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"Objections to Ayn Rand's Objectivist Ethics"

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in response to reader comment: Man's Life is the standard of value for man

Submitted by Lactantius Jr. (United Kingdom), Dec 30, 2007 at 12:43

To Dr Whaley,

The system of philosophy defined by Ayn Rand deals with much more than ethics, but since you "accept Ayn Rand's Objectivist Ethics," that is what I critique, dealing with her ethical theory known as ‘ethical egoism,' which can be summarised as "selfishness is a virtue," ethical egoism meaning we should always choose to do things which benefit ourselves (aka selfishness).

Rand argued for a very specific sort of selfishness, an enlightened self-interest, which recognises that acting for the good of others sometimes benefits oneself, and although she was in many ways a skilled and an insightful author, her writing being addictive and remarkably compelling, in the final analysis, her worldview in its atheistic rationalism and outspoken anti-Christianity, does not hold water, being built as it is, upon the false premise that there is no God, in truth there is a God, the God who went public around 2,000 years ago, paying us a visit as Jesus Christ, the kid born in a shed at the back of a pub in Bethlehem, the kid whose birth divides human reckoning of time into before He was born, BC, and after He was born, AD.

Before critiquing Rand, I am glad to agree with her contention that "no more ultimate value than life can be conceived for any given organism, when life is defined as the fullness of existence appropriate to one's nature. But not only is life the highest value of any given organism; life is also that alone which makes the concept of values possible" (The Virtue of Selfishness page 16) which comports with the job-description of the God Whose existence she denied, Jesus Who was, and is God, saying "I have come that you might have life, and have it in all its fullness," also saying, "I give them eternal life, and no one shall snatch them from my hands."

For a sympathetic and kindly written assessment of Ayn Rand's philosophy, some of which a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ can affirm, John Piper's "The Ethics of Ayn Rand Appreciation and Critique" is worth a look, and it can be found at:- http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1979/1486_The_Ethics_of_Ayn_Rand/

Piper's The Ethics of Ayn Rand; Critique" summarizing why the follower of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot affirm all of Rand's philosophy, especially why they must part company with her having no place for mercy, and with mercy being at the heart of Christianity, it is at precisely the value placed upon the mercy of God, where Ayn Rand's contempt for mercy would have to be altered. If I am to be true to my highest value—the excellence of God including His mercy—my behaviour will have to reflect it in merciful acts.

Here now, is a brief critique of ‘Objectivist Ethics'

• Moving from the presupposition that we are naturally selfish, to saying we should look out for number one, is a naturalistic fallacy, which in point of fact is an illegitimate move, based on a false diagnosis of the human condition, there is nothing logically compelling in making this move, and so, her prescribed treatment is wrong.

• As a medical doctor, you will maybe have some knowledge of the distribution of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) in the general population in the US. Here in UK, in one textbook of medicine of my acquaintance, it says "that the strictly average IQ of 100, equips its possessor for no more than artisan occupation under strict supervision." Where does this leave the strictly average human being in Ayn Rand's "Objectivist Ethics" scheme of things, not having the necessary intellectual apparatus to use their reason as the measure of all things?

• ‘Objectivist Ethics' are arbitrary. Why should I opt for my own good, rather than the good of others? This "ethic" is not even ‘objective,' rather, it is subjective. What's the reason this view should be preferred?

• What's more, even if pursuing selfish ends is legitimate, is this the only moral virtue? And whilst one's good may be an object to pursue, it needn't be the only one.

• When interests are conflicting, what happens, who, and on what basis, adjudicates?

• Surely, the pursuit of selfish pleasures and objectives, with everybody doing what is right in their own eyes, leads to anarchy?

• If the rules of morality are only rules of human expediency, surely, they will only be obligatory as long as they are expedient?

• When an "Objectivist Ethicist" becomes a dictator, what then? Isn't it morally counter-intuitive to suggest that acting egoistically is legitimate for them?

• Ethical egoism presumes a universal relevance, with the egoist surely presuming a desire to see others accepting and embracing their viewpoint and acting on it. Surely, not having this presumption is a deficient view of morality. However, wanting ethical egoism universalising is surely excluded, since this would then oppose the ethical egoists own selfish ends, that is, the ethical egoist surely wouldn't want their ethic universalising?

• Can an ethical egoist be trusted when giving moral advice to others? Having their own selfish interest uppermost, surely excludes their being trusted, since the advice they give will be in their own selfish interest, rather than the interest of the one seeking the advice. How do you reconcile this with your practice as a doctor of medicine Dr Whaley?

• Do you agree with Rand Dr Whaley, that "reason is mans only absolute?" if so, is your faith commitment to this belief absolute? Is it reasonable to believe that man's reason is the only absolute? Can you demonstrate that this is so?

There we have it, what a comparison/contrast there is between Ayn Rand's ‘Objectivist Ethics' which declares ones own life and happiness to be the ultimate good, and God's Grace (God's Riches At Christ's Expense) demonstrated in Him sending Christ Jesus into the world to give us rightstanding with Himself. Amazing Grace indeed, giving us something we don't deserve (contrasted with mercy which is not being given what we deserve), we're not worth it, we don't deserve it, we can't earn it, it's a free gift from the God of amazing grace, do you want it Dr Whaley? and the marvellous nine-flavoured fruit it produces, which is, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In point of fact, the greatest human need isn't happiness, but forgiveness, and it's freely available to those who will ask for it, what a gift it is, what a Saviour He is, it's your call Dr Whaley.

With kind regards and best wishes

Lactantius Jr.

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