Philosophy Weekend: Why Ayn Rand Is Still Wrong

Being A Writer Existential Psychology

The producers of last year's film Atlas Shrugged: Part One, based on Ayn Rand's controversial 1957 novel about heroic business vs. corrupt government in a mythical USA, have just announced that the second installment in the three-part series will be released in 2012. The first installment got poor reviews and failed to pack theaters, so there was some uncertainty as to whether the second and third installments would ever secure funding. But it wouldn't be very Randian to yield to bad reviews, so I'm not surprised these filmmakers have found a way to persevere.

Ayn Rand was a hot-button topic through 2011, and there's no sign that the fiery author-philosopher's newly popular Objectivist ideology won't stir up the same intense debates in 2012. An avowed Randian named Paul Ryan remains one of the most influential Republicans in Congress, and Presidential candidate Mitt Romney seems to agree with Paul Ryan's plan to drastically cut Social Security. That doesn't mean Mitt Romney is an Objectivist (though, we can imagine, he'd probably become one if necessary). But it does mean that the controversy over entitlements for middle-class Americans and safety nets for the poor will continue to be a gigantic topic of public debate through the upcoming election year. This is the controversy that Objectivists eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The ghost of Ayn Rand will continue to make herself felt in 2012.

I can tell that Ayn Rand is still hot by looking at the continuing sales of my short book Why Ayn Rand is Wrong (and Why It Matters). I'm about to pass the 1000 sales mark for this modest publication, and it's still selling more copies each month than the month before. There are 72 comments (some of them brilliant, some of them absolutely ridiculous) on the book's Amazon page, and several readers have also posted critiques of the book (sometimes harsh ones) on Litkicks.

I love it when readers give me negative or positive feedback about this book, and I don't mind the criticism. I'm aware that I advance some unusual (some might even say "quirky") ideas to support my argument, and I'm not surprised that many readers are initially put off by some of my premises or methods. (I do think, though, that the book stands up to close examination, which is why I always try to respond to a serious critique.)

If I told you how many emails I've now exchanged with a very smart, stubborn and sometimes infuriating Objectivist named John, a technology executive in Oklahoma City, you'd think we were both crazy. This began several months ago when he emailed me to let me know that my book was "a nice try" but a failure. Since then, we have kept a furious debate about Ayn Rand knocking back and forth, in hundreds of emails and Facebook posts. It's been a tough wrestling match for me, and I hope for him too, but neither of us have pinned the other one yet.

One thing that always blows my mind when I argue with John is that he rejects all my classic philosophy reference points, on Objectivist grounds. He spits at the mention of Plato, or Immanuel Kant, or William James. (As did Ayn Rand. And, like Ayn Rand, he only respects Aristotle, who unfortunately I've always found dull and mechanical.)

John also rejects the use of metaphor in debate (it's apparently a Platonic technique), which pretty much empties my whole bag of tricks. Still, he and I have excellent detailed arguments that often force us both to face up to unexpected challenges to the ideals we hold closest.

John's primary attack on my book Why Ayn Rand is Wrong is about my suggestion that Ayn Rand's entire concept of selfish ethics is based on a linguistic misunderstanding, because we do not actually use the word "self" only to refer to individual selves, but also to refer to groups we're a part of. I give an example in the book: a Mets fan walking down a street in Queens, New York and asking a neighbor "how'd we do today?". The word "we" is clearly a self-reference here, but it's not a reference to an individual self. If the word "self" does not always denote a determinate thing, but rather has a fluid meaning, than the word "selfish" must also be indeterminate and fluid. Ayn Rand's doctrine of the morality of selfishness, therefore, is shown to have less of a clear meaning than it appears to have at first glance.

John is revolted by any philosophy that entertains the idea of a "group self", and we have challenged each other about this many times. It's fascinating how many different ways there are to look at the question. Recently John sent me a picture of siamese-twin babies, joined at the scalp. "This is what your 'group self' feels like to me," he wrote.

I admit that the concept of a "group self" is hard to wrap the brain around. It certainly has validity in some contexts (a group self certainly exists on a linguistic level, as I explain above). The idea of a "group consciousness" can also be illuminating as an explanation for certain political trends, for certain patterns of history and social development, for the distinct and sometimes untraceable ways that crowds behave. Does the concept of a group self also have any validity, then, within ethical philosophy? Do we sometimes act, not on behalf of an individual self, but on behalf of a group self? I suggest in Why Ayn Rand is Wrong that the "we" seems to have as much moral standing as the "I", and that this is why it's correct to reject Ayn Rand's doctrine of selfish ethics.

John doesn't agree, and I've got to admit he's got some good arguments against my concept of a group self. But, I keep reminding him, I don't actually need to prove that a group self exists in order to present a coherent and feasible rebuttal to Ayn Rand's philosophy. I only need to show that she might be wrong when she says things like this:

Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life.

Speak for yourself, Ayn! This does not describe my understanding of my own moral purpose in life. I will agree that happiness is the moral purpose of my life, but not my happiness. I seek the happiness of myself, my family and loved ones, my friends and co-workers and neighbors, even of my strangers and my enemies.

This is because I know I exist as part of some entity or entities greater than just myself -- my family, my city, my world. It can be hard to explain this concept of a collective self-identity. But Ayn Rand has presented her formulations as absolute rational truth, and has declared that no fully rational person can refute her Objectivist philosophy. In order to refute and reject this, I don't need to prove that a group self is real. I only need to prove that the idea of a group self is coherent, feasible and possible enough that a rational person can believe in it.

And in fact I do believe in it (though I sometimes have trouble even explaining what this "it" is). But I don't have to be able to explain it or define it to be allowed to feel it, to recognize it.

I attempt in Why Ayn Rand is Wrong to explain my belief in a collective self-identity in functional or philosophical terms. John from Oklahoma City doesn't think I do a very good job of explaining this, and the truth is that I'm still figuring out how to explain and defend some of the suggestions I present in this book. I still haven't shown John that a group self must be a valid ethical concept, but John also hasn't been able to prove to me that the concept cannot be meaningful or real. So I've still got a leg to stand on. Or maybe two.

Next week, I'd like to share with you another fascinating response I recently received to Why Ayn Rand Is Wrong, from a race car engineer and video game expert in Italy. Stay tuned ...

This article is part of the series Philosophy Weekend. The next post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Groupthink, Group Mind. The previous post in the series is Philosophy Weekend: Where This Is Heading.
43 Responses to "Philosophy Weekend: Why Ayn Rand Is Still Wrong"

by TKG on

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"Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life.

