remorse and a propensity for, and proficiency in, manipulative behavior and pathological lying. Thus when deciding whether rapists or other violent offenders have been rehabilitated and should be released back into the community, having a definition of ‘psychopath’ to hand can prove rather more useful than having ‘studied insults’. The term has been understood in various ways over the years. But there is now some common understanding of the term and a fairly authoritative checklist for psychopathy designed by Hare which builds on Cleckley’s checklist from 1941 (who did not start using the term ‘psychopath’ in some entirely novel fashion). And in recognition of the fact that there is a usefully identified personality disorder clearly associated with the term, ‘psychopath’ now looks likely to be reintroduced into the American Psychiatric Association’s next edition of the their ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (where it was found until 1980). On a note of reassurance, although Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was conditioned – using rather extreme aversion therapy – against enjoying Beethoven, I don’t believe you are at any risk of having your aesthetic judgment of Mozart ‘cured’. Keep your eyes open though.

  10. curious, I tried to be both gracious and polite when signing off on my last post, thanking all, even an ill mannered mongrel like yourself. What can I say, everybody makes mistakes and mine was to confuse you with the normal people who posted.
    “distort”, you are such a clever mongrel, but maybe my point was that there was no difference, hmmm? “limited respect”, very limited, to the point of distortion. There isn’t even an elementary basis of comparison, but I’m sure you will twist the remnants of your mind into the usual knots to manufacture one. An explanation would be wasted, including my reasons for not repeating myself from previous posts.
    Ah, “slinking away”, did your canine mind equate short responses with said slinking? Is there such a thing as semi-slinking? I suppose now I am un-slinking. In any case and for real I will really and truly now slink away, as any normal person would from the presence of a foul odor or cesspool, take that as you will.
    Again, when I earlier signed off I thanked all, made a point of it & you, yet again, excrete your bile.
    Back into your kennel curious.

  11. s. wallerstein

    JohnT:

    That’s not the way we converse in this blog.

    I think that you owe Curious an apology. All of us, myself included, say rash things at times.

  12. JohnT,
    There seems to be a decorum that you have failed to abide by. And all discussions by necessity require a protocol. For otherwise all our conversations descend into useless insults. Nonetheless, I find people like yourself to be highly interesting. You are sufficiently intelligent to maintain a conversation, yet you are incapable of realizing the benefits of discussing in a socially appropriate way.

    I have some professional reason to be interested. I helped found a school for 2E kids. I assume you might ridicule such efforts despite my assurance that such efforts have been extremely helpful to the children in question. Honestly, I wish I myself would have had similar opportunities. My failures to understand my own inabilities to cope with the realities of society’s requirements caused me, I now believe, unnecessary distress in my 20’s. In retrospect I believe I had (and have) what would today be called ADHD. There are many other characterizations that cause such social difficulties: Asperger Syndrom, etc.

    You seem to be an adult with residual issues of a child that never realized the personal benefits of abiding by the amorphous social decorums of society at large. To you it might seem that such decorums are ridiculous and useless to the “truth”. I cannot know for sure since the anonymity of the internet protects us both, but you more than myself since I have been more excessively honest about my identity in my online postings. I have to ask you: what is it that you seek here? A confirmation of you superiority? I doubt that you will find it here, given the extreme and obvious bell curve deviation regarding intelligence on this blog. And if you believe you will, you are merely deluded by your inability to listen and your distractedness with your own genuineness. I think you have to ask yourself what such ingenuity brings to you in the end.

    What I can assure you with quite extreme certainty is that you will inevitably die. And therefore anything you do is ultimately of no benefit to yourself, unless there is a reward in the afterlife. If there is no afterlife, then all you do is only ultimately of benefit to those who will come after you. Perhaps you are attempting to speak truth to them. Somehow I doubt it. For if you were you would realize that there are many on this blog that share your conundrum. And unless you are somehow illuminated by the light of the Divine, it would behoove you to consider their points and respond accordingly.

  13. Your rhetoric is totally inappropriate, John. Specifically, it is unacceptable to refer to people as “mongrels”, and to tell them to “go back to their kennels”. And that’s too bad, because I think that there’s quite a lot that can be said in favor of enlightened egoism.

