Ayn Rand said
My morality, the morality of reason, is contained in a single axiom: existence exists—and in a single choice: to live.
For those unfamiliar with Randspeak, Rand’s “morality, the morality of reason” is Objectivist ethics. The axiom “existence exists” is metaphysical naturalism. Rand denied the existence of the supernatural. But it is not metaphysical naturalism that defines Rand’s moral system. Naturalistic moral theories are a dime a dozen. What distinguishes Objectivist ethics from other moral systems, and that which is its very foundation stone, is the choice “to live.”
Lindsay Perigo, the southern Pope of Objectivism, explains this (here and elsewhere) very clearly.
Objectivism holds that the choice to live, while it is the basis of morality, is itself pre-moral. If one chooses to live, then morality becomes necessary; if one doesn’t, then, surely, morality has nothing to say about that? How can it have anything to say when it has not yet entered the picture?
If one chooses to live, then the book of morality opens. If one chooses to die, one can just lie down and do it … one is [then] simply irrelevant to morality and vice versa. The key to this and the fact that it keeps on coming up is that Objectivists, being intrinsicists as they usually are, cannot accept that the basis of morality is an “if”—if one chooses life. Even though Rand herself spells it out repeatedly.
Life is neither good nor bad. It simply *is*. It’s the standard of good and bad. If you choose life, then x follows.
The choice to live is pre-moral … and the basis of “moral.” The code of morality that flows from such a choice precludes murder. …
As far as I know, Perigo never does explain how the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” flows from choosing something that “is neither good nor bad,” but “simply *is*.” But it’s not, in fact, hard to explain.
Consider the following remark by impolite, badly flawed Objectivist Tom Burroughes.
Tara Smith’s focus on the issue of human flourishing … is an absolutely vital aspect of Tara Smith’s book. It is, if you will, the punchline.
When people mock the Objectivist focus on life as the reward and standard of value, they seem to ignore that “life” is not just about dodging a morgue or just dragging oneself through the day at a miserable, but not-dead, level. It is about trying to reach the maximum one can in life, in all aspects, over the course of a life. And to do that requires, inter alia, that one cultivates the virtues, and as a consequence, treats others justly and rationally. It is, in fact, a pretty demanding way to live …
Burroughes does not describe something that “simply is” “neither good nor bad.” His is a rich description of the good life, a life that requires that one cultivate certain moral virtues … whereby, one treats others justly and rationally. His is, in fact, a description of Christian living (which is, notoriously, “a pretty demanding way to live”).
Was Ayn Rand a Christian? Yes, she was. She smuggled Christian values into her concept of “life,” at the ground level. She then chose that life, one suffused with Christian virtue. Objectivist ethics is an edifice built on the sure foundation of Christian ethics.
It’s no wonder that good Objectivists and good Christians are both proponents of a broadly libertarian political ideology, such being the only basis of a just system of government.
[Cross-posted to SOLO.]
8 thoughts on “Was Ayn Rand a Christian? (Part 2)”
I see where you’re going with this. However, it seems to me that Burroughes’ description of the good life is just the sort of vague blather that you’d find everywhere from certain sections of the Bible through to an airport self-help book. It really contains nothing distinctive to Objectivism, hence is transposable with the traditional and equally vague edicts we’ve inherited from Judeo-Christianity.
The distinctive features of Objectivist ethics are, in practice, few. One is her anti-heroic pronouncement that it is immoral to risk one’s life for a stranger. It is very difficult to imagine a society where this would actually be the case, so I doubt this is operational. A second is of course her emphasis on “selfishness”, but as this relies at root on Rand’s dissembling via a false definition of the usual term, so this isn’t operational either and never was. A third is the claim that she solved the logical relation between “ought” and “is”, but of course neither she nor any other Objectivist has ever actually produced any such valid derivation so this is either stupid or delusional. There are a couple of others, but at any rate it is clear that the few distinctive features are entirely untenable, hence you end up with unremarkable blather such as the stuff you’ve cited.
Her ethics, like most of her work, are “both good and original” as the old gag goes.