Speak for yourself, Ayn! This does not describe my understanding of my own moral purpose in life. I will agree that happiness is the moral purpose of my life, but not my happiness. I seek the happiness of myself, my family and loved ones, my friends and co-workers and neighbors, even of my strangers and my enemies."
______

Wouldn't they just turn it around and say, "Of course, it makes you happy to make others happy -- that's how you achieve your happiness."

by mtmynd on

Re: "Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life."

By quoting this line, I assume it is something Ayn herself wrote for others to believe, yes? I ask this because of the word 'your' being used not only once but twice in the sentence. If Ayn actually says this verbatim is not her statement taking on the note of a preacher?

Had she stepped off her high horse and read what she wrote I would argue that a simple rephrasing of that to : 'Achievement of happiness is the purpose of living' would be far less preachy and more thoughtful for the reader.

by Alice on

I very much look forward to reading your book, because I am not a fan of Objectivist philosophy.

The one thing that stumps me though, is the same as what TGK has said, wouldn't the fulfilment one someone else's happiness then fulfil your own? Even something utterly selfless like dying for a child, their happiness makes you happy. Wouldn't you have to do something for someone you despise for this to be refuted? Help me! I'm in a conundrum.

I am very interested in your idea of a group-self, especially when you want to champion state assistance for the poor etc... how are they meant to achieve their happiness without the resources to do so? Think of what people would have to do without the means to achieve their definition of their happiness (as of course happiness is subjective not objective) that'd end in people doing some pretty weird stuff (maybe even murder?) in my opinion.

by w.j. wiippa on

I saw an old black and white version of Rand's The Fountainhead in the theatre in Berkeley, CA where--an usher told me they were architecture majors--the audience did everything but throw tomatoes at the screened, viz., they hissed and ridiculed but did not disrupt the experience.

I did not get a thing from that viewing.

I do not know what I read of Rand's. I saw a film biography treatment and it seemed she was running a racket with her objectivism. (Hey! That's the ticket!)

Rand got short shrift in the Penguin Dictionary of philosophy and doesn't merit attention in others. Why should she if she has no respect for the godfather of pragmatism, William James?

Alan Greenspan was a fan and he can take credit for our economy. I saw him on CSPAN when he said to Congressman Waxman, "I was wrong" and i was on pain-pills and booze for my broken ankle and thought I was flipping out.

http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Ayn+Rand

Rand's political views, reflected in both her fiction and her theoretical work, emphasize individual rights (including property rights) and laissez-faire capitalism, enforced by a constitutionally limited government. She was a fierce opponent of all forms of collectivism and statism,[3][4] including fascism, communism, socialism, and the welfare state,[5] and promoted ethical egoism while rejecting the ethic of altruism.[6] She considered reason to be the only means of acquiring knowledge and the most important aspect of her philosophy,[7] stating, "I am not primarily an advocate of capitalism, but of egoism; and I am not primarily an advocate of egoism, but of reason. If one recognizes the supremacy of reason and applies it consistently, all the rest follows.

(If she was a Christian, she would have had a store-front church.)

Rand completed a three-year program in the department of social pedagogy at Petrograd State University.

At the university she was introduced to the writings of Aristotle and Plato, who would form two of the greatest influences and counter-influences respectively on her thought. A third figure whose philosophical works she studied heavily was Friedrich Nietzsche. Her formal study of philosophy amounted to only a few courses, and outside of these three philosophers, her study of key figures was limited to excerpts and summaries.

Along with other non-Communist students, Rand was purged from the university shortly before graduating. However, after complaints from a group of visiting foreign scientists, some of the purged students were allowed to complete their work and graduate, which Rand did in October 1924.

(Because of others' collective action, she was able to finish her education!)
She subsequently studied for a year at the State Technicum for Screen Arts in Leningrad. For one of her assignments, she wrote an essay about the actress Pola Negri, which became her first published work.[21]

In the fall of 1925, she was granted a visa to visit American relatives.

In the late 1920s, Rand worked on a number of writing projects, including movie scenarios, short stories, and a novel called The Little Street. The hero of The Little Street was described as having "the true, innate psychology of a Superman" and was to be based on an idealized portrait of child killer William Edward Hickman, whom Rand described as a "monster." She described him as the "picture of a man with no regard whatever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul." Rand scholars have interpreted her notes for this book as evidence of her early admiration of the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche. The novel was never completed and none of the other projects were produced or published during Rand's lifetime.

Her novella Anthem was published in England in 1938 and in America seven years later. It presents a vision of a dystopian future world in which collectivism has triumphed to such an extent that even the word "I" has vanished from the language and from humanity's memory.
(This I read and it is a complete downer. I found it at the high school library. I cannot remember anything of it.)

Howard Roark, in Rand's The Fountainhead: The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.

While completing the novel, Rand began taking the prescription amphetamine Benzedrine to fight fatigue. Her use of the drug enabled her to work long hours to meet her deadline for delivering the finished novel to Bobbs-Merrill, but when the book was done she was so exhausted that her doctor ordered two weeks' rest. Her continued use of it for several decades also may have contributed to volatile mood swings observed by her associates in later years.
John Galt, in Rand's Atlas Shrugged: The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all their brains. Such is the nature of the competition between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of 'exploitation' for which you have damned the strong.

Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, was Rand's magnum opus. Rand described the theme of the novel as "the role of the mind in man's existence—and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest." It advocates the core tenets of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and expresses her concept of human achievement. The plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy. The novel's hero and leader of the strike, John Galt, describes the strike as "stopping the motor of the world" by withdrawing the minds of the individuals most contributing to the nation's wealth and achievement. With this fictional strike, Rand intended to illustrate that without the efforts of the rational and productive, the economy would collapse and society would fall apart.

In 1958 Nathaniel Branden established Nathaniel Branden Lectures, later incorporated as the Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI), to promote Rand's philosophy.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her nonfiction works and by giving talks, for example at Yale University, Princeton University, Columbia University, Harvard University and MIT. She received an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark College in 1963. She also began delivering annual lectures at the Ford Hall Forum, responding afterwards in her famously spirited form to questions from the audience. During these speeches and Q&A sessions, she often took controversial stances on political and social issues of the day. These included supporting abortion rights, opposing the Vietnam War and the military draft (but condemning draft dodgers as "bums"), supporting Israel in the Arab-Israeli War of 1973 as "civilized men fighting savages", saying European colonists had the right to take land from American Indians, and calling homosexuality "immoral" and "disgusting", while also advocating the repeal of all laws against homosexuality. She also endorsed several Republican candidates for President of the United States, most strongly Barry Goldwater in 1964, whose candidacy she promoted in several articles for The Objectivist Newsletter.

