36 East 36th St.
New York City
April 29, 1961
Thank you for your letter of April 1. I am answering it on the train, returning to New York from Indianapolis, where I spoke at a dinner of a journalist society (and also spoke at Purdue University.)
I am glad to answer any and all questions you might ask about the Objectivist ethics—and I hope that my answers will make the subject clearer.
To answer first the questions in your letter: You ask the reason of my opposition to social workers. The basic principle involved (which applies to all similar cases and problems) is as follows: it is morally evil to choose, as one’s full-time profession, any activity which is not supported by trading, but consists of alms-giving. Remember that man has to support his life by his own productive effort; living in a society of men does not change this fact and does not relieve him of his responsibility—it merely offers him the advantages of specialization and trade. Therefore, when a man is paid for his work (in a free economy), it means that he has produced a value (either goods or services) which another producer needed and has chosen to buy; it means that he has contributed to the productive effort of those he deals with and has earned the equivalent of his contribution; the specific beneficiaries in this case are producers: himself and those who paid him. But in the case of a social worker, two forms of parasitism are involved: the social worker (qua social worker) offers her services without payment to those who have failed to provide for their own needs. Who, then, provides for the needs, for the actual survival, of both the social worker and of those she serves? The producers.
Thus, to choose social work as a profession is to choose to be a professional parasite. This is the reason why social work and any other kind of charitable activity cannot be equated with or placed in the category of productive activities or professions. Charity is a social luxury, dependent upon and made possible by the work of the producers; as such, it is morally inferior to productive work. At best, charity is a marginal issue, as far as ethics is concerned; charity may be morally proper (in cases where no self-sacrifice is involved), but merely proper or permissible, not required and not to be regarded as a major virtue. Today, however, when it is regarded as a virtue by the altruist ethics, social work is monstrously evil—because it assumes a cloak of virtue (of “non-commercial selflessness”) at the spiritual and material expense of those who provide the means to support it: the producers are damned for being “selfishly commercial” while their money (which means: their effort) is keeping all those “selfless” ones alive.
The claim that social workers are productive, because they allegedly rehabilitate human beings is not relevant here: doctors, psychologists and teachers also rehabilitate and help human beings. In fact, every rational profession contributes to the welfare of human beings. The special status of social workers consists of the fact that their profession is charitable and non-commercial, that their goal or motive is not the earning of their own living. The best illustration of this distinction can be seen in the case of doctors: according to the altruist ethics, a doctor is given moral credit only when he relieves human suffering without payment; doctors of unusual skill who charge high prices for their services are usually condemned for being “commercial.” The Objectivist ethics evaluates this in the exactly opposite manner: I regard a doctor as virtuous if he develops his ability so highly that he earns and deserves large payments (provided, of course, that he actually earns it by ability, not by “social-metaphysical” fashion, provided he is a Roark of medicine, not a Keating). And I regard a doctor as immoral if he devotes most of his time to working without payment, if his primary goal is selfless, unrewarded service to his patients. (Charity can be proper only as a marginal activity, as an exception.)
You ask whether I would be opposed to the “unofficial rule” of European psychoanalysts to treat one patient free for every ten paying patients. Yes, indeed, I am most profoundly opposed to it—on the ground that need as such is not a claim and that no human being owes any free services to another. I would not object if an individual psychoanalyst treated ten patients free, provided he chose to do it on the ground of the specific values he saw in them, not on the sole ground of their need. But I would oppose, as immoral, his doing it as a duty—and I would certainly oppose as immoral any “unofficial rule” which demands this duty of a whole profession: such a rule can be based on nothing but the altruist morality.
You ask whether my opposition to social workers would change if it were proved that they make the streets of New York safer. My answer is: no, it would not. If this were the case, I would advocate a stronger and more severe police department. (Actually, social workers have not helped to eliminate crime or juvenile delinquency; the evidence indicates that they have helped to increase it.) But this question is somewhat irrelevant here, because it involves an enormously controversial issue: the source, cause and prevention of crime. And what we are discussing here is the question of charity, not the question of police work.
Now I should like to mention a psychological aspect of the motivation of a social worker, which I regard as the most profoundly immoral aspect of the whole issue: a person who chooses social work as a full-time profession chooses to devote her life to that which I define as “zero-worship”: to human flaws, lacks, failures, miseries, vices and evils, to the morally, spiritually, intellectually or psychologically inferior—to those who lack value, with the lack of value as the claim and the incentive. If a person were actually motivated by a love of values and a desire to relieve human suffering,
she would not begin in the slums and with the subnormal: she would look at what our present society does to the talented, the unusual, the mentally-superior children, in schools, in colleges and in their subsequent careers; she would go out to fight for them and to help them, before they perish psychologically in loneliness and bewilderment.
There are two passages in my novels that refer to this particular issue. One is in THE FOUNTAINHEAD: from last paragraph, page 409, to first paragraph (incl.), page 411. Please note paragraph 2, p. 410—and paragraph 1, p. 411. (Observe that Catherine is concerned with Jackie’s “creative frustration,” but not with Roark’s—and remember that, according to the altruist morality, it is proper to destroy Roark’s achievement for Jackie’s sake.)
