Selfishness — a virtue? Ayn Rand chose this book’s provocative title because she was on a mission to overcome centuries of demonization. “In popular usage,” Rand writes, “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 . . . 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.”
In this collection of articles, Rand offers a “new concept of egoism” based on reason as man’s means of survival and opposed to all forms of sacrifice.
It is commonly believed that morality demands we choose between sacrificing other people to ourselves (which is deemed “selfish” and therefore immoral) and sacrificing our own values to satisfy others’ needs (which is deemed unselfish and therefore moral). In this book, Rand rejects both options as forms of selflessness, and offers a new concept of egoism — an ethics of rational selfishness that rejects sacrifice in all its forms.
Selfishness, however, does not mean “doing whatever you please.” Moral principles are not a matter of personal opinion — they are based in the facts of reality, in man’s nature as a rational being, who must think and act successfully in order to live and be happy. Morality’s task is to identify the kinds of action that in fact benefit oneself. These virtues (productivity, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, pride) are all applications of the basic virtue, rationality. Rand’s moral ideal is a life of reason, purpose and self-esteem.
Ayn Rand (born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, February 2, 1905 – March 6, 1982) was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright, and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.
Born and educated in Russia, Rand moved to the United States in 1926. She worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood and had a play produced on Broadway in 1935–1936. After two initially unsuccessful early novels, she achieved fame with her 1943 novel The Fountainhead. In 1957, she published her best-known work, the philosophical novel Atlas Shrugged. Afterward she turned to nonfiction to promote her philosophy, publishing her own magazines and releasing several collections of essays until her death in 1982.
Rand advocated reason as the only means of acquiring knowledge and rejected all forms of faith and religion. She supported rational egoism and rejected ethical altruism. In politics, she condemned the initiation of force as immoral and opposed all forms of collectivism and statism, instead supporting laissez-faire capitalism, which she believed was the only social system that protected individual rights. She promoted romantic realism in art. She was sharply critical of most other philosophers and philosophical traditions.
The reception for Rand's fiction from literary critics has historically been mixed and polarizing, with extreme opinions both for and against her work commonly being expressed. Nonetheless, she continues to have a popular following, as well as a growing influence among scholars and academics. Rand's political ideas have been influential among libertarians and conservatives. The Objectivist movement attempts to spread her ideas, both to the public and in academic settings.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Rand developed and promoted her Objectivist philosophy through her nonfiction works and by giving talks to students at institutions such as 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 afterward 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 many 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 it. 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.
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