(Wikipedia does not say if she was on speed all the time.)

Rand's funeral was attended by some of her prominent followers, including Alan Greenspan. A six-foot floral arrangement in the shape of a dollar sign was placed near her casket.
In 1976, she said that her most important contributions to philosophy were her "theory of concepts, [her] ethics, and [her] discovery in politics that evil—the violation of rights—consists of the initiation of force."

The individual "must exist for his own sake," she wrote in 1962, "neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself."

Rand rejected anarcho-capitalism as "a contradiction in terms", a point on which she has been criticized by self-styled "anarchist Objectivists."

Philosopher Chandran Kukathas said her "unremitting hostility towards the state and taxation sits inconsistently with a rejection of anarchism, and her attempts to resolve the difficulty are ill-thought out and unsystematic."

(Viz., she was out of her league.)

On the 100th anniversary of Rand's birth in 2005, The New York Times referred to her fictional writing as quaint Utopian "retro fantasy" and programmatic neo-Romanticism of the misunderstood artist, while criticizing her characters' "isolated rejection of democratic society." In 2007, book critic Leslie Clark described her fiction as "romance novels with a patina of pseudo-philosophy". In 2009, GQ magazine's critic columnist Tom Carson described her books as "capitalism's version of middlebrow religious novels" such as Ben-Hur and the Left Behind series.

Rand's books continue to be widely sold and read, with 25 million copies sold as of 2007, and 800,000 more being sold each year according to the Ayn Rand Institute.In addition, the Ayn Rand Institute provides 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels every year for free to high schools throughout the United States.

In 1991, a survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club by the Information Analysis System Corporation asked 5,000 Book-of-the-Month club members what the most influential book in the respondent's life was. Rand's Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible.

Although Atlas Shrugged was not listed on the 1998 Modern Library "100 Best Novels" list, the Internet generated readers poll placed four of her books on the top 100 Novels list, with it taking the top position, while another, The Virtue of Selfishness, topped the Readers list for 100 Best Nonfiction. Books by other authors about Rand and her philosophy also appeared on the nonfiction list.

The validity of such lists is in dispute.

Freestar Media/Zogby polls conducted in 2007 found that around eight percent of American adults had read Atlas Shrugged.

Rand or her works have been referenced on such television shows as Mad Men and Frasier, animated series such as Futurama, South Park and The Simpsons,

There is a photo of a guy carrying an "I AM JOHN GALT" placard at a Tea Party rally.

...the left-leaning Mother Jones remarked that "Rand's particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed", while The Nation alleged similarities between the "moral syntax of Randianism" and fascism.

Rand's foundation has supported research at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Pittsburgh, Duke University and other schools. (Maybe you can still put in for a grant, Levi!)
Your correspondent must weigh in with more than the snide asides. In university, the only conclusion is that rules-ethics rules and the problem is we all have to agree to follow the rules and everyone--think of Lou Rawls' veil of justice--gets the same shake, e.g., Alan Greenspan's reality distortion field cannot: 1. buck basic supply and demand reality, and 2. if you let the fox into the chicken coop, there will only be feathers there when it is finished
The USA is where it is because of the sacrifice of those who came over on the Middle Passage, the genocide of the Native Americans, and economic and political refugees, of which Rand was one. Relatives helped her out.

Her legacy is a foundation that pushes her half-baked poison. I never read her because I did not have the chance. Neither do I read Creationism.

Three books that I do want to read are Rorty's Achieving Our Country, Nozick's tome, Anarchy..., and lastly Sartre's Being and Nothingness, all to round out my Weltanschauung. I also want to find Pappas' book on Dewey's ethics.

by Levi Asher on

TKG and Alice, it is this circular nature of happiness that is my very point. The fact that this puzzle exists explains why Ayn Rand's principle of selfish ethics appears to be more meaningful and powerful than it is.

Take the following two statements:

a) I want my children to be happy because it makes me happy.

b) I want my children to be happy.

According to Objectivism, a) is the valid formulation. I believe this is a remnant of a linguistic and logical confusion. I don't want my children to be happy because it makes me happy. I simply want my children to be happy.

In other words, I believe that there are many situations in life where the individual "I" becomes irrelevant. When I say the words in b), I am expressing the simplest and most complete form of this thought. It's a philosophical mistake to think that the individual "I" is so omnipresent that it must insert itself into every thought. When I wish for my children to be happy, my individual self actually has no part of that thought. Once you realize this, Ayn Rand's "selfish ethics" loses a lot of its apparent appeal.

by Cal on

There is an extremism in Rand that seems to appeal to particular personality types. For example, the precocious teen (usually male) who stumbles onto Ayn Rand and fervently adapts the "virtue of selfishness" and Randian individualism to a philosophy of teen rebellion is almost an archetype.

Another is the "reactionary libertarian," who cannot be content with any solution that allows government to help the disadvantaged, and may even oppose private organizations doing so, because it somehow interferes with what they view as "the laws of nature" ("survival of the fittest").

In my limited experience and view, Rand acolytes begin (as most do) with a very powerful psychological need to justify their own self-nature - whether this can be called "selfishness" is debatable, but it is definitely "self-centered." Commonly they have either led harsh lives where they truly had to fend for themselves, or much more commonly they lead (or once led) lives of privilege and security which they feel are now threatened by the needs and desires of others. Whatever the truth of their history, they feel their current situation in life is THEIRS - they have arrived here "on their own" - "nobody helped" them: they "did it all" themselves.

The idea of a "group self" would be deeply offensive to such a psychology - such a person would react to the idea the same way others would react to the suggestion that I come over and take something out of your garage every week and never return it. Even the idea that they used the resources of the group (highways, hospitals, electricity, etc) offends these types: "I paid my share," they insist, so whatever portion of road or public utility they did use is "paid for," so therefore "it is mine" and does not belong to the group.

