Virtue of Selfishness
Professor A. J. Ayer, a logical positivist, holds ethical statements to be emotive and non-cognitive. They represent a personal preference for a certain kind of behavior, rather than any objective ethical norms. We can no more criticize a person for liking to steal than we could condemn him for preferring coffee to tea. On the American scene, Miss Ayn Rand has attained some notoriety for espousing the virtue of selfishness. If the ego alone has value, as naturalism would seem to imply, self-interest is the final norm for human behavior. Man’s sole significant ethical obligation is to himself. Similarly Jean Paul Sartre, though he has given much thought to the subject, has been unable to develop reasons or norms for man’s moral responsibility towards his neighbor. We allude to Ayer, Rand, and Sartre, in order to show that there is a crisis of values in the naturalistic worldview which deeply threatens the foundations of ethics. Though we are profoundly interested in the attempts of humanists to develop an ethic of goodwill towards all men, we cannot see how this will be possible. Humanists can decide to recognize the worthwhileness of human life, but are unable to explain why we are obliged to.
Finally, naturalistic ethics consistently ignores one of the best attested facts about human nature, its moral obtuseness and perversity. At no point is the humanist creed which counts upon the goodness of man less convincing. Man’s sense of moral obligation is continually being frustrated because of his self-centeredness. Science has done much for us, but it has not made us good. Naturalistic ethics are deficient because they do not take into account this undoubted fact about human beings. In each of these three respects, naturalistic ethics shows itself to be conceptually deficient.