Ethics

What is morality?

“The justification of capitalism is that it is the system which implements a scientific code of morality; i.e., which recognizes man’s metaphysical nature and needs; i.e., which is based on reason and reality. ” — LEONARD PEIKOFF

Morality is a code of values that an individual must choose to follow to live one’s life on earth.

Why does an individual need a moral code?

“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” — Galt’s Speech, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Individuals need a moral code as knowledge for human beings on how to survive, unlike the other animals, is not automatic.

Unlike other organisms — bacteria, elephants or apes which act by instinct — humans beings have no automatic knowledge and must discover the principles needed to survive.

Those principles are the area of study of the science of morality.

What is a value?

A value is that for which one acts to gain and keep to sustain one’s life.

What is the purpose of morality?

The preservation and flourishing of one’s own life, in reality, is the purpose of morality.

“The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.” — Galt’s Speech, in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

What is a virtue?

Virtue(s) are the actions necessary to sustain one’s life and achieve happiness; i.e., one’s method of obtaining values.

What is the fundamental virtue?

The fundamental virtue is rationality as reason is an individual’s means of survival. All other virtues (productivity, integrity, etc.) are applications/corollaries of this fundamental principle.

What is ethics?

As used here, ethics are those rules of behavior in relating to other individuals; ethics is individual morality applied to living life in society.

What is egoism?

To hold one’s life as the highest value is to be egoistic (that is self-interested, and self-ish).

What is altruism?

To hold the lives of others as more important than one’s own life is to be altruistic (otherism) and unself-ish.

Isn’t egoism (being self-interested, selfish) evil?

To quote the philosopher Ayn Rand from her Introduction to her revolutionary book “The Virtue of Selfishness”:

“The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong: it represents a devastating intellectual ‘package-deal,’ which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.

“In popular usage, the word ‘selfishness’ is a synonym of evil; the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.

“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.

“This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests. It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

[…]

“There is a fundamental moral difference between a man who sees his self-interest in production and a man who sees it in robbery. The evil of a robber does not lie in the fact that he pursues his own interests, but in what he regards as to his own interest; not in the fact that he pursues his values, but in what he chose to value; not in the fact that he wants to live, but in the fact that he wants to live on a subhuman level (see ‘The Objectivist Ethics’).

“If it is true that what I mean by ‘selfishness’ is not what is meant conventionally, then this is one of the worst indictments of altruism: it means that altruism permits no concept of a self-respecting, self-supporting man—a man who supports his life by his own effort and neither sacrifices himself nor others. It means that altruism permits no view of men except as sacrificial animals and profiteers-on-sacrifice, as victims and parasites—that it permits no concept of a benevolent co-existence among men—that it permits no concept of justice.”

Why is altruism (otherism) evil?

Again, quoting philosopher Ayn Rand, this time from her essay “Faith and Force: The Destroyers of the Modern World,” published in Philosophy: Who Needs It:

“What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

“Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

“Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: ‘No.’ Altruism says: ‘Yes.’ “

What are the benefits of living in society?

Thanks to specialization under the division of labor, one can gain immense values by living with others in a proper society — namely knowledge and trade (in physical and spiritual values).

Under what doctrine does an ethical society operate?

An ethical society operates under the moral doctrine of individualism — where each individual is regarded as an end to oneself, and not as a slave for the ends of others. This moral basis of Individualism is an expression of The Objectivist Ethics:

“The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival—not the values produced by the desires, the emotions, the ‘aspirations,’ the feelings, the whims or the needs of irrational brutes, who have never outgrown the primordial practice of human sacrifices, have never discovered an industrial society and can conceive of no self-interest but that of grabbing the loot of the moment.”

“The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash—that there is no conflict of interests among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.” — Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics”, VOS

Isn’t capitalism justified by the fact it serves the “public good”?

That capitalism serves the “public good” (defined as the sum of the good of all individuals) is true.

However, this is not capitalism’s moral justification but is merely an effect of its cause: by freeing the innovators to create and produce, capitalism results in a society where progress is the norm, and the standard of living for all (“the public”) rises.

“The moral justification of capitalism does not lie in the altruist claim that it represents the best way to achieve “the common good.” It is true that capitalism does—if that catch-phrase has any meaning—but this is merely a secondary consequence. The moral justification of capitalism lies in the fact that it is the only system consonant with man’s rational nature, that it protects man’s survival qua man, and that its ruling principle is: justice.” — AYN RAND

Where can I learn more about the moral basis of Capitalism?

Read Ayn Rand’s book The Virtue of Selfishness.

“A collection of essays that sets forth the moral principles of Objectivism, Ayn Rand’s controversial, groundbreaking philosophy.”

“Since their initial publication, Rand’s fictional works—Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged—have had a major impact on the intellectual scene. The underlying theme of her famous novels is her philosophy, a new morality—the ethics of rational self-interest—that offers a robust challenge to altruist-collectivist thought.”

“Known as Objectivism, her philosophy holds human life—the life proper to a rational being—as the standard of moral values and regards altruism as incompatible with man’s nature. In this series of essays, Rand asks why man needs morality in the first place, and arrives at an answer that redefines a new code of ethics based on the virtue of selfishness.”