The other passage is in ATLAS SHRUGGED, paragraphs 2 and 3, page 906.
You say that you are “trying to distinguish clearly between two views: (1) that we should never make sacrifices for other people, and (2) that the law should never compel us to do so.” These are not two different issues, but two aspects of the same issue. I uphold both, as stated above. All political systems and theories are based on and derived from some ethical theory; the laws of a society reflect its dominant moral code. If it were true that men were morally obliged to sacrifice for others sometimes, yet failed to do so, a law compelling them to do it would be passed sooner or later, because no moral opposition to such a law could or would be valid.
Now, as to the first view—“that we should never make sacrifices for other people”—the crucial point here is the precise meaning of the concept of “sacrifice.” A sacrifice is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one. “To sacrifice for other people” does not mean: “to spend one’s effort for a goal which benefits oneself as well as others”—but: “to spend one’s effort for a goal which benefits others at the cost of one’s own interests, desires and goals.”
Now consider the issue of love, benevolence, good will and friendship among men. Surely it is clear to you that love and friendship are personal, selfish values to a man, that he derives a personal, selfish pleasure and benefit from them; a “selfless,” disinterested, charity-motivated love or friendship would be an insult to its object. (I refer you to pp. 32-33 of my paper on THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS.) Therefore, concern and desire for the welfare of one’s loved person or of one’s friends is a rational part of one’s personal, selfish values. Surely, it would be absurd to claim that if a husband who is passionately in love with his wife spends a fortune to cure her of a dangerous illness, he is doing it as a “sacrifice” for her sake and that it makes no difference to him, personally and selfishly, whether she lives or dies.
Any action which a man undertakes for the benefit of his loved ones or his friends is not a sacrifice, if, in the total context of his values and of the choices open to him, it achieves the goal he personally (and rationally) wanted to achieve. The standard by which he should choose in any given case is: What is most important or of greatest value to me? For instance; in the above example, his wife’s survival is of greater value to the husband than anything else that his money can buy, and therefore, his action is not a sacrifice. But suppose he were asked to let his wife die in order to spend that money on saving ten other women, none of whom meant anything to him—that would be a sacrifice. And here is where the difference between Objectivism and altruism can be seen most clearly: if “sacrifice” is the moral principle of action, then the husband should sacrifice his wife for the sake of ten other women. It’s ten to one. What distinguishes the wife from the ten others? Nothing but her value to the husband who has to make the choice—nothing but the fact that his happiness requires her survival. Now, the Objectivist ethics would tell this husband: your highest moral purpose is the achievement of your own happiness, your money is yours, use it to save your wife, that is your moral right and your rational, moral choice.
Would you, John Hospers qua moralist, be prepared to tell that husband the opposite?
You cite the example of the occasion when you spent two full nights typing a student’s thesis, and you ask me why I approved of your action; you add: “and yet, believe me, it was a sacrifice, and my classes suffered somewhat, and so did I (I was sleepy for days).”
The effort required to achieve any goal is not a sacrifice, if one desires that goal; the effort is the means to an end—and it becomes a sacrifice only when the means requires the destruction of values which are higher than the end to be achieved. Consider the full context of your example: you liked that student (I assume), you wanted him to get his degree, you saw that he was the victim of an injustice and you chose to do an unusually generous thing to help him. The discomfort you suffered could be called a “sacrifice” only if your sleep were of greater value to you in this instance than the boy’s future. Now suppose that it were; suppose that you were recovering from some illness, at the time, and that lack of sleep could cause a dangerous relapse, yet you risked it; in such case, your action would have been a sacrifice. Or suppose your classes suffered, not “somewhat,” but considerably; that would have been a sacrifice.
I admired your action because it was generous. Generosity is not a sacrifice—it is a gift or favor greater than the friend involved could, in reason, expect. But if your action had been motivated by altruistic duty, I would not have admired it nor approved.
Furthermore, if your action had, in fact, been a moral duty, the student would have had a right to it; he would have had the right to demand it of you, to condemn you morally if you refused to do it, and to owe you no appreciation, no gratitude if you did do it. Duty, on the part of one man, implies a claim on the part of the other;
thus (according to altruism) you owed your services to the student, but he owes you nothing thereafter—he has merely collected his rightful due. Wouldn’t a moral situation or a human relationship of this sort turn your stomach? It turns mine. And yet this would be pure altruism consistently applied. (Observe that this is the exact way it is applied in politics, on a grand scale: men are taxed to support the needy, yet the needy owe them nothing in return, not even gratitude or respect—nothing but insults, denunciations and further demands.)
