Those of us who are Objectivists face a daunting challenge in spreading our philosophy. Not only are most people ignorant of our ideas, they have been bombarded with and often swallowed the opposite ideas–intellectual poison such as mysticism, subjectivism, and altruism. This fact highlights a crucial principle of objective communication that all of us must follow if we are to be effective: always, when presenting our ideas, take into account our audience’s context of knowledge–and never violate it.
An outstanding example of the proper implementation of this principle is the new book Loving Life: The Morality Of Self-Interest And The Facts That Support It, by Craig Biddle. For those unfamiliar with the book, Loving Life is an introduction to the Objectivist Ethics that assumes no prior knowledge of Ayn Rand’s ideas. By taking into account its audience’s context of knowledge at every stage, Loving Life succeeds at the formidable task of making Ayn Rand’s epic ethical discoveries accessible to a lay audience in a scant 150 pages.
In the first chapter of the book, Biddle begins by taking on two crucial moral premises that nearly everyone in our culture has absorbed–that morality = altruism/self-sacrifice and that “If there’s no God, anything goes” (the religion-subjectivism dichotomy). He proceeds to show the reader both the bankruptcy of all moralities that call for sacrifice and the inability of religion to provide moral absolutes (because it is ultimately a form of subjectivism). Biddle’s explanation of these points is seamlessly logical, drawing from history, current events, the reader’s own knowledge, and quotes from the various spokesmen of religion, subjectivism, and self-sacrifice. As Dr. Andrew Bernstein wrote in his book review of Loving Life in the July TIA, “It is likely that many honest persons reading this chapter will, perhaps for the first time, seriously question the precepts of conventional morality.”
The first two chapters of the book (the second chapter is on the “is-ought gap”) serve two functions. 1) They set the cognitive context for the reader to understand Ayn Rand’s revolutionary discovery of an objective morality by clearing away his false premises that morality is synonymous with sacrifice and that religion provides moral absolutes. 2) They motivate the reader to care about Ayn Rand’s theory of morality, by showing that the lack of an objective morality is destroying the lives and happiness of people everywhere–and threatens his life, as well.
At this point, the reader is ready for the core of the book: Biddle’s positive presentation of the Objectivist Ethics. Using clear, “jargon”-free language and a highly inductive method of presentation, Biddle lays out the basics of the validation of man’s life as the standard of value, the three supreme values, the virtues, and individual rights.
As an example of the lucid, concretized style that permeates Loving Life, consider Biddle’s explanation of the difference between rational egoism and hedonism/subjectivism. (Note that terms such as “hedonism,” “personal subjectivism,” and “standard of value” have been defined earlier in the book, so the reader is now familiar with them if he was not at the outset.)
It is crucial here to clearly distinguish egoism from hedonism and personal subjectivism. True egoism–rational egoism–does not hold “pleasure” or “feelings” as the standard of value. It holds life as the standard of value–and happiness as the moral purpose of life. Many actions that might ‘please’ a person or make him ‘feel’ good for the moment do not actually promote his life, and thus are not actually in his best interest. For instance, a salesman might feel like snoozing the alarm one morning, but if it means missing an important meeting or losing a key customer, then it is not in his best interest. Likewise, a ballerina might get pleasure from eating lots of cake and ice cream, but if it means putting on weight that will ruin her career, then it is not good for her life…A person who allows himself to be guided by his feelings is not being selfish. He is being unselfish.
Every thinking adult knows that the mere fact that one wants to do something does not necessarily mean it is in one’s best interest to do it. This is why neither hedonism nor personal subjectivism is egoistic: Both advocate action guided by sheer desire–a policy that, far from advancing one’s life, is guaranteed to destroy it. If one wants to live and achieve happiness, one has to be genuinely egoistic; one has to act in a life-promoting manner.”
The point Biddle is making here–that hedonism is utterly unselfish, and that only being rational is selfish–is at once an incredibly controversial point that almost no one agrees with, and a point that any honest reader, once he observes the fate of the just-fired salesman and the now-chubby ballerina, will conclude is indisputably obvious. Now that is objective communication. It is because Biddle achieves this level of clarity and objectivity throughout Loving Life that it is a great book, both for recommending to potential students of Objectivism–and for emulating in our efforts to convey our ideas.
An excerpt from
Loving Life: The Morality of Self-Interest and the Facts that Support It (Part 1 of 7)
by Craig Biddle
If you want to live your life to the fullest, if you want to achieve the greatest happiness possible, this book is for you. It is about the essential means to that end: a proper code of values–a proper morality.