The Merits Of Selfishness: Rand Vs. Aristotle Essays Examples
The concept of ethics revolves around ideologies and principles of what is right or not, and the emerging theories typically seek to predetermine justice and morality among a populace. Historically, philosophers allocate ample time in their determination to establish moral codes that not only help solve their plights, but those of others as well. The goal of such endeavors is to ensure morality prevails after a person or people decide on a solution and, as a result, all involved parties acquire happiness and flourish. Naturally, the history of philosophers continues to evolve as new philosophers borrow and modify ideas from the old philosophical attitudes to tackling problems that are more recent. Among the ancient philosophers is Aristotle, whose brilliance and influence has asserted his position among renowned scholars. Next, there is Ayn Rand a modern philosopher who bases her philosophical teachings on the man’s views and beliefs. Expectedly, both scholars concur on the standard value of the life of every individual; therefore, anything done to protect a life is moral while that which ends it is evil. Concurrently, since complete happiness is the ultimate goal for all human beings, both Aristotle and Rand conceptualize methods through which people can have the best lives. However, there are considerable differences between the two philosophers. Aristotle did not give an outline of the ideal human life; instead, the theorist observed his society and gave theoretical conceptualizations of the best life a person can lead. On the other hand, despite her praise for Aristotle, Ayn Rand’s views appears to revolve around what she insists is a hindrance to the survival of humanity. Consequently, while Aristotle’s views are virtue-based, Rand’s are rule-based and for that sole purpose, it is safe to refute that selfishness is the way to go.
At a personal level, rule-based ethics is not universal. On the contrary, if a rule for morality is rigid without any loophole for change then it renders all calls for justice redundant by forcing an action even if it is wrong. On the other hand, the virtue-based ethics are more flexible because they encourage the application of common sense when dealing with any situation. That is why a utilitarian will support the execution of an innocent man because the majority wants it so while the virtue ethics individual considers the context of an action before judgment.
Rand’s first premise is that self-interest is moral and justifiable because it brings out the best qualities of a person, but personal qualities will not ensure survival or protection. According to the theorist, ethics is “a morality of rational self-interest or of rational selfishness” that encourages “concern with one’s own interests” (8). Consequently, the morality in Rand’s perceptions stems from self-preservation, which can come at the expense of other people. On the other hand, Aristotle poses a worthwhile question; “how can prosperity be guarded and preserved without friends? (127). Given, Aristotle encourages his readers to exercise self-love before extending the love to other people, but, in his that advice he also points out the need to assess friends before loving them (157). Aristotle’s stand reinstates the notion of the flexibility of virtue-based ethics in the determination of morality while Rand’s views have obvious flaws. For illustration purposes, imagine a group of three friends with each of them possessing a particular quality that somehow keeps the group together. First, there is the wealthy one who always buys the drinks and loans money to the other two. Next, there is the listener who would readily lend an ear and offer advice while the last one is always jealous but remains with the group because he wants to belong somewhere. Now, in Rand’s views, it is best for each of the friends to consider his or her needs before looking to help the others. On the other hand, Aristotle stands for the idea of assessing the friends and concentrating on the one that seems to offer more benefits. In light of Aristotle’s question about wealth, what would ensue if an arsonist is about to set the house of the prosperous one on fire in the full sight of the other two friends? If the wealthy friend opts to protect his or her self-interests as per Rand’s views, none of the friends will see the need to call the police because of possible resentments. On the contrary, if he keeps the calm and compassionate friend, his house will have a savior. The bitter friend does not make a difference because he is a jealous fellow. In that sense, selfishness will ruin a life because it does not allow friendships or social cohesiveness that protects the interests of an individual. After all, Rand’s ethics is “such an extreme philosophy that nobody, with the possible exception of certain monks, would find it congenial” (Rachels 196).
On her second premise, Rand stands for the idea that rational self-interest assists the public by encouraging an intellectual integrity that will ensure optimum productivity from all persons. “The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest” (Rand 7). In her misplaced views, Rand believes that encouraging personal interests will aid the society by discouraging an immoral behavior, among which there are criminal activities. In “Nicomachean Ethics”, Aristotle points out that self-love often encourage the gratification of appetites and feelings of the “irrational elements of the soul” (156). In such an instance, Aristotle recommends that society reproach such men since their behavior can endanger other people. Naturally, Aristotle’s views provide one with the ability to sway his or her decision based on the context and even the possible outcomes of too much self-love. Self-preservation encourages the use of any means possible to ensure that a person achieves his or her personal interests. Therefore, rather than protect the society, Ayn Rand places the public in potential danger because for the impoverished and jobless persons, any means possible may include robbery with violence and murder. After all, one of the basic needs for self-preservation is food, so what happens when the poor decide to steal from other hardworking persons within the community? In her beliefs, any act towards self-interest is moral; therefore, that kind of violence is not punishable under the rules of justice. In addition, James Rachels reckons that Rand’s whole writing condemns the idea of a person sacrificing his or her life for the benefits of other people. According to Rachel’s “a person’s life consists (in part) of projects undertaken and goods earned and created” and anything else that the individual possesses (195). Thus, the selfishness Rand advocates is double-edged as it leaves all persons at risk of suffering in the name of self-interests.
Conclusively, the idea of an ethical theory is to have a guideline on what to do when a person faces a moral dilemma, and the ideas have to be concise and universal to increase their reliability. Obviously, Ayn Rand does not provide concrete support for her views, and her assertions have flaws that encourage more questions instead of providing answers in the decision-making processes. As mentioned before, rule-based ethics frequently provide specific rules that determine a person’s actions for him or her. The problem with such forms of ethical rules is that they cannot foresee the future or alter the instructions to fit the problems as they emerge. Simultaneously, Rand’s rules are a perfect illustration of the same. In the end, in accordance with Aristotle’s views, selfishness can be both beneficial and detrimental depending on the recipient of the selfish deeds. Therefore, because complete selfishness is unacceptable, and one cannot claim to have a philosophical attitude if he or she assumes double standards, it is safer to disagree with the calls for selfishness.
Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. W.D. Ross. Ontario: Batoche Books, 1999. Print.
Rachels, James. "Ethical Egoism." Shafer-Landau, Russ. Ethical Theory An Anthology. 2nd. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2013. 193-199. Print.
Rand, Ayn. The Virtue of Selfishness. New York: Signet, 1964. Print.