Now to the specific question you ask me in regard to your own career. First of all, since the chairmanship of the philosophy department is offered in recognition of merit, my congratulations to you—and to those who have the good judgment to recognize your merit. But whether you should accept the offer, is another question. Since you say emphatically that you “do not want this kind of job” and that it would “interfere most disastrously” with the work you want to do, particularly with your writing—I would say that this is a fully sufficient reason for rejecting the offer. (I assume that the above represents your exact estimate of the situation, according to the best of your knowledge.) Morally, the only thing to consider is your own career and your own future. You do not owe any duty to others, neither to the university, nor to the students, nor to education, nor to philosophy as such—no duty, as apart from or against your own rational interests. If administrative work does not interest you and does not contribute to or advance your own professional position, there is no reason why you should do it; if you were to benefit others, but not yourself, it would be wrong. (Incidentally, it is psychologically impossible to do a good job, if one’s motivation is predominantly altruistic.) However, if this position can benefit your own career, then you should consider it, but only from this aspect. [Hospers answered that he had not been offered nor was he interested in the chairmanship.]
Now, to answer the questions which you list in your comments on Lectures 9-11.
1. You write: “Suppose that, at a considerable cost of time and effort, I have a chance to save a human life,”—and ask whether I would say that you should do it. I will say that an ethical problem cannot be stated in this manner, or rather, that it can be stated in this manner only in the context of the altruist ethics. I will say that the question of saving a human life can arise only in an emergency, in some physical disaster, like a fire or a shipwreck, and then it has to be answered on the basis of one’s hierarchy of values: if the person to be saved is a stranger and the risk (the danger to your own life) is great, don’t do it; if the risk is small, do it. This last is all that I would allow in the name of the abstract value of a human life as such. I do value human life, but remember that only individual lives exist and, therefore, one cannot, in the name of the value of human life, advocate the sacrifice of one life to another.
Now, if the person to be saved is not a stranger, then the risk one should be willing to take is greater in exact proportion to the
greatness of that person’s value to oneself; if it is the man or woman one loves, then one can be willing to give one’s own life to save him or her—for the selfish reason that life without the loved person would be unendurable. But this is not a duty. The guiding principle here is still one’s own rational self-interest: the judgment of the value involved in relation to one’s own life and happiness.
Now, conversely: suppose a man is able to swim and could save his drowning wife, but becomes panicky, gives in to an unjustified fear and lets her drown, then spends his life in loneliness and misery—I would not call him selfish and I would condemn him morally, on the ground of his treason to his own values, that is: his failure to fight for the preservation of a value crucial to his own happiness. (Remember that values are that which one acts to gain and/or keep, and that one’s own happiness has to be achieved by one’s own effort. Since one’s own happiness is the moral purpose of one’s life, the man who fails to achieve it through his own default, through his failure to fight for it, is morally guilty.)
Now, coming back to the exact form of your question, it is the issue of “time and effort” that I challenge. If the question of saving a life involves a long period of time, then it is not an emergency that you have in mind, but a rule of normal existence. If so, if we are formulating a rule of moral conduct, then the words “a considerable cost of time and effort” are a blank check that could mean your entire lifespan—and my answer is: no. It would be pure altruistic cannibalism to say that you should devote a major part or the total of your life and effort to saving the life of a stranger.
The guiding principle in cases of this kind is still your own self-interest and your own hierarchy of values: the time and effort you give should be proportionate to the value of the person in relation to your own happiness.
If another person’s life is endangered as a result of your action, if it is your fault, then it is your responsibility and you have to do everything possible to save it. But—and this is the basic principle—another person’s life, as such, is not your responsibility and, therefore, you cannot sacrifice your own goals, values, ambition and happiness to save any life that might be in need of saving. As a rule of moral conduct, the idea of altruistic responsibility is self-contradictory: why save a life, when neither the savior nor the saved has the right to live (since both would be morally obliged to spend their lives looking for further lives to save)?
It is important to differentiate between the rules of conduct in an emergency situation and the rules of conduct in the normal conditions of existence. This, of course, does not mean a double standard of morality: the basic principles and standards remain the same, but their application to either case requires precise defin-
itions. The main difference between an emergency situation and normal existence is as follows: an emergency situation is an unchosen, unexpected event that threatens or negates normal conditions and is limited in time, as, for example: a physical disaster, an illness, a war. The goal of man’s actions, in an emergency situation, is to combat the threat and restore normal conditions, as, for example: to reach land, in a shipwreck—to regain health, in an illness—to win peace, in a war, etc. An emergency situation is a condition which makes human survival impossible and, therefore, has to be fought and corrected. By “normal conditions” I mean “metaphysically normal,” “normal in the nature of things.” (It is metaphysically normal and possible for man to travel; since man is not omnipotent, it is metaphysically possible for a traveller to be caught in a shipwreck; but if this last were the rule, not the exception, then man would have to abstain from travelling by sea.)
In normal conditions, man has to choose his goals, project them in time, pursue them and achieve them. He cannot do it if his goals are at the mercy of and must be sacrificed to any misfortune happening to others. He cannot live his life by the guidance of rules applicable only to temporary situations and to conditions under which human survival is impossible. For instance, a man who values human life and is caught in a shipwreck, should help to save his fellow-passengers (though not at the expense of his own life). But this does not mean that once they all reach land, he should choose to devote his effort to saving his fellow-passengers from poverty, ignorance, neurosis or whatever other troubles they might have. Nor does it mean that he should spend his life sailing the seven seas in search of shipwreck-victims to save. Or, to give a simpler example: if you hear that the man in the next apartment is sick and starving, you might bring him food (if you can afford it) or you might raise a fund among the neighbors to help him out; but this does not mean that you must support him from then on, nor that you must spend your life looking for starving men to help.
