Close analysis 1.2 Intro to The Virtue of Selfishness

Sentences 5 through 8[1]:

Sentence 5:

“This is not a mere semantic issue nor a matter of arbitrary choice.”

  • She introduces the words “mere” and “arbitrary”. These words are used frequently by Rand to impart disparagement.
  • She disparages “semantics” because it implies choice in language use, contrary to her philosophy that language is a mechanical translation of sensory data[2].
  • She disparages “choice” because it implies there is more to words and concepts than the mechanical mental processing of sensory data. As she says, “This does not meant the content of concepts depends on an individual’s subjective (arbitrary) choice. The only issue open to an individual’s choice in this matter is how much knowledge he will seek to acquire… …of the facts of reality.”[3]

Sentence 6:

“The meaning ascribed in popular usage to the word ‘selfishness’ is not merely wrong; it represents an intellectual ‘package-deal’ which is responsible, more than any other single factor, for the arrested moral development of mankind.”

  • She believes all of mankind are morally arrested.
  • She believes the way most people speak English is wrong.
  • Her topic is the most important factor affecting all mankind’s moral problem.

Sentence 7:

“In popular usage, the word “selfishness “ is a synonym of evil: the image it conjures is of a murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses to achieve his own ends, who cares for no living being and pursues nothing but the gratification of the mindless whims of any immediate moment.”

  • She creates a straw man by using an extreme example. Suppose the example of “selfishness” for most people was: a foolish child who ruins the birthday party by eating all the cake. The rhetorical argument would be necessarily different.
  • She uses repellant imagery which arouses strong emotional response- “murderous brute who tramples over piles of corpses’’
  • She ascribes the repellant imagery to other people, the “popular usage”. She is as shocked as you are…
  • She packs the sentence with negatively charged words- “evil, murderous, brute, tramples, corpses, no, nothing, mindless..”
  • She continues to denigrate choice as “the mindless whims of any immediate moment”.

Sentence 8:

“Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of the word ‘selfishness’ is: concern with one’s own interests.” (italics in original)

  • The Oxford Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language has a different definition of that word[4]. Her statement is false.
  • The “dictionary” definition of any word is a documentation of the historical popular usage of that word[5]. When Rand draws a distinction between popular usage and a dictionary definition she is making an error.
  • No English word has an “exact meaning”[6], contrary to Rand’s philosophy wherein all words have a one-to-one meaning with an objective sensory data point[7].
  • When Rand claims a word’s exact meaning in her philosophy and the word’s dictionary definition in the real world are the same thing, she is making an false claim.

To sum up the first eight sentences:

Rand refers to herself twice. She refers to other people 15 times:

People who question her- three times. Then people who are antagonized, people who fear her words, people who are moral cowards, people who cannot formulate ideas, people who cannot identify profound moral issues, people with arrested moral development, people who define “selfishness” incorrectly, a murderous brute, corpses, no living being, a person with ends, a person with interests.

10 of the 15 references to other people are negative. Five are neutral. None are positive. Four of the five neutral references are associated with a negative reference, e.g. a questioner (neutral) is also a moral coward (negative).

Rand makes one objective statement which is false.

[1] Virtue of Selfishness, Introduction, pg. vii

[2] Intro to Objective Epistemology pg 11

[3] Intro to Objective Epistemology pg 56

[4] Oxford Unabridged

[5] Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, pg. 34, 35.

[6] ibid

[7] Intro to Objective Epistemology pg 56

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