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.


Shashank Paliwal said...

nicely interpreted!

anon said...

"the purpose of morality is one’s own life and happiness"

well, she has a lot of biologists and social psycholigists in disagreement with her (and they have research data rather than wishful thinking to support their claims). the problem with defending Rand is people often defend her or themselves (because she says what individuals want to hear) and in defending her they usually fail to focus on the lack of strength in her arguments. i wish i could agree with her but truth of propositions isn't about my rash desires for abstract freedoms.

sorry to get off the point but morality is usually thought of as socially functioning: hence the term "mores" which is wuite different than the personal ethos.

Shawn Klein said...

First, a biologist or psychologist cannot, qua biologist or psychologist, tell you what the purpose of morality is. They might describe something they call morality as it operates in their field of study, but if they start to discuss what the purpose of morality should be -- then they are not doing biology, etc, they are doing ethics. Moral philosophers should appeal to and make use of the data provided by scientists, but the science itself cannot tells us what the purpose of morality is.

Second, yes, many moral philosophers disagree with Rand. That's hardly a shocking revelation--it's also irrelevant to whether her philosopher is sound.

amrhima said...

Rand's Philosophy is nothing but wishful thinking, she simply-as most people do- a firm ethical ground to stand on, she wants a morality that reason itself supports, and she claims that she found it, But ironically gives no reasonable arguments to support her view. If it was true that reason tells us that every human being should have a morality aiming at his own happiness, what argument shows us this? I would respect her opinion if she had admitted it is just that, opinion, but to claim it, and only it, is REASONABLE, that's just arrogant and not very philosophical either.

Shawn Klein said...

amrhima: If you are interested in Rand's argument for her position, you might check out the the several different essays in which she does lay out her argument. Most of these are anthologized in The Virtue of Selfishness.

Amrhima said...

Thank you, I had the book so I went through it and I found some of the arguments, and I have some objections:
First, her solution to the is-ought problem is a bit manipulative, to qoute her: 'Thus the validation of value judgments is to be achieved by reference to the facts of reality. The fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do. So much for the issue of the relation between “is” and “ought.”'

so the argument goes:
1- a being is a live
2- therefore the being should enhance its life

and needless to say it is invalid, but the argument has a second premise:

1- a being is alive
2- living beings do wat enhance their lives (thus the value of life which she talks about)
3- therefore it should do wat enhances its life

now is premise 2 justified? can't one value death, unhappiness? is it illogical to do so? it sure isnt, its a physiological fact that validates premise 2, the fact that most beings try by instinct to enhance their lives, and at bottom every morality evolved from instincts NOT reason or rationality

Nietzsche is more clear on this, His solution to the problem is actually reasonable. He doesn't deny that premise 2 in the above argument is a physiological fact based on instincts, and he doesn't deny that there is an is-ought problem either, and his attempt to solve it is by dividing the moralities in existence into master and slave moralities and favour master morality, not with a rational argument because that is impossible.

There's more to say on the subject, but we can take that one at a time. So please tell me wat you think of this.

Sachin @ said...

A very interesting proposal. The comparison itself is interesting yet I would agree that the analogy is somewhat invalid, as the main argument Plato seeks to discredit through the character of Thrasymachus is "might makes right." Plato makes the argument in this instance that this cannot be the case because sometimes the mighty do not know what is right even for themselves, and so morality does not necessarily have its basis in the adjudications of the powerful.