Rand’s Metaethics: A Reply to Don Watkins’s Nonobjective Review

Last year I released my book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics, in which I criticize Rand’s formal metaethical theory (and defend various aspects of Rand’s broader moral theory), and I have written several essays on the topic since.

In his July 21, 2019, review (“Atlas Neutered: Ari Armstrong’s Straw Man Attack on Objectivism“), Don Watkins ignores almost all of the substance of my book, grossly distorts what he does address, and descends into juvenile name-calling, assuring his readers that I wrote my book in “bad faith” and that I am guilty of intellectual “theft” (my exhaustive citations notwithstanding).

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Rand on Biology and Egoism: A Reply to Mozes

I deeply appreciate Eyal Mozes’s thoughtful challenges to my critique of Ayn Rand’s metaethical theory, which I present in my book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics, and in subsequent essays.

Here I reply to Mozes’s March 25, 2019, essay. My essay here is part of an exchange beginning with Mozes’s January 6 essay and continuing with my previous reply. Although I seek to put the present discussion in its broader context, I certainly do not try to recapitulate my entire case here, a fact to which I hope readers are sensitive. My goal here is to try to wrap up the exchange so that readers know where and how Mozes and I disagree.

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Exploring Value Integration: A Reply to Mozes on Rand’s Ethics

Eyal Mozes reviews my book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics, in a detailed essay posted January 6, 2019.

Mozes and I agree very closely on the proper interpretation of Ayn Rand’s metaethical theory. We disagree about whether that theory is correct (I say no) and what the theory entails in terms of certain moral commitments. We also disagree about whether my proposed alternative, that the point of ethics is to help a person rationally integrate values experienced as ends in themselves, can succeed.

A bit of background: Mozes, whom I met years ago at an Objectivist event, has written important essays about Rand’s moral theory, including one on the free-rider problem, several of which I discuss in my book. In my view, Mozes is a widely underappreciated Objectivist theorist.

Here I do not limit myself to a point-by-point reply of Mozes’s commentary; I seek also to put the conversation in context and to expand my ideas in a way that I hope will prove helpful to the general reader.

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Rand’s Ethics: Reply to David W. Johnson

In his Amazon review of my book, “What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics,” David W. Johnson claims that my essential point is that the “Objectivist ethics allegedly is heavily oriented toward basic survival, undervaluing . . . life’s greater potential.”

It is true that Rand’s metaethics is oriented to the individual’s survival, as I review, but Johnson’s terms “heavily” and “basic” are misleading.

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Critique of Rand’s Ethics: Reply to Pseudo-Objectivists

Objectivists I know and know of tend to be smart, thoughtful, balanced, joyful, successful people. They do profoundly important work in such areas as education, technology, aviation, business, law, and philosophy. In many ways their productive achievements directly or indirectly benefit my life.

Unfortunately, there is a brand of self-proclaimed Objectivist—more accurately, pseudo-Objectivist—who tends to parrot Ayn Rand’s ideas rather than seek to deeply understand them and to nastily smear both Objectivists whom they deem heretical and critics of Rand’s ideas. Continue reading “Critique of Rand’s Ethics: Reply to Pseudo-Objectivists”

How Objectivists Can Fruitfully Reply to My Critique of Rand’s Ethics

I have come to believe that Ayn Rand’s Objectivist ethics is basically wrong, however interesting and insightful it is in various ways. Because of my interest in the matter, and because I used to think that Rand’s theory is correct, I spent considerable effort reading about the theory and formulating my thoughts about it. I wrote up the results in my new book, What’s Wrong with Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics. Continue reading “How Objectivists Can Fruitfully Reply to My Critique of Rand’s Ethics”

Michael Shermer Stares Down the Grim Reaper in Latest Book

As a long-time atheist, I’ve made my peace with my eventual death. More or less. I mean, I want to delay death as long as feasible, given a reasonable quality of life, but it isn’t something that preoccupies my thoughts. Still, I found myself suppressing a strange sense of dread, at times, while reading Michael Shermer’s new book, Heavens on Earth (Henry Holt, 2018). Death sucks—there’s no getting around that. Continue reading “Michael Shermer Stares Down the Grim Reaper in Latest Book”

Oh, You Mean Ayn Rand Wasn’t a Rawlsian?

Image: Michael Greene
Image: Michael Greene

As John McCaskey reviews, various libertarians today are explicitly egalitarian in the vein of John Rawls. One such libertarian is John Tomasi, who claims that even “avowedly egoistic defenses of libertarianism [such as Ayn Rand advocated] recognize the moral imperative that material benefits of social cooperation reach the least well-off class.” This is as quoted by Don Watkins in his article today for the Ayn Rand Institute.

Watkins offers a pretty good summary of why Rand was not Rawlsian, even implicitly, even a little. (As an aside, she was not a libertarian, either, and did not consider herself to be one.) He writes:

Rand would say we shouldn’t evaluate institutions by how they affect any group. It’s wrong, she thinks, to approach political questions by thinking in collectivist terms like “the rich,” “the poor,” or “society.” The question is not which social system benefits which groups, but which social system is geared toward the life of an individual human being.

Of course, when government protects each individual’s rights to think and act by his own judgment, the outcome is a prosperous society that can benefit everyone—including the least-wealthy people living in it. It should come as no surprise that what’s good for individuals is good for individuals considered as a group.