Question: What's so special about the seven virtues? Ayn Rand identified seven virtues: rationality, honesty, productiveness, independence, justice, integrity, and pride. What's different about those qualities – as compared to other commonly touted virtues like benevolence, creativity, temperance, or courage? Basically, why are those seven the virtues in Objectivism? Is Objectivism right to single them out? Are they exhaustive?
Tags: Character, Context, Ethics, Honesty, Independence, Integrity, Justice, Major Values, Moral Amplifiers, Objectivism, Pride, Productiveness, Productivity, Purposefulness, Rationalism, Rationality, Virtue
Question: Does developing resilience require enduring hardship? Many people assume that having faced great hardship is a necessary part of having resiliency – meaning: the ability to withstand great challenges in the future. These people think that if you have faced less-than-average hardship in your youth, that makes you soft, spoiled, pampered, and weak, and therefore ill-equipped to face challenges throughout your adulthood. As an extreme (but, sadly, real) example, I have a relative who insists to me, "All of the men I have met who attended private school are weak and naive. In their private schools, they were able to leave their belongings unattended without fear of their belongings being stolen. That's not the real world! By contrast, the public school we attended is the school of hard knocks that shows you the Real World. We remember, all too well, that when anyone left possessions unattended, the norm was for the possession to be stolen. That's Real Life. That builds character and gave me a thicker skin. That's why, when I have children, I will send them to public school to toughen them up. I refuse to raise privileged weaklings." I seethe and feel tempted to respond, "What if you got really drunk and beat up your children? Following the logic of your assumptions, wouldn't that toughen them up even further?" Why are these assumptions about hardship so prevalent? How can a person develop great discipline, stamina, and fortitude absent hardship and cruelty? What can be done to combat the idea that hardship in youth is necessary for strength and resilience as an adult?
Summary: Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism upholds seven major virtues as indispensable to our lives. Yet what of other qualities of character – such as ambition, courage, spontaneity, liveliness, discretion, patience, empathy, and friendliness? Are these virtues, personality traits, or something else? In this 2013 talk at ATLOSCon, I argued that such qualities are best understood as "moral amplifiers," because their moral worth wholly depends how they're used. I explained why people should cultivate such qualities and why they must be put into practice selectively.
Question: How much generosity is too much? Generosity seems like a trait that would fit well into your theory of moral amplifiers. But how does one best deal with someone who is being overly generous? I recently relocated to a new city and one of my coworkers with whom I am friendly has really gone above and beyond trying to help me get settled. She is constantly offering to help, lend me things, or even give me things to make life easier. I appreciate her offers and turn down many of them as politely as I can. But I struggle to find the right balance of accepting her generosity in due proportion to our friendship. She seems to be fairly wealthy, so I don't think her offers are sacrificial in any way, my issue is that we are friends, but not close enough friends to justify the incessant barrage of motherly offerings. Through consistent communication about what I am willing to accept and what I won't – and also owing to actually getting settled in the new city – she's backed off a bit. More broadly, how would you recommend dealing with this sort of problem? How can a person make sure not to make this mistake of being overly generous?
Question: Is ambition a virtue? Ayn Rand defined ambition as "the systematic pursuit of achievement and of constant improvement in respect to one's goal." If we apply ambition only to rational goals – as happens with the virtue of integrity, where loyalty to values only constitutes integrity if those values are rational – then could ambition be considered a virtue? Or at least, could ambition be an aspect of a virtue like productiveness?
Question: Is it wrong to write essays I don't believe to win contest money? I am a current university student with severe financial limitations. I've found that one of my best assets is my knack for writing a solid, persuasive essay. Recently, I've come across a trove of very generous scholarship essay contests. I feel confident that I could write a solid essay for most of them. The problem is that the majority are funded by organizations whose values I don't support. Specifically, I'd have to write essays in favor of social and political policies with which I disagree. Would it be moral for me to enter these writing competitions? If I did, would I just be demonstrating my writing ability - or misleading the sponsor into thinking that I agree with what I've written?
Question: Should a person cultivate his powers of self-control? What is self-control? Is strong capacity for self-control of value? Does self-control have a downside or limits? How can a person develop more self-control?
Question: Is an armed society a polite society – or a violent society? Author Robert Heinlein famously said that "An armed society is a polite society." Many liberals, however, fear an armed society as barbaric and violent. Is widespread ownership and/or carry of arms a positive or a negative feature of a society?