If your goal in life is the achievement of your own happiness (if you are an Objectivist), this does not mean that human life is of no value to you, that you are indifferent to all men and that you have no reason to help others in emergencies such as the ones described above. But it does mean that you do not subordinate your life to the welfare of others, that you do not consider helping others as the goal of your existence, that the relief of emergencies is not your primary purpose, and that any help you give is an exception, not the rule, goal or norm of your life.
Poverty, ignorance and other problems of that kind are not emergency situations: they are conditions which man must overcome by his own effort, since wealth or knowledge is not granted to him automatically by God or by nature, but must be achieved by him. One’s sole obligation, in this respect, is to maintain a social system that leaves men free to achieve. But the principle that one should help men in an emergency cannot be extended to regard all human suffering or misfortune as an emergency and to spend one’s life on relieving it.
Every code of morality is based on and derived from a metaphysics, that is: from a certain view of the nature of the universe in which man has to live and act. Observe that the altruist morality is based on a “malevolent universe” premise, on the view that man’s life is, by nature, a calamity, that emergencies, disasters, scourges, catastrophies, are the norm of his existence. Are they? Observe also that the advocates of altruism always offer “life-boat” situations as examples from which to derive the rules of moral conduct (“What should you do if you are caught with another man in a life-boat that can carry only one?” etc.) The fact is that men do not live in life-boats—and that a life-boat is not the place on which to base one’s metaphysics.
2. You ask whether you should, at a considerable cost of time and effort, help to improve the condition of a human being who could improve his own condition—and you assume that I would say: “Don’t do it.” Of course, that is what I would say, and more: it would be immoral to do it, it would constitute a sanction of the man’s evil, of his parasitism.
3. You ask the same question as above, but in regard to helping a human being who is unable to improve his condition without help. My answer here is most emphatically: “No, don’t do it.” My reasons are the same as in my answer to question 1. It is moral cannibalism to demand that you spend your life or a major part of it on helping someone else to develop. As in the case of charity, it might be proper to help such a person only in a marginal manner, that is: if and when you can afford the time and the money—but not at the cost of “considerable time and effort.”
You have a curious passage in your question 3: “But the high evaluation you place upon individualism—which surely includes each person developing his own character to the best of his ability—would lead me to believe you would say ‘Do it; you will thereby be providing him with a chance—with the necessary wherewithal without which he could not develop himself’.”
I certainly include “each person developing his own character to the best of his ability.” I hope the italics make my answer clear: to the best of his ability—but not by means of the ability of others and the sacrifice of others. Surely I have made it clear in ATLAS SHRUGGED that it is monstrously evil to penalize virtue for being virtue. If individualism is a virtue, then it is a monstrous injustice to claim that a man who has achieved it, has no right to enjoy it (or to enjoy his own life), but must devote himself to helping those who have not achieved it. Why are they entitled to it? By reason of their failure to achieve it? This is a pure case of Roark versus Jackie. Roark does not demand that Jackie live to help or serve him. Jackie cannot demand that Roark live to help or serve her. (The mere thought of this last is obscene.)
(The following is written after our telephone conversation of Sunday, April 16th.)
4. The next question on your list is the one we discussed over the telephone, namely: should you sacrifice a position you want, for
the sake of a rival whom you regard as better qualified for it? I hope this point is now clear to you. I will summarize it, as a reminder: “the granting of the deserved” requires only that you grant men the deserved in your actions and in the choices open to you; it does not require that you assume the responsibility of providing a man with the reward he deserves, if or when others have failed to do so in a case where the choice was not yours. More specifically: if you know that you are not qualified for a position you want, you should not seek it until you are ready for it; if you are qualified, then you should accept it, regardless of what rival you might consider better qualified. (Comparisons of this kind, involving one’s ability or intelligence or competence, are too vague and non-objective to be anything more than a guess about an undefined potential—in cases where both men are qualified for the job.)
5. Now, the extremely important issue of “Traditional Egoism.” You write: “Traditionally, egoism has meant acting for one’s self-interest only, and ignoring the interests of everyone else.” Then you describe the “traditional egoist” and ask me in what sense I call myself an egoist. Observe that the description you give (the traditional view of egoism) is a description of “Attila”: it assumes that one judges one’s self-interest by the narrowest range of the immediate moment, without any context, without any concern for past or future, for standards, principles, means or ends, without any reasons behind one’s choices, actions or decisions; it assumes that whim is the only standard of value and criterion of self-interest, and that an “egoist” is one who acts on his whim. That is the assumption which I challenge.
An egoist is a man who acts for his own self-interest. This does not yet tell us what his self-interest is. On what ground is it then assumed that an egoist does or must judge his self-interest by the arbitrary whim of the moment? On what ground is it assumed that his interests are antagonistic to or incompatible with the interests of others? On what ground is it assumed that human relationships have no personal value to a man and that an egoist has to be indifferent to all other human beings? On what ground is “Attila” supposed to represent the archetype of egoism—and why is “Attila’s” view of self-interest taken as the view and the essence of self-interest?