My own suspicion is that a number of Americans have some unresolved authority issues that were likely created during adolescence, then expanded and reinforced in the working world. Radical or reactionary philosophies appeal to these personality types - Randian philosophy manages to incorporate notions of "rugged individualism" that appeal to anti-authority types, while creating a system in which the individual becomes "authority" in his/her own life. If you've never quite fully integrated all your aspects of personality and psychology into a whole and healthy mind, Randian philosophy would hold a deep and intoxicating appeal, as it would inform you that no matter what, you are 'right."

by w.j. wiippa on

The last 2 paragraphs of Cal's post succinctly and clearly resonate with the only personal experience I had with a Rand fan--a working stiff from the Midwest--who told me how the proletariat was indebted to the elite, to paraphrase Malcolm X, to give workers the crumbs after they had dinner.

It was the first and last time the guy talked to me.

There was a protest in the street for a Taipei celebrity whose child had been kidnapped and murdered. The guy asked me about it. The protest was against the kidnappers and he was indignant and asked me how such a thing could be done. I didn't understand it was a rhetorical question and answered him: "It's easy. They felt she was too cheap to hire bodyguards." The guy had a fit. I didn't think about telling him in a complete Randian police state that we would all have to carry pistols and have a posse of armed friends or bodyguards.

I was slower on the draw then.

by Bill_Ectric on

WJW makes a good point when he says, "Because of others' collective action, (Ayn Rand) was able to finish her education!"

Levi, when you say, "I want my children to be happy," isn't it implied, without having to say it, that their happiness would make you happy? I can't think of a single example in which "I want xyz" wouldn't imply that it would make the speaker happy if xyz came to pass.

Even if a person says, "I want to die," they are saying, at least in that moment, for whatever reason, it would make them happy to die.

by John Woods on

Levi:

I almost cannot take this seriously.

"In other words, I believe that there are many situations in life where the individual "I" becomes irrelevant. When I say the words in b), I am expressing the simplest and most complete form of this thought. It's a philosophical mistake to think that the individual "I" is so omnipresent that it must insert itself into every thought. When I wish for my children to be happy, my individual self actually has no part of that thought. Once you realize this, Ayn Rand's "selfish ethics" loses a lot of its apparent appeal."

Aren't you blanking out something? Would you mind explaining who is doing the thinking here? Who is doing the realizing here?

by John Woods on

Cal,

Or put another way, you could state the explicit terms of your "own" proposition by reversing and negating, which is that the collectivist "evades responsibility" for his own life. Now that we have a full context, let's evaluate which one is right and which one is wrong. An individualist who identifies his own values, and pursues them and takes responsibility for his own life. Or the collectivist who hides in the group always cowering in fear, always pawning his existence off on the rest of the group? How long does this continue before the whole thing collapses? Draw your own conclusion. Or maybe you could ask the Soviets?

Also, if you've ever read Rand, then you would never postulate that she says you are right no matter what. In fact, this is a school of intrisicism which is polar opposite from objectivism.

Objectivism says that you cannot be right, unless the facts of reality support your rhetoric, but once you've identified the factual basis for your reasoning and drawn the proper conclusions, then you cannot be wrong, no matter if 10,000 people disagree with you.

Ever heard of the straw man argument? Attribute things to Ms. Rand that she never said, and then attempt to knock her over? Nice try.

by John Woods on

W.J. Wippa:

This is a horrible mistatement of Ms. Rand's position on government.

She clearly states that in order for men to live in a civilized society together that we must voluntarily give up the right to "the use of force", that this right must be placed into an institution which is controlled by objective law, that the objective law is never to violate men's inalienable rights, and that force is only used in retaliation against people who initiate force against others.

by mnaz on

i wonder what ms. rand would think of our continual "preemptive" war and military occupation "in retaliation against people who initiate force" against us (or surely would, if we didn't act). surely she would be against war profiteering and our corporate welfare state?

seems most folks boil her philosophy down to the "supreme virtue of greed," or self-interest, and just run with it. but we've seen the not insignificant drawbacks of a purely greed-based, volatile economy several times in the last century . . .

by Levi Asher on

Thanks for thoughtful comments, everybody. Some responses:

Bill: Yes, exactly, this is the point I am making. I am trying to bring the language we use when we talk about our desires and goals and motivations into the simplest possible form. By doing so, we see that Ayn Rand's statement that "achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life" introduces an unnecessary emphasis on "YOUR" happiness.

A better and clearer form of this statement is simply this: "achievement of happiness is the only moral purpose of your life". How did that "YOUR" get stuck in the original version? It doesn't belong there, and serves no purpose. It's like saying "I want my children to be happy because it makes me happy". How'd the "ME" get in there? In fact, I just want my children to be happy.

Then, as John says, the next question is, "isn't there an I that is thinking these thoughts?" Yes, there is, but that's irrelevant to the meaning of the thoughts. Imagine a man and a woman who have children together. The man says "I want my children to be happy". The woman says "I want my children to be happy". They are both expressing the exact same thought. The fact that they are different people expressing the same thought is irrelevant to the meaning of the thought.

John, I'm not denying the obvious fact that they are different people. Of course they are. But isn't it interesting that two different people can think the same thought -- a thought with an "I" in it, even -- and be thinking the same thought?

I know this is tricky, slippery stuff. I'm not claiming to have a complete grip on it myself -- I'm using this blog space to think through it (with all your help). Incidentally, I wrote another blog post about this very logical puzzle we are discussing a few months ago. Here, I tried to address the same puzzle through a Buddhist lens:

What Is The Object Of Your Desire?

The main finding in this piece is that, when we want something, we need not only ask what is the object of our desire -- we should also ask what is the subject of our desire.

I hope this response helps to clarify my position at least somewhat.

On another topic, regarding Ayn Rand's attitude towards use of force and militarism, I do agree with John that Ayn Rand was not an advocate of militarism or use of force. Before I knew much about her, I also made the common mistake of attributing to Ayn Rand a traditional Republican/conservative pro-military attitude. This turns out to be not correct at all, though unfortunately some of Rand's fans in politics (Ronald Reagan, Paul Ryan) do not share her admirable dislike of militarism or military spending.

by w.j. wiippa on

I thought collectivism was dead, e.g., new roads in Texas are toll roads, private schools, gated communities, etc. Also continuously gun rights are advocated and crime is up only south of the border.
What continues to be achieved in Texas is mind boggling with the anti-government sentiment. (No politician ever asks for the removal of the huge military reservations and the personnel with their high rates of disposable income!)
Rand only lives on via her foundation and the 8% who've read her and the 29% who say they have and the foundation which is necessary for what? To avoid her works ending up in the dustbin of ideas?
After reading her Anthem, I had no interest in her other stuff. The movie treatment of The Fountainhead didn't interest me in her.
If I was going to flag a sign on a freeway off ramp, mine would say: "WILL WORK FOR FRESH IDEAS".
No foundation was set up for Nietzsche whose fans are as fanatic and whose Gay Science I read three times and whose other books I may read again.
After encountering the people at the lower end of the socio-economic strata and reading about those at the top makes me favor Hobbes' Leviathan. To preserve my own life--if I was working in the port of Houston and others nearby--I would exercise my privileges under the carrying concealed weapon laws. And it is that bad. And not likely to improve, thanks to Randians like Alan Greenspan.
Nozick's book won the National Book Award and was written in reaction to Rawls.

by Bill_Ectric on

The main problem I found with Atlas Shrugged (I've mentioned this before, but nobody ever commented on it, so I'm wondering if anyone besides me noticed it) is this:

The small community set up by John Galt and his followers is too contrived and oversimplified, as though Rand had tailor-made it to fit her idea of how society should be. It was like, each person provided a service that the others needed. I don't remember all the examples, but, for example, someone was a maintenance man, somebody else was a doctor, etc. The only ones I remember vividly are a tobacco grower and musical composer. Some guy grew tobacco and made cigarettes really cheap because he didn't have the government bureaucrats imposing regulations. Another guy was a composer, and there were some musicians who performed his work, and the music was so noble and uplifting that the others were willing to pay to attend a concert, so that meant he wasn't a bum; he was providing a service. But like I say, it was all too contrived, like they had the perfect balance of professions. This mini-society would presumably never have TWO maintenance men unless there was enough work for both of them. But how is that anything like real life?

by John Woods on

WJ Wippa:

It's not dead enough unfortunately.

I am appalled now at your blantant misrepresentation of Ms. Rand's positions not once but twice now, I think you should reserve your comments about her positions until you actually have a clue what they are.

To take a woman who all her life stood up for the ideal that no man should ever steal from another man for any reason whatsoever, and say that she is the reason you would need to carry a concealed weapon to work is a horrible perversion of anything resembling truth.

It is obvious you have not read her works.

Onto your next point, do have something against toll roads, private schools, and gated communities? Would you prefer that everything was free? I'm sure you would.

Finally, with regard to your autosuggestive assertion that everything Ms. Rand said must be wrong just because you would paint a new sign that says, "WILL WORK FOR FRESH IDEAS?" Here's one for you that we've repeating for an extremely long time. 1+1=2. Are you sick of that one too? Then by all means, let's destroy mathematics while we are at it.

by John Woods on

Levi:

I cannot grasp why you think that for two people to be motivated by or want the same things in life cannot happen just like that? It's just two individuals who happen to share values. Nothing more.

To jump from that, to a statement which says that now they are a "group self" sounds like crazy talk to me.

Levi, your reply to me, "Yes, exactly, this is the point I am making," sounds like we are agreeing, but my point was to disagree with your statement. I'm saying, you can't separate yourself from your wish.

I will admit, however, that I'm beginning to think you have something, but it's tricky to put into words. I don't like to use the word "existential" lightly, but it might apply here. If you imagine that a sentence is a stream, it is as though you are only putting your hand in one part of the stream at any given time. But I'm not sure how relevant that is to the stream. It is relevant to you, obviously.

I think it comes down to deciding if there is a difference between these two statements:

1. I want my children to be happy because it makes me happy

2. When my children are happy, one of my wishes is fulfilled.

I think you resist the phrase, "I want my children to be happy because it makes me happy," because, possibly, you think it sounds selfish. Perhaps it sounds like one of those parents who seek vicariously through their children what they wanted for themselves, even if the child doesn't want it. You are dipping your hand into the first part of the stream, so for that moment in time, that's the only part that is real. To you. But that's not what I think of when I hear the statement.

by Levi Asher on

Bill -- no, I'll disagree with you there. I don't resist the phrase "I want my children to be happy because it makes me happy" because it sounds selfish, but because the phrase is overstuffed with words that don't belong, and which confuse the intended meaning.

I'm suggesting that the phrase "I want my children to be happy" expresses a thought with a vanishing "I". The "I" is irrelevant to the intention of the statement. A person who is wishing for his children to be happy is not thinking of himself or herself at all. Therefore, the best expression of this sentence would not contain an "I" at all. It's only due to the insufficiency of language that we cannot currently find a way to express this sentence without an "I".

There is the universe, and there are a person's children, and there is a wish for these children to be happy. The person speaking the sentence might be speaking from the vantage point of his individual consciousness, or he might be speaking from the vantage point of some kind of cosmic universal consciousness. Either way, no sense of "I" needs to be present for the sentence to convey its meaning.

So, I reject both your #1 and #2 sentences. They both seem to show a parent thinking about his children with regard to his own happiness. I am trying to reach a purer and more direct expression of the thought that a typical parent will be thinking. In the purer and more direct expression, the parent is not thinking of his own happiness at all. So how does the "I" get smuggled into the sentence? If the words used to encapsulate the thought into language contain an awareness of an "I", then the words are insufficient to describe the thought. That's what I'm trying to say.

I'm not going to pretend I have this fully figured out. But this is the line of inquiry I'm trying to follow to its conclusion. (And, John, to respond to your objection -- the reason I am so obsessed with the deconstruction of our concept of self is that I have an intuition that there are powerful discoveries to be made by following through with this inquiry. I consider that I'm only at the beginning of the process.)

by Claudia on

Levi, I think the controversy Ayn Rand continues to generate has to do with the fact she's one of those rare public intellectuals who deals with pragmatic, not just theoretical issues. Congratulations on the fact your book on Rand continues to sell so well. I'm not surprised though. It's got legs, as they say in publishing:).

by John Woods on

Happiness is the successful state of life, pain is an agent of death. Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values. A morality that dares to tell you to find happiness in the renunciation of your happiness—to value the failure of your values—is an insolent negation of morality. A doctrine that gives you, as an ideal, the role of a sacrificial animal seeking slaughter on the altars of others, is giving you death as your standard. By the grace of reality and the nature of life, man—every man—is an end in himself, he exists for his own sake, and the achievement of his own happiness is his highest moral purpose.