  14. Mike Labossiere,

    The M.O. of the psychopath explicitly delineates from the ethical egoist the moment they violate the rights of any individual. You didn’t mention that in your article.

  15. This article is as bad as if the John Birchers argued against the democractic party because it promoted soviet communism and was advocated throwing all conservatives into gulags. That is about as accurate as this article. Rand Never says never treat other people as morally relevent. She says over and over and over again respect the rights of others. She says never to lie cheat and steal. This is why I have yet to hear one good argument against Rand. Almost all of it is best on fallacies. It’s like people hear a sentence or two about her and just go from that. What she was really talking about was individual sovereignty. Altruism says fundelmentally that you are a slave to the group and it’s will.

  16. To all those who say John T isn’t being nice hwo would you feel if you went around saying be yourself and someone came up to you and said “being yourself means murdering and raping everything and sight riight. You freaking murdering rapist.” It would be hard to be nice. John T is reacting apropriatly to the passive agressives around him.

  17. I am willing to see that this article is completly dishonest and misrepresents Rand and I won’t say sorry for it. It is true. Ethical egoism simply says be yourself and do what you wish so long as you don’t hurt anyone. Altruism says you are our slave and we are all slaves to whatever is determined the public good.

  18. s. wallerstein

    Maybe one of the tests of the value of a philosophy is not so much whether it is true, but of the human types who are drawn to it.

  19. s. wallerstein

    Curious:

    The actions of those committed to a theory probably correspond to a human type: that is, certain human types tend to commit certain actions, although, yes, “human type” is an imprecise notion, while it is clearer which actions people committed to a theory carry out.

    However, since I suspect that very few people actually live according to a theory, whether they claim to or not, the test of a theory (for me) would then be what human type is committed to that theory or what kind of actions those committed to that theory carry out.

    For example, if we take, say, Marxism-Leninism, we would judge it not according to whether a classless society is desireable or whether capitalism exploits the working class or not, but according to how Marxist-Leninists in general behave or have behaved or according to what type of person becomes a committed Marxist-Leninist.

    Ditto with Christianity, with the New Atheists, with the followers of Nietzsche, with the disciples of Burke, of Rand, of Friedman, of Gandhi……

  20. You can tell a lot about a person by the company s/he keeps. Be that company people or ideas.

  21. “Ethical egoism simply says be yourself and do what you wish so long as you don’t hurt anyone. Altruism says you are our slave and we are all slaves to whatever is determined the public good” Posted by Greenghost2008

    I am not a philospher by training; I love philosophy because I love ideas. By proffesion I am a scientist in the biology field. I have never read Ryand and have limited understanding of classical philosophy. But as a regular human being the statement by Greenghost strike me as inacurate and really sad, and I feel summarize the discussion. Our survival as individuals depends on our ability to form a society, which means to be able to coexist with each other and sometimes to sacrifice for each other. Where was the benefit for oneself in the volunteers for WWII, the firemen in Sept 11? They died, no clear selfish benefit, but they died for their fellow beings, their country, their love ones, etc. There are countless stories in history, in our daily lifes, even today if you dare to look at,of great and small self sacrifice; just doing something for others, for your community, for your family without any real pay back for yourselves. I believed this behaviour was selected through history because it helped the survival of the community. And it is sadly true, that perhaps the indifference to others was also selected because some people benefited by hurting other people. Again, no need to cited the endless examples from slavery, torture, war and all the display of things we have done to each other. In the end, it is a choice a very personal choice of how would you like to live serving your family, your community, your country and grow in harmony with them; or just exploit them for your own benefit with disregard to anything?
    It is hard for me to imagine an “ethical egoist” as I understood the term here, without hurting others, because whenever there is a choice to make he will choose himself. It appears to me that some people are confusing the celebration of your humanity with egoism. I think they are very different.