As you see, the “traditional” concept of egoism is a “loaded,” groundless, unwarranted, unjustifiable package-deal: purporting to define only the basic motivation of a man (self-interest), it then proceeds to prescribe the specific concretes allegedly representing man’s self-interest—and thus substitutes the concrete values of “Attila” for the abstraction “self-interest.”
I certainly maintain that an egoist is a man who acts for his own self-interest and that man should act for his own self-interest. But the concept of “self-interest” identifies only one’s motivation, not the nature of the values that one should choose. The issue, therefore, is: what is the nature of man’s self-interest? Since
arbitrary desires, wishes or whims are not a valid standard of value or criterion of self-interest—an egoist has to have a rational standard of value and a rational code of morality in order to be able in fact to achieve his self-interest.
The “traditional” concept of egoism assumes that an egoist’s standard is: “My self-interest consists of doing whatever happens to please me.” A drunkard, a drug-addict, a hot-rod car driver are men who act on that standard; they could hardly be regarded as exponents of self-interest. A self-destroying, whim-worshipping neurotic is not a representative of the ego; in actual fact, he has neither self nor interests—and it is certainly not self-interest that he pursues or achieves. The “traditional” view of egoism (with whim as its standard) can thus be proved to be a contradiction in terms.
Man’s ego is his mind; the most crucial aspect of egoism is the sovereignty of one’s own rational judgment and the right to live by its guidance. Yet this is the aspect which the “traditional” view of egoism ignores and negates: it regards as “egoistic” nothing but the momentary physical satisfactions of a brute. For instance, it regards a man’s concern with social or political issues as “unselfish.” It is absurd to claim that the kind of society in which he lives has no bearing on a man’s self-interest; it makes a crucial difference to him whether he lives in a free country or in a totalitarian dictatorship. But the “traditional” concept of egoism does not allow him so wide a view of self-interest.
It is obvious that that “traditional” concept is a remnant and derivative of the “Witch Doctor” philosophy: it regards “Attila” as practical and, simultaneously, intends to bridle him, as well as all men, by means of guilt. First, it claims that “self-interest” consists of nothing but brute evil—then, it damns all forms of self-interest as evil.
The most disastrous error (or fraud) in the history of ethics is the moral diagnosis of criminal actions: traditional moralists claim that the evil of a robber or a murderer consists of the fact that he acted for his own “self-interest.” I claim that his evil lies in his choice of values, in what he chose to regard as his self-interest.
You can easily see the consequences of that difference: if “self-interest” is the element that makes crime evil, then robbery, torture, murder, mass slaughter are not evil when committed in the interest of others—and this precisely is the moral concept by means of which all the horrors of modern dictatorships are accepted, condoned, excused and justified today.
The “traditional” view of egoism does not and cannot differentiate between a producer and a looter: both are men acting for and on their respective views of self–interest. This is another symptom and remnant of the “Witch Doctor” philosophy: a Witch
Doctor does not allow into his view of the universe the possibility of the existence of a producer.
The “traditional” view of egoism assumes that the standard of value by which one judges the worth of an action is not a principle, not a specific premise, not a defined concept of the “good”, not any objective consideration, but only the beneficiary of an action. It assumes that the beneficiary is an ethical primary and a standard of moral value: if an action, regardless of its nature, is intended to serve your own benefit—you are an egoist (and, traditionally, evil); if an action, regardless of its nature, is intended to serve the benefit of others—you are an altruist (and, traditionally, good). This leads to all the vicious contradictions that I discuss in Galt’s speech.
So long as ethics remained the province of mysticism and subjectivism, so long as ethics was ultimately based on whim (God’s whim, society’s or one’s own), so long as moral values were not objectively, rationally justified or justifiable—human desires had to be taken as irreducible primaries, and the basic moral issue had to be: whose desires?—yours or your neighbors’? (See pp. 30-31 of my paper on THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS, the passage dealing with the issue of ethical hedonism.) It is the irrationality, the primitiveness and the superficiality of that traditional approach that I challenge.
The task of ethics is to tell men how to live. Since neither self-interest (nor happiness nor survival) can be achieved by random motions or arbitrary whims, it is the task of ethics to define the principles by which man is to judge and choose his values, interests, goals and actions. (Only a mystic’s, a Witch Doctor’s, view of ethics could hold that man can live and act by the guidance of his desires or of arbitrarily chosen values, that is: values divorced from or opposed to the facts of reality with which he has to deal.) Therefore, the first question in ethics is: What are values and why does man need them? The answer to that will tell us what values man should choose and why.
You know the base and validation of the Objectivist Ethics; you know why man’s right to exist for his own sake is not an arbitrary, “selfish” choice, but a metaphysical necessity derived not merely from man’s nature, but from the nature of life, that is: of all living organisms—and why the specific moral code required for man’s existence is necessitated by his nature as a living organism whose basic means of survival is reason.
