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This question along with the scenario I give below may seem judgmental, but that isn’t the intent. I’m just trying to get a better handle on Rand’s sense of ethics. I’m looking at #3 in a list found here.

“Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

The notion of not sacrificing others to himself seems to be at odds with pursuit of one’s own happiness being the highest moral purpose in life.

I’m wondering how an Objectivist would analyze the following scenario:

I have to make a decision between A and B. Choice A will result in me earning $5 and in Bob being ruined (he loses everything, much more than $5). With choice B, nothing happens and no one’s happiness is affected.

I believe that the Objectivist would say that I should choose A. Given only what is presented in the scenario, the objective fact is that I am better off with A; and that is all that matters. However, I wonder if this would count as "sacrificing" Bob for my own benefit, referencing the quote above.

Would it be unethical for me to consider Bob’s happiness at all? What if I “let” my perception of Bob’s happiness affect my own through emotion? Would I be behaving unethically and need to get over it? What if I can’t help but be emotional about it? Does the Objectivist concede that emotion factors into my happiness and allow me to choose based on this?

I've actually asked a number of questions here, but the open-ended title question stands. I'm interested to know how the Objectivist would look at the scenario, especially as it relates to reconciling the potential sacrifice of Bob with maximizing my happiness.

  • I read Anthem (A+), and my dearest and best friend was for many years obsessed w/ her work, although I am not a follower of either Ayn Rand's philosophy or her literature. That said, and speaking just hypothetically (not a personal comment, and w/ no intention of being offensive): If $5 really serves to "maximize" one's own "happiness", with zero empathy for that of others who are fellow human beings -- what does that say about one's character? Shall we be so ruthless & ill-mannered for $5, $1? Should others regard you as trustworthy? And we must remember that Bob is also free to make choices. – Bread Jan 3 at 11:54
  • Should we value money more than our own self-respect? Should we sell ourselves out, swap our humanity for it? Doing so would make me feel no better than a professional pan-handler, swindler, or worse. – Bread Jan 3 at 11:56
  • @Bread: Good points -- the accepted answer makes me feel better about the whole thing. I was worried that strict application of Objectivist ethics wouldn't allow for considering the concerns you bring up. Sounds like B is an ethical choice assuming that I'm not giving Bob charity he doesn't deserve and that I'm not compelled to choose B by anyone but myself. – seeker Jan 4 at 0:12
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Based on her interview with James Day on the Day at Night program, particularly starting with this section, my guess would be that she would say that the proper Objectivist person would probably not choose A (because Ayn Rand allowed some room for benevolence and the benefit to our hero is negligible and the other man's harm is enormous) if the other man was going to suffer through no fault of his own. But, importantly, the deciding person should not feel that he must choose B, that he has a duty to the other man. If he does it, he does it out of a sense of benevolence, not societal pressure.

  • Thank you, @Chelonian. That makes sense -- I was hoping that I was missing something in my understanding that led me to believe choice A would be unavoidable. It's satisfying that proper application of Objectivist ethics allows for what seems like a reasonable decision given the right circumstances. – seeker Jan 3 at 23:56

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