But neither life nor happiness can be achieved by the pursuit of irrational whims. Just as man is free to attempt to survive in any random manner, but will perish unless he lives as his nature requires, so he is free to seek his happiness in any mindless fraud, but the torture of frustration is all he will find, unless he seeks the happiness proper to man. The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.

Levi: Why should your children being happy not fit into this category perfectly? How many people would be happy if their children were miserable? How many people would be miserable if their children were happy? I suspect that the argument is a non starter. The fact is that rational people want their children to be happy and that makes them happy. I hold with Aristotle that all rational men are aiming at happiness PERIOD.

by Aisa on

Levi:

The reason that you desire your children or any loved one to be happy is because they are (one of) your highest values. I value my children above all things, even my own life and this means I would lay aside my life in the realisation of that value. But it's not an act of selflessness, it's an act of self-interest. I set aside a lesser value (my life) to try to ensure the survival of a higher value (to me).

Try a different lens to look through. Look at the work of Marshall Rosenberg on Non-Violent Communication. He also argues that every action a human being takes is in pursuit of his own needs and wants. But the need or want to contribute to the well-being of others is a human need, he argues (this is explained by Rand as our response to the value or virtue we perceive in another) and so the satisfaction of that need or want to contribute is a selfish act.

You are just misunderstanding your own inner processes.

by Levi Asher on

Aisa, I respect the fact that this explanation rings true for you, but it doesn't ring true for me. The model you are presenting is still a model of existential isolation: I am a person, and there are these things external to me that are called "values", and I value some things more than others. This feels mechanistic, and doesn't capture life as I feel it.

I'd say rather that my interpersonal relationships are not external to me, but are a part of my basic makeup, a part of my basic self. Without the other people in my life, I would cease to be myself. I can have no concept of myself absent the influence of these other people in my life, and if I try to imagine existing without their influence, I see myself as a balloon without air, a collapsed structure -- a nothing. I wouldn't think the way I currently think ... I would be unrecognizable to myself. Therefore, I see these other people in my life not as "values" external to me, but as a part of who I am.

I like my car a lot, and I'll call that a "value". But the people in my life are connected to me in a much more intrinsic way than any inanimate object can be. I wouldn't cease to be myself if I didn't have my car.

Furthermore, I am not suggesting that I am different from anybody else in feeling this way -- I think this is how most people feel when they consider their own senses of self. Some people don't like feeling this way, and are bothered by the notion of interdependency. Ayn Rand's philosophy appeals strongly to these people. They have a right to believe that their loved ones are external "values". But I do not believe this for myself, and I see no evidence to back it up. I believe that science and philosophy will not conclusively prove either you or I correct on this point, so we are both holding "voluntary" beliefs here.

Thanks for the reference to Marshall Rosenberg, though. I just looked him up and I like what I see, though I may not subscribe specifically to his philosophy.

Am I wrong to believe this is true, but didn't Rand end her life dependent on the very social programs she spent a lifetime railing against? Lot of hypocrisy in that philosophy, isn't there?

by Levi Asher on

Thomas, I have heard that Ayn Rand accepted the usual government benefits that she was entitled to, but I don't think it's true that she was dependent on any social programs. This wouldn't make sense, because her books were very successful and made her very wealthy.

So, she can be criticized for many things, but I don't think she was hypocritical in this way. She came to America from Russia with nothing and was a self-made success.

by Frank Dixon on

Ms Rand's egoism is philosophically supportable. (See Spinoza's "Ethics Geometrically Demonstrated.") Her errors generally trace to her epistemology. She waxes at length in her book on Objectivism on the development of concepts, but does not appear to understand that concepts that exist only as words (e.g., freedom) are subject to reinterpretation as circumstances dictate. We are existentially free to act in any manner our nature permits, but our natural abilities vary widely from individual to individual. In any case, as other commenters have noted, even if we regard freedom as a homogeneous quality of humankind, we are free to seek happiness by any means within our power.

Ms Rand's failure pivots on her blindness to the fact that we leverage our individual power by associating and working with people who share our beliefs and objectives. Spinoza suggested, however, that those associations are more productive of happiness when they are grounded in reason. He reached this conclusion after a lengthy discussion of the emotions, recognizing that they are not objectively assessable, therefore not very useful in forming productive alliances.

Obviouly, because our individual powers vary, all associations are held together forces that cannot always be attributed to reason. We love our nation, and reason that its laws and customs work quite well, but love being an emotion of joy, and given that our nation sometimes does things that lead to personal sorrow, the unity is always threatened.

Good site.

by Frank Dixon on

Levi, ask yourself if there would be a difference between a person (living breathing, not corporate) saying, "I want children to be happy," and a robot making the same statement. A rebuttal might take the form, "both were programmed." If that's so, then the robot's programmer either wants children to be happy or just wants to hear a robot saying something human-like. If the living person is programmed, then it was by his culture. In either case, we finally arrive at asking, why the programmer (tech-whiz or culture) chose that particular statement from an infinite number of possible statements. I suggest that in the case of the human, his culture chose that statement for practical reasons: the world works better when people are happy. Or, practical matters aside, cultures develop such values as a result of a consideration of the opposite. Clearly, it doesn't matter that a parent may of may not say she wants her child to be happy. She would not, I suggest be judged by her culture as a good parent unless she actually did things to make her child happy . . . self love by any path.

by Levi Asher on

That's an interesting thought-exercise, Frank -- but do you really think a person is "programmed"? I don't!

Like Rene Descartes, I take introspection as my philosophical starting point. I know I'm not programmed. I can't prove that everybody else also isn't programmed, but I fully believe that nobody is programmed. This was the subject of a good Kurt Vonnegut novel, "Breakfast of Champions" ... but the character who believed that other people were programmed was the character who went crazy.

by Frank Dixon on

Levi, the word "programmed" as applied to humans is metaphorical. We learn from our experiences. More to the point, our experiences are of objects, phrases, and internal impressions (pains, etc) which are all meaningless untill our brains make sense of them. But all experience sets are different, so even if all brains were alike (which is unlikely), the sense they make of the world would necessarily be quite personal. In short, the individual mind is at the heart of all knowledge, both as developer and user. Hence, egoism is natural. Our knowledge is centered upon our personal and thus unique ability to make sense of the signals our senses provide.

