Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rights and duties

With the release of the first of a trilogy of films based on Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the "philosophy" which her work teaches is once again getting more attention than it ought to deserve. Since I've known Christians who admired her books, it is perhaps important to once again point out the incompatibility of "Objectivism" with just about any religion, not only Christianity. Greg Forster describes a big problem in "Rand and 'Inalienable Rights'":
.... If there are no duties transcending the will, there really are no such things as either rights or duties – no such thing as morality at all, as that concept is understood by almost all people. There is only rational calculation of what will most efficiently gorge whatever appetites happen to occur to us. The calculation of optimally efficient gorging of appetites will often coincide with the constellation of traditional ethical injunctions not to kill, steal, lie, etc. But it will not do so always, and even if it did, that would not make efficiency in the gorging of appetites a moral virtue.

This is one of the (numerous) gaping holes in the center of Rand’s view of life. Her famous formula is that you should not live for anyone else’s sake, nor demand that anyone else live for yours. But if there are no duties transcending the will, as she insists there aren’t, why should you not demand that others live for your sake? The value you place on your own life does not, in fact, create a moral duty to treat the lives of others as intrinsically valuable. And it is not, in fact, the case that the optimally efficient gorging of my own appetites always coincides with the traditional constellation of ethical injunctions not to kill, steal, lie, etc. ....

There can be no safeguard for “the rights of the individual” if we begin with a moral philosophy that excludes the existence of any “rights” worthy of the name.

Rand believed that ethical egoism and metaphysical reductionism could be squared with political liberty.

Thomas Hobbes knew better.  [more]
Rand and “Inalienable Rights” » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog