The content of an ethical code is determined by its standard of value.6 “The standard of value of the Objectivist ethics — the standard by which one judges what is good or evil — is man’s life, or: that which is required for man’s survival qua man. Since reason is man’s basic means of survival, that which is proper to the life of a rational being is the good; that which negates, opposes or destroys it is the evil.”7
The aspect of Objectivism for which Ayn Rand is best known — rational selfishness — is implicit in the preceding. It is one’s own survival needs that make values possible and necessary. And it is one’s own mind that has to function by one’s own choice to initiate and direct one’s own action to obtain and utilize those values.
Since the course of action required to sustain one’s life is specific, since any action that does not profit oneself is a drain on one’s time, energy, motivation, and resources, all forms of self-sacrifice stand damned as anti-life. “‘Sacrifice’ is the surrender of a greater value for the sake of a lesser one or of a nonvalue. Thus, altruism gauges a man’s virtue by the degree to which he surrenders, renounces or betrays his values . . .”8 “You are told that moral perfection is impossible to man — and, by this standard, it is. You cannot achieve it so long as you live, but the value of your life and of your person is gauged by how closely you succeed in approaching that ideal zero which is death.”9
“The rational principle of conduct is the exact opposite: always act in accordance with the hierarchy of your values, and never sacrifice a greater value to a lesser one.”10
Since the rise of Christianity, only a very few philosophers have had the courage to challenge the morality of self-sacrifice and to uphold egoism — notably, Spinoza and Nietzsche. Nietzsche, however, merely replaced self-sacrifice with the sacrifice of others to self. Spinoza’s ethics does have some valuable points (if removed from the overall context of his philosophy), but it is laced with mysticism and is premised upon a rigid determinism, each man being driven by a “conatus” or “instinct” of self-preservation.
It is shocking to realize that, despite altruism’s monopoly in ethics, in the entire history of philosophy, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever attempted to offer a rational argument to justify altruistic self-sacrifice. Only faith (Christianity) or feelings (Kant) have been adduced to support altruism.11
“Now there is one word — a single word — which can blast the morality of altruism out of existence and which it cannot withstand — the word: ‘Why?’ Why must man live for the sake of others? Why must he be a sacrificial animal? Why is that the good? There is no earthly reason for it . . .”12
Today’s philosophers have lost entirely the concept of a non-sacrificial morality. They go so far as to argue that an egoist morality is self-contradictory. Taking it as self-evident that men are emotion-driven brutes whose interests necessarily clash, these philosophers argue that an egoist would have to advocate altruism, in order to induce others to sacrifice themselves to him.
What is inconceivable to these philosophers is the ennobled view of man expressed by Galt:
“There is no conflict of interests among men, neither in business nor in trade nor in their most personal desires — if they omit the irrational from their view of the possible and destruction from their view of the practical. There is no conflict, and no call for sacrifice, and no man is a threat to the aims of another — if men understand that reality is an absolute not to be faked, that lies do not work, that the unearned cannot be had, that the undeserved cannot be given, that the destruction of a value which is, will not bring value to that which isn’t.”13
In Galt’s Speech, Ayn Rand demonstrated that, in reality, it is the morality of self-sacrifice that is riddled with self-contradiction. The code of self-sacrifice awards value to the destruction of values, places what it holds as the good (giving) in the service of what it holds as the evil (taking), and enshrines death at the apex of its value-hierarchy.
Ayn Rand’s ethics is egoistic not only in advocating self-interest but also in placing its focus on the essence of that which is one’s self: one’s mind. Where previous moralists were concerned only with such derivative issues as one’s actions, feelings, or motives, Ayn Rand went deeper, making one’s worth a matter of the choice to have a self or not — i.e., to think, judge, and will, or to stumble passively through one’s days with one’s ego suspended.
“This, in every hour and every issue, is your basic moral choice: thinking or non-thinking, existence or non-existence, A or non-A, entity or zero.”14
She has given us a morality which speaks to, summons forth, and honors the “I.”