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: 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: Does ethical egoism promote narcissism and insensitivity to others? People often suggest that ethical egoism – such as the Objectivist ethics advocated by Ayn Rand – promotes unfriendly if not hostile behavior toward other people. Ultimately, the egoist cares for himself above everything else, perhaps to the point that the thoughts and feelings of others aren't even noticed or of concern. The problem seems to be exacerbated by a commitment to moral absolutes and moral judgment. So do these ethical principles incline a person to be self-absorbed, insensitive, hostile, unkind, or otherwise unpleasant to others? How can egoists take care not to fall into these traps?
Question: What's wrong with thinking about the virtues as duties? My parents taught me ethics in terms of "duties." So being honest and just was a duty, along with "sharing" and "selflessness." They were simply "the right way to be," period. Now, I tend to think of the Objectivist virtues – rationality, productiveness, honesty, justice, independence, integrity, and pride – as duties. I have a duty to myself to act in these ways. Is that right or is that a mistake?
Question: Can life be morally black and white? People often say life is not "black and white," meaning that sometimes we must navigate morally gray zones, particularly when dealing with complex decisions involving other people. However, if we make decisions based on objective absolutes, doesn't that eliminate these so-called "morally gray zones"?
Question: How can I better identify dangerous or immoral people in my life? I don't like to be morally judgmental about personality and other optional differences. In fact, I like being friends with a variety of kinds of people: that expands my own horizon. Yet I've been prey to some really awful people in my life. Looking back, I'd have to say that I ignored some signs of trouble – dismissing them as mere optional matters, as opposed to moral failures. How can I better differentiate "interesting" and "quirky" from "crazy" and "dangerous" in people I know? How can I see "red flags" more clearly?
Question: Was Francisco's lack of jealousy in Atlas Shrugged rational or realistic? In Part 3, Chapter 2 of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, Francisco tells Dagny, "...No matter what you feel for [Hank Rearden], it will not change what you feel for me, and it won't be treason to either, because it comes from the same root, it's the same payment in answer to the same values..." Is that a rational and realistic response? Given their love for Dagny, shouldn't Francisco and Hank have been more disappointed in their loss of Dagny to John Galt, and perhaps even jealous of him? Is a person wrong to feel bitter disappointment or jealousy over a lost love?
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 chivalry virtuous? In the Aurora Masacre, three men died in the process of physically shielding their girlfriends from the gunfire. Is that kind of sacrifice noble? More generally, does chivalry have any place in an ethic of rational egoism?
Question: Can and should a person try to cultivate his own "good luck"? For example, a construction worker might leave his business card with neighbors in case they or anyone they might know happens to need his services in the future. Similarly, an investor might look to buy stock in companies with promising patents pending or forthcoming products. Is pursuing these kinds of uncertain opportunities a means of cultivating good luck?
Question: Is patriotism a virtue? Is patriotism towards America a virtue? Should a person "love America" – or is that just jingoistic nationalism?
Question: How can I become more tenacious in pursuit of my goals? I find that I give up too easily on some of my goals, particularly when success is far away and much effort is required now. What can I do to make myself more tenacious?