The Virtue of Selfishness Book Summary - The Virtue of Selfishness Book explained in key points
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The Virtue of Selfishness summary

Ayn Rand

A New Concept of Egoism

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    The Virtue of Selfishness
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    Morality can be determined objectively.

    Most people agree that taste is subjective. Some people like spicy foods – others can’t stand them. Some people like rich desserts – others prefer something lighter. 

    On the whole, these preferences don’t cause us much trouble. We’re content to live and let live, so we don’t insist that our tastes are objectively “correct.”

    But what about when it comes to something serious? What about morality? Is that just a personal preference too? 

    To put the question another way, are ethical beliefs purely subjective? Or can we actually ground them in hard facts?

    The key message here is: Morality can be determined objectively.

    According to the author, morality isn’t just a question of taste. The issue of right and wrong is one that arises from the facts of life. How so?

    Well, a human being is an organism like any other. And, like all living things, humans face two stark options at any given time: life or death. If we don’t want to die, then we naturally opt for life. This decision is key because committing to life provides us with a standard we can use to weigh up our actions.

    This point is worth dwelling on. By committing to survival, we provide ourselves with a fundamental value – life. And with that single value, we’ve set up a natural ethical framework. 

    What does this framework look like? Well, it’s pretty simple: what helps us to survive is good, and what threatens our existence is bad.

    That all sounds fairly straightforward. The problem is, humans can’t always tell which actions will help them survive and which will endanger them. We can’t rely on our instincts alone to tell poisonous berries from edible ones, or true friends from traitors. These are questions we must figure out for ourselves.

    In other words, in order to choose between the good options that keep us alive, and the bad options that threaten our survival, we must use our ability to reason.

    Of course, we can get it wrong, and end up making foolish decisions. But that doesn’t change the facts of morality. Some decisions are objectively good for us – and some are objectively bad.

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    What is The Virtue of Selfishness about?

    The Virtue of Selfishness (1964) is an argument in favor of self-interest and capitalist economics. At the time of its publication, it was a bold and original assertion of a new moral creed. This daring work is sure to challenge many deeply held ideals.

    Who should read The Virtue of Selfishness?

    • Contrarians fond of audacious moral arguments 
    • Entrepreneurs in favor of free enterprise
    • Political enthusiasts interested in challenging their convictions

    About the Author

    Ayn Rand was a Russian-American philosopher and novelist. Born in Saint Petersburg, Rand moved to America at the age of 21 and became an ardent supporter of free-market capitalism. She is the author of the best-selling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

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