  22. While what curious said is true. so what?

  23. Curious,

    Thank you for the explanation, it helps me to begin to understand, but leaves me with a lot of questions. It appears to me that the “rational egoist” position is highly contradictory and strongly depends on the definition of what harming others is, what appears to be very subjective. but for my clarification, I would like to present several scenarios and ask the members what a Randian would do or think:

    1.- It is freezing outside, someone knocks at your door and asks for your help. The person is not a threat to you. If you do not let the person in he will die. But let him in will have some cost to you. Is a Randian ethically obliged to offer a refuge and save his life?

    2.- A kid is clearly malnourish and he will die is he receives no food. Is the Randian obliged to help?

    3.- A Randian is in charge of a health insurance company, to maximize his benefits, he develops a strategy to legally deny benfits to customers when they become ill. He clearly benefits himself. Is he hurting others?

    4.- A Randian uses his money and influence to get representatives to pass laws that benefit him, low taxes, but passes the cost to the rest of the taxpayers. Is he hurting them?

    These are just some of the questions. Thank you very much,

  24. Curious;

    Thank you agian for your time and explanations. I stated that the Randian position appears contradictory to me not in the abstract sense but when it applies to humans. As I said, I am a biologist and any theory or thought system has to describe and/or predict reality. In my case for example how to treat cancer? what are its causes? etc. Any theory, idea or concept has to be confronted and tested against reality. In that sense, the Randian approach appears not to be applicable to human societies. It can be logical in the abstract or imaginary sense but not qualify as a true proved theory. Let me explain the problems I have with the questions I asked. In this response I will focus in the first 2 questions:
    1.- It is freezing outside, someone knocks at your door and asks for your help. The person is not a threat to you. If you do not let the person in he will die. But let him in will have some cost to you. Is a Randian ethically obliged to offer a refuge and save his life?

    2.- A kid is clearly malnourish and he will die is he receives no food. Is the Randian obliged to help?
    “As I understand it, the Randian would hold there is no obligation to help either person : “My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty””.

    Even though the 2 situations were similar as a society we treat them differently. In the first case, I believe you have alegal obligation to help. It is similar to let a person die in the street without offering any help. I believe the legal category is called deprived indiference. In the second case, society does not coerce you to help. Even though, this difference always intrigued me but anyway; it is clear that we recognized situation in which we must help. Why? Very simple because our survival depends on that, on our ability to form societies, which implies make bonds and take care of each other. I believe anthropologist call this the reciprocity principle; you do something for me, I will do something for you. Our brains seemed to be wired in that way; we seemed to be wired as social animals to help eachother survive. In that context, I believe the Randian approach is contradictory at least with this very basic aspect of human nature and societies.

    I welcome different opinions, because they will help learn. But for me abstract ideas on how societies should work that do not take into account basic human nature are contradictory with our reality.

    Thanks a lot for your time.

  25. s. wallerstein

    jmiret:

    I would point out that while some of us are “wired” to respond to
    a freezing or starving person, others of us are not, because it is obvious that not all of us do.

    Ms. Rand appeals, I imagine, to those of us whose reaction would be not to respond.

    That is, her thought justifies
    what I might describe as “coldness” towards those who suffer. Her ideas provide an ideological basis for the very real tendency in many of us to care very little about others.

    By the way, I am not a follower of Ms. Rand.

  26. S.Wallerstein;

    I partially agree with you. I believe that a lot of people will not respond to any/every person that suffers but the great majority will respond if the sufferer is close to them. I completely agree with the direction of your comment that there is a part of us that disregards the well being of others, particularly if we can put them in the other category. I believe this is a result of our tribal nature; we form groups/societies that figth against each other for something. But within the group we tend to be very solidarious. In addition, humans have proven to collectively disregard the needs of other for their own gain. But even within those groups that are insensitive to the other people, there are strong ties and the disposition to give their lifes for each other. I also think in terms of proportions, I believe the great majority of people behave in this way not all of them; you will always find exceptions in a population.
    I believe that Rand’s ideas provide an ideological basis for the very real tendency of groups of people to care very little about others when benefits them, even though these same groups cooperate extremely well in achieving their objective.

  27. s. wallerstein

    I think that this conversation is using the wrong words.

