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February 14, 2005

Why Ayn Rand Matters: Metaphysics, Morals and Liberty

Posted by Elaine Sternberg

Philosopher Dr Elaine Sternberg explains why she believes that the writings of Ayn Rand remain important.

Ayn Rand deserves to be taken seriously, because she was right about three things of immense importance: metaphysics, morals and individual liberty. Although many of her characteristic arguments were anticipated by Aristotle, Rand highlighted their relevance to modern life, and made them accessible. And by illustrating key philosophical concepts in superbly titled novels, she has provided millions of readers with arguments, and a vocabulary, that can be used to challenge the errors of conventional morality and collectivist government.

The great metaphysical truth that Rand recognised is supremely simple: "A is A". This is a shorthand way of referring both to the actuality of objective reality and the possibility of objective truth. There is a world that exists independent of mind; a thing is what it is and not some other thing; furthermore, things can be known to be what they are through the use of reason. By interacting with things in the world, we can learn about the world, and come to have reliable knowledge of it. In particular, we can discover what is necessary for the survival and flourishing of different kinds of natural existents, including human beings. These form the basis of an objective morality.

Metaphysics matters crucially for morals. If, counterfactually, there were no world, no truths could be learned about it. A fortiori, there could be no moral truths. Sadly, this nihilistic notion is the one propounded by most modern (i.e., post Cartesian) philosophy; it dismisses as "naive realism" the Aristotelian/Randian view that there exists an objective reality that is independent of mind and that is capable of being known. It is largely because of this dismissal that modern academic philosophy has rendered itself so irrelevant.

While most non philosophers are not troubled by metaphysical scepticism, and go about their daily lives untroubled about whether there are good grounds for preferring cider to cyanide as their standard tipple, they are less sure about morality. If there is no moral truth, why should one prefer honesty and fairness to lying, cheating and stealing? And why should liberty be a good thing?

Rand, following Aristotle, provides the reason: because some kinds of conduct are necessary for the survival of human beings as human beings. Rand recognises that there is such a thing as "human nature", and that it is the nature of man to be a rational animal. Just as the nature of fish requires them to be immersed in water to survive, so does the nature of man requre the use of reason for man's survival as man.

Rand's second major achievement, was to draw out the implications of this realist morality. In contrast to most modern doctrines, for Rand (as for Aristotle), ethics is not primarily about how other people should be treated. Nor does it consist in adherence to the prohibitions and prescriptions of a deity. Rather, the key subject matter of ethics is the relationship of each individual to his own potential as a rational being.

The role of ethics is to codify the values necessary for the actualisation of that distinctively human potential, where "value" designates that which one wishes to attain or keep. The identification of those values is necessary, because being rational is not an automatic process: even more than Aristotle, Rand stressed that man is characterised by volitional consciousness and rationality.

In contrast to conventional morality, the naturalist ethics propounded by Rand, following Aristotle, highlights the vital importance of happiness as a goal, and of rational self interest as a guide to it. Happiness is the state of mind that results from achievement of one's values [Ayn Rand, "The Objectivist Ethics" (1961) in The Virtue of Selfishness (henceforth VOS), (NY: Signet, 1964), p.28]; Aristotle called it "the bloom on the activity". Insofar as the values sought are the ones necessary for living as a rational being, happiness will be the result of living rationally [Ibid, p.29]:

Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one's life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness.... "Happiness" can properly be the purpose of ethics, but not the standard.
Happiness is thus appropriately described as the goal or purpose of ethical conduct, and indeed of human life itself [Ayn Rand, "The Essentials of Objectivism", Atlas Shrugged, (NY: Signet, 1957), pp.1082-3]:
Man - every man - is an end in himself, not a means to the end of others; he must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself, with the achievement of his own happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.
The ethical values Rand identifies are fully compatible with human beings' thriving on earth, because they are a function of it. [For an extended explanation and illustration of the implication of such an approach to ethics for business, see Elaine Sternberg, Just Business: Business Ethics in Action, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)].