I’ve expanded a little on her anti-heroic ethics here.
Richard cited Burroughes:
>When people mock the Objectivist focus on life as the reward and standard of value…
Also, this comment is simply incorrect. People don’t “mock the Objectivist focus on life as the reward and standard of value.” They criticise Objectivist ethics largely for relying on equivocation, dissembling and non-existent logic. Because Objectivists have no reply to these criticisms, but persist anyway, that’s where the mockery comes in.
Daniel, thanks for your comments. Insightful, as always.
I loved your piece on Rand’s Anti-Heroic Ethics.
Daniel, have you and your mates sat on your collective ASS recently? I believe Reed laid a complaint with sa[i]d ASS. The least you could do is issue an unenforceable ruling.
Thanks for the kind words Richard. Enjoying your blog.
Re: the ASA, you mean we can’t send men with guns?…;-)
The Anti-Heroism of Objectivist Egoism and opposition to Self-sacrifice was a main point in my speech @ the Libertatianz conference of 2006.
Here is the main secion on this…
“…Everything I am saying is aimed at our “ought ness” in the light of our own individual values. Nothing I have said is in anyway contrary to Individual voluntary action, Indeed it is the voluntary choice to commit ourselves to such a worth cause that gives us the right to have self esteem and to claim the high ground as the defenders of truth , justice and the common good! If any of you are mumbling under your breath that I’m trying to ensnare you in bondage to the collective I feel very sorry for you!
I’ll go further and say Altruism is a great good, and that you have been sold a giant Mickey if you think self sacrifice for the good of others can have no place in virtue for the individualist!
Right to claim a value always entails a cost or else its just lip service. Action defines personal values!
Long suffering is the keynote of high value.
A cost free value system is irrational and a cheap fake!
Even true friendship means we must be prepared to risk offending and loosing that friendship if we see the need to rebuke them for their own good!
The higher the value the more we must be prepared to sacrifice for it’s sake to claim it as our own. This being true it logically follows that Altruism is heroic when practised voluntarily and Jesus Christ was a great man of virtue!
He said it was out of love that he would give his life for his friends, and was faithful to his beliefs unto death even the death of the cross!
This is heroism!
The volunteer fireman, who risks the inferno for the sake of others.
The heroic rescue workers that entered the Twin towers on 9/11 and never came out!
The Christian heroes that died fighting evil in the flight that was supposed to hit the Whitehouse!
The army soldier who falls upon a grenade as a human shield for his Brothers in Arms!
These are indisputably mans greatest kind of deeds and acts of love and as such are worthy of the greatest honour!
Contrary to what Rand says, Altruism, in it’s true sense, is voluntary and is the highest expression of individualist values and character!
It is Love!
It opposite is a deluded egotistical ‘covetousness of self’ as the centre of reality! Self-worshipping Megalomania!
Sadam Insane is an ‘Egoist’ so was Adolf Hitler!
Yes we Individualists ought to be prepared to die for our faith and those we love.
Not to have contempt for death and hardship and relentlessly attack the enemy is to give the enemy the advantage!
They are often prepared to die for their beliefs!
Look at the suicide bombers!
Do they have values superior to yours?
They must if they will sacrifice their lives for them but many Libz wont even inconvenience themselves in the slightest to support your local Libz candidates!
I have made this point because my goal of this speech has been to inquire into the philosophical origins of inertia, and I see a collection of shallow excuses for denying what is indisputably the most heroic and noble of values… Altruist self sacrifice!
And this is a most common excuse for sloth in party activism and lack of willingness to carry the party’s burdens voluntarily and with honour.
I ask the question that if we were in ancient Greece facing the Persian horde who among you would stand at Thermopile?
They who will not inconvenience themselves in the fight against our pathetic socialist enemy, I guarantee would flee and die as cowards!…”
Another Evil I attack is how Cold, Inhumane and ‘Unloving’ Objectivism is… how Anti-Humanity… Their claim that all virtues flow from the single choice ‘to live’ is an absoute joke.
I’ve been syndicated by FSTDT.