    Actually, there are better words to describe most human behavior than “selfish” and “selfless”.

    Most behavior could better be described using words like “thoughtful”, “thoughtless”, “indifferent” and “concerned”.

    Outside out of small circles of family and friends, most people are fairly indifferent towards others. Outright ill-will is rare.

    On the other hand, we can be concerned and thoughtful, especially when there is a social rule that calls for concern and thoughtfulness, say, in the situation of yielding a seat to a pregnant woman in the subway.

    (It is possible to be thoughtful and indifferent at the same time.)

    The type of cooperative behavior lauded by Martin Buber and by Noam Chomsky in their works on libertarian socialism seems to exist more on paper than in reality.

    The same person who is thoughtful and concerned when he or she yields his or her subway seat may be thoughtless and indifferent when there is no social rule or when the rule/law has fallen out of use: for example, riding a bicycle on the streetwalk through a crowd which includes small children.

    In still other situations the same person may be selfish, for example, the woman with the perfect smile in the bank who tries to sell you mutual funds which both you and she knows that you don’t need. In the above situation, selfish conduct is socially approved: let the buyer beware.

    It is clear that very few of us are psychopaths and very few of us are selfless.

    As for the person freezing to death, there are lots of homeless where I live, and no one invites them into their home, even on the coldest nights. The Church does run some shelters, and on the coldest nights, the government opens some public spaces, for example, gyms, for them to sleep.

  28. I’ve been reading the comments since my last post. I’m glad that even though Rand’s position is not the popular one that now it seems to be pretty clearly understood. I am glad for that at least and I like to think this went from a crappy start to a decent finish.

  29. I would help anyone i can if the cost wasn’t that high. If it toke less than an hour and little money. This is because I like to think that if I do it everyone else will be mroe likly to do it. this makes it more likly that if i need help I might find it. I may be a Rand type but I will help others if I can. I just won’t think those who don’t help are evil nor will I ever endorse making them help at the point of a gun.

  30. Thanks a lot to curious and s.wallerstein for a great discussion and sharing so much information.
    I want to clarify some statements. I was pretty convinced that you must act (legally enforced) if you see a human being freezing to death or in any condition that threatens his life. The legal figures were depraved indifference, negligience,etc. I searched the internet to find out more. I share the legal definition “PENAL LAW 120.25 DEPRAVED INDIFFERENCE TO HUMAN LIFE refers to a person’s state of mind in recklessly engaging in conduct which creates a grave risk of death. A person has a depraved indifference to human life when that person has an utter disregard for the value of human life – a willingness to act, not because he or she means to cause grievous harm, but because he or she simply does not care whether or not grievous harm will result. Depraved indifference to human life reflects a wicked, evil or inhuman state of mind, as manifested by brutal, heinous and despicable acts. It is evinced by conduct that is wanton, deficient in a moral sense of concern, and devoid of regard for the life or lives of others”. There are a lot of specifics to this definition and on how to apply it. After reading information in the internet, it is unclear for me if failure to act in the case of the frozen man constitutes a crime. I apologize for the lack of accuracity in the statement/example. But there are many case that you are compelled to act because we (society) value human life. the value of human life, according with the discussions in this blog, is at least in partial agreement with the Randian though (not to inflict physical harm)not clear for me with “objectivism” or “ethical egoist”.
    I do not know how to define truth; why something is true or false, and I suspect that it is a difficult phylosophical subject. I tend to judge ideas or systems of thougth by how they explain observable reality and their ability to predict things. In that sense Randians, ethical egoist and objectivist have, in my opinion, completely failed that test. Let me provide some preliminary reasons:
    1.- They do not take into account basic tendencies in human nature in a way that reflects and explains human behaviour. We are social aanimals or political animals, and we have major tendencies: one of them is to care and the other is not to care. To overemphasize one over the other is, in my opinion a mistake.
    2.- They do not help to formulate a vision for society that is viable. Overemphasizing selfish, me first type of thinking as the hallmark of great behaviour but then making exceptions when it is convenient (it is not self sacrife when the thing we value is so great) strike me as not very rigorous. It also naively assumes that if everyone is selfish we will reach a good balance, what is, in my opinion not true.
    3.- Leaves many important social issues unsolved. We can not individually solve many social issues they are too big for us to tackle. You will not want to go to war alone, will you? Why is it different to tackle together major social issues?