For Rand (as for Aristotle), the guiding principle of a happy life is rational self-interest [VOS, op.cit., p.31. Emphasis in original]:

The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the rational interests of men do not clash -- that there is no conflict of interest among men who do not desire the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept them, who deal with one another as traders, giving value for value.
And therein lies another of Rand's major achievements: her understanding of the nature of, and her consequent thoroughgoing opposition to, altruism. The implications of altruism were not addressed by Aristotle, because altruism as an ethical doctrine was entirely alien to the ancient Greeks; working in the 5th century BC, Aristotle neither considered altruism as an ethical position, nor predicted the damage it might do. But anticipating Rand, Aristotle did recognise the unsuitability of motives as standards of action; he was clear that motives were insufficient for identifying what is moral.

Rand's significant advance was to highlight the dangers that result from altruism, in which a particular intention - that of serving the interests of others - is taken as the defining principle of ethics. Writing in the 20th century, Rand was keenly aware of the enormous damage done by the acceptance of altruism as an ethical doctrine. The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged can indeed be seen as extended illustrations of the deeply damaging and ultimately pernicious effects of such a doctrine, and its concomitant glorification of self-sacrifice.

Rand rightly identified such doctrines as being profoundly anti-life: when ability becomes a liability, when need and incapacity are what gets rewarded, and when self-sacrifice is the highest moral value, the natural outcome is death. The story [Atlas Shrugged, op.cit., pp.609-20.] of what happened to the once successful Twentieth Century Motor Company in the hands of the socialist Starnes family should be read by every would be do-gooder; it details with painful clarity how altruism operates to the destruction of both generous impulses and sustainable outcomes.

Rand applied her naturalist ethics not only in identifying and elucidating the evils of altruism, but in robustly defending individual liberty [For a discussion about the extent to which the roots of such a defense can be found in Aristotle, see Fred D. Miller, Jr., Nature, Justice, and Rights in Aristotle's Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)], and correctly identifying its relation to morality.

Rand's defense of liberty was based on her recognition that consciousness and rationality are necessary for man's survival as man, and that they are volitional. Individual (negative) liberty - freedom from physical coercion - is generally necessary both for the exercise of rationality, and for productive action: liberty is a condition for living as a human being.

Rationality, and specifically that aspect which Aristotle called "practical reason", is essential for identifying, achieving, and integrating the various ends that constitute human life. Practical reason is more than mathematical logic or freedom of will: it involves action in the physical world, which is ordinarily precluded by physical coercion [Limitations of choice are coercive when they are both imposed by other humans or human systems, and are enforced with aggressive physical force or the threats thereof]. Even when some attenuated self-direction is possible in responding to a coercive situation, realising human potential normally involves a range of activities and choices that are incompatible with being physically coerced. Someone who is tied up, or whose person or property are otherwise forcibly constrained by the actions of others, is typically prevented from acting in the ways necessary to achieve his self-realisation. For life as a full human being to be generally possible, negative liberty is required.

Rand's defense of individual liberty is both distinctive and especially robust. Unlike most defenses of negative liberty, and especially those in the Popperian tradition, hers neither requires nor admits ethical relativism. Quite the contrary: Rand's defense of liberty presupposes the existence of objective truth. It is an objective truth, based on the nature of the world and the nature of man, that individual liberty is a value in living a fully human life.

Furthermore, and very significantly, Rand's defense recognises that while liberty is necessary for living fully as a human being, liberty does not exhaust what is involved in being moral. Like other libertarians, Rand recognised that liberty is the prime political value. But surpassing many libertarians, she knew that liberty is not the only moral value. There is far more to being ethical than being free from coercion: the freedom must be used in ways that are compatible with human flourishing. Rand's defense of liberty is part of an integrated system of metaphysics and morals.

