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February 8th Bookclub
"The Virtue of Selfishness," by Ayn Rand. Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 8029 Kingston Pike - 4:00 - 6:00 p.m. - Discussion Leader: Thomas Knapp (More information on the Book Club topic, below)

The book is short and an easy read because it's broken into several essays.
Discussions without defining terms first end up being a huge waste of time. The key to being able to discuss the ideas argued for within Rand's essays is to first understand how she uses the terms, Selfishness and Altruism.
By selfishness, she means 'rational selfishness'. See the explanation from Wikipedia:

"Rational selfishness, a term generally related to Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy, refers to a person's efforts to look after their own well-being, to cultivate the self and achieve goals for the good of the self. This is, in essence, the basic rule of capitalism, of which Ayn Rand was an advocate.

Further, Ayn Rand discusses rational self-interest in which one's happiness, in limited circumstances, can be enhanced by helping others; a related term is enlightened self-interest. Critics argue that the boundaries of rational self-interest are fuzzy and that much misery can be neglected. Rand counters that various ideologies coerce individuals into self-sacrifice. Rand makes a point to argue against altruism, and what she views as martyrdom."

Regarding Altruism, Rand means this:

"What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes it impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice-—which means: self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—-which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good.

Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: "No." Altruism says: "Yes." "

from "Philosophy. Who needs it? by Ayn Rand

Posted by dbuck
Feb. 02, 2009