    It appears to me that these systems of thougth are very appealing to people that feel they produce a lot, are very rich and the products of their production are unfairly taken away from them. It is perplexing that this is the way that most of humanity has felt for thousands of years; slaves, kids working 18 hs shifts, serfs, low wage workers. Is there any explanation for this?

  31. s. wallerstein

    The question of what kind of society is viable is quite complicated, since no society ever fits a blue-print.

    I’m not entirely sure that Communism failed because it was “unrealistic” neither am I sure that a society approaching Rand’s model would necessarily fail.

    The main objection to Rand’s free market utopia for me is ethical: I believe that the state should provide free healthcare, free schooling including higher education, free childcare, free internet, etc. for those who cannot pay for such goods and others. Furthermore, I believe that those goods should be paid for by taxing the wealthy and corporations.

  32. Curious;

    I am confused, you seem to disagree with the objections but you appear to support them in some way. Let me explain my confusion;

    1.- Objectivists “do not take into account basic tendencies in human nature… We are social animals or political animals, and we have major tendencies: one of them is to care and the other is not to care. To overemphasize one over the other is, in my opinion a mistake.

    You wrote “But I don’t believe she denies that we are social and political animals. She merely insists that we should think of ourselves as indivduals not as ‘group members’ who should sacrifice ourselves to the group as a whole or to any other indivduals”.

    Isn’t the essence of being social/political to be part of a group,ie a group member, being this group anything you define: family, friends, religion, country? I am a member of my family, in that group a have a role and I am both an individual and a group member. It appears to me that Rand has a major failure in the concept that you can keep your individuality and be a group member, and that does not mean you get or do whatever you want. I am american,; I love America; I am a member of this society, but I do not condone or agree with everything this country does. I believe that Rand’s fails completely to understand this reality and that is her fundamental contradiction and flaw. the individuality she embraces is incompatible with life in society.

    “Overemphasizing selfish, me first type of thinking as the hallmark of great behaviour but then making exceptions when it is convenient (it is not self sacrife when the thing we value is so great) strike me as not very rigorous.”

    “Selfishness’ means paying attention only to the ’self’ that you are” “But if your life would be unbearable without your partner/child or some other thing you value then it is perfectly rational to give up your life – because your life would lack sufficient value to be worth living if those goods were lost (thus there is nothing that you truly sacrifice)” I am again confused with this. Would the life of any 9/11 firefigther be unbearable if they had not attempted to save someone they did not know? In my opinion, Rand fails to understand the forces that join us together; she fails completely to do so and in that failure she gives voice to other human beings that like her can not do so.

    3.Objecivism “leaves many important social issues unsolved. We can not individually solve many social issues they are too big for us to tackle. You will not want to go to war alone, will you? Why is it different to tackle together major social issues?”
    You wrote “The Objectivist will reject completely any talk of “social issues” and any suggestion that “WE” have to tackle the same. The Randian, as an indivdualist, is strongly opposed to that collectivist way of thinking altogether and will point to State Socialism and Fascism, as the logical result of people thinking in those terms. There are no issues for ’society’ to tackle collectively” Curious it appears to me that you make my point. Since Randians reject any type of collective thinking or activity, would they go to war alone? would they attempt to go to the moon alone? would they try to cure cancer alone? Individually, lost in time, with no society support or previous knowledge?

    The more I read or discuss this the more I realized the deep social failures of Randian thougth, and in my opinion the major hallmark of negating a society they live in, they nourish from, they get resources from. And in that context, it apppears to me that their phylosophy, if it qualifies to that category, is deeply flawed.

    s.wallerstein:”The main objection to Rand’s free market utopia for me is ethical: I believe that the state should provide free healthcare, free schooling including higher education, free childcare, free internet, etc. for those who cannot pay for such goods and others. Furthermore, I believe that those goods should be paid for by taxing the wealthy and corporations.”
    I agree with you but in addition to ethical issues, I believe that this will contribute to the overall well being of society and the wealthy people will become wealthier but not at the expense of other people. There is nothing wrong of being rich, good bless them; what for me is wrong is to do so unethically, ilegally or with reckless disregard for others, and I feel that even Rand will agree with this.

