I’m in considerable agreement with what all three of my fellow symposiasts have said. For example, we all seem to agree in finding both an instrumentalist strand and a constitutive, Aristotelian strand in Rand’s ethics, and we likewise agree in finding the latter more attractive and defensible than the former.
My chief disagreement with Mike, I think, is over the extent to which the instrumentalist approach pervades Rand’s mature moral philosophy, and in particular “The Objectivist Ethics.” Mike seems to see the latter essay as almost purely instrumentalist — which, I take it, is why he is able to say that hardly anybody finds its argument even remotely convincing unless they buy into Rand’s whole system. Clearly this would not be a plausible claim if we gave the constitutive strand in that essay much weight, for then we could offer as counterexamples virtually every major moral thinker from the first two thousand years of Western philosophy; none of them would have bought into Rand’s whole system, but the basic idea of our moral concern for others being grounded in our own flourishing as rational agents, with the latter in turn being identified both with our own true self-interest and with our biological life-function, was the reigning paradigm from Socrates through the Scholastics.
Mike’s claim becomes more plausible if we take “The Objectivist Ethics” as purely instrumentalist or nearly so; but I find instrumentalist and constitutive strands confusedly intertwined in that piece. (Consider her rejection of “merely physical” survival, for example.) The mere attempt to ground ethics on self-preservation, I should note, is not by itself enough to make Rand’s argument instrumentalist; for the Stoics, e.g., likewise gave self-preservation a place in ethical justification, yet few thinkers were less instrumentalist than they were. For the Stoics, self-preservation is by nature our initial primary concern, but this concern can and should be transformed, as a result of critical reflection on the nature of the self to be preserved, into a broader moral concern to preserve ourselves as particular kinds of beings living a particular kind of life – and that new concern will, when necessary, trump mere survival, which now gets kicked away like a ladder after we have climbed up it.
Seneca, for example, writes that our desire to preserve our own constitution, while initially favoring mere survival, ultimately leads us away from it, since “a human being’s constitution is a rational one, and so a human being’s attachment is to himself not qua living being but qua rational being; for he is dear to himself in respect of what makes him human.” (Letters to Lucilius 121.) There is much in “The Objectivist Ethics” that is reminiscent of this approach, which shows that Rand’s talk of survival can make sense even within the constitutive strand, not just within the instrumentalist strand. (I’d also be curious to know what Mike makes of the approach defended in the Bidinotto essay I linked to earlier.)
Mike’s argument that egoists cannot have non-instrumental concern for others echoes Cicero’s similar criticism of the Epicureans. The Epicurean response was, in effect, an indirect consequentialism or rule-consequentialism: it’s in our self-interest to cultivate in ourselves non-instrumental concern for others. While I don’t find this adequate (mainly because once the cultivation is successful the agent is no longer a consequentialist — see my article “The Value in Friendship”), it doesn’t seem obviously hopeless, and one could read Rand the same way; I’d be curious to know what my fellow symposiasts think of this solution.
My chief disagreement with Doug is over the extent to which interpersonal morality, and in particular a principled dedication to rights, can be identified as a constitutive part of human flourishing. Doug thinks that the natural harmony of interests that the eudaimonist tradition largely embraces requires an agent-neutral conception of the good; I’m not convinced. (Our further disagreement as to whether one can ground rights in interpersonal morality is, I think, a corollary of this prior disagreement.)
Resolving this dispute between Doug and myself would require answering another of Mike’s questions: by what epistemic means we are to determine the content of eudaimonistic flourishing. Mike finds empirical methods unpromising (as do I) and so defends an appeal to intuition. In my book Reason and Value: Aristotle versus Rand, and again in my review of Leland Yeager’s Ethics As Social Science, I defend Aristotelian dialectic as the best epistemic method, and argue that Rand’s deviation from Aristotle in the direction of empiricism was responsible for the instrumentalist strand in her ethics (a claim that’s similar to what Mike is saying about the survival approach being easier to justify via empiricism). I also argue there that the dialectical approach supports the harmony of interests and the incorporation of rights into personal morality and happiness. Whether Aristotelian dialectic is the same thing as intuitionism is of course a complicated question.
I have the fewest disagreements with Neera, but let me mention a few. While I agree with her (and, apparently, everyone else here) that the value of mere survival is insufficient to ground the value of survival qua human, I am less convinced about the further gap Neera sees between survival qua human and eudaimonia; but perhaps I am loading more into the former notion than she does.
Neera also criticizes Rand for insisting on the unity of virtue. If by the unity of virtue Neera means the thesis that one can’t have any one virtue to a significant degree without having them all, then I agree with her that that’s false (and I also agree that Rand seems, at least sometimes, to have held this mistaken view — as for example when she assumed that 19th-century businessmen could be neatly divided into those who prospered by their own effort and those who prospered through government favoritism, ignoring the substantial class of those who initially rose by their own efforts but then turned to government for favors once they’d acquired sufficient wealth to influence legislators). But if Neera means the thesis that one can’t have any one virtue completely without having them all, then I’d be willing to defend that thesis, on the grounds that a virtue is a disposition to act correctly in a certain domain, and the relevant domains all overlap. In the words of Alexander of Aphrodisias (the leading Aristotelian of the 2nd century CE):
That the virtues are implied by one another might also be shown in the following way, in that it is impossible to have some one of them in its entirety [emphasis added] if one does not have the others too. For it is not possible to have justice in isolation, if it belongs to the just person to act justly in all things that require virtue, but the licentious person will not act justly when something from the class of pleasant things leads him astray, nor the coward when something frightening is threatened against him if he does what is just, nor the lover of money where there is hope of gain; and in general every vice by the activity associated with it harms some aspect of justice. (“That the Virtues Are Implied By One Another,” On the Soul II. 18; trans. R. W. Sharples)