22 March 2013
We are often taught at an early age that when struggling to make a decision to “let our consciences be our guides”. Conscience can be defined as our adherence to moral principles, or our considerations of fairness and justice. The word “consideration” is used because every individual has their own standards for what they feel to be morally right versus what they feel to be morally wrong, however this concept is not as black and white as it may seem.
We accredit our moral considerations to many external and internal factors. An example of an external factor is government laws because they are predetermined rules about behavior and action that have been societally deemed as morally wrong. Laws are based on sociological mores, which follow a culture’s commonly shared and widely observed moral behavior, therefore breaking a law implies going against the proper code your society. Prison also has an external influence on our decision making because it serves as a threat for the negative consequences of disobeying laws, such as the loss of our freedom. Internal factors are our own self-value and personal virtues as well as our sense of selfishness and our concerns of morality.
Ethical egoism is the philosophical belief that moral agents ought to do what is in their own self-interest because that is the rational way to live. It contrasts with the theory of ethical altruism, which holds that’s it is our moral obligation to help others. A philosopher and avid supporter of ethical egoism named Ayn Rand however saw ethical altruism in a different way. She viewed altruism as self-sacrifice, and as a state of mind absent from the reality of the life and worth of a human being. Rand was the creator of the property of ethical egoism known as objectivism, or the philosophy that the proper life for rational beings is the pursuit of happiness, and that altruism is incompatible with rational morality. She asked, “Why is it moral to serve the happiness of others but not our own?”
Rand was a promoter of self-value and believed that, “our lives belong to us” and therefore it is our moral obligation to live it in the most personally satisfying way as possible. She wrote, “You have been taught that morality is a code of behavior imposed on you by whim, the whim of a supernatural power or the whim of society, to serve God’s purpose on your neighbor’s welfare, to please an authority beyond the grave or else next door- but not to serve your life or pleasure. Your pleasure, you have been taught, is to be found in immorality, your interests would best be served by evil, and any moral code must be designed not for you, but against you, not to further your life, but to drain it.” (Rand, 532)
Rand saw our existences as having one of two options: to live or not to live. She viewed the world as a competitive place where the strong and knowledgeable dominated survival simply by using their minds as their protection. “A man’s mind is his basic tool of survival. Life is given to him, survival is not.” (Rand, 533) Unlike the organs inside our bodies that automatically function without our aid, our minds require us to think and use logic to obtain their benefits, and therefore those who choose to abstain from thinking and logical reasoning are deprived of one of their two defense mechanisms.
In relation to our ability to reasons are our values and virtues, because we need a code of values to guide our actions, and our virtues are our actions themselves. “Value is that which one acts to gain and keep, virtue is the action by which one gains and keeps it.” (Rand, 533) Rand believed that all virtues and values derive from our desire to exist or to diminish and that the three most crucial values to survival are reason, purpose, and self-esteem and the most important virtue to be that of pride. Reason can only be produced through our willingness...