Finally, Rand understood that individual liberty requires certain sorts of institutional arrangements. Just as what is morally right is a matter of objective fact, so too is the form of political economy that is best for promoting human liberty and human flourishing. Only laissez-faire capitalism is compatible with the full individual liberty that is a condition of the life of man as man. But laissez-faire capitalism in turn depends on comprehensive property rights and the rule of law. According to Rand, these conditions, and the protection of rights, require enforcement by a "night watchman" state with a monopoly on the use of coercive force. While the need for even that level of state control may be disputed, Rand was emphatic that any greater level of control was wholly unjustified.

In summary, Rand has provided valuable elucidation of and support for a number of fundamentally important ideas. Challenging most philosophers since Aristotle, she outlined a comprehensive, realist metaphysics. And challenging both philosophical and conventional ethics, she presented strong arguments against altruism in its various forms, and in favour of a realist morality based on happiness and rational self-interest. Finally, in drawing out the implications of her realist philosophy, and demonstrating the proper relations between morality and freedom, she provided an extremely robust defense of both individual liberty and laissez-faire capitalism.
Elaine Sternberg 2005

An earlier version of this paper was delivered at the Adam Smith Institute on the occasion of Ayn Rand's centenary, 2 February 2005.

Dr Elaine Sternberg is the author of Just Business: Business Ethics in Action, Oxford University Press, 2000.


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There are many titles now that start with why something matters. And there is good reason for this, because everything matters. There is nothing that doesn't matter. Ayn Rand matters because my mother read and liked her. However, she matters most not because what she said was necessarily true or good but that she was a counterbalance to those who thought opposite to her. For me she matter because philosophers like her show that the truth is somewhere in the middle, between what she thinks and what her opposite number thinks. What really matters is a synthesis of her an her counterpart.

Posted by: David Airth at February 14, 2005 03:50 PM
•••

"The commonplace critic believes that the truth lies somewhere in the middle, between the extremes of right and wrong".

William Hazlitt 1778-1830.

Posted by: Ligneus at February 15, 2005 04:23 AM
•••

When William Hazlitt uttered those words he was already out of it and hardly knew what he was talking about. Anyhow, it was said in a more pietistic time. Who determines what is right and wrong? For the most part, what's socially right or wrong is an empirical endeavour.

It's pretty thin for someone to rely on such quotes to make a point. My blood boils and my eyes role a little when I read such nothings.

Posted by: David Airth at February 15, 2005 02:42 PM
•••

Ayn Rand matters because she went against the wave of socialism, have done it with a clear set of ideas and great insight. However, her philosophy of objectivism is absurd, IMHO and completely unworkable on a practical level. For example, what difference does it make whether there is "objective reality" or not? So what if there is no spoon. And Deity's commandments are so much better than that of a professor. On a practical level, it is not acceptable to 99.999% of people, that society can only exist because of efforts of a dozen people (even if it were true, and it is not).

Posted by: Eugene Jacobs at February 15, 2005 04:47 PM
•••

Ayn Rand was right about a fourth thing of immense importance: esthetics. Between 1965 and 1971, she published a series of brief essays setting forth the basic principles of her philosophy of art, defining the essential nature and function of art in relation to the conceptual nature of the human mind. Why is esthetics, and Rand's theory in particular, important? Because art is important, and because her ideas are a radical alternative to the prevailing relativism and subjectivism of modernist and postmodernist theory and criticism---especially the notion that something is art merely if the artworld says it is. Rand's ideas languished in relative obscurity in the years following the publication of her essays. In 1982, I founded Aristos, a small journal on the arts based on her thought. Nearly a decade later, Michelle Marder Kamhi and I published 'What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand,' and Aristos is now online. Slowly---very slowly---Rand's philosophy of art is gaining the recognition it deserves in scholarly and critical circles.

