The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism
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.