Rand untruth 1.2

Ayn Rand’s incorrect definition leads to an error in logic, which makes her ethics a false choice.

Rand defines selfishness as “concern with one’s own interest”[1]. The form of this statement is “selfishness = (A)”. She gives us the mutually exclusive opposite choice of altruism. Altruism is (non-A). She puts it as a choice between black and white[2], as well as between good and evil. It is two-valued, Aristotle logic.

This conflicts with the form of her definition of altruism when she says “altruism claims ‘action taken for the benefit of others is good, while action taken for the benefit of one’s self is evil’”[3]. The form of this definition is “altruism = (B + not-A)”. In other words, if self benefit is (A) then benefit for others (B) is distinct from the prohibition of self benefit (not-A).

Altruism is (B) or (not-A) in some of her definitions and (B + not-A) in another definition. It cannot be all three. She is in contradiction of herself.

Rand falls into contradiction because she has given only half the definition of the word “selfishness”. The full definition of selfishness in the Oxford Unabridged is: concern for one’s own interest to the exclusion of concern for the interests of others[4].

The form of the full definition is “selfishness = (A + not-B)”. This form is consistent with her definition of “altruism = (B + not-A)”.

Both full definitions have two variables: one’s own interest (A) and the interests of others (B). Those variables each have two possible states: care or not-care. Therefore the situation has four possible permutations to choose from:

(A + B): Care for self and also care for others at the same time;

(not-A + not-B): Not care about self, nor care for others (nihilist);

(not-A + B): Not care for self and only care for others (altruist);

(A + not-B): Only care for self, while not caring for others (selfish).

Ayn Rand presents the choice as between selfishness and altruism only. Some would see that as two-valued, some as Aristotle’s. Because she brings up good and evil, some would call it Manichaeism.  Regardless, it is a false choice.

Her erroneous logic arises from her incorrect definition. Her incorrect definition is an untruth due to omission.

(Altruism is a non-A morality promulgated by “the Witch Doctor” in For the New Intellectual, pg 17 & 18, Signet edition, New American Library)


[1] The Virtue of Selfishness, Introduction

[2] The Cult of Moral Grayness

[3]  The Cult of Moral Grayness

[4] oxford unabridged

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