Posted by: Louis Torres at February 15, 2005 10:28 PM
•••

I cannot believe you would dare to associate Aristotle with Ayn Rand. He would have abhored her, or anyone who wrote a book entitled "the virtue of selfishness"

1. For Aristotle happiness is the aim of man, but it is an entirely different conception than Rand has, it is the improvement of one's soul (eudaimonia= to be blessed with a good daimon). Thus altruism is a huge part of Aristotle's ethics, when you help others you help yourself. Not in the Randian sense that it is pleasurable to help others, but in a far more profound sense. When you help others you become a better human being
2. For Aristotle, it would be as impossible to call any social system objectively best, such certainty is impossible in human affairs. Moreover, according to Aristotle, the best system for most cities is a government in which power is shared between both rich and poor, and both balance each other out.
3. For Aristotle, not "negative liberty", but public freedom as being a member of a polis is neccessary for human flourishing. The best way of being between individuals is not as "traders, giving value for value", but as citizens, deliberating about "values" and how to collectively achieve them.
4. While Aristotle clearly would have had no concept of modern philosophy, he clearly distinguishes between the intellectual world of "being" and the everday world of "becoming". There is no certainly or objective moral truth in the world of becoming.

The true difference between Aristotle and Ayn Rand, is that reason is not natural for Aristotle because we need it to survive, it is natural because it is in accord with man's perfection. In that way, Ayn Rand is thoroughly modern. Her conception of reason is no different from that of Locke and Hobbes. She is just far less insightful.

Posted by: Will at February 17, 2005 02:47 AM
•••

Is Ayn Rand not the intellectual equivalent of a boy band? Something you think is great at the time - when you first come across it - but something you soon grow out of, or at the very least should when you discover the richer fruit.

Posted by: Jane at February 17, 2005 03:59 PM
•••

The note by Will above contains so many confusions that it would take a post double the size of the one he wrote to identify and correct them all. But here is a thumbnail sketch:

1. Will tells us that Rand's conception of 'happiness' is 'entirely different' from Aristotle's. His 'evidence' for this is a claim both false and incoherent: that Aristotle counsels 'altruism'. Why false? Because the claim is directly contradicted between Nic Ethics IX.4-9. Why incoherent? Because if helping others helps the agent, no altruism is involved.

A more careful reading of Rand's "Ethics of Emergencies" and of Aristotle's NE VIII-IX would reveal that (a) Rand's conception of other-concern is not hedonistic, and (b) her conception of other-concern is essentially the same as Aristotle's.

2. Will's second point could use some help from Aristotle's account of the Principle of Non-Contradiction, Met. IV.3. His first sentence tells us that for Aristotle, no social system is objectively best. His second sentence makes claims about the objectively best social system. That's self-contradictory.

The first sentence is at any rate just false--false both to Aristotle's conception of akribeia (precision) and false to the text of Aristotle's Politics. In any case, even if it were true that Aristotle couldn't pronounce any social system objectively best, that would simply tell us that Aristotle's view had little to recommend it.

3. Will proceeds to tell us that for Aristotle, there is no negative liberty, only debate about values minus negative liberty. Even if we set aside textual matters, this raises the following obvious question: how can a debate about anything take place in a context where none of the debaters have negative liberty? If they lack negative liberty, they are potentially subject to coercion; but if they are in that predicament...it isn't a debate.

Will neglects to mention that one reason why Aristotle might not have endorsed Rand's trader principle is that he endorsed slavery. At a deeper level, he thought that material production was a base and ignoble activity that deserved enslavement. While Aristotle and Rand diverge on this point, Aristotle's view obviously has less to recommend it than Rand's.

4. I find Will's last point too opaque to interpret. The simplest response is that Metaphysics Theta is about dunameis (potentialities), that that concept is certainly relevant to morality, and Aristotle takes his discussion of it to be true.

As for the supposed bifurcation between perfection and survival, Aristotle endorses some such bifurcation (at times--and contradicts it at other times), but Rand's view is more sensible. On Rand's view, perfection and survival are correlative aims because moral perfection is a necessary constituent of survival qua human. Aristotle didn't put the point that way, but it's a recognizably Aristotelian thought. (Thomas Aquinas is an Aristotelian despite having said many things that Aristotle never did, and never could, say.)