As I said in my first comment, Ms Rand went off course when she placed too much trust in concepts. To exercise a common example, the concept "dogness" reflects no particular dog, and perhaps is remarkably diferent in individual minds. But our real experiences deal with real dogs, this dog, that dog, and they too are not only different in themselves but occur to us in different contexts that also contribute to the sense we make of the dog that is actually out there. In any case, whoever we are, the sense we make is ours. It is a product of our immediate sensations and -- among many other ideas -- of the emotions we associate with the scene unfolding before (i.e., within) us.

Conditioned (I think) by her youthful and presumably painful experiences in the U.S.S.R, Ms Rand raised the concept "freedom" to the highest rung of her ethical ladder. But freedom is not an ethical quality. It is rather a natural quality of all things, which men just happen to have more of than, say, rose bushes and rocks. And because men are egocentric creatures -- making, as individuals, such sense of the world as they can make -- freedom is exercised in as many ways as there are people. In itself, freedom is not a quality to be protected, it is a power to be exercised, wisely if possible.

In short, we are free to be capitalists, communists, recluses, or raconteurs, and countless noun-like things in between. We are free to do as we please.

Note it well, that Rand never said that capitalism was the best system imaginable. She said it was the economic system that left men freer than, say, socialism. That is, in her view, capitalism was instrumental in protecting freedom. But, as stated above, freedom is natural and cannot be reduced in the individual except be a diminution of his own physical and mental power. I use the word "liberty" to represent the amount of our freedom that remains after we have -- either willingly or by coercion -- delegated some of our freedom to a stronger power.

So politically, we can speak of this or that program (e.g., economy) in terms of two measures: one, how much freedom does it require us to sacrifice, and two, how well does it work to achieve some other defined objective. Ms. Rand, by placing too much emphasis on freedom, misses the point that we are quite free to exercise our egoistic freedom for the benefit of whatever and/or whomever we please. John Galt's pledge to live his life for no other man is therefore merely one of the dictums an individual can pronounce as the definition of what he regards as the good.

In my opinion, Galt's pledge converts his egoism (i.e., the power to make such a statement) into egotism, which is a commitment to self that wholly confines the egotist's power. It diminishes his ability to form beneficent alliances with others.

I believe I've already stated Spinoza's conclusion that we leverage our power when we fall in with those who share our beliefs. I add that it doesn't really matter -- on the surface -- that the shared beliefs are sensible. That Mormonism works for the Mormons illustrates this. It and other irrational belief systems encounter difficulties when they run up against similarly irrational systems, like, say, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. That, and only that, is why Spinoza emphasized reason as the best means to create a workable world. With reason as the mechanism, divergent ideas about the good can be beneficently analyzed, whereas systems grounded in, e.g., revelation have no rational basis for assimilation with or into similarly grounded systems.

by Cyril HInds on

The group-self is easily recognized as the collective influence on the single mind. A task is accomplished which supports the group as a whole and will not work toward satisfying the interest of one.
Yet, aren't all tasks done with a self-motivating interest? This of course does not include bodily functions--whether the release of excrements or ingestion of sustenance.
The wanting to be part of a whole is the fundamental “genetic” premise by which all humans begin. There is no possible way to disconnect from this. So, why is there resentment in finding truth in being selfish? We are born from two which builds to three, which is part of four (the parents of our parents) and so on and so on. Are we not shunning and throwing the proverbial stones at the first of us who left the trees and started to stand upright?
I would challenge everyone in this world to do whatever it is that gives them happiness, with only one rule to live by—“Do NO harm to yourself or others.” Not everything has to be complicated to the point of confusion.
Think how long this premise would last the first time a stock price rose because a group of people lost their jobs. I use the stock market not as a negative but for what it is---a contradiction to the beauty of human existence.

by David Hall on

RE: A person who is wishing for his children to be happy is not thinking of himself or herself at all. Therefore, the best expression of this sentence would not contain an "I" at all.

This assertion makes absolutely no sense. If not you, who or what desires to see your children be happy? Do you think parents are expressing a belief that the universe wants their children to be happy?

Regardless, I think you are vastly overthinking this. The essential point is simply that your life is yours to do with as you wish. If you want your children to be happy, does it matter why you want it? You do, and you may do with your life as you wish, so if you want to use it to make your children happy, that aligns perfectly with Objectivist principles, does it not?

The "I" is ever present, not because of the reasons you are obsessing about, but simply for clarity to warn against slipping into the conditioned notion that a rightful claim can be placed upon our life by anyone else's wants, needs, or desires, even if that other is a collective group or a majority of some collective group.

by Levi Asher on

Well, David, I think we're at the heart of the matter here. I know that some people dislike this idea, but others do believe that there is more to life than can be explained in terms of individual isolated existence.

by Chris on

Exactly. You seek these things for "selfish" (as an individual) reasons. These people's happiness serves you directly through reciprocity, and indirectly through group status and continued association with the group.

Also, as a holdover from our hunter-gatherer days, we get a feel-good chemical reward from giving to those we love: http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/generosity_brain

This is all completely hedonistic, and thus, selfish.

by Chris on

Another thing worth noting, As with the politicians above, Alan Greenspan was NOT in alignment with Rand's teachings when he became FED chief. He basically sold out in the literal sense.

From: http://constitution.org/mon/greenspan_gold.htm

"Thus, under the gold standard, a free banking system stands as the protector of an economy's stability and balanced growth...Periodically, as a result of overly rapid credit expansion, banks became loaned up to the limit of their gold reserves, interest rates rose sharply, new credit was cut off, and the economy went into a sharp, but short-lived recession. (Compared with the depressions of 1920 and 1932, the pre-World War I business declines were mild indeed.) It was limited gold reserves that stopped the unbalanced expansions of business activity, before they could develop into the post-World War I type of disaster. The readjustment periods were short and the economies quickly reestablished a sound basis to resume expansion...The excess credit which the Fed pumped into the economy [after the recession of 1927] spilled over into the stock market, triggering a fantastic speculative boom. Belatedly, Federal Reserve officials attempted to sop up the excess reserves and finally succeeded in braking the boom. But it was too late...As a result, the American economy collapsed. Great Britain fared even worse, and rather than absorb the full consequences of her previous folly, she abandoned the gold standard completely in 1931, tearing asunder what remained of the fabric of confidence and inducing a world-wide series of bank failures. The world economies plunged into the Great Depression of the 1930's."