  33. Curious;

    First of all I want to reiterate my gratitude to you for having this discussion, and the time and exercise of fairness and objectivity you put in evaluating a point of view that is not your known. In my world that is the hallmark of intellectual integrity, a quality that very few can claim to.

    My comments “the deep social failures of Randian thought… the major hallmark of negating a society they live in, they nourish from, they get resources from… it apppears to me that their philosophy, if it qualifies to that category, is deeply flawed.” was a summary of my deep frustration with this system of thougth. I would have to say, I expected more. To be honest I would present the same line of argument if someone would be arguing that because we are social animals we have to always sacrifice for whatever some people migth interprept society wants for us. The point is I personally do not see the obligation for a conceptual confrontation between individuality and society because in essence we are both. We are individuals that belong and are shaped by the society we live in. In the end we are deeply interconnected. And in that sense I made those comments. I do not know what qualifies for little or major argument but for me the crux is that we are both individual and society in many ways and in my opinion any respectable system of thought needs to account for both.

    I am very grateful to you and to other members of this blog for engaging in such interesting and valuable discussions.

  34. s. wallerstein

    From “The Trouble with Ayn Rand” by
    David Bentley Hart.
    First Things, May 2011

    And, really, what can one say about Objectivism? It isn’t so much a philosophy as what someone who has never actually encountered philosophy imagines a philosophy might look like: good hard axiomatic absolutes, a bluff attitude of intellectual superiority, lots of simple atomic premises supposedly immune to doubt, immense and inflexible conclusions, and plenty of assertions about what is “rational” or “objective” or “real.” Oh, and of course an imposing brand name ending with an “-ism.” Rand was so eerily ignorant of all the interesting problems of ontology, epistemology, or logic that she believed she could construct an irrefutable system around a collection of simple maxims like “existence is identity” and “consciousness is identification,” all gathered from the damp fenlands between vacuous tautology and catastrophic category error. She was simply unaware that there were any genuine philosophical problems that could not be summarily solved by flatly proclaiming that this is objectivity, this is rational, this is scientific, in the peremptory tones of an Obersturmführer drilling his commandoes.

  35. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    At a bit older than age 14, I felt totally identified with Camus’s The Stranger.

    I think that that identification was and maybe still is common among teenage male readers.

  36. s. wallerstein (ex amos)

    Yes, Orwell too in my case. Especially The Road to Wigan Pier, which convinced me that socialism is the only “decent” option.

    Orwell’s use of the word “decent” always persuades. Who would want to be indecent in Orwell’s eyes?

    In fact, I still have my old copy of Road to Wigan Pier, cover price, 60 cents.

    On the back cover, Down and Out in Paris and London (which I no longer have) is advertised for
    35 cents.

    Orwell has an inimitable talent for establishing his moral authority and I still accept that authority to this day.

    He is also an increibly keen observer of culture and human nature, as well as a master of prose.

    His critical eye is incredible. For example, you read his essay, Inside the Whale, and he rightfully picks out Eliot (with whom he disagrees completely in political terms) as the greatest poet in English of his generation.

  37. Psychopaths and Ethical Egoists - Christian Forums - pingback on June 16, 2011 at 6:03 am
  38. The is rules we must all play in life, and they require us to work as one. Most people action and thought will never add up to there desires the truly sad part about this. The more we trying to decuss human thought and nature instead of living it by example we fail ever time to evlove. I read this whole decussion wondering is the defintion or clarity of the similarity going to be in the dictionary for us to define. It’s very interesting how you can view this in many forms. I feel in my personal opinion that we need a heart to surive that is true wisdom with alittle patient to let live and judge less we have accomplish something here. So what would you do tomorrow? that will make you a product of your envoriment.

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