Close analysis 1.4

The close reading of the beginning of the Introduction to The Virtue of Selfishness continues:

Sentence 8: “Yet the exact meaning and dictionary definition of ‘selfishness’ is: concern with ones own interest.”

  • Her statement is false. That is not the exact meaning.
  • Her statement is false. That is not the definition in the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, which is “regard for one’s own interest or happiness to the disregard of the well-being of others.”
  • Leaving out half the definition is a lie by omission.
  • She is setting up a straw man, to create a false choice.

Sentence 9: “This concept does not include a moral evaluation; it does not tell us whether concern with one’s own interests is good or evil; nor does it tell us what constitutes man’s actual interests.”

Sentence 10: “It is the task of ethics to answer such questions.”

  • Abstract concepts do not perform tasks. It is the task of people to answer such questions, and those answers are called ethics. Cart before horse.

Sentence 11: “The ethics of altruism has created the image of the brute, as its answer, in order to make men accept two inhuman tenets: (a) that any concern with one’s own interests is evil, regardless of what these interest might be, and (b) that the brute’s activities are in fact to one’s own interest (which altruism enjoins man to renounce for the sake of his neighbors).”

There are several statements in this sentence, all of which are false.

  • She states the image of a selfish person killing others for personal gain is “created”, thus fictional; when daily news, the history of mankind and personal experience lead rational people to accept that there are such people in the world.
  • She states the image of the brute is a deliberate rhetorical trick to mislead; when there is no evidence of that and none is presented.
  • She states the “Ethics of altruism” create, answers and makes men accept; when abstract concepts don’t “do” anything. People do things.
  • She states Altruist tenets are that concern for one’s own interest is evil, no matter what that interest is. But, since Altruism is a Christian philosophy concerned with benefits to the personal soul after death through salvation for good works, concern for one’s own interest is what prompts Altruism and therefore cannot be evil in that system.
  • When Rand leaves out the fact that Altruism is a Christian belief, she is lying through omission.
  • She states Altruism accepts her position that selfishness is in fact to one’s own interest; when Altruism considers the long term effect of selfish behavior as counter-productive for the selfish person.
  • She states renunciation is for the sake of neighbors; when it is for the sake of one’s own soul.

Now that Rand has set up two straw men with her false definition of selfishness and her misrepresentation of the Christian philosophy of Altruism, she uses them as though they are the only ethical options for us. That false choice drives the rest of her philosophic argument.

(Analysis of sentence 11 has been previously published)

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

Talking to Rand Fans 1.3A

Introduction, The Virtue of Selfishness, Sentences 1 through 4i:

In Rand’s first four sentences are elements of Rand’s rhetoric which can be found throughout the Objectivist canon. Rand’s rhetoric may affect a Rand Fan’s ability to converse with other people.

Sentence One: “The title of this book might evoke the type of question that I hear once in a while, ‘why do you use the word “selfishness” to denote virtuous qualities of character, when that word antagonizes so many people for whom it does not mean the things you mean?’”

  • Rand introduces the first strong, negative emotion, “antagonizes”.
  • Rand tells us that she is important. People ask her questions. Her words cause strong reactions in the general public. “So many people” are “antagonized”; instead of puzzled. Or dismissive.
  • Rand has been told that her definition of “selfishness” is different than most English speakers.
  • Rand is aware that her use of words is not emotionally neutral.
  • Rand’s world is a world of conflict. There are so many antagonists out there.
  • The population of this sentence is Rand, several questioners, the many people who have been antagonized and the reader. There is no single individual in Rand’s rhetoric. It’s crowds of people.

Sentence Two: “To those who ask it, my answer is, ‘For the same reason you fear it.’”

  • She introduces another strong, negative emotion in the second sentence, “fear”.
  • She makes an accusation based on a ridiculous assumption. Who reading the phrase “Virtue of Selfishness” felt fear? Nobody. It is purely a product of Rand’s rhetoric.
  • Since nobody felt fear, there is no way to know what reason she is talking about. We are more in the dark than when we started.
  • She says she is deliberately antagonizing people.
  • Rand claims to be responding to people’s questions. She  didn’t start this.

Sentence Three: “But there are others who would not ask that question, sensing the moral cowardice it implies, but who are unable to formulate my actual reason or to identify the profound moral issue involved.”

  • She introduces more people.
  • She introduces a third strong, negative emotion in the third sentence, “cowardice”.
  • She makes an accusation of moral cowardice for simply asking what she means.
  • Her new characters are not capable of “formulating” or “identifying” what Rand is talking about. Rand is saying that these folks are without the necessary intellectual ability to understand her profound issues and clever reasoning. Or she is saying that she is incomprehensible, but that is unlikely.
  • These new people aren’t using rational thought, but “sensing” things accurately- seemingly in contradiction to Rand’s philosophy of rationality.
  • Rand’s new friends agree that questions are for cowards.
  • If these people do not ask questions and cannot verbalize her reasoning or discuss the issue, Rand cannot know they sense cowardice; and she cannot deduce an inability to formulate or identify from their silence. Perhaps they are fictional.
  • She claims her choice of words is due to a “profound” moral issue; reminding us that she is an intellectual, plumbing depths others cannot formulate or identify.

Sentence Four: “It is to them I will give a more explicit answer.”

•     She deigns to inform the stupid, but not the cowards. The ignorant people and the cowardly evaders show up repeatedly in Objectivist material. The premise of her philosophy is that it is objectively true, meaning you can see it. Therefore, everybody already agrees with Ayn Rand; except through lack of knowledge or suicidal pretense. There is no other reason for questioning Rand, for it is simply not possible to have any other concept of reality. “Only through ignorance or evasion can a man project such an alternative.”ii

Summing up the first four sentences: In a barrage of emotions and accusations, Rand has just told us what she thinks of people who question her. If you ask a Rand Fan questions, they have already been told you are a moral coward and an antagonist. Or you are ignorant and inarticulate. If the conversation doesn’t go well, maybe one of the reasons is Ayn Rand’s rhetoric.

For sentences five through eight, please see “Talking to Rand Fans 1.3A, B, and C.”

ipg. vii, The Virtue of Selfishness Introduction, Rand, Signet, New American Library, 1964

iipg. 157, Piekoff, The Analytic/Synthetic Dichotomy Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology, Ayn Rand, Mentor, New American Library 1967