Sound like a certain high-flying "maestro" of the markets? Greenspan is a liar and a fraud. Nothing more.

by Chris on

Also relevant, as he basically indicts himself. lol

"In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holding illegal, as was done in the case of gold. If everyone decided, for example, to convert all his bank deposits to silver or copper or any other good, and thereafter declined to accept checks as payment for goods, bank deposits would lose their purchasing power and government-created bank credit would be worthless as a claim on goods. The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves.

This is the shabby secret of the welfare statists' tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights. If one grasps this, one has no difficulty in understanding the statists' antagonism toward the gold standard."

by Victoria on

I know this is a long time after the last comment but I would like to share my thoughts on some of Ayn Rand's quotes found on listverse. I must first establish that I actually partly agree with her but only partly. This is not actually intended as a full rebuttal but as what I really think of her words.

"People create their own questions because they are afraid to look straight. All you have to do is look straight and see the road, and when you see it, don’t sit looking at it – walk."

I question as to how people will see the road if they are just looking straight. The road may not actually be straight. In fact, most teachers I noticed discourage this sort of mindset and encourage questioning because by questioning, people see their own paths. The people who do not question just follow and don't really know why they are following as such. These people could be in a very dangerous path and the road seen by looking straight may not be the best one. There are many roads in life people can take and people can only choose one. Once people know what road they are to take, then they can follow her instructions in this quote as to walk.

"The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me?"

This is a powerful quote, and is to be handled with care. On one side, it can create great contributors to society but on the other hand it could cause criminals to be even more damaging to society. This quote is implemented by criminals but it is also implemented by the people who make our society work.

She wanted a "separation between the economy and the state, just like a separation between the church and the state." (Not on the page or site)

Let me state this. The economy and the state cannot technically be separated. It does not matter how the government is financed though but the government will always be a part of the economy. This includes the case if the government is a business. I am a 15 year old teenager here and I admit that I participate in the economy even though I don't work. I am using my parents money like how the welfare recipients use the governments' money. I still spend and I have my needs which drive economy. My point is that the government will forever need money (though I question if it need be by taxes) and the only way to separate the government from the economy is to make them a voluntary organisation.

The church, on the other hand can be separated because beliefs are separate from the government and the church and the government are quite separate organisations. People can choose to participate in a church but as long society has money circulating around, not one person or organisation that is in this society is excluded from participation due to the very nature of economy.

In have seen in many forums, objectivists (and critics) throw insults at one another because they do not wish to defend themselves. Now, I even state that the very founder of this philosophy has offended her opponents, calling them "Moochers", "Looters" or "Subjectivist." I do not have any sources of this as this is based on observations.

At least, critic or not, Levi manages to respect his opposition's viewpoints and not condemn them.

by Chris on

Everyone's happiness is restricted by their productivity, and necessarily so. Moral happiness is only achieved by one's self, and cannot be obtained on the backs of more productive people. This is the definition of "unearned", which is to say, fraudulent.

by David Dieni on

We are social creatures, and we all seek happiness, and unless we have some personality issue such as narcissism, that Rand reeks of, then we love and therefore care, well for everyone in my case. First of all you have a socio economic system that is poison, it poisons everything, especially when in crisis and it attract psychopaths who create the conditions that have caused an explosion of personality disorders that are so destructive that we are all victims though we may not be aware. I will use marx as an example in the aim, of one world common owner ship etc. The point being, the idea is to produce what we need to sustain life, as efficiently and quickly as possible. And with planned economy efficiency you have surplus to have things like music studios for example free of charge, public kitchens and laundries to remove druggery and it is up to the individual as to how much or how little they wish to participate. There is no governing state. We do need to sustain life...and individually this can't occur without cooperation, it must be that. I think people jump to the wrong conclusions sometimes deliberately. What concerns me is a total inertia and lack of understanding of what is taking place, the backwardness that is encountered is scary...and I have no education, so I am not being a shit head, I am just worried

by David Dieni on

I like your site btw, I had reading and concentration issues for years (HSP) and well I am pleased I found my way here.

by Doug Hooper on

Sorry to be getting in on this so late but I believe your statements purposefully obfuscate the sameness of both of the sentences. The 'I want' part of the sentence indicates that 'my children to be happy' is desirable to me. If anything a) is being redundant and 'because it make me happy' should be considered a reflexive clause. We don't want things that make us unhappy we want things that make us happy or less unhappy. Sometimes our wants are bittersweet or the lesser of two evils but that's another discussion. Try replacing 'want' with 'don't want' or 'don't care if' in the sentence and your logic fails.

by Pedant on

Yes, they would say this, and it makes sense on some level. But I could respond with: "but it doesn't always make me happy to make others happy, I do it out of a sense of logic and morality. Sometimes it even reduces my happiness."

by Pedant on

"I can't think of a single example in which 'I want xyz' wouldn't imply that it would make the speaker happy if xyz came to pass."

If you use this to conclude that "therefore it makes the speaker happy," it is a known fallacy: argumentum ad ignorantiam. Also an argument from personal incredulity.

That said, I can provide an example. Sometimes I give up something that would make me happy out of a sense of duty, or out of logic. I either remain neutral or become slightly saddened. I feel no sense of happiness, even remotely, after certain actions. Yet I do them anyway because it "makes sense" or seems like "the right thing to do." Examples are: letting someone have my seat on a bus, giving someone the larger portion of a "half," agreeing to watch a certain movie when I'd rather watch another, going to a church to make someone else happy, etc.

One could argue that I do those things because it eventually makes me happy indirectly, but I know what happiness feels like, and the results of those actions sometimes feels like happiness and sometimes doesn't. Plain and simple.

Sometimes I even do things when no one else could ever possibly know about it, and they don't even gain happiness from it. For example: a lock at a communal entrance has a switch that prevents unlocking from the outside, and can sometimes be activated by mistake as I come in. If I notice my mistake, I disengage the switch so that someone else doesn't get locked out. No one would ever know I did that and they would go about business as usual. It doesn't make me happy, it just makes sense to not make other people's lives more complicated.

TL;DR - I'm like a Vulcan, so Ayn Rand's argument can suck a bucket of sand.

by Pedant on

Lol, you lead with a straw man and then end with a snide remark about using a straw man.

Imagine if an individualist went around murdering everyone and taking their stuff. Now imagine an entire society of people like that. How long does this continue before the whole thing collapses? Draw your own conclusion. Or maybe you could ask the Somalians?

See how silly that sounds? See how obvious it is that it's a straw man? See how you weren't fooled for even a second? This is exactly how your argument sounds. Try again.

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