Friday, July 17, 2009
Rand on Donahue
Here's Ayn Rand in the first part of one of her two Donahue interviews. She leads off with what seems to me to be a perennially confused ethical position, namely that helping people is "fine", so long as you choose to do it yourself, but it's emphatically not a moral virtue.
Well what is it then? Is it a vice? That seems to be the implication of her following rhetoric (eg" cannabilism"). But she never comes out and says it directly, so it's hard to tell. Is it neutral or "arbitrary"? In which case how can it be "fine"? How can one pass any kind of judgement on it at all then? After all, in contrast to "cannabilism" she still is happy to use traditional terms such as "kindness" or benevolence to describe unforced charity which are undeniably positive. Or is this whole problem simply a "blank out" on Rand's part that she is verbally fudging her way through? It's a shame Donahue's line of questioning lacks precision.
Further, Rand's framing of the problem contains a vast omission - that is, the counterparty to the ethical situation, the recipient of the charity. Surely they would consider such charitable acts to be virtues? Surely they wouldn't of necessity consider them vices, or even neutral (though of course it is possible and even common to resent charity). And I'm still not clear how "arbitrary" or neutral moral settings sit with Rand's general "Either/Or" approach and insistence on uncompromising judgement at all times etc etc.
This issue, and the rest, I throw over to readers for comment.
PS: It's also worth noting her strong denial of Donahue's claim that he has "innate" tendencies. This denial is very much in keeping with Greg's thesis in ARCHN.