Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Rand and Thrasymachus

A blogger posted a comparison of Rand and Thrasymachus. The blogger claimed that Rand's defense of the virtue of selfishness was similar to Thrasymachus's, Plato's infamous immoralist, defense of injustice as superior to justice. Below is a comment I posted on this blog. (link to my comment)

You misunderstand Rand in several ways. Her defense of the virtue of selfishness is not at all similar to Thrasymachus’ immoralist challenge to Plato. And her “way” is not “one of no rules.”

Thrasymachus puts forward the idea that it is better to be unjust (to steal, cheat, kill—and not get caught). He claims that it is more advantageous to be unjust than to be just; that freely being able commit conventional acts of injustice is better, for the agent, than being constrained by the rules of justice and morality.

Rand argues that the proper understanding of relationship of valuing and living show that the agent is the proper ultimate beneficiary of his action (though not the sole beneficiary). That is, that in acting well (e.g. justly) one is acting in a manner that will bring about a better overall life for himself. Closely paraphrasing her words, the purpose of morality is one’s own life and happiness, but the standard of morality is what is proper to the life of rational being. This sounds a lot like Aristotle, and not at all like Thrasymachus.

Rand’s virtue of selfishness is not a guide to action; that is, one does not, on her view, act in a certain way merely because it matches one’s desire. One’s happiness is the purpose of action, but the guide to action is a rational evaluation of the situation and what the proper response is for a rational being. (Rarely, one must note, would such an evaluation support injustice: Stealing, cheating, killing.) It’s only, she argues, through this rational evaluation that one is able to achieve one’s own life and happiness.

This should show as well that Rand’s “way” is not “one of no rules.” And in terms of politics, Rand was a harsh critic of so-called anarchism. She vigorously defends rule of law and the protection of individual rights.