Virtue of Selfishness
What does Ayn Rand mean when she describes selfishness as a virtue?
Ayn Rand rejects altruism, the view that self-sacrifice is the moral ideal. She argues that the ultimate moral value, for each human individual, is his or her own well-being. Since selfishness (as she understands it) is serious, rational, principled concern with one’s own well-being, it turns out to be a prerequisite for the attainment of the ultimate moral value. For this reason, Rand believes that selfishness is a virtue.
In the introduction to her collection of essays on ethical philosophy, The Virtue of Selfishness (VOS), Rand writes that the “exact meaning” of selfishness is “concern with one’s own interests” (VOS, vii). In that work, Rand argues that a virtue is an action by which one secures and protects one’s rational values—ultimately, one’s life and happiness. Since a concern with one’s own interests is a character trait that, when translated into action, enables one to achieve and guard one’s own well-being, it follows that selfishness is a virtue. One must manifest a serious concern for one’s own interests if one is to lead a healthy, purposeful, fulfilling life.