Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of EgoismThe Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism by Ayn Rand
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Note: Objectivism is deeply anti-Christianity, and anti-religion in general. You should not trust a politician that claims that he is both a Christian and a believer in the philosophies of Ayn Rand. He does not understand either Christianity or Objectivism, or possibly both, or he's a huge liar.

That said, this book isn't really what it sounds like. It's a collection of essays by Ayn Rand and Nathanial Branden that are not pro-heathenism per se. Rand and Branden try to explain how the philosophy of objectivism is that individuals need to think through their own rational system of morals and ethics. That's a good start. The problem is that a lot of the points in Rand's essays are either not logically sound or based on incorrect premises. (And I was pretty bored by Branden's sycophantic essays.) It's like swimming through mud.

For one thing, Rand refers a great deal to biological examples, and she repeatedly gets biology wrong. Obviously, she's not a biological scientist, and we know more today about biology than in the 1960s, but she premises her ethics arguments on the natural world- and her basis is incorrect. She believes that living creatures are driven primarily by continuing to live- that life (and the avoidance of pain) is the fundamental value of the natural world. That's only sort of true. The natural world is more driven by reproduction which means that animals regularly act on behalf of other related animals. Even on a cellular level there's the theory now that mitochondria used to be a separate free-living organism that combined with other organisms (endosymbiosis theory). Her idea that humans are emotionally and ethically tabula rasa when they are born isn't scientifically supported either. These are just a few examples, she gets a number of her points about science and animals either factually wrong or logically wrong. It reminds me of the absurd co-opting of evolutionary principals for political "Social Darwinism" nonsense.

As for her logical failures, (though I'm sure that some American Republicans agree with her) she makes no rational distinction between armed robbery, confiscation of all your property in a communist system, and taxation. She makes no distinction between altruism generally and complete self-sacrifice. Her views on love collapse into such total nonsense that arguing against them would require an entire treatise. She also incorrectly predicted many of the results of capitalism so this makes her arguments for unhindered capitalism look obviously foolish.

I do appreciate her condemnation of people's failure to engage in the pursuit of knowledge and reason. I also enjoyed her condemnation of communism.

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