Therefore, a man’s self-interest is not to be determined by his arbitrary wishes or whims, but by the principles of an objective moral code. Man must pursue his own self-interest, but only by the guidance of, by reason of and within the framework of such a code. The moral rights and claims derived from that code are based on his nature as a rational being; they cannot be extended to include their opposite; an irrational claim invalidates itself by negating the base of man’s moral claims or rights (by falling into the fallacy of the “stolen concept.”) The right to exist and to pursue his own happi-
ness does not give man the right to act irrationally or to pursue contradictory, self-destructive, self-defeating goals. Rationality demands that man choose his goals in the full, integrated context of all the relevant knowledge available to him; it forbids contradictions, evasions, blank-outs, whim-worship or context-dropping.
A rational man has to recognize that reason permits no arbitrary, subjective beliefs or values—and that the value he attaches to his own life and his objective right to it are based on the nature of life in general and of human life in particular; therefore, if he values his own life, he has to recognize the right of all other human beings to value their own lives in the same way, for the same reasons and on the same terms. If he holds the support of his own life by his own effort and the achievement of his own happiness as his primary goal, he has to grant the same right to others; if he does not grant it, he is guilty of a contradiction and cannot claim any rational validity for his own right. If he recognizes that living among other men (in a free society) is to his self-interest, he cannot be blindly indifferent to other men or “refuse to lift a finger to save a human life.” It is his self-esteem and his self-interest that are the root of his benevolence toward others. (But if men enslaved him to serve their needs in a collectivist society, that root would disappear and it is then that he would feel indifference or hatred or contempt for others.) If he pursues his rational self-interest, he does not set his values and goals on the spur and range of the moment; therefore, he knows that it is not to his self-interest, it is neither moral nor practical, to rob, cheat, defraud or murder others—and he knows also that he must not seek the unearned, that is: seek to obtain any value produced by or belonging to others, without their voluntary consent and without trading them a value in return. If he claims the right to independence, he cannot live as a parasite on the productive work of others (trade is not dependence—charity and robbery are.) He chooses and pursues only those goals which can be achieved by his own effort; he does not need others or depend on others in any fundamental issue of his life. And, above all, he preserves the independent sovereignty of his own judgment as his only guide.
This, in briefest essence, is the Objectivist view of egoism. This is the sense in which Roark, Galt and I are pure egoists.
To sum up the foregoing: there are two questions in ethics, which the traditional moralists lump together into an undifferentiated package-deal—a. What are values?—b. Who should be the beneficiary of values? Since all values have to be gained and/or kept by men’s actions, any breach between actor and beneficiary necessitates injustice: the sacrifice of some men to others, of the actors or producers to the beneficiaries. Nothing could ever justify or validate such a breach. Therefore, the Objectivist ethics holds that the actor must always be the beneficiary of the action—that man must act for his own self-interest—but that this right is derived from the nature of values and the nature of man, and, therefore, is applicable only in the context of a rational, objectively demonstrated and validated code of moral values, which determines man’s rational self-interest.
6. You write: “Your insisting (rightly, I believe) that Mr. A, B and C have the same rights that you do, would seem to lead naturally to the Golden Rule…and to the Kantian categorical imperative…”
My answer is that I base men’s equal rights on a much deeper premise and issue than either of these two rules—and, therefore, these two rules are irrelevant to my ethics. I do not regard them as necessarily antagonistic to my ethics, but as irrelevant and unimportant by reason of their ambiguity and superficiality.
You state the best criticism of these two rules when you say that they are “content-less”. With this, I agree emphatically. They tell us nothing about moral values nor what values men should choose nor what a man should wish for himself and others.
At best, these two rules are popular generalizations illustrating one aspect or consequence of the principle of objectivity or justice. I would agree with these two rules (on the popular level) only if they were translated to mean: “Do not wish, seek or advocate contradictions,”—and then only if they were regarded as derivatives or consequences of deeper, antecedent moral premises, not as fundamental principles or definitions of moral action.
If, however, these two rules are advocated as ethical primaries—then I am emphatically opposed to them. In their literal wording, both rules advocate ethical subjectivism, with one’s wish as the standard of moral value; both declare, in effect, that one may do anything one wishes, provided one is willing to universalize one’s wish.
In paragraphs 2 and 3, page 2 of your comments, you provide a full and unanswerable refutation of the Golden Rule and the Kantian imperative, when you give examples of how two opposite, arbitrary policies (of an altruistic and “egoistic” nature) could be pursued in strict compliance with either of those rules. Once you demonstrate it, it is sufficient ground to invalidate both rules as guiding principles of action.
When you ask why or how I would attack the altruistic policy in your example, yet would defend the “egoistic” one—your error is the assumption that I would base my argument on the Golden Rule or the Kantian imperative. I would maintain (though not exactly in this formulation) that “I do not want or expect others to help me when I am in trouble or need, and I do not consider it incumbent on me to help them when they are in trouble or need,” on the ground of the fact that this is objectively the right policy for men to live by—and not on the ground of the fact that this is what I want to do and am willing to let others do. This is an instance of why I say that the Golden Rule and the Kantian imperative are irrelevant to my ethics. No part of my ethics and no argument of mine are or would ever be based on or validated by either of these two rules.
