W. T. Stace (1886–1967) was a former philosophy professor at Princeton University and author of The Concept of Morals and The Philosophy of Hegel, once called by The New York Times “one of the pre-eminent philosophers of the English-speaking world.”
February 4, 1963
Professor W. T. Stace
986 East Avenue
Mantoloking, New Jersey
Dear Professor Stace:
Thank you for your letter of January 21. I appreciate the fact that you chose to comment on my article “The Ethics of Emergencies.”
My articles in The Objectivist Newsletter are written on the assumption of the readers’ familiarity with the Objectivist philosophy. If the subject interests you, you will find its essentials in my book For the New Intellectual (Random House).
I am familiar with your work and have looked up the particular passages you mentioned, in The Concept of Morals. I disagree with your viewpoint.
In your letter, you write: “There is a real distinction between treating my neighbor’s happiness as for me an end in itself, i.e., as giving me pleasure in itself apart from any other consequences, and treating his happiness merely as a means to some end which is to bring me happiness.”
I maintain: a) that nothing should be an end in itself to man except his own life qua rational being and his own rational happiness; b) that the welfare of those one loves is not an end in itself, but a value which contributes to one’s own happiness; c) that it is immoral to value anything out of context, i.e., without considering the consequences and without relation to oneself.
I believe that I have made this clear even in the text of my article. Since you are an eminent representative of the ethics of altruism, I would be very interested to hear your comments on the ethical alternative I discuss in that article—the example of the husband who has to choose between saving his wife or ten other women. Would you care to tell me which choice you would consider morally right?
You write that correct English demands a certain use of the words “selfish” and “unselfish.” I do not believe that
profoundly controversial philosophical issues can or should be permitted to slant the meanings of words. And, in fact, dictionary definitions do not support your assertion. I believe that correct English demands a precise use of words. “Selfish” means: “concerned with one’s own interests.” The question of what constitutes a man’s interests and which actions are to be classified as “selfish” is to be answered by philosophers, not by grammarians or lexicographers.
However, my use of words is correct even under your definitions: you claim that the word “selfish” applies to the policy of treating one’s neighbor’s happiness, not as an end in itself, but as a means to some end which is to bring one happiness. Since that is precisely the policy I advocate in regard to love or friendship, I comply with your definition when I describe love and friendship as “selfish.”
No, I do not “blur a vital distinction.” But if one calls love “unselfish,” how does one differentiate between the act of spending one’s money on the welfare of those one loves—and spending it on the welfare of underdeveloped countries on the other side of the globe? This last is surely “unselfish.” And if both acts are to be called “unselfish,” isn’t that a vital distinction blurred by the theory of altruism?
As to the issue of psychological egoism which you mention in the first sentence of your letter, when you write: “Of course it is true that all actions are motivated by the pursuit of the actor’s own happiness,”—I must answer: of course it is not true, and nothing in my article could have conveyed the impression that I advocate such an idea. My views on this subject are presented in an answer written by Nathaniel Branden for the Intellectual Ammunition Department of the September 1962 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter which I am enclosing.
I am also enclosing a copy of my paper on The Objectivist Ethics, which presents the validation of my ethical position.
The Ayn Rand Archives contains no response from Stace.