Ayn Rand and Me

How well-known is Ayn Rand in Germany? Well, let me put it this way: You can't get any of her books in German at amazon.de, not even used copies. However, as I follow a splinter of the American media, and some libertarian blogs in particular, I had come across her name quite a bit. So when I saw one of her books for a euro I thought I might get myself an opinion. I was going to post a review of the book but I'm not going to finish it (you'll soon know why), so instead here are a few words on the lead essay, "The Objectivist Ethics".

This could still be a very long post if I could be arsed to point out all of the holes in the argument presented and all of the statements about the world out there that are often questionable and often outright wrong*, but I don't have the time. Up to p. 30, the basic argument is as follows:

1. If there was no human life, you'd need no ethics.

2. Therefore, human life must be at the center of all ethics.

This non-sequitur leads us to what I see as the central paragraph (30, emphases in original):
The basic social principle [of objectivist ethics] is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself - not the means to the ends or the welfare of others - and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man's highest moral purpose.
If we accept that life is an end in itself, by which she means (as is clear from the context) that the preservation of human life must be the one and only aim of ethics, this leads to the conclusion that there are situations which call for altruism, namely, when one person can save another's life without giving up his/her own. (Quality of life doesn't seem to be a concern for her.) In other words, not only does the premise not lead to the conclusion, it leads directly to a conclusion the author abhors.

And that's it with Ayn Rand and me. Of course I could read all of her books and see whether she has addressed this rather obvious objection anywhere, but given that time is a scarce resource I prefer to spend mine on stuff that promises to be more worthwhile. The fact that pretty much everyone acts like this is the reason that most people who call someone's work overrated aren't terribly qualified to make that judgment. Just as an aside.

*An example: "In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort." (22) If only!

(Page numbers refer to: Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness. 50th reprint. New York et al.: Signet. Year not quite clear.)

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