7. I am glad that you agree with me on the issue of justice vs. mercy. It is an enormously important principle that embraces all of one’s relationships with men: private, personal, public, social and political. But you say that you are not clear on what I would regard as the deserved, in specific cases. My answer is: the basic principle that should guide one’s judgment in issues of justice is the law of causality: one should never attempt to evade or to break the connection between cause and effect—one should never attempt to deprive a man of the consequences of his actions, good or evil. (One should not deprive a man of the values or benefits his actions have caused, such as expropriating a man’s wealth for somebody else’s benefit; and one should not deflect the disaster which his actions have caused, such as giving relief checks to a lazy, irresponsible loafer.) What specific form of reward or punishment is deserved in specific cases depends on the full context of the case. In personal relationships, the rewards deserved by virtue range from an approving smile to falling in love; the punishments range from a polite reproach or protest (when the action involved is an error of knowledge) to a complete break (when the action is proved to be a willful, conscious, deliberate immorality).
But you ask me what is the punishment deserved by criminal actions. This is a technical, legal issue, which has to be answered by the philosophy of law. The law has to be guided by moral principles, but their application to specific cases is a special field of study. I can only indicate in a general way what principles should be the base of legal justice in determining punishments. The law should: a. correct the consequences of the crime in regard to the victim, whenever possible (such as recovering stolen property and returning it to the owner); b. impose restraints on the criminal, such as a jail sentence, not in order to reform him, but in order to make him bear the painful consequences of his action (or their equivalent) which he inflicted on his victims; c. make the punishment proportionate to the crime in the full context of all the legally punishable crimes.
This last point, I believe, is the question you are specifically interested in, when you write: “I find it difficult to say whether a man who has committed, e.g. armed robbery, deserves one year in jail, five years, ten years, or psychiatric therapy to keep him from repeating his offense.” The principle of justice on which the answer has to be based is contextual: the severity of the punishment must match the gravity of the crime, in the full context of the penal code. The punishment for pickpocketing cannot be the same as for murder; the punishment for murder cannot be the same as for manslaughter, etc. It is an enormously complex issue, in which one must integrate the whole scale of legally defined crimes and mitigating circumstances, on the one hand—with a proportionately scaled series of punishments, on the other. Thus the punishment deserved by armed robbery would depend on its place in the scale which begins with the lightest misdemeanor and ends with murder.
What punishment is deserved by the two extremes of the scale is open to disagreement and discussion—but the principle by which
a specific argument has to be guided is retribution, not reform. The issue of attempting to “reform” criminals is an entirely separate issue and a highly dubious one, even in the case of juvenile delinquents. At best, it might be a carefully limited adjunct of the penal code (and I doubt even that), not its primary, determining factor. When I say “retribution,” I mean point b. above, namely: the imposition of painful consequences proportionate to the injury caused by the criminal act. The purpose of the law is not to prevent a future offense, but to punish the one actually committed. If there were a proved, demonstrated, scientific, objectively certain way of preventing future crimes (which does not exist), it would not justify the idea that the law should prevent future offenses and let the present one go unpunished. It would still be necessary to punish the actual crime.
Therefore, “psychiatric therapy” does not belong—on principle—among the alternatives that you list. And more: it is an enormously dangerous suggestion. A. Psychiatry is far from the stage of an exact science; in our present state of knowledge, it is not even a science—it is only in that preliminary, material-gathering stage from which a science will come. B. The law, which has the power to impose its decisions by force, cannot be guided by unproved, uncertain, controversial hypotheses or guesses—and the criminal cannot be treated as a guinea pig (I am saying this in defense of the criminal’s rights). C. Since the prevention of crime is a psychological issue, since it involves a man’s mind (his premises, values, choices, decisions), it would be monstrously evil to place a man’s mind into the power of the law, to let the law prescribe and force upon him any course of treatment involving or affecting his mind. If “the prevention of crime” were accepted as the province and purpose of the law, it would permit and necessitate the most unspeakable atrocities: not merely psychological “brain-washing,” but physical mutilations as well, such as electric shock therapy, prefrontal lobotomies and anything else that neurologists might discover. No moral premise—except total altruistic collectivism—could ever justify that sort of horror.
Observe that it is I, the unforgiving egoist, who am more considerate of the criminals (of their rights) than the alleged humanitarians who advocate psychiatric treatments out of an alleged compassion for criminals. A penal code has to treat men as adult, responsible human beings; it can deal only with their actions and with such motives as can be objectively demonstrated (such as intent vs. accident); it cannot assume jurisdiction over men’s minds, brains, souls, values and moral premises—it cannot assume the right to change these by forcible means.
(If a man is proved to be legally irresponsible, that is, insane, it is a different issue: the law then has the right to commit him to an insane asylum—since, being incapable of reasoning, he is unable to claim the rights of a rational man. But even then, the law does not have the arbitrary power to impose treatment on him, particularly not treatment that might result in
physical damage or injury. And, even in cases of insanity, the issue of proving it is enormously complex, controversial and dangerous, since no fully demonstrated, scientific knowledge is yet available on what can be taken as proof.)
