Our standing challenges stand unchallenged: If you won’t defend the sovereign self, your enemies win by default.

Jim Klein asks libertarians, conservatives and especially philosophers, Where is Man Alive! wrong? I have posted my own challenges, including this one, still unanswered. Meanwhile, in the world of newspaper news, Paul Ryan cannot run fast enough to get away from his past infatuation with Ayn Rand.

As a matter of fact — not opinion — your life is yours to do with as you choose. That sounds like an “ought” — an expression of hope or desire or whim — but in reality no one but your self can cause your purposive behavior. Your enemies will insist that your avid pursuit of your own values is evil and selfish and wrong, but they do this precisely because only you can control your actions. If they could drive you like a car — or even like a horse — they would have no need to hector or wheedle or threaten you all the time.

This is the fact that Paul Ryan is unwilling to uphold. The sad part is that, most probably, he fears the savagery of the Marxist collectivists less than the scorn of religious collectivists. In any case, the entire libertarian/conservative movement is unwilling to defend the self — not as a matter of fact, nor even as a matter of right. In consequence, they cannot but yield to collectivism in any conflict. The collective (which does not exist) cannot control individual people (who actually do exist), but if those individuals lack the philosophical rigor and the intellectual vigor to defend the undeniable facts of reality, everyone involved will affect to make believe to pretend to renounce the self — which is what Ryan is doing.

Sez who? Ayn Rand:

When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

To make things even easier for the folks who can’t bring themselves to take a stand on this issue, below I am quoting from the last half of Chapter 6 of Man Alive!

If you really, really hate this argument, I desperately want for you to read Chapter 7.

And if you love it? Evangelize egoism.

And if you won’t do that, you will lose to the enemies of your sovereign self by default.

Evil ideas lead to evil ends – ultimately to Squalor – but good ideas lead to Splendor. The problem for the mind – for your mind – is to distinguish the one from the other.

As a matter of ontology, of being, your life is your self – your own iteratively self-abstracted idea of your life – and your self is your life’s highest value. Because we have been indoctrinated to despise and denigrate the self, people will be quick to disagree with that claim, saying things like, “No, my family is my highest value!” But the word that matters most in that sentence is the one that shows up twice: “My.” If we think about it all the way through, the statement unpacks to this proposition: “My own on-going self-regard would be diminished if I were not to provide appropriately – intellectually, financially, emotionally and as a moral exemplar – for my spouse and children.” What could possibly be more egoistic than that? Even suicide – self-slaughter – can be an expression of the self as the cardinal value in a fully-human life: “I cannot continue to live with my self after committing or enduring this atrocity.”

The putatively egoist moral philosophers I picked on at the start of this chapter will insist that “everyone is selfish.” That claim is false at both ends of it. My objective is to change this sad state of affairs, but very few people alive as I write this are fully, consciously committed to pursuing the values most vitally important to the self. While most of us manage to produce enough human values to stay alive as human beings, we do that job pretty badly – mostly because we have voluntarily diverted our minds away from our own values and toward those of our despoilers. Not only do we forge the chains that bind us, we celebrate our self-inflicted slavery as the highest of virtues, and we do everything we can to preserve our sacred chain-gang: “We’re all in this together, damnit!” Moreover, the unexamined pursuit of bodily or pecuniary utility can very easily lead us to a condition of self-loathing. How does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul?

The cardinal value of your life is your self. This is a statement of ontology – of being – not of teleology – shoulding. You did not choose to become a self, but if you had not, you would not be a human being. You would be alive, and your life would be precious to the people who love you, but you would simply be a genetic Homo sapiens within whom the flower of Fathertongue either was not or could not be cultivated – or was, but was later cut off by a non-lethal brain injury. The ontologically-unavoidable existence of the human self is the metaphysical link from is to ought – from ontology to teleology and back – that thoughtless philosophers have insisted for centuries does not – and cannot – exist. Whether the ends they sought were good or evil, they failed to think about human nature as it really is, and, in consequence, they were unable to see how a being of free will – of rationally-conceptual volitionality – could be as much constrained by the laws of nature as a rock or a tree or a reptile.

You cannot avoid being a self. You cannot both be a human being and not be a self. That is the law of identity as applied to human beings – genetic Homo sapiens within whom has been cultivated the gift of mind. That cultivation by your parents and their friends and family members induced you to abstract the idea of your self within your blossoming mind, and, once you have mastered that idea, you cannot eradicate it from your mind without eradicating your mind entirely. And while you might have surmised that I believe that modern philosophers, theologians and other so-called “thought leaders” want to eradicate your mind, I know this is not so. They don’t want for you to be a dancing bear – a mindless animal unwittingly soiling its own identity in pursuit of ephemeral “treats” – they just want for you to volunteer to sacrifice every value the uniquely-human life requires in exchange for their empty praise.

And with that observation I dismiss from further consideration every theory of moral philosophy ever propounded – putatively egoistic or openly anti-egoistic. Any one of them may or may not contain useful seeds of truth, but all of them as a group proceed from an incorrect understanding of human nature – of rationally-conceptual volitionality – of free will. None of those doctrines acknowledge the self for what it is, and so they cannot illuminate the idea of value as it is appropriate to a fully-human life. Most philosophical and theological ethical creeds are aligned against the true interests of the self, of course. But even those that purport to uphold the idea of self-love do so only with respect to deformed and defective representations of the self. Until you have walked the intellectual path that you and I are following here – until you have taken this journey with me or without me – you don’t even know what the self is, so any pronouncements you make about it – for it or against it – are necessarily factually incorrect.

So what might be the cardinal virtue in an ontologically-consonant moral philosophy? Self-love, of course. If you haven’t figured it out yet, this whole book is about self-adoration as the highest possible virtue in the uniquely-human life. Philosophy is about shoulding – “What should I do?” – and my entire philosophy of the fully-human life can be summarized in three words: Love your self. The pursuit of bodily utility is completely teleologically appropriate to the life of any other organism – and they don’t need us to tell them that! But mere bodily utility is not sufficient for the life of a human being: Man does not live by bread alone.

The term “ontologically-consonant” is immensely useful, so long as you retain in your mind the fact that what you are most fundamentally is a self. Any object or action or idea that advances or enhances the true interests of your self is a value – it is of value to your self, in the context of the full hierarchy of your values. Anything that retards or diminishes the interests of your self is a disvalue. In the next chapter we will talk about a more granular evaluation of values. The point to be made here is that virtue and vice writ large can only be meaningfully judged by reference to a cardinal standard of value, and that standard, for all human beings – whether they like it or not – is the self.

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  • Thank you for pulling this out. While I wouldn’t say this is the point of the book–Egoism in Action is that–as a matter of philosophy, which IMO means as a matter of facts and the truth, this is the point.

  • Check. This is the locus of any fundamental disagreement with Man Alive!, if there is to be any.