Altruism vs. Egoism

By [email protected]


I am writing to offer a differing viewpoint to the one expressed in Brian Johnson’s opinion column last week regarding “the battle between altruism and egoism” (9/15). According to Johnson, the fundamental ethical question which everyone must answer is whether to be, in his terms, a “giver” or a “taker”.

As phrased, however, this question is empty, leaving open several more fundamental questions such as: giving and taking what? to or from whom? and by what means? As Ayn Rand observed, it replaces the primary ethical question of what are values, with the question of who should be the beneficiary of values (whatever they are).

This point indicates that Johnson’s question is also a false alternative and won’t stand up to logical scrutiny. Since it ignores the “what” and “how” of value, acknowledging only the “for whom”, it ignores that values don’t exist in a static quantity in the world, but must be created through human effort (both mental and phsyical). It precludes the possibility of producing one’s own values, then trading with others by mutual consent to mutual benefit, neither “giving” nor “taking” in Johnson’s sense of the terms. But in fact, this third, studiously evaded, alternative is the only truly moral choice.

Johnson’s dismissive statement that “taking is simply a process of life, key to survival” reveals the key to understanding altruism: life has no moral value to the altruist, as it cannot, since sacrifice, of anything to anyone, is their standard of value. But life is the only objective standard of value, and thus the sacrifice of oneself to others and the sacrifice of others to oneself (which are merely flip-sides of the same coin, since if you sacrifice yourself to someone else, that other person is the beneficiary of your sacrifice) are both immoral.

Consider the archetype of the altruism Johnson advocates: the Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac. Do you consider it a moral “ideal” to be willing to sacrifice the things that are most precious to you? If you don’t, if you instead believe that this is a monstrous evil, that one should defend one’s values, if you believe that one’s own life and the pursuit of happiness are the end of morality, then come to the first meeting of the new Objectivist Club at 7:30 p.m., September 25th, Union rm. 312. We advocate rational egoism, neither giving nor taking, but creating one’s own values by one’s own effort for one’s own benefit. It’s the only way to live.

Andrew “Ash” VidrineObjectivist Club presidentPhilosophy major, [email protected]