Ayn Rand

It is obvious from reading her writing why Ayn Rand is considered one of the most controversial writers of modern times. Her “A Defense of Ethical Egoism”, a passage from Atlas Shrugged, deals with the idea of rational morality in relation to the validity of altruistic motives and actions in upholding rational morality of individual man: or the “choice…to be moral or to live” (Rand 84), or ethical egoism. Her views are extremist, for she argues either for or against a concept. Rand simply states all of her arguments and from the idea that “man is a being of volitional consciousness” (Rand 79), extends her argument of man needing to create and exist in compliance with his own moral code for his self-satisfaction and no others’. In short, a man has “no obligation to do anything except what is in their own interests” (Rachels 234).

One of the many eye catching and mind boggling arguments in “A Defense of Ethical Egoism”, Rand declares that one way for men to effectively preserve their “self” (Rand 80) is through achieving a “successful state of life” through happiness. Happiness, according to Rand, can be summed up as “exist[ing] for his own sake” (Rand 81), and she questions the immorality of enjoyment of happiness. In none of her arguments of happiness is the subjectivity of happiness and its dependence on individual person’s definition of happiness questioned. If Rand’s argument was flawless, then presuming that a spouse is disabled, and presuming that it is physically and mentally draining for a spouse to take care of another entirely, the non-injured spouse should leave their injured counterpart uncared for and start anew elsewhere because taking care of the disabled spouse would stand in the way of self-preservation and one’s individual happiness. Louis Harris & Associates, a National Organization on Disability, found that only 13% of the spouses faced with the difficulty of caregiving to a permanently disabled spouse file for divorce (Kilborn). In simple terms, the spouse would not leave his or her counterpart because he or she may experience guilt, which in turn would affect her general happiness, and he or she may also continue the relationship out of love. Also, recent studies performed at the University of Michigan suggest that “providing care to others can…provide benefits in terms of health and longevity for the caregiver” (Nauert). Although the study did not directly identify the causes of the increased health benefits of caregiving, the lead author of the study report, Brown, believes that “strong evolutionary forces favor altruistic motivation when individuals are interdependent” (Nauert). As such, not only does this altruistic, non-rational self-interest act of giving care to a disabled person have a positive effect on someone’s happiness, but essentially is beneficial for self-preservation as Rand described it: “means of existence” (Rand 84).

Ethical egoism is an intriguing concept, for it questions the foundations of morality and its current existing state in men. The philosophy attempts to uncover the success of men, and the processes required in order to achieve happiness. However, the views presented by Ayn Rand in “A Defense of Ethical Egoism” is quite radical and an unsatisfactory explanation for the realities of the behaviors of men.


Kilborn, Peter T. “Disabled Spouses Are Increasingly Forced to Go It Alone.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 30 May 1999. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

Nauert, Rick. “» Helping Disabled Spouse May Extend Your Life – Psych Central News.” PsychCentral.com. University of Michigan, 26 Nov. 2008. Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Rachels, James. “Egoism and Moral Skepticism.” The University of Morality(1971): 233-239.Web. 14 Sept. 2014.

Rand, Ayn. “A Defense of Ethical Egoism.” Atlas Shrugged (1959): 79-85. Web. 14 Sept. 2014

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