8. You ask whether I would agree with the distinction you make between “intrinsic good” and “instrumental good.” I do not object to the concepts as you define them, but I would not use them, for the following reasons: A. The term “intrinsic” is extremely dangerous to use in ethics. It can be taken to mean “good of and by itself,” regardless of context, standard, source, recipient and recipient’s knowledge. For instance, if one decided that “security” is an “intrinsic” good, one would be justified in attempting to establish it by any and all means, on the ground that it would necessarily be good for all men—which is precisely the reasoning by which collectivists justify their policies. B. Values which are ends to be achieved by a certain process of action and which, therefore, could be called “intrinsic” in that context—become means to further and wider ends and thus become “instrumental” in a wider context. For instance, the process of writing is an “instrumental” good in relation to creating a book, which is an “intrinsic” good in this context; but creating a book is an “instrumental” good in relation to achieving a literary career, which is an “intrinsic good” in this context; and achieving a literary career is an “instrumental” good in relation to achieving one’s happiness and supporting one’s life. Since I regard all values as contextual and hierarchical, I would ultimately regard only one good as “intrinsic,” in your sense of the term, namely: life (with happiness as its corollary—as defined in my paper on THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS, particularly in paragraph 3, page 28.)
Frankly, I suspect that the distinction between “intrinsic” good and “instrumental” good belongs to a traditional view of (or approach to) ethics which is totally different from mine. But since I do not know the full context, place and purpose of this distinction in your approach to ethics, I am open to further discussion and clarification.
This concludes my answer to your letter and comments of April 1. While I was writing this, I received your note of April 20, with the enclosed questions from John Taurek. I shall be very glad to answer his questions, but I will do it as a separate assignment in the nearest future and will not hold up this letter until then.
For the present, I will answer only the brief questions, in your note. You ask: “What is the relation between saying that ‘man’s life’ is the standard of value and that one’s own life should be the thing one strives to promote?” The answer is stated explicitly on page 21 of my paper on THE OBJECTIVIST ETHICS (paragraphs 2, 3 and 4). I will add that by the nature of the standard involved, it is only one’s own life that one can or should “promote.”
You ask what I would say to someone who said: “Since the standard is man’s life—not just your or my or my family’s life—why then should we not strive to improve man’s life in general, even if in doing so I do not improve my own, or even extinguish my own life completely?”
I would remind the questioner of the difference between an abstraction and a collective noun. (“Man” is an abstraction, “mankind” is a collective noun.) The standard “man’s life” does not mean “just your or my or my family’s life.” It means: that which is proper to the life of man qua man—that which is proper to the life of every individual man qua individual man. “My life” cannot be “the standard of my life.” A “standard” is an abstract principle of action, which tells me how I should live my life. And the standard “man’s life” tells me why and how my life should be my purpose.
Since the standard “man’s life” is derived from the nature of values, from the fact that only life makes values possible (that is: only the nature of a living organism, only the requirements of an organism’s life make the existence of values possible)—to choose any value, other than one’s own life, as the ultimate purpose of one’s actions is to be guilty of a contradiction and of the fallacy of the “stolen concept.” Do you remember the answer you gave to a student in your seminar, with which I agreed most enthusiastically? You said that one cannot ask: “Why should I be rational?”—because by accepting a “why” one has already accepted reason, because “why” is a concept belonging to rationality. Well, on the same grounds, by the same logic, one cannot ask: “Why should I choose my own life as my ultimate value?”—because one has already accepted it by accepting the concept “value”, because the concept “value” has no other source, base, meaning or possibility of existing.
You write: “I especially appreciated your saying that my Newsweek letter was as important to you positively as the Newsweek review was negatively.” I did not say: “as important,” I said: “more important.” I do not attach any importance to negatives: evil is impotent. It is not an issue of how many people will see your letter vs. how many people will see the review. Your letter proves the existence of a man of intelligence and integrity; the review proves the existence of a fool and a knave. The first is important, the second is not. (Or, to use your terms: the existence of the first is an “intrinsic” good—while the existence of the second is not even an “instrumental” evil.) To quote Nathan: “It is not the presence of the Mouches that hurt us, but the absence of the Galts.” When evil wins in the world, it is only by the default of the good. That is why one man of reason and moral stature is more important, actually and potentially, “intrinsically” and “instrumentally”, than a million fools.
The above is my way of saying: Thank you.
And thank you also for the copy of HUMAN CONDUCT, which I received a few days ago. It is very attractive in appearance—and very promising in content. I have barely had time to glance at a few passages, at random, but it was an enormous pleasure to see the clarity and precision of your style, the epistemological virtue that I admired in your previous work. I am looking forward eagerly to reading it. I did, of course, look up all the references to “Ayn Rand”—and I was delighted to see them; it gave me the feeling of a bond
between us—and an almost “proprietary” interest in the book. I will conclude with one more “thank you,” for those references—and my best wishes for the enormous success of your book.
P.S. If you find that you want to quote any passage from this letter in a discussion of Objectivism, you are certainly welcome to do so.
Please enter your shipping information below so we can send you a free paperback copy of Atlas Shrugged.
Please enter your country information below so we can send you a free digital copy of Atlas Shrugged.