Ethics of Capitalism: Rational Self Interest

Capitalism is the social system that leaves the individual free to be moral — to act by reason in the pursuit of one’s self-interest.

“Just as man cannot survive by any random means, but must discover and practice the principles which his survival requires, so man’s self-interest cannot be determined by blind desires or random whims, but must be discovered and achieved by the guidance of rational principles.”


How should one live? This is the fundamental question of the science of ethics.

Morality is the science that tells one how to live and be happy on earth

Morality is the “science of self-preservation” and human fulfillment, or in the words of John Galt, a hero in Ayn Rand’s revolutionary novel Atlas Shrugged: “The purpose of morality is to teach you, not to suffer and die, but to enjoy yourself and live.”

The science of morality tells us if a flourishing life as a human being on earth is one’s goal, one must act according to one’s rational self-interest.

Reason is the individual’s means of survival

Survival for human beings is not automatic. Unlike other organisms — bacteria, elephants, or apes — humans must alter their environment to survive. One must use their reason to rearrange the objects in their environment to create the values — shelter, food, books, energy, medicine — one requires to survive. Whether one is alone on a desert island or living in modern society: the individual must think rationally — and act productively if life is their goal.

To act rationally means to be guided by reason

Rational means choosing to take a principled, long-range approach in one’s decision making guided by reason. Reason is one’s means of grasping reality by a logical (non-contradictory) process based on the evidence of the senses (facts).

Self-interest means to take actions that support one’s own life

Self-interest (egoism) means to hold one’s life as the ultimate standard of value (the measure by which one determines and judges one’s actions), regarding oneself as the primary beneficiary of one’s actions.

Self-interest indicates the end (the self) of one’s actions; rational indicates the means (reason) of obtaining that end. What bridges the two is a rational code of moral principles that serve as one’s guide to action.

Rational self-interest is to live by an objective code of moral principles

Rational self-interest means choosing to take those actions required by a human being, according to a reality-based, objectively validated moral code of values, so that one may live a flourishing life on earth.

Rational self-interest is opposed to sacrificing others or oneself

In regards to one’s relationship with others, rational self-interest does not mean sacrificing oneself for others (what philosopher Auguste Comte coined as altruism or “otherism”) or sacrificing others for oneself (what is smeared as “selfishness”).

Instead, rational self-interest means having a benevolent view of existence, seeing other individuals as traders with a shared harmony of interests, exchanging value for value — in the material (wealth and pleasure), intellectual (knowledge and discussion) and spiritual (love and friendship) realms.

The rational individual requires freedom from force to flourish

There are only two ways individuals may deal with each other: by reason (i.e., speech, persuasion) or by coercion (i.e., physical blows, compulsion, fraud). Only by the use of force can one be: prevented from speaking, robbed, or murdered; that is, stopped from acting by one’s mind, rendering it useless as a means of survival.

Given that reason is one’s only means of knowing reality, that reason is the attribute of the individual, and that one must use reason to produce the values one needs to survive, in a proper society the individual needs to be left free to think and free to act on that thinking.

Capitalism leaves the individual free to be moral

Capitalism is the ideal social system as it leaves the individual free to be moral — free to act rationally in the pursuit of happiness — so long as one respects the equal right of others to do the same.

The principle that makes this possible is the concept of individual rights, what philosopher Ayn Rand identified as the bridge between individual morality and social politics.


Capitalism Tour

For an indepth presentation on the philosophical, ethical, political, legal, and economic foundations of capitalism take the Capitalism Tour.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!