It seems to me that a necessary condition of pronouncing Rand lacking in "insight" is to know what one is talking about. I'm afraid that Will doesn't.

Posted by: Irfan Khawaja at March 27, 2005 12:15 AM
•••

> Why Ayn Rand Matters: Metaphysics, Morals and Liberty
> Posted by Elaine Sternberg
> (2)
> Ayn Rand deserves to be taken seriously, because she
> was right about three things of immense importance:
> metaphysics, morals and individual liberty. Although
> many of her characteristic arguments were anticipated
> by Aristotle, Rand highlighted their relevance to
> modern life, and made them accessible.
>
McD: She got the ideas from Nietzsche but switched to Aristotle when the Nazi's adopted her true master according to one biographer. He has since died.

>
> Elaine Sternberg: And by
> illustrating key philosophical concepts in superbly
> titled novels, she has provided millions of readers
> with arguments, and a vocabulary, that can be used to
> challenge the errors of conventional morality and
> collectivist government.
>
> The great metaphysical truth that Rand recognised is
> supremely simple: 'A is A'.
>
McD: Who ever doubted that?

>
> Elaine Sternberg: This is a shorthand way of
> referring both to the actuality of objective reality
> and the possibility of objective truth. There is a
> world that exists independent of mind; a thing is what
> it is and not some other thing; furthermore, things
> can be known to be what they are through the use of
> reason. By interacting with things in the world, we
> can learn about the world, and come to have reliable
> knowledge of it. In particular, we can discover what
> is necessary for the survival and flourishing of
> different kinds of natural existents, including human
> beings. These form the basis of an objective morality.
>
McD: They hardly relate to morality at all, do they?
>
>
> Elaine Sternberg: Metaphysics matters crucially for morals. If,
> counterfactually, there were no world, no truths could
> be learned about it.
>
McD: And that is somehow germane to ethics?

>
> Elaine Sternberg: A fortiori, there could be no
> moral truths.
>
McD: The right is not the truth. There is no direct facts of ethics.
>
> Elaine Sternberg: Sadly, this nihilistic notion is the one
> propounded by most modern (i.e., post Cartesian)
> philosophy; it dismisses as 'naive realism' the
> Aristotelian/ Randian view that there exists an
> objective reality that is independent of mind and that
> is capable of being known. It is largely because of
> this dismissal that modern academic philosophy has
> rendered itself so irrelevant.
>
McD: How many philosophers reject the idea that facts & objects exist
independent of the mind? I know of none, offhand.
>
>
> Elaine Sternberg: While most non philosophers are not troubled by
> metaphysical scepticism, and go about their daily
> lives untroubled about whether there are good grounds
> for preferring cider to cyanide as their standard
> tipple, they are less sure about morality. If there is
> no moral truth, why should one prefer honesty and
> fairness to lying, cheating and stealing? And why
> should liberty be a good thing?
>
> Rand, following Aristotle, provides the reason:
> because some kinds of conduct are necessary for the
> survival of human beings as human beings. Rand
> recognises that there is such a thing as 'human
> nature', and that it is the nature of man to be a
> rational animal. Just as the nature of fish requires
> them to be immersed in water to survive, so does the
> nature of man requre the use of reason for man's
> survival as man.
>
> Rand's second major achievement, was to draw out the
> implications of this realist morality. In contrast to
> most modern doctrines, for Rand (as for Aristotle),
> ethics is not primarily about how other people should
> be treated. Nor does it consist in adherence to the
> prohibitions and prescriptions of a deity. Rather, the
> key subject matter of ethics is the relationship of
> each individual to his own potential as a rational
> being.
>
> The role of ethics is to codify the values necessary
> for the actualisation of that distinctively human
> potential, where 'value' designates that which one
> wishes to attain or keep. The identification of those
> values is necessary, because being rational is not an
> automatic process:
>
McD: In fact, it is.

