Wednesday, 14 December 2016

On The Moral Philosophy of Ayn Rand, Philippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe

A Companion to Ayn Rand
Edited by: Allan Gotthelf and Gregory Salmieri

The similarity in the moral philosophy of Ayn Rand, Philippa Foot, and Elizabeth Anscombe is briefly mentioned in two chapters of A Companion to Ayn Rand. The first chapter is “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values)” by Gregory Salmieri, and the second is “The Morality of Life” by Allan Gotthelf (completed by Gregory Salmieri).

The focus of Salmieri’s, “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values),” is on tracing the act of valuing as an activity of the soul or mind that can be found in Ayn Rand’s literature, and in the notes that she made while planning her novels.

Salmieri looks at the acts and thoughts of several characters in Rand’s novels. While discussing James Taggart (the negative character in Atlas Shrugged), Salmieri mentions that there are a few parallels between the moral ideas of Rand and Foot.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from “The Act of Valuing (and the Objectivity of Values)":

“Though James Taggart’s failure to choose to live does place him beyond the reach of moral guidance, it does not change the fact that his chosen actions are contrary to morality (that is, to the code of values a person needs to follow in order to live); nor does it change the fact that he has, by his own choice, become an enemy of life. Therefore, those who do value their lives must judge him as evil and treat him accordingly… On Rand’s view, life-haters like Taggart can and must be morally condemned, but their evil cannot be understood as a violation of an obligation to live, for Rand held that there are no such categorical obligations or duties. Rather she shared the view that Philippa Foot nicely expressed in the title of a (1972) paper: ‘Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives.’”

To elucidate Rand’s formulation of the point, Salmieri quotes from Philosophy: Who Needs It. “Life or death is man’s only fundamental alternative. To live is his basic act of choice. If he chooses to live, a rational ethics will tell him what principles of action are required to implement his choice. If he does not choose to live, nature will take its course.”

Further, Salmieri writes: “For Rand, as for Foot, morality’s grip on a person depends on his holding a value that not all people hold. In particular, for Rand, it depends on his valuing his life. This value is not one among a set of alternative values that someone might hold, for (as we have seen) Rand held that the phenomenon of valuing only arises in the context of an organism’s pursuit of its life as its ultimate value.”

In all her major works, Philippa Foot has acknowledged the great intellectual debt that she owes to Elizabeth Anscombe whose works on moral theory were published in 1958, around the time when Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was published. While giving this information in the notes to his chapter, Salmieri points out that it is worth exploring the parallels between Rand and Anscombe.

In the notes to the chapter by Allan Gotthelf, “The Morality of Life," Salmieri has mentioned Elizabeth Anscombe. Salmieri points out that Rand’s answer to Hume’s famous challenge — it is impossible to derive an “ought” from an “is” — is similar to the one made by Anscombe. In The Virtue of Selfishness, Rand answered Hume in this way: “the fact that a living entity is, determines what it ought to do.” Anscombe has written on the subject in her classic paper “Modern Moral Philosophy.”

According to Salmieri, there is no evidence that either Rand or Anscombe was familiar with the other’s works—the similarities between them could be due to the common influence of Aristotle.

Related:

Moral Evil Is Due To A Natural Defect

Morality as a system of Hypothetical Imperatives

Book Review: A Companion to Ayn Rand

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