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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics

Ayn Rand saw Aristotle as the greatest of all philosophers. In "Review of Randall’s Aristotle," she says that Aristotle is the philosophical Atlas who carries the Western civilization on his shoulders.

Yet she is critical of Aristotle’s ethics.

In Aristotle, John Herman Randall has claimed that “Aristotle’s ethics and politics are actually his supreme achievement.” Rand rejects Randall’s assertion. She is of the view that ethics and politics are not Aristotle’s greatest achievement “even in their original form—let alone in Professor Randall’s version, which transforms them into the ethics of pragmatism.”

In her lecture “The Objectivist Ethics,” Rand has made another negative observation on Aristotelian ethics: “Aristotle did not regard ethics as an exact science; he based his ethical system on observations of what the noble and wise men of his time chose to do, leaving unanswered the questions of: why they chose to do it and why he evaluated them as noble and wise.”

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand has an essay by Jack Wheeler in which an attempt has been made to draw a comparison between Rand’s Objectivist ethics and Aristotelian ethics (Chapter: “Rand and Aristotle: A Comparison of Objectivist and Aristotelian Ethics”).

Wheeler finds Rand’s view on Aristotle's ethics troubling. He says that “Rand’s criticism that Aristotle did not regard ethics as an 'exact science' is equally odd, for this has nothing to do with 'observing wise men,' but rather, as Aristotle notes: 'It is the mark of an educated mind to except that amount of exactness in each kind which the nature of the particular subject admits.' Or does Rand really wish to claim that one can have mathematic precision for ethics on a par with physics.”

According to Wheeler, there are several similarities between the Aristotelian and Objectivist positions on ethics:

“Both Rand and Aristotle propose… a metaethics that is nonrelativist and nonsubjectivist but, rather, objectivist—naturalistically objectivist and not religiously or supernaturally so. There are no appeals to God or a cosmic supernatural power in either theory to give ethics its binding legitimacy, but rather an appeal to the very objective nature of things. The good is what is good for: goal-directed, purposefully acting entities for Aristotle; living, organic entities for Rand.”

Wheeler goes on to say that “it should come as little surprise that Aristotle, whom Rand lauds for advocating an objectivist metaphysics paralleling her own, should advocate an objectivist metaethics (paralleling her own).”

There is considerable difference among philosophers regarding the meaning of Aristotelian eudaimonia. But Wheeler posits that the Aristotelian eudaimonia corresponds to Rand’s happiness. He points out that Rand has described happiness as “that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one’s values,” and “a state of non-contradictory joy.”

Both Rand and Aristotle have expressed the view that rationality is man’s distinctive capacity and “basic means of survival.” And it is through the active and continuous exercise of reason that man achieves happiness and moral virtue.

Wheeler ends his essay with this observation: “Ayn Rand stands higher and sees farther than any other thinker of our day. She does so because she stands, not just metaphysically and epistemologically (as she would admit), but ethically (as she would not admit), on the shoulders of Aristotle.”

Edited by Douglas J. Den Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand has nine essays on Ayn Rand's philosophy by ten academicians.

Related:

The Philosophic Thought of Ayn Rand

Can Socrates Flourish Without Philosophizing?

Rational Man by Henry B. Veatch

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