Thought is not a matter of choice & nor is belief.

>
> Elaine Sternberg: ..even more than Aristotle, Rand
> stressed that man is characterised by volitional
> consciousness and rationality.
>
McD: And that is false. Thought cannot be chosen. It is automatic. David Hume knew that.
>
>
> Elaine Sternberg: In contrast to conventional morality, the naturalist
> ethics propounded by Rand, following Aristotle,
> highlights the vital importance of happiness as a
> goal, and of rational self interest as a guide to it.
> Happiness is the state of mind that results from
> achievement of one's values [Ayn Rand, 'The
> Objectivist Ethics' (1961) in The Virtue of
> Selfishness (henceforth VOS), (NY: Signet, 1964),
> p.28]; Aristotle called it 'the bloom on the
> activity'. Insofar as the values sought are the ones
> necessary for living as a rational being, happiness
> will be the result of living rationally [Ibid, p.29]:
>
> Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals
> is the activity of maintaining one's life;
> psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is
> an emotional state of happiness.... 'Happiness' can
> properly be the purpose of ethics, but not the
> standard.
> Happiness is thus appropriately described as the goal
> or purpose of ethical conduct, and indeed of human
> life itself [Ayn Rand, 'The Essentials of
> Objectivism', Atlas Shrugged, (NY: Signet, 1957),
> pp.1082-3]:
> Man - every man - is an end in himself, not a means to
> the end of others; he must live for his own sake,
> neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing
> others to himself, with the achievement of his own
> happiness as the highest moral purpose of his life.
> The ethical values Rand identifies are fully
> compatible with human beings' thriving on earth,
> because they are a function of it. [For an extended
> explanation and illustration of the implication of
> such an approach to ethics for business, see Elaine
> Sternberg, Just Business: Business Ethics in Action,
> 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)].
>
> For Rand (as for Aristotle), the guiding principle of
> a happy life is rational self-interest [VOS, op.cit.,
> p.31. Emphasis in original]:
>
>
> The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not
> require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the
> sacrifice of anyone to anyone. It holds that the
> rational interests of men do not clash -- that there
> is no conflict of interest among men who do not desire
> the unearned, who do not make sacrifices nor accept
> them, who deal with one another as traders, giving
> value for value.
>
> And therein lies another of Rand's major achievements:
> her understanding of the nature of, and her consequent
> thoroughgoing opposition to, altruism. The
> implications of altruism were not addressed by
> Aristotle, because altruism as an ethical doctrine was
> entirely alien to the ancient Greeks;
>
McD: That is not likely to be the case, though the word dates only from Comte in the nineteenth century. The Greek armies haply practised self sacrifice of some for others; it is almost intrinsic to battle.

>
> Elaine Sternberg: ..working in the
> 5th century BC, Aristotle neither considered altruism
> as an ethical position, nor predicted the damage it
> might do.
>
McD: He did hold that a solder had a duty to often fight to the death. This was to die for others, was it not?

