January 08, 2004

Objectivist Ethics

If you haven't read Atlas Shrugged, you may want to skip this post, as it contains a mild spoiler.

William H. Stoddard at New Troy has an interesting article about the ethics of Ayn Rand. As he explains, objectivist ethics rely upon the premise that it is only the concept of life that makes value possible. As value is something that one acts to gain or keep, all ethical actions should be directed to keeping oneself alive. Thus every function of a living organism is (or should be) directed toward a single goal: the organism's survival. But, as Mr. Stoddard illustrates, this isn't, in general, true. He uses the tale of the "Wet Nurse" (Tony) in Atlas Shrugged to illustrate that
merely preserving one's life is not always the ethical choice. Instead of a pure "survival" ethics, Mr. Stoddard posits a "legacy" ethics, the selfish desire to have something of value survive beyond one's own life.

I particularly like his discussion of the possible influence of Aristotle's metabiology on Rand's thinking here, when Darwinian biology would point more towards a legacy system of ethics. If you are into Rand, objectivism, darwinism, or any of the above, read the whole thing.

Posted by JohnL at January 8, 2004 09:41 PM
Save This Page