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tommyedison

Isn't Everyone Selfish

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Actually, such a person is sacrificing his long-term interests to his short-term urges.

As I said before, answers to questions like the original one that was asked are impossible to answer fully or accurately, because we don't have enough context.

Sacrifice means to give up something of value. Just wanting something doesn't mean that it's a value. Maybe being an engineer wasn't in his long-term interests. Maybe he wanted to be an engineer out of a sense of duty, because his father said it was the thing to do (in fact, in that sense, person #1 in the example may well be an altruist). Maybe what one person calls "squandering" his college money was his way of building up enough life experience to write a novel, or to do something else of value with his life.

And if you say that he did value becoming an engineer, on his own and without a sense of duty or obligation to anyone, and that was really what he wanted to do with his life, then why would he waste the opportunity? In the real world, if you dig deeper, there is usually something else that the person wants more, that is of more value to them than that particular option. In that case, giving up one option for another isn't a sacrifice, it's a voluntary and rational choice.

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I'm going to interject with a definition of "value" because that word has been used pretty loosely here.

A value is that which one acts to gain or keep.

When one values something they take action to gain or keep it. If someone doesn't act to gain or keep something, they don't value it.

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I actually just came across "Isn't Everyone Selfish?" tonight while working my way through the VOS. I was actually making the argument that everything everyone does is selfish about a week ago, but I wasn't even convinced of my argument and was eager to see what Mr. Branden had to say on the subject. I was very disappointed, and actually believe that he is wrong. The final example Branden uses in his essay is much like the Peter Keating example used above. Except, for Mr. Branden's argument to be true, you have to accept that the reason the son switches professions is that "The boy accedes to his mother's wish because he has accepted that such is his moral duty..." My problem with this is the following: Is it not possible that the son in this situation does not believe that it is his moral duty to switch professions at the whim of his mother? Why is the only reason possible for such a career change that the song believes he must sacrifice his life to his mother's will? Is it not possible that the son, while not feeling any obligation to his mother's desires, changes his career anyway because he values the approval of his mother more than he values this particular career? Can it not be that having a solid relationship with his mother is more important to him than this particular job? If he values the mother aspect more than the career aspect, switching his career to align with his mother's desires is certainly selfish. Am I missing something here? Am I totally wrong? I apologize for phrasing all of my points in question form

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Of course you can value your mother's advice. However, and only you can know this, to what degree does she control you - or want to control you?

A choice of career (not simply a "job" btw) is one of your greatest steps towards the virtues of independence and productivity. Nobody can, or should, know better than you what your values are, and these define your subsequent choice.

A truly considerate parent understands this, and encourages your volition and independence, but many allow their possessiveness to over-rule them.

(It's quite common for a young man or woman to have not established their values regarding themselves and a career, I find - as long as you apply yourself to knowing yourself and seeking value, you will get there.)

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Right; a given man might enjoy the advise of his parents, find it valuable, and might even be in his self-interest to follow that advise. However, to place someone else's desires or wishes over and above one's own life and interest is not being selfish. To be selfish means to hold one's own life as one's highest value, to pursue one's own happiness according to one's own best understanding of what is good for him in the long run. Under these terms, it is not good to follow the advise of anyone if one does not have a clear understanding of what the advise means in the long run to his own life and happiness. An individual man must decide what he wants to do with his life taking everything he knows into account, include what he has enjoyed doing, and what he enjoys thinking about. A parent, no matter how well they know their child is not going to be able to get inside their child's head to see what he enjoys thinking about doing. Selfishness means doing everything according to one's own best knowledge about oneself and reality. Other people just can't know you all that well to really get involved in that type of decision.

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I'm going to interject with a definition of "value" because that word has been used pretty loosely here.

A value is that which one acts to gain or keep.

When one values something they take action to gain or keep it. If someone doesn't act to gain or keep something, they don't value it.

Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't this essentially a tautology? You are setting this up to prove that every act, no matter how self-destructive, is selfish because you are defining value as the actions people take. If this were the case, people could not possibly act in a way that is against their rational self-interest. If someone acts to take heroin, they must value it, therefore they are being selfish - yet this is nonsense, they are not acting in their rational interest.

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Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't this essentially a tautology?

I think that would be true if everything one acts to gain or keep is "in one's self interest." I would think that if you value the use of heroine you would be acting against your self interest. In other words, values can be rational or irrational.

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Correct me if I am wrong, but isn't this essentially a tautology? You are setting this up to prove that every act, no matter how self-destructive, is selfish because you are defining value as the actions people take. If this were the case, people could not possibly act in a way that is against their rational self-interest. If someone acts to take heroin, they must value it, therefore they are being selfish - yet this is nonsense, they are not acting in their rational interest.

That definition of value is itself objective and does not have a particular value system implicit within it. Valuing is in the category of action and is different from other kinds of action. It says nothing about selfishness.

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I think those who go strictly by the definition of "value" given in the quote are being rationalistic. A concept is more than its definition. The definition sets the concept apart from other concepts but one needs to tie the concept to the roots of the facts involved.The roots of the concept "value" is life -- those things which are life sustaining are values, those things which are not life-sustaining are not values. Because man has free will, he needs to actively pursue his values -- to explicitly identify those things which are for his life and those things which are against his life. So, yes, a value is that which one acts to gain or to keep (qua definition) but qua concept it must be tied to the existence of living entities that must gain and or keep certain things to remain alive.

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I think those who go strictly by the definition of "value" given in the quote are being rationalistic.

No Thomas, they are being objective. Peikoff recounts a story of Ayn Rand being quite vociferous about the definition of value and why it should not incorporate within it a standard of value. The discussion is in lecture 3 of Unity in Ethics and Epistemology in which he generalizes to a an underlying principle, "the principle of two definitions."

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But as Tara Smith points out, Rand does use the word "value" to mean both "the object of action" and "that which you ought to act for" often interchangeably, so this could be a source of misunderstanding.

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Thanks for the clarification. "Value" qua concept must include everything one knows about living things and that these must pursue certain goals to remain alive. In that broad of a sense, it does make sense to talk of, say, power, as a value (that which is being pursued) even though it is not life promoting. In the broader sense, to pursue is to say it is a value. However, I do agree with Dr.Peikoff that the normative approach must have value as that which one pursues in order to sustain one's own life. Since there are two different definitions, one must be clear which one is referring to, or we will continuously have the confusions in this thread :)

For further clarifications of the term "value" as it applies to life-promoting actions to gain those things beneficial to life, I do highly recommend Tara Smith's book "Viable Values," where she is very thorough in discussing the concept of value as it applies to man having volition and having to create his values. Due to a shipping snafu, I have an extra copy if someone wants it for a low price ($25 including shipping in continental USA shipped ground). I haven't finished reading it, but I will say more about it later. The only approach she has that I disagree with is the idea that certain fundamental choices (to focus or not, to be alive or not) are "pre-rational." I wouldn't phrase it that way, though in a sense, all the fundamental facts of reality are "pre-rational" in that they exist without any prior thought to bring them about. But I would just say that, that these are the basis of thought, but I wouldn't call them "pre-rational."

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