>
> Elaine Sternberg: But anticipating Rand, Aristotle did
> recognise the unsuitability of motives as standards of
> action; he was clear that motives were insufficient
> for identifying what is moral.
>
> Rand's significant advance was to highlight the
> dangers that result from altruism, in which a
> particular intention - that of serving the interests
> of others - is taken as the defining principle of
> ethics. Writing in the 20th century, Rand was keenly
> aware of the enormous damage done by the acceptance of
> altruism as an ethical doctrine. The Fountainhead and
> Atlas Shrugged can indeed be seen as extended
> illustrations of the deeply damaging and ultimately
> pernicious effects of such a doctrine, and its
> concomitant glorification of self-sacrifice.
>
> Rand rightly identified such doctrines as being
> profoundly anti-life: when ability becomes a
> liability, when need and incapacity are what gets
> rewarded, and when self-sacrifice is the highest moral
> value, the natural outcome is death. The story [Atlas
> Shrugged, op.cit., pp.609-20.] of what happened to the
> once successful Twentieth Century Motor Company in the
> hands of the socialist Starnes family should be read
> by every would be do-gooder; it details with painful
> clarity how altruism operates to the destruction of
> both generous impulses and sustainable outcomes.
>
> Rand applied her naturalist ethics not only in
> identifying and elucidating the evils of altruism, but
> in robustly defending individual liberty [For a
> discussion about the extent to which the roots of such
> a defense can be found in Aristotle, see Fred D.
> Miller, Jr., Nature, Justice, and Rights in
> Aristotle's Politics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)],
> and correctly identifying its relation to morality.
>
> Rand's defense of liberty was based on her recognition
> that consciousness and rationality are necessary for
> man's survival as man, and that they are volitional.
>
McD: Rationality is not volitional. We automatically think.
>
>
> Elaine Sternberg: Individual (negative) liberty - freedom from physical
> coercion - is generally necessary both for the
> exercise of rationality, and for productive action:
> liberty is a condition for living as a human being.
>
McD: Both of those points are false. I will remain human if sent to gaol & I will also be rational in gaol. So would anyone else.
>
>
> Elaine Sternberg: Rationality, and specifically that aspect which
> Aristotle called 'practical reason', is essential for
> identifying, achieving, and integrating the various
> ends that constitute human life. Practical reason is
> more than mathematical logic or freedom of will: it
> involves action in the physical world, which is
> ordinarily precluded by physical coercion [Limitations
> of choice are coercive when they are both imposed by
> other humans or human systems, and are enforced with
> aggressive physical force or the threats thereof].
> Even when some attenuated self-direction is possible
> in responding to a coercive situation, realising human
> potential normally involves a range of activities and
> choices that are incompatible with being physically
> coerced. Someone who is tied up, or whose person or
> property are otherwise forcibly constrained by the
> actions of others, is typically prevented from acting
> in the ways necessary to achieve his self-realisation.
> For life as a full human being to be generally
> possible, negative liberty is required.
>
> Rand's defense of individual liberty is both
> distinctive and especially robust.
>
McD: Against whom?

>
> Elaine Sternberg: Unlike most
> defenses of negative liberty, and especially those in
> the Popperian tradition, hers neither requires nor
> admits ethical relativism.
>
McD: In what way does Popper's outlook require ethical relativism? This is news to me.

>
> Elaine Sternberg: Quite the contrary: Rand's
> defense of liberty presupposes the existence of
> objective truth. It is an objective truth, based on
> the nature of the world and the nature of man, that
> individual liberty is a value in living a fully human
> life.
>
> Furthermore, and very significantly, Rand's defense
> recognises that while liberty is necessary for living
> fully as a human being, liberty does not exhaust what
> is involved in being moral. Like other libertarians,
> Rand recognised that liberty is the prime political
> value. But surpassing many libertarians, she knew that
> liberty is not the only moral value. There is far more
> to being ethical than being free from coercion: the
> freedom must be used in ways that are compatible with
> human flourishing. Rand's defense of liberty is part
> of an integrated system of metaphysics and morals.
>
> Finally, Rand understood that individual liberty
> requires certain sorts of institutional arrangements.
> Just as what is morally right is a matter of objective
> fact, so too is the form of political economy that is
> best for promoting human liberty and human
> flourishing. Only laissez-faire capitalism is
> compatible with the full individual liberty that is a
> condition of the life of man as man. But laissez-faire
> capitalism in turn depends on comprehensive property
> rights and the rule of law. According to Rand, these
> conditions, and the protection of rights, require
> enforcement by a 'night watchman' state with a
> monopoly on the use of coercive force.
>
McD: But we have been told above that there can be no rationality whilst such a coercive force exists!

Posted by: David McDonagh at March 